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.

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?

Monday, July 22, 2019

#24in48 Finish Line!

This weekend was the 24 in 48 Readathon and it was a blast. I ended up logging 24 hours of reading with about 10 minutes to spare Sunday night.

I finished 8 complete books, parts of 2 others, and listened to a couple of hours on my current audiobook.

Books I finished during the challenge:

Like a Love Story by Adbi Nazemian (Balzer + Bray, June 2019) - I had started this one previously and finished it up as my first book Saturday morning

The Miracle & Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets by Sarah Miller (Schwartz & Wade, August 2019)

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez (Nobrow, 2017)

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum, October 2019)

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews (First Second, June 2019)

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (Putnam, August 2019)

Meal by Blue Delliquanti (Iron Circus Comics, 2019)

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden (Putnam, August 2019)

Bloom by Kevin Panetta (First Second, 2019)

And for my last book of the challenge, I got a little over halfway through Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (Rick Riordan Presents, January 2020). 

My lovely audiobook companion while I was doing laundry and talking walks outside (despite the intense heat we got this weekend) was I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver (Scholastic Audiobooks, May 2019). 

You can look for more posts about these books in the weeks to come. 

Whew! What a GREAT weekend of reading! One of the 24in48 challenges along the way was to post about your favorite book of the challenge and I can't really do that because I chose absolutely excellent books. Seriously, they were all great. 

This time around I did plan ahead to have a stack of graphic novels to read in between longer prose novels and I think that really helped me. I felt better about how the challenge was going when my completed book count was going up and the graphic novels, being shorter reads, really helped with that. 

One thing that the challenge team did that I thought was so, so neat was that they asked participants to log any finished books in their spreadsheet, which were then added to a July 2019 24in48 Readathon Goodreads shelf. It's already got over 1600 different titles logged to it. I think it's really neat to be able to see what books were read over the weekend. 

The challenge hosts were phenomenal at posting all weekend, hosting giveaways and challenges, and responding to folks on social media. I want to send a huge thank you to the 24 in 48 Team! 

And they've set the dates for the January challenge - mark your calendars for 
 January 18-19, 2020 
for the next challenge!