Thursday, October 31, 2019

Dead Voices

Happy Halloween! Today, I've got a spooky scary book that's perfect for your young readers of horror. Last year, I posted about Katherine Arden's middle grade debut Small Spaces, still one of my booktalking favorites. Today I've got the standalone sequel, a winter story:

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden. Grades 4-7. G.P. Putnam's Sons, August 2019. 256 pages. Reviewed from galley provided by publisher. 


After the events of the fall, new best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are looking forward to winter break. They're heading up into the mountains to ski at Vermont's newest ski lodge, Mount Hemlock Resort. The lodge has never been open to the public before - it had been a school building before it was a report - and the kids are excited to visit. 

But strange things start happening even on the way up the mountain as Ollie's dad drives through a heavy snowstorm. Coco wakes up from a nightmare and is certain she sees a person standing in the middle of the road with one hand raised as if saying STOP. But when their car swerves to a stop, there's nothing there. 

Once they arrive at the resort, strange things start happening. The kids start having terrible nightmares and hearing strange sounds. A ghost hunter shows up at the resort and tells them the legend about Mother Hemlock, the head of the old school, and girls who were said to have died of fright. 

And then Ollie's watch, a gift from her late mother that saved them from the Smiling Man this fall, suddenly shows a message: BEWARE. 

My thoughts:

This book is everything I wanted in a scary story. Although it's a sequel to Small Spaces, it stands alone sufficiently (though please don't deny yourself the joy of reading Small Spaces if you are a fan of scary stories). Dead Voices manages to use so many scary story tropes to full effect, and I mean that in the best way possible. It's truly a thrill ride and as I was reading it, I kept stopping to delight in the shivers going down my spine. 

Katherine Arden is a master at creating atmosphere. From the harrowing car ride up the snowy mountain to the creepily haunted resort building, the foreboding atmosphere is almost palpable as you read and it helps to build tension.  

Of course, I also love that the friends work together to try to figure out what's going on and to deal with the haunting once they're in the thick of it. I hear that this series will eventually contain four books, one for each season, and I can't wait to read more!


  • Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (Putnam, 2018). Of course you'll want to pick up Arden's first scary middle grade novel, but this one can stand alone, too. 
  • Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh (HarperCollins, 2017). In another terrifically creepy haunted house story, Harper has just moved with her family to a new house in Washington DC and her little brother starts talking to someone that none of the rest of them can see. 
  • Doll Bones by Holly Black (McElderry, 2013). The combination of creepiness and solid friendship story in these books makes them good readalikes. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Emmy in the Key of Code

Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido. Grades 4-7. Versify, September 2019. 416 pages. Reviewed from galley provided by publisher. 


Born to super musical parents, Emmy has always longer for musical talent but it evades her. She's not good at any instrument and has paralyzing stage fright. When her family moves to San Francisco so her dad can have a shot at his dream job, Emmy starts at a new school for the first time and she has no idea where she belongs. She has no friends, she has trouble even speaking to any of the kids, and when she's asked what elective she wants on the first day, she turns in a blank sheet of paper and lets fate decide.

Fate puts her into coding class with Ms. Delaney, a new teacher who's passionate about computer programming and the "lipstick computers", the women who started computer programming back in its infancy. Also in the class is Abigail, a girl in Emmy's homeroom who has a bunch of friends and has been singing in the San Francisco Children's Choir since she was a toddler. Emmy's hoping that Abigail will be her first new friend at school, but Abigail hides the fact that she loves computers from her other friends and hides the fact that she's friends with Emmy, too.

Coding might just turn out to be the key that Emmy's been waiting for, but even though programming languages are binary, boolean, either true or false, it turns out nothing else in Emmy's life is.

My thoughts: 

Written in verse and often including poems crafted in programming language (which increases in frequency throughout the book, allowing readers the chance to learn about elements of programming before they're extensively used in the poems), Emmy also uses a lot of musical terms. This feels so true to her character and really added to the depth of her character and helps the reader recognize how much Emmy longs to participate in the musical world that her parents belong to. All terms (coding and musical) are defined in a glossary in the back.

At its heart, this is a friendship story and the story of entering a new world and trying to find yourself. It may especially appeal to young coders, but I think there's a lot of appeal to readers of contemporary fiction (particularly novels in verse) across the board.


  • Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes (WordSong, 2013). Here's another novel in verse about a girl starting a new middle school and finding her passion with the help of a wonderful teacher. 
  • The Friendship Code (Girls Who Code) by Stacia Deutsch & Reshma Saujani (Penguin Workshop, 2017). Readers interested in more books about girls involved in coding and computer programming may enjoy the Girls Who Code series, starting with this book. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Some Places More Than Others

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson. Grades 4-6. Bloomsbury, September 2019. 208 pages. Reviewed from digital galley provided by publisher. 

Amara is turning twelve and starting to feel like she wants to know more about her family heritage and her cultural heritage. The perfect solution? Visit New York City for the first time and meet her grandfather and her cousins! But Amara's mom doesn't think she's old enough yet to handle herself in the city. Her father travels there for business but isn't keen to take her along. And then Amara learns that her father hasn't spoken to her grandfather in 12 years - they stopped speaking right around the time Amara was born.

A project for school gives Amara the perfect "in" - she has to fill a suitcase with memorabilia and stories from her family history - and Amara is overjoyed when her parents give in and tell her she's going to New York as her birthday present. Before she leaves, her mom tasks her with something very important: try to get dad to talk to her grandfather and mend fences. Amara agress, but she has no idea how she's going to do such a thing. Especially once she gets to the city and her dad's working all the time, her cousins don't want to be bothered with her, and she's still trying to piece together what it was that made them stop speaking to each other.

This is a coming-of-age story with a lot of heart and a good read for everyone who's ever felt that longing to know about family and to know about your own history and heritage.

It's a love letter to Harlem and to the African American history preserved in its streets. Learning about that history becomes more important to Amara than she thought it would be as she sees landmarks on the streets and as her father and grandfather point out important historical places, both personal to their family and in general African American history. Growing up in Oregon without many other African American families around, Amara feels removed from her cultural heritage. Of course, her journey to learn about her family history and to help her father mend fences with her grandfather is the centerpoint of her trip. She's learned that her father hasn't spoken to his father in 12 years, since Amara was born and her grandmother died. Amara's mother tasks her with helping her dad to find some time to mend fences with his dad.


  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad, 2010). African American girls travel across the country to meet family and learn about their heritage in these character-driven novels.
  • Like Vanessa by Tami Charles (Charlesbridge, 2018). African American girls follow their dreams in these character-driven novels. Set in 1983, Vanessa competes in a beauty pageant, while Amara travels to New York City.
  • As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum, 2016). Although As Brave as You features city-dwellers traveling to the rural South and Some Places More Than Others features a West Coast suburbanite traveling to New York City, both novels find African American tweens meeting family members for the first time and learning about their heritage in these quiet, character-driven stories.
  • Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices by Walter Dean Myers (Holiday House, 2004). One of my favorite aspects of the story is Amara learning about her cultural heritage through exploring her family's Harlem neighborhood. For more of that, pick up this collection of poems that bring historic residents of Harlem to life.

Monday, October 21, 2019

I Can Make This Promise

I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day. Grades 4-7. HarperCollins, October 2019. 264 pages. Reviewed from galley provided by publisher.


Edie is dealing with a lot of the typical middle school stuff this summer - her trio of friends is changing, she's getting braces for the first time, and she's working on her art. But everything changes when Edie discovers a box in the attic that contains letters, journals, and photos of a woman named Edith Graham. Edith Graham looks just like Edie and suddenly she's certain that she's found a key to the past she's always wondered about.

Edie has always known that she was half Native American, but she's never known any more than that because her mother was adopted by a white couple and has no link to her heritage... or so Edie thought. What can Edith Graham's memorabilia tell Edie about her ancestry? And why has her mother been keeping this information secret?

My thoughts:

This is an amazing novel about the power of heritage and the strong bonds that make families in a middle school story that has wide appeal. While Edie's dealing with a lot of the typical issues that middle schoolers face, she's also facing microaggressions and learning about cultural appropriation. That common microaggression "Where are you from?" takes on even deeper meaning for Edie since she's clueless about her heritage and thinks she has no way of finding out. When her best friends find out about the box Edie's found, one friend wants to take Edith Graham's story and use it for the short film contest they're working on. This makes Edie uncomfortable and sheds light on issues of cultural appropriation that are all too common.

In the moving climax of the story, Edie learns the tragic history of her family and how the actions of the American government in the 1970s have ripple effects that have shaped her own young life. She also learns why her mother has hidden the truth, avoiding discussion until she thought Edie was old enough to understand. That is probably the element that has hurt Edie the most throughout the story - the fact that her mother obviously has information about their heritage but has purposefully hidden it. Once the truth is revealed, it makes sense why this has been the case.

While the book is ultimately hopeful, it doesn't shy away from the terrible things that have happened to Native families in our history, making this an important addition to our middle grade shelves. Author Christine Day is Upper Skagit and parts of this book are inspired by her own family history. There are not too many #ownvoices middle grade books by and about Native Americans - this is a much-needed addition and I hope to read more from Christine Day!


  • Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson - Both of these #ownvoices stories feature middle school girls who are searching for information about their family history. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Hey, Hiatus

Image of Grumpy Cat with a book. Text: I only like two things: they're both books.

So I took a bit of an unintended blog hiatus for the past few months. There's been a lot going on, both in and outside of work. I had some thinking to do about what I wanted this blog to be and what was reasonable to make happen. One factor is that I know my programming and storytime posts get a lot more hits and interaction than book reviews, but I'm no longer doing any programming at my job. That content will remain available, but I don't plan to update or add to it.

What it came down to is that I love writing about books, so I intend to keep that up. Although my job encompasses adult  and youth collection development, I feel that my expertise and main interest lies in children's literature. So I'm making the decision to keep my focus on that and not worry too much about the rest of it. It doesn't mean that I'm never going to post about adult books, but it's just too much to try to be an expert in everything.

So, all that's just to say:

I'm back! If you enjoy reading about kid and teen books, you should stick around and starting Monday I'm hoping to post book reviews, book lists, and bookish-related stuff regularly.

What's been going on with you?