Thursday, November 28, 2019

12 Days of Giving

Back because I love it: 12 Days of Giving!

Starting on Sunday, December 1, for the next 12 days I will be posting a list each day with literary gift ideas for the children in your life. Books make a great gift because not only are they educational, but they're fun long after the holiday has passed. Need ideas right away? Check out my 12 days of giving tag to see last year's posts (and if you go way back, you can see posts from 10+ years ago when I was a baby librarian!).

Have someone on your list that none of these lists seem to help? Leave a comment on any post and I'll be happy to try to rustle up some suggestions for you!

And please remember your independent bookstores this holiday season! If you don't have a favorite local indie, may I suggest The Brain Lair, an independent children's bookstore located in South Bend, IN (you can order online!). It's run by the amazing Kathy Burnette, a former school librarian and kidlit blogger extraordinaire.

Here's what I've got coming up in the next 12 days and I'll update this list with links as the posts go live. It all starts tomorrow!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Child of St. Kilda

Child of St. Kilda by Beth Waters. Grades 2-5. Child's Play International, 2019. 64 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

I was going to include this book in my next picture book roundup, BUT I actually can't stop thinking about it and I decided I need to do a separate post about it just to make suuuuuure you don't miss it. November is a time of year that I always gravitate towards historical fiction and history and this book just hits that nostalgic historical spot that I crave this time of year. 

Norman John Gillies was one of the last children to live on St. Kilda. Born in 1925, Norman lived on the remote island of Hirta, part of the St. Kilda islands, about 100 miles off the coast of Scotland. His island home was so remote that animals had evolved that were different from any other animal in the world and sometimes there would be months without any contact from the outside world if the water was too rough for ships to pass and deliver mail. 

The people of St. Kilda had their community there and they lived peacefully. They didn't use money because they didn't need it - they operated on a trade basis and lived communally. You had to, in such a harsh and remote climate. But as time went on and technology and transportation improved, more and more people came to visit St. Kilda. Sometimes tourists brought disease with them - illnesses that the people of St. Kilda had no immunity to. And sometimes they brought word of an easier life on shore. As the people of St. Kilda succumbed to disease or younger people moved off the islands in search of an easier life, the population dwindled until it was finally so small that the community asked the British government to be relocated. 

I'm just fascinated by this tale of a people who are no longer really a people, a community that no longer exists, at least not in the way that it once did. Not to mention the unique animals found in St. Kilda - wrens and rodents that grow to enormous sizes due to their lack of predators, seabirds that aren't found anywhere else. The illustrations have a nostalgic air with their limited color palette, reminiscent of the picture books of the 1920s and 1930s when color was so expensive to print. It fits perfectly with the story. The sketchlike quality of the illustrations evokes the harsh landscape and brings to mind naturalists' sketchbooks. 

This is a true story and it's one that will fascinate a certain type of reader, those who are eager for a glimpse into the past and to learn about a people who no longer exist. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Fry Bread

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Grades PreK-4th. Roaring Brook Press, October 2019. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

So, this wonderful book. It's a love letter to cooking a special recipe surrounded by the people you love, who love you. It's also a powerful tool for representation of Native American people who are only part of our country's history, but part of our country's present. In bouncy text, the book goes through the process of cooking fry bread, celebrating the sounds, colors, and tastes associated with it. The illustrations depict a group of Native family members and friends who have gathered to eat together and I especially love that the illustrations show some people who don't fit the stereotypical description of "Native American" people having black hair, brown skin, and dark eyes. 

The back matter of the book is an amazing resource, going through and pointing out purposeful details in the illustration - the father's Seminole tattoos, for example, and what the symbols mean. It's amazing to me the amount of purpose and collaboration that must have come with illustrating this book. There are so many details that I wouldn't have known to look for and I surely appreciated them being pointed out. I'm sure readers familiar with the nations represented would notice and pick up on those details, so I think it's really appropriate to have the notes as part of the back matter where readers who need them can find them but they don't disrupt the flow of the story. The back matter also addresses a lot of issues surrounding Native American people that come up when teaching about Native Americans. This is an excellent tool for educators and adults who are sharing this book with the children in their lives, so do not skip it. 

One of my favorite parts of the book is the endpapers, which list the names of Native nations, some of which are federally recognized tribes (there are over 500 in the United States) and some of which are not. The back matter provides more information about how some tribes have become recognized and why not all tribes are recognized. (See? Don't skip it!)

The book includes a recipe for fry bread and author Kevin Maillard is careful to note that there are many differences in the recipes used by different people and from different nations and all are valid. I know in New Albany we got over 400 comments on a Facebook post about whether people put spaghetti in their chili (it's a thing here?), so I think that's something that's important to note. There's not just one "official" recipe for fry bread. Different people make it different ways and none of them are less "Native". 

I think this is an important book to have in libraries and classrooms, especially if you teach or discuss Native American nations as part of your curriculum. There's a lot that both kids and adults can learn from reading this book and it's perfect for sharing at this time of year when Americans are focused on sharing meals with loved ones and being with family and friends. 

Basically, I love this book and I want everyone to pick it up!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Picture Book Roundup #1

I traditionally haven't written much about picture books, aside from storytime posts, but that's changing now! I've been reading and keeping track of picture books more and more for my job and various side gigs, so I'd like to start featuring a monthly roundup of my favorites.


Benji, the Bad Day, and Me by Sally J. Pla, illustrated by Ken Min. Grades PreK-2. Lee & Low, 2018. Sammy is having the worst day EVER, but when he gets home from school he realizes that his little brother Benji who is on the autism spectrum has also been having a bad day. Sammy feels like no one notices his struggles next to his brother's and he also knows that he can't act out and express the way he feels the way he wants to because it will overstimulate his brother. Luckily, there is at least one person watching out for Sammy: Benji, who comes out from his special spot and uses his favorite blanket to wrap Sammy up like a burrito, just the way he likes to be comforted. This is a quietly moving story about the power and depth of family love and how bad days might look in one family with a child on the autism spectrum. This is definitely an important representation for siblings of kids on the spectrum, but I think general readers will get a lot out of it, too.

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez. Grades 1-3. Atheneum, 2019. When Teresa Carreño played the piano, her hands danced as the music brought her joy. She kept playing even as her family fled Venezuela's revolution and moved to the United States, a country in the midst of the Civil War. She became famous as a child prodigy and was invited to play for Abraham Lincoln at the White House. This gorgeous picture book biography has light and colorful art that dances across the page, just as Carreño's hands danced across the piano keys. It's an inspiring story of the power of music and will appeal to young musicians.


Ice Breaker: How Mabel Fairbanks Changed Figure Skating by Rose Viña, illustrated by Claire Almon. Grades 3-5. Albert Whitman, 2019. Mabel Fairbanks was drawn to the ice at a young age, but African Americans weren't allowed to skate in competition. She skated in different entertainment venues and then took up coaching, urging the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club to admit African American members. This book is a celebration of her love for the sport of figure skating and her inspiring story of breaking barriers. Grab it for your shelves as figure skating season is gearing up!

Lambslide by Ann Patchett, illustrated by Robin Glasser. Grades PreK-2. HarperCollins, 2019. Ooookay, when an adult author releases a picture book I am a little skeptical (even a favorite author like Ann Patchett), but I found this book to be delightful. When the lambs misunderstand the word "landslide", they decide that their farm DOES need a lambslide. But how to make it happen? Mama sheep advises them to start by consulting stakeholders and talking to community members, figure out where the funding will come from, etc. It's a civics lesson successfully packaged into an adorable farm story and relevant in today's politically-engaged climate. Pair this with Click Clack Moo for a civics-themed storytime.


The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Alea Marley. Grades PreK-2. Sterling, 2019. Harpreet wears a different patka every day, a different color to match his mood. But after his family moves to a new, cold place, Harpreet finds himself wearing white for feeling shy more often than not. But just one friend can start to turn that around. This is a relateable story for any kid who's experienced starting over in a new place or who has struggled with making friends. A note in the back of the book gives some information about the Sikh religion and the significance of wearing a turban.

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly. Grades K-3. Little, Brown, 2019. It's the first day of school and the first day that Faizah's big sister will be wearing hijab. She picks out a scarf the perfect blue of the ocean and sky and wears it proudly to school. To Faizah, she looks like a princess and she is proud to walk beside her and proud to think of herself wearing a similar scarf one day. When kids at school tease her sister, the girls don't hold on to the words, following their mother's advice that hurtful words don't belong to them but to the one who said them. This wonderful book celebrates the rite of passage that is wearing hijab for the first time with its proud text and bold, beautiful illustrations. This is a fantastic addition to your back-to-school displays.


Spencer's New Pet by Jessie Sima. Grades PreK-4. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. This delightful wordless picture book is full of humor and tension and has a delightful surprise ending. Spencer has a new pet - a balloon dog - and he's taking it everywhere he goes. But danger lurks everywhere - a hedgehog's spike at the vet, a bee's stinger at the park... so many sharp things to avoid! Can Spencer keep his new pet safe? This is a fun and different take on traditional pet stories and the illustrations pay homage to silent films. Hand this to fans of That is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems.

A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel. Grades K-4. Chronicle Books, 2019. With gorgeous, muted, sometimes a little abstract artwork and a gentle, rhythmic, evocative text, this picture book presents a stone. Depending on the time of year or which animals are near, the stone can be different things: a pebble to a moose, a hill to a bug, etc. But the stone is also always itself, sitting where it sits as everything changes all around it. This is a great book to share ideas about perspective and how it changes and also mindfulness and seeing the possibilities in things. Pair with If I Was the Sunshine by Julie Fogliano for a philosophical reading session.

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan. Grades K-3. Lee & Low, 2019. This beautiful book shows many different Muslim women (including a white-appearing woman) wearing hijab while out and about and relaxing at home while not wearing hijab. This is a great book to start a conversation about hijab or to answer questions from young children who might be curious about what's under a woman's hijab. An author's note at the end explains reasons why Muslim women might choose to wear hijab and that some observant Muslim women choose not to wear hijab.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Fresh New Face of Griselda

The Fresh New Face of Griselda by Jennifer Torres. Grades 3-7. Little, Brown, 2019. 245 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.


Griselda's starting sixth grade and she is really struggling with how her life has changed over the summer. Her dad lost his business and their family lost their house. Now they've moved in to Nana's house, her dad is away in Los Angeles looking for work, and she has to share a room with her big sister who can't afford to go away to college like she planned. Griselda has to settle for the plainest (cheapest) back to school clothes, she has to get free lunch at school for the first time, and she's too embarrassed to tell her best friend Sophia about any of it.

Instead of going to college, Griselda's sister Maribel is selling Alma cosmetics and when Griselda tags along on a sales call, she learns about a contest the company is running for junior sales associates. If she can sell 500 tubes of lip gloss by the end of the year, she might win $5000. It wouldn't be enough to solve all their problems, but it might be a start. But it's a big task and one she's going to have to keep secret - Griselda's mom would never let her sell makeup. Can she do it? And if she can, will it be enough to help her family?

My thoughts:

Here's another heartfelt contemporary story about a plucky young girl and her family from author Jennifer Torres. One thing I love about this book is the way that it approaches changes in a family's financial situation and how that affects the young people in the family. I think socioeconomic class and struggle is a theme that's still not explored in children's literature to the extent that a lot of our families actually experience it. What Griselda wants more than anything is for everything to go back to the way it was - their old house, their old neighborhood, and caring about the things she used to care about before worrying about money started taking up so much of her brainspace.

Another theme I love in the book is the sister relationship between Griselda and Mirabel. There's a pretty big age difference between them, but they're thrust together now more than ever before. They're sharing a room and working together now, a big change from Mirabel's plans to go away to college and be on her own for the first time. Maribel is a great role model for Griselda - not only as a salesperson, but as a woman in her family, taking her future into her own hands as she saves up money to move out and attend college.

This is a sweet story that, again, reminds me of a Disney Channel movie in the best way possible. If you're already a fan of Jennifer Torres for her wonderful books Stef Soto, Taco Queen and Flor and Miranda Steal the Show, you'll love meeting Griselda and her family, too.


Readers looking for Latinx characters dealing with changes in their families might also enjoy Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (Candlewick, 2018). Merci is a scholarship student at her fancy school and when her grandfather begins acting strangely, no one in her family will tell her what is happening.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Scholastic, 2018) is another #ownvoices novel about a girl helping her family out by taking on work. Mia helps her immigrant family run a motel in exchange for a place to live - while her parents clean rooms, Mia runs the front desk.

Readers looking for more stories dealing with socioeconomic class and changes in family situation might enjoy Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart (Delacorte, 2014). Benjamin enters sweepstakes and contests in hopes of helping his family avoid eviction. More books about families dealing with financial stresses include Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate (Feiwel & Friends, 2015) or How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 2007), both about families experiencing homelessness.

Readers interested in characters with entrepreneurial spirits may also enjoy The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies (HMH, 2007). Siblings Evan and Jessie compete to see who can sell the most lemonade.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Orange for the Sunsets

Orange for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide. Grades 4-8. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 336 pages. Reviewed from galley provided by publisher. 


Asha and Yesofu have been best friends forever, but now that they're twelve, their differences are starting to come between them. Both born in Uganda, Asha is of Indian heritage while Yesofu is African. That means they're from very different social classes - Yesofu's family works for Asha's family - a fact that Asha sometimes seems clueless about. Indians are white collar workers while Africans are manual laborers. Asha lives in a nice house with indoor plumbing while Yesofu lives in a shack and has to fetch water from the well every day. 

When president Idi Amin declares that all Indians have 90 days to leave Uganda, Asha is in denial that anything needs to change. She was born in Uganda and a Ugandan citizen, surely they can't force her to leave her home. But Yesofu is torn - Amin's promise that banishing the Indians will pave the way for a better life for Africans is appealing to him. He would love to have a better life. But does it have to mean that his best friend must leave Uganda forever? 

Based on real events, this is a story about a friendship torn asunder and a country in crisis. 

My thoughts: 

 This is a historical event that I really knew nothing about and I always really appreciate learning more about our world through compelling fiction. Author Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and her family left shortly after Amin made his announcement, so she has experience with this subject as more and more family members showed up on their doorstep in London after they fled. 

The story is told from both Asha's and Yesofu's points of view, alternating chapters between viewpoints, and I think that's really effective at providing more than one view of this event. Both characters grow and change their minds as the story progresses. Asha begins to realize how unfair her treatment of Yesofu has been throughout their friendship - she treated him more like a pet than a true friend - and Yesofu, at first hopeful about the changes that President Amin promises, realizes that there are going to be no easy fixes for his country. Maybe my favorite aspect of the novel is the character development of Yesofu's African friend Akello who is mild mannered at the beginning of the book but progresses down a violent path and eventually joins the soldiers who are beating people in the streets. 

Scenes of violence against Indians are compelling as Asha finds herself in the middle of a riot on India Street and her family is present at a riot at the Uganda - India national cricket match. As time progresses, sections count down from the 90 days Indians were given to leave the country, an effective method of building tension as the deadline looms closer and Asha's family still has not left. 

Back matter includes a timeline of events and an author's note that explains more about why there were so many Indians living in Uganda and gives more details about what happened. 


  • The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (Kokila, 2018). Young readers interested in kids coping with times of historical political turmoil will enjoy both of these stories. The Night Diary is about the partition of India in the 1940s. 
  • The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Little, Brown, 2014). Kids face violence as they flee their countries in these historical stories about political upheaval. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

A Good Kind of Trouble

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée. Grades 5-8. Balzer + Bray, March 2019. 368 pages. Reviewed from galley provided by publisher.


Shayla is allergic to trouble. She is a rules-follower, the kind of person who gets anxious about any kind of conflict, the kind of person who keeps to herself and doesn't make waves. But when she starts junior high, things start to get a little complicated. First, she's assigned as Bernard's lab partner. Bernard is a rough kid, the kind of kid who's always in trouble, and Shayla doesn't want anything to do with him.

