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!

Friday, July 19, 2019

#24in48 TBR

It's time for another 24 in 48 Readathon!

Starting Saturday, July 20 at 12:01am, participants will try to read 24 hours of the next 48 hours. I love this readathon and I haven't been able to participate in the past couple due to prior commitments, but this weekend remained free, so I'm really excited to jump in.

Of course, I've been working on a TBR pile of contenders. I've got a small stack of graphic novels (nice quick reads between longer books!) and some new books and galleys. This is a fraction of my actual TBR shelves, but some of the books I'm most excited to get to.

And I have a Kindle full of galleys, as well. Here are some of my top picks from my Kindle stash: 

SO WE'LL SEE. I definitely like to have lots of choices and that's not going to be an issue for this readathon. 

I'll mostly be posting on Twitter through the weekend, so follow me @abbylibrarian and check out the hashtag #24in48 if you're interested in following along. I will update with another blog post at the finish line, if not before. If you're participating in the readathon, good luck and I wish you many unputdownable books! 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Our First StoryWalk!

This summer, a professional dream of mine came true. Our library put in our first StoryWalk at a local park. I have always wanted to do one and I'm so grateful that my colleagues were so supportive of the idea. It was truly a team effort!

Our first story in the StoryWalk is A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin. She's one of my all-time favorite authors and this story fit in perfectly with our summer reading theme, A Universe of Stories. 

While you can create StoryWalk posts a number of different ways, our library had funding to order premade frames from StoryWalk Solutions. Our Floyd County Parks & Recreation folks installed them for us and they look really nice. Each frame unscrews at the bottom so you can change out the story. 

Our amazing marketing coordinator / graphic artist designed the spreads and we physically took apart a couple of copies of the book and glued them in before laminating them to create the spreads for each frame. This was a ton of work and we will definitely be seeking out permissions to use digital images for future stories so that we can create the spreads as digital files and then just print and laminate them. 

On each spread, Ms. J and I came up with some kind of physical activity or dialogic reading question / talking prompt to encourage interaction and discussion as families walk along the StoryWalk together. 

The walking path at this park is about three quarters of a mile and we ordered 20 posts, which is what I am told is the usual amount that libraries order. For A Big Mooncake for Little Star, that allowed us to include the entire book, plus an extra post in the middle where we placed a little activity break. Post 1 has the cover and info about the StoryWalk. Post 2 has the gorgeous endpapers. Posts 3-19 have the spreads from the story with one "activity break" in the middle (Post 13 below). And Post 20 has Grace Lin's author's note and more library info. 

This is a permanent installation and we plan on changing out the featured stories quarterly-ish. My hope is that we'll be able to install more StoryWalks in our community!

I know you probably have questions, so hit me up in the comments and I'll write a follow-up post to answer everything. And if you have a StoryWalk in your community, I would love to know what's worked for you and what your favorite stories have been! 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Planet Earth is Blue

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos. Grades 4-7. Random House, May 2019. 240 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 


It's 1986 and Nova has just been placed in a new foster home, a home without her older sister for the first time, and Nova is devastated. Her sister said she'd always be there for her, which is especially important to Nova because Nova has autism and she is almost completely nonvocal. Bridget was the one person who could always understand her and who knew that Nova understands more than anyone gives her credit for. Nova can read, she knows the alphabet, she knows what's going on around her, but since she mostly doesn't speak, most adults in her life assume that she's developmentally delayed. 

Nova is obsessed with space and right now she's particularly obsessed with the upcoming Challenger launch - the chance to see a teacher in space for the first time. Her sister Bridget has promised to come back for the launch, so they can watch it together. As the days count down and the launch gets closer and closer, Nova starts to get nervous that Bridget won't keep her promise. 

Written partly in the third person and partly in first person as Nova writes letters to her missing sister, this is a book that will have you feeling all the feels. 

My thoughts:  Readers who like to feel ALL THE FEELS need look no further. This book absolutely broke my heart. All I could do after I finished it was sit in the dark and listen to "Space Oddity" by David Bowie on repeat. Okay, that's maybe a little dramatic. But seriously. The feels. The title of this book and the heavy referrals to Nova's favorite song are so apropos because the way that song makes me feel is exactly how this book made me feel.

I kind of feel like this book is a love letter to what foster families and special education teachers can be, too. It's set in a time when our understanding of autism was much different than it is today. Nova's unfortunately used to being shuffled around since her mentally ill mother lost custody of the girls when Nova was little. But this new foster family is the first family that begins to really understand Nova and learns how she communicates. They know she loves space and enroll her in an astronomy class at school, they put her in a school with a good special ed program and teachers that begin to reach her in a way no teachers have before.

The book picks up speed as it goes along and the countdown to the Challenger space shuttle disaster gets closer and closer. