Monday, August 31, 2020

I Am Not a Label

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I Am Not a Label: 34 Disabled Artists, Thinkers, Athletes, and Activists from Past and Present by Cerrie Burnell, illustrated by Lauren Mark Baldo. Grades 3-7. Wide Eyed Editions, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Collective biographies - how do they do at your library? Not always great at mine, but this is one that I was thrilled to put on our shelves. This is a collection unlike any I have seen yet and it's high time to put more disability representation on our library shelves. This collective biography gathers brief bios of 34 different disabled people who have done awesome things. I really appreciate how diverse the collection is, highlighting not only people with a variety of different disabilities (physical and mental, visible and invisible), but people from around the globe and of many different races. Each of the 34 people profiles here gets a spread with a portrait and a page of information about their contributions to the world. There are folks you may have heard of here, like Frida Kahlo and Stephen Hawking and plenty of names that will probably be new, from Paralympic stars to artists to activists and more. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Dancing at the Pity Party

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Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder. Grades 6+ with crossover for adults. 208 pages. Dial Books, 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. 

I can't do better than this publisher blurb, so here's what this book is about: 

"From before her mother's first oncology appointment through the stages of her cancer to the funeral, sitting shiva, and afterward, when she must try to make sense of her life as a motherless daughter, Tyler Feder tells her story in this graphic novel that is full of piercing--but also often funny--details. She shares the important post-death firsts, such as celebrating holidays without her mom, the utter despair of cleaning out her mom's closet, ending old traditions and starting new ones, and the sting of having the "I've got to tell Mom about this" instinct and not being able to act on it. This memoir, bracingly candid and sweetly humorous, is for anyone struggling with loss who just wants someone to get it."

I picked up the galley at PLA and I didn't read it right away, but when I saw how many holds were gathering on this title at my library, I picked it up to see what the buzz was about. I was surprised at how much I loved this book. Like... LOVED. It's not an easy read and I'm not a member of the Dead Mom Club, so it's not a story that I especially identify with, but it still struck a deep chord in me. I think it's got wide appeal for kids in middle school and high school, but also for adults, especially adults who experienced a major loss while they were in their teens or young adulthood. Readers who have experienced the loss of a parent or another close loss will find recognition and acceptance here, but even readers who have not experienced this loss should tune in for just a well-crafted and emotionally vulnerable story. Have tissues nearby, of course. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Something to Say

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Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée. Grades 5-8. 304 pages. Balzer + Bray, 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. 

I was a huge fan of Lisa Moore Ramee's debut, A Good Kind of Trouble, and this follow up does not disappoint. Painfully shy Jenae resists the friendship advances of a somewhat weird kid at her new middle school, but when they're paired together for a debate assignment, she'll have to face her fear of public speaking. She's convinced that she can make things happen with her thoughts and blames herself for her brother's basketball injury that's kept him home from college recovering. And when her grandfather's health takes a turn for the worse, she'll have to step up and help her family in a way she's never had to before. This is a great book for readers who love character-driven stories - Jenae's character development is fantastic and I loved the slow burn friendship that eventually blossoms between the two main characters. Hand this one to fans of Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina or My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020


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Lift by Mihn Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat. Grades PreK-2nd. Unpaged. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

This gorgeous, imaginative picture book is glorious. When little brother starts pushing the elevator buttons, a job that used to belong to big sister, she is not very happy. After an elevator mishap, she swipes a broken elevator button from the maintenance man and tapes it up in her room. When she pushes the button, she discovers that it takes her to a different, fascinating place each time. But she can't spend all her time in magical places - she has a little brother who needs her, after all. This is a book that older siblings will definitely relate to and it combines wonder and whimsy with a strong loving message about the bond of siblings.

With beautiful illustrations and a storyline that will appeal to a wide range of readers, I keep sending this book out in our book care packages as often as it appears back on the shelf. It's a story that will capture imaginations and it could be a really fun idea for an imaginative game to play. (Plus, who doesn't love pushing buttons!?)

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Felix Ever After

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Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. Grades 8+ 368 pages. Balzer + Bray, 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. 

How do I love Felix? Let me count the ways. This is one of my favorite books of the year and I keep pressing it on readers at any opportunity. Felix Love has never been in love (ironic, huh?) and he's desperate to know what it feels like and why it seems to happen so easily for everyone but him. Black, queer, and trans, Felix worries that he doesn't fit anywhere and that he'll never find love. After an anonymous person starts sending him transphobic messages, Felix is convinced he knows who's doing it and comes up with a plan to get revenge. The one thing he's not prepared for his catfishing scheme to land him in a quasi love triangle.

This is a wonderful queer teen love story about finding yourself and really embracing your identity and declaring yourself worthy of love just as you are. Felix is trans, but still questioning his identity, even after transitioning and top surgery. Something about "boy" just doesn't always fit. He's obsessed with applying to Brown University and just as obsessed with the idea that he might not get in. His home life is okay, but his mom left and left behind some big scars. Felix starts out the book believing that he's unworthy of love. He's desperate to fall in love and be loved in return, but he's equally afraid of even trying.

I just loved Felix so much. He felt so real to me in that he was not always making the best choices and couldn't always see things that were right in front of his face. And this is a book written for all kinds of readers. Readers who may not be super familiar with the queer community will definitely get an education, but it mostly feels organic, written through the lens of Felix still questioning his own identity and learning about his community. And readers looking for trans stories should definitely pick up this own voices book. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

Clever Hans: The True Story of the Counting, Adding, and Time-Telling Horse

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Clever Hans: The True Story of the Counting, Adding, and Time-Telling Horse by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Mike Lowery. Grades 2-5. 32 pages. Putnam, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Clever Hans was a horse who could do math problems, tell time, read, spell, and more... or could he? Even after seeing the horse answering questions, some people thought it was somehow a hoax, but it took a scientist and a study to figure out how. It turns out that Clever Hans really WAS clever, but not in the way that most people thought. 

I loved, loved, loved this nonfiction picture book, which is reminiscent of one of my favorite picture book authors, Meghan McCarthy. It's an interesting and little known topic - I remember learning about Clever Hans in my college psychology classes, but chances are he'll be new to kids. The narrative is written with a good dose of humor in a conversational tone. The cartoony illustrations add to the humor and appeal of this book. appreciated the author's note that explained why Clever Hans is important to modern research and I loved that the book emphasizes the ways that Hans really was clever, even if not in exactly the ways that people originally thought. This is a great book about the scientific process and a fun animal story in one. A winner.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Before the Ever After

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Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson. Grades 4-7. 176 pages. Nancy Paulsen Books, September 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. 

ZJ's dad has always been his hero. In fact, he's been a lot of people's hero. ZJ's dad is a pro football star, playing on TV every week and well known to everyone ZJ knows. But lately, ZJ's dad hasn't been himself. His head hurts, sometimes so badly that he can't do anything else. He forgets things, including his own son sometimes. And he hasn't been able to play football, his very favorite thing, for awhile. ZJ copes by making music - composing songs that help him express his feelings - and by leaning on his best buds, boys who remember how ZJ's dad was before. Before his injuries started taking their toll. ZJ has hope that things will be okay one day, that there will be a happily ever after. But what's he supposed to do in the meantime, before the ever after? 

This is a special book. And you know I say that having served on the Newbery Committee that awarded Jacqueline Woodson with a Newbery Honor for Brown Girl Dreaming. ZJ's story took me in and wouldn't let go. This is a poignant story, written in exquisite verse, about a family in flux, a family with plenty of questions and no answers. It's a story about the emotional lives of boys and about the relationships you build that are stronger than bad times. It's about the friends who will always be there no matter what and the way family comes together to help cope when disaster strikes. It's about memory and loss and hope and joy and grief, all wrapped up in one.

It's a story about all that, but it's also a story about football. Of course ZJ plays football, although now that his schoolmates are wanting to switch from touch to tackle, ZJ's not too sure about that. And it's a story about music and the power of music to soothe and express. There's a lot here, but never too much. A little something for everyone. 

I'd hand this to younger fans of The Crossover by Kwame Alexander or Ghost by Jason Reynolds, readers who like a powerful story wrapped up in sports (comparisons I don't take lightly, since those are both beloved books to me!). I'd also try it on fans of Nikki Grimes's Garvey's Choice or Coe Booth's Kinda Like Brothers for readers who like stories about the emotional lives of boys. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Stepping Stones


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Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley. Grades 4-7. 224 pages. Random House Graphic, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

You may know Lucy Knisley from her adult graphic memoirs (which are also excellent), Relish: My Life in the Kitchen or Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos (which was a LibraryReads pick in February 2019). Or you may know her super cute picture book You Are New, which is a wonderful new baby gift and was on my 2019 gift list. And here is her middle grade graphic novel debut and I'm pleased to report that this is also a great book. 

Lots of changes are happening for Jen. She's moving with her mom to a country farm and dealing with new weekend stepsisters. Life on Peapod Farm means new chores, new routines, and helping out with the weekend farmer's market. And although her mom's super happy being in nature, Jen would rather be inside reading comics. She knows that her mom's counting on her to get along with everyone, it's not easy when her new know-it-all stepsister seems to be perfect at everything and Jen feels like she never measures up. 

This is a story about a girl finding her own strengths when she feels like she doesn't quite fit in, even within her own family. It's a story that will speak to many young readers, especially (but not limited to) kids in newly blended families. Hand this to fans of Raina Telgemeier's Sisters and Vera Brosgol's Be Prepared.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

We Are Water Protectors


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We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom (Ojibwe), illustrated by Michaela Goade (Tlingit). PreK - 5th Grade. 40 pages. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

This gorgeous book, inspired by many Native-led demonstrations, urges readers to treasure and protect the Earth's most precious resource, our water. With lyrical text and stunning watercolor illustrations, this magnificent book celebrates people standing against pipelines and other threats to our planet's water. This is an important book with an urgent environmental message that's perfect for young environmentalists. It's also important representation for Native American children and families. A repeating chorus of "We stand / with our songs / and our drums. / We are still here." reminds readers that Native Nations still exist. The illustrations include a wide variety of Native people, including indigenous people with light skin and hair. 

If you display or promote books about Native nations during November and all times of year, this is a book that needs to be among them. It's a book that I purchased for my personal collection and when a librarian says that, it means a lot. It'll also be on my gift lists this holiday season, for sure. Your library shelves need this book! 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Fighting Words

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Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Grades 4-7. 272 pages. Dial Books, August 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. 

Della has always had her sister Suki by her side. Suki looks out for her, even when the going gets impossibly tough: when their mom went to prison, when their mom's boyfriend took them in, and when something so terrible happened that they had to run. Even in foster care, Della knows that she can always count on Suki to be there for her. But when Suki needs help, is Della strong enough to face up to what was really happening in their old house and do what she can to help her big sister? 

This book... my heart... This is definitely a book that will stick with me. Della's story is not always easy to read, but it's an important story. There are kids who will see themselves in Della and there will be kids who start to understand others a little bit better because of Della. You may already know that I am a super fan of Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and The War That Saved My Life is one I recommend over and over again.  Fighting Words is contemporary, but just like in The War That Saved My Life, it has a plucky young heroine facing impossible odds and depending on the kindness of a new caretaker after her biological parents fail her. 

This is a story that could easily be too much for young readers, but Della has a strong voice and she narrates her story with a humor and spirit that make this a really compelling read. It reads like a modern take on The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson and I would also hand it to fans of the searing middle grade memoir Free Lunch by Rex Ogle. Both books take a look at the inner lives of kids dealing with tough stuff at home and how it affects them in school and beyond. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

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A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown. Grades 7+  480 pages. Balzer + Bray, 2020. Review copy purchased. 

This is the lush teen Afrofantasy that you want if you were a fan of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. As I was listening to the audiobook, I got flashes of The Hunger Games, too, so I think if you enjoyed any or all of that, you should seek this one out. Malik will stop at nothing to save his younger sister from the vengeful spirit that's holding her hostage, and when he's tasked with killing the princess of Ziran, he figures out a way to enter the Solstasia contest to get close her. Princess Karina's mother has been assassinated and Karina's only hope is a resurrection spell that calls for the blood of a king. So she makes her hand in marriage the Solstasia prize. As the fates of these two teens wind closer and closer together, they start getting to know each other, each with an ulterior motive. I loved the twists and turns and the well-built fantasy world that incorporates magic and legend. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

You Should See Me in a Crown

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You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson. Grades 7+ 328 pages. Scholastic, 2020. Review copy provided publisher. 

Liz Lighty who would never have been caught dead in her school's cut-throat competition for prom queen. However, due to unfortunate circumstances, she finds that she needs the scholarship prize given to prom queen, so enter the race she does. Is her school ready for a queer, Black, poor, nerdy prom queen? Well, ready or not, here Liz comes!

I absolutely loved this book and I keep recommending it over and over again to anyone who will listen to me at my library. This is the gay prom story that you always wanted and it's an absolutely perfect summer read. There's plenty of humor as Liz feels her way through this prom competition with the help of her loyal best friends, but the book also touches on some serious subjects. Liz is intersectionally diverse and trying to figure out how much of herself she wants to show to the world. 

Author Leah Johnson is from Indiana and the book's set in a small Indiana town, making this an especially delightful read for those of us in Indiana. Hand this one to fans of The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding or Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Surviving the City

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Surviving the City Vol. 1 by Tasha Spillett Sumner, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. Grades 8+ 56 pages. Highwater Press. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Absolutely haunting, this graphic novel packs quite a punch in one slim volume. Best friends Miikwan (Anishinaabe) and Dez (Inninew) are so close that they share everything, even doing their berry fast together. Miikwan carries with her the grief of her missing mom and Dez is dealing with a social worker trying to take her away from living with her sick grandmother. Throughout the story, the spirits of missing women, girls, and two-spirit people walk among the living, as do the malevolent spirits of the white people (men) who would express violence against Native women.

It's truly haunting, more so because this is a real issue that many white people are not aware of. This graphic novel, an American Indian Youth Literature Award honor book, deserves a spot on your library shelves if you're serving teens or adults. The second volume is due out in October. Hand to readers interested in racial inequity, indigenous people's issues, and social justice.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Bedtime Bonnet

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Bedtime Bonnet by Nancy Redd, illustrated by Nneka Myers. PreK - 2nd grade. 40 pages. Random House, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

"In my family, when the sun goes down our hair goes up!" A little girl takes us on a tour of each family's nighttime hair routine, but when it's time for her own she realizes that her bedtime bonnet is nowhere to be found! Just as important as brushing her teeth, the bonnet is part of her routine. Where could it be? This is a bright, effervescent family story about nighttime hair routines, perfect for fans of Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry and a great own voices story to add to storytimes about bedtime, family, or all about me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Fly on the Wall

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Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai. Grades 4-7. 336 pages. Henry Holt, September 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. 

Calling all Wimpy Kid fans! Remy Lai's latest highly illustrated novel is right up your alley! Henry is sick and tired of his family babying him. They are so overprotective that he can barely do anything without someone hovering over him. And this summer when his parents announce that the family has decided to forgo their annual visit to Henry's dad in Singapore, he takes matters into his own hands and concocts a plan to get to Singapore by himself.

Of course, plans do not always go... to plan... and Henry will learn a lot about himself on this journey. As readers follow Henry's hilarious misadventures, we also learn about his breakup with his best (and only) friend and about what led Henry to become The Fly on the Wall, an anonymous online troll who mocks the other kids and teachers at his school via a hurtful web comic.

I was a huge fan of Remy Lai's debut Pie in the Sky and it's a title that I press into the hands of all my Wimpy Kid fans who are looking for something else to read. When Fly on the Wall comes out, you can bet I will be pressing that one into hands, too. The book is written in journal format as Henry documents his journey in his trusty notebook. It's laugh-out-loud funny, but also a poignant story about a kid who feels out of place at school and struggles to make and keep friends. Hand this Australian import to fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Dork Diaries

Monday, August 10, 2020

Eat Your Rocks, Croc

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Eat Your Rocks, Croc!: Dr. Glider's Advice for Troubled Animals by Jess Keating, illustrated by Pete Oswald. Grades PreK - 3rd. 40 pages. Orchard Books, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

What's a platypus to do when a family of humans keeps trying to catch him and he's feeling extremely helpless? Go to Dr. Glider for advice! Dr. Glider reassures Patrick Platypus that platypuses are anything but helpless - they're one of few venomous mammals in the world! How about when Sebastian Nurse Shark can't shake the small fish that are stuck to his belly? Dr. Glider explains that they are remoras who will help keep him clean.

Each spread in this adorable science picture book addresses another animal "problem" with Dr. Glider providing interesting animal facts to advise and reassure his animal patients. This is a really cute way to present animal facts and this book is a sure hit with kids who like shows like The Wild Kratts. It's a picture book that will suit a wide range of ages. Preschoolers will enjoy the animal characters and learning animal facts, which elementary school kids will be able to read it on their own. This would be a really fun gift for the young animal lovers in your life. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Bodega Cat

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Bodega Cat by Louie Chin. Grades 1-5. Pow! Kids Books. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Chip is the cat who runs his family's bodega (neighborhood grocery store). From helping with the breakfast rush to counting inventory, to making deliveries, Chip keeps things running pretty smoothly. He knows the best spots for napping, he plays with the neighborhood kids after school, and life is pretty sweet for this bodega cat. 

This delightful, colorful picture book oozes personality and will enchant young animal lovers, whether they live in the city or the country. For kids in New York or large cities, this book is an ode to their way of life. For kids in the rest of the country, this is a peek into city life. No matter where they live, cat-lovers will fall in love with Chip who takes absolute credit for the success of his family's bodega. 