Then, she starts having issues with her best friends. Shayla, Isabella, and Julia have always been best friends, calling themselves the United Nations because they're all from different ethnic backgrounds. But now Julia's hanging out with the Asian kids more and Shayla's sister keeps asking her why she doesn't have any Black friends. Race never seemed to matter, but now it's starting to. Especially since there's tension in their California neighborhood as a white police officer is on trial for shooting and killing an unarmed Black man.

Shayla joins the track team where she meets a lot of African American girls and isn't sure she fits in with them. She's navigating first crushes and trying to deal with boys who seem to have a crush on her. Throughout all this, Shayla's trying not to ruffle any feathers, but it turns out that sometimes staying quiet is worse than speaking up.

Shayla may be allergic to trouble, but maybe sometimes there's trouble that's worth having, especially when it means standing up for what you believe in.

My thoughts:

This is a really solid middle school story with Shayla dealing with many of the universal issues that middle schoolers face - changing friendships, starting to figure out who you are and the person you want to be, dealing with crushes. And all of those smaller issues work together to show Shayla's character development as she learns to find her voice and speak up. Shayla learns that there are times that you need to make your voice heard - from being up front with a boy who she's just not that into to taking a stand when injustice happens in your community.

This is a great Black Lives Matter book for middle schoolers who aren't ready to tackle the violence and language of The Hate U Give. It has a lot of great discussion points about race and prejudice and unfair systems, but it honestly didn't feel like an "issue book" to me. Shayla's character development is very real and believable as she navigates all the things happening in her life and learns and grows from her mistakes.


  • Blended by Sharon M. Draper (Atheneum, 2018). These books feature African American girls coming of age as they face racism in their communities. 
  • Lu by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum, 2018). African American middle schoolers navigate hurdles both on and off the track in these books. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Dear Sweet Pea

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy. Grades 4-6. Balzer + Bray, October 2019. 288 pages. Reviewed from digital galley provided by publisher. 

I had high hopes for Julie Murphy's first middle grade novel because I am a huge fan of Dumplin' and Puddin'. Friends, it was everything I hoped it would be.


Sweet Pea is a small town Texas girl with a lot on her plate right now. Her parents have just gotten divorced because her dad realized that he's gay. Things are heating up in the war against her former best friend who ditched her for some older, cooler, thinner? girls. And her neighbor, Miss Flora Mae the eccentric author of the town newspaper's advice column has left town, charging Sweet Pea with gathering her mail and sending it to her so she can continue to write the column - all top secret, of course.

Things start to really go awry when Sweet Pea decides to crash Kiera's birthday party and completely humiliates herself by throwing up all over Trampoline World. That's why, when she sees that Kiera has written Miss Flora Mae for advice about her parents fighting, she takes it upon herself to write a mean-spirited response and slip it into Flora Mae's submissions for the paper.

And it all goes downhill from there.

My thoughts:

I loved that this is a book about a fat kid that felt very real to me - it's written by a fat lady and includes incidents like dress shopping when the stores don't carry your sizes and how you feel when a friend talks about getting fat like it's the worst thing that could ever happen to you. But the book is firmly centered on the story. It's not an issue book about being the fat kid or even about self-acceptance (although readers will get plenty of those elements). It's a story about growing up and navigating friendships and navigating changes in your family.

I loved Sweet Pea so much - she's not afraid to be herself, but she's not fearless either. She felt extremely real to me. I would read a thousand books about her.


  • All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (Putnam, 2014). These sweet and funny books both feature girls writing anonymously for newspapers - Sweet Pea writes Miss Flora Mae's advice column and Gladys (All Four Stars) writes restaurant reviews for a city paper despite being expressly forbidden from dealing with food after starting a fire in the family's kitchen trying to use a cooking blowtorch. 
  • Shug by Jenny Han (Simon, 2006). Southern, small-town girls deal with changes to their family and friends in these character-driven novels.