This one's a bit long for storytime, but I think elementary school kids will really enjoy it. Try it on fans of Detective Larue: Letters from the Investigation by Mark Teague or Bink the Space Cat by Ashley Spires. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

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From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks. Grades 4-7. 304 pages. Katherine Tegen Books. Review copy provided by my local library. 

What do you do when life throws you a curveball? Zoe Washington plans to spend the summer baking and avoiding her ex best friend who happens to also be her next door neighbor. Now that she's turned twelve, she's finally old enough to apply to be a contestant on her favorite kids' baking reality show IF she can prove to her parents that she's mature enough to handle it. But when Zoe grabs the mail early one day, looking for a birthday card from a generous aunt that's on its way, she discovers a letter from the father she's never met, the father who's been in jail since before she was born. And, without telling her mom who discourages Zoe from knowing anything about her birth father, Zoe writes him back.

Zoe's a character that I was so glad to get to know, and this book is the perfect combination of sweet and serious. It touches on prejudice and our flawed legal system, leavening the serious subject matter with Zoe's exploits in the kitchen and her friendship struggles. I really enjoyed the book and would hand this to readers of A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee or One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

My Hair

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My Hair by Danielle Murrell Cox. Ages 0-3. Board book. HarperFestival, June 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

With playful rhyming text and simple pictures that portray African American children with a wide range of skin tones (including a child with vitiligo and children with freckles), this board book is a celebration of many different hairstyles. This is an affirming book to have on hand for African American families and a book that could be included in any toddler or preschool unit about all about me or human bodies. 

It gently sets boundaries ("My hair is mine / from curls to puffs / You can look / but please don't touch"). It includes lots of great vocabulary words, both hairstyle words (Bantu knots, braided, puffs) and non-hairstyle words (funky, snip, slay), making this board book a solid choice for early literacy storytimes. The trim size is a bit small for sharing with a group, but the pictures are simple and bold, so it could work. And add it to the growing list of board books that can help families who are not used to talking about race start a conversation with small children.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

2020 Indiana Authors Awards: Children's Shortlist

Yesterday, the children's shortlist for the Indiana Authors Awards was announced! Do you know about the Indiana Authors Award? These biennial awards recognize the best books written by Indiana authors from the past two years. Authors who have lived full- or part-time in Indiana for at least 5 years or who have deep connections to the state but are not currently living in Indiana may be considered for these awards. I was so pleased to see an excellent shortlist in the children's category. I haven't read every book on this list yet, but the ones I have read are wonderful and they all deserve a spot on your library shelves. 
Indiana librarians, this is an easy idea for a display, book list, or spotlight! 

Read more about these books and their authors here! Winners in all categories will be announced September 1. 

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Mya in the Middle (The Magnificent Mya Tibbs) by Crystal Allen. Balzer + Bray, 2018. 

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Granted by John David Anderson. Walden Pond Press, 2018. 

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Book of Flight: 10 Record-Breaking Animals with Wings by Gabrielle Balkan, illustrated by Sam Brewster. Phaidon, 2019. 

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Clackety Track: Poems About Trains by Skila Brown, illustrated by Jamey Christoph. Candlewick, 2019. 

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Can I Be Your Dog? by Troy Cummings. Random House, 2018. 

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Hello, I'm Here! by Helen Frost and Rick Leider. Candlewick, 2019. 

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Wake Up, Woods by Michael Homoya and Shane Gibson, illustrated by Gillian Harris. Rubber Ducky Press, 2019. 

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Attucks!: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City by Phillip Hoose. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2019. 

Monday, August 3, 2020


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Heartstopper: Volume 1 by Alice Oseman. Grades 7+ 288 pages. Graphix, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Oh, this book, it did make me squee. This delightful graphic novel is the story of two high schoolers, Charlie and Nick. On the surface, they're complete opposites. Charlie's a brooding, openly gay drummer and Nick is a popular, athletic rugby star. They meet by chance, seated next to each other in class, and when Nick sees how fast Charlie can run in PE class, he invites him to join the school's rugby team. And although Charlie's best friend teases him for liking a straight, rugby player, Charlie agrees. 

One thing to know is that this is the first volume of the story and it ends on a cliffhanger that actually make me say "Noooooo" out loud. The next volume is due out in the US in November. But a further thing to know, which is possibly a slight spoiler, is that the entire graphic novel trilogy is a prequel to a teen novel starring Charlie's older sister, so if you're concerned about Charlie & Nick, you can go look that one up. There's a reason I'm filing this under "romance", is what I'm saying. 

Hand this to fans of Rainbow Rowell's Pumpkinheads or Kevin Panetta's Bloom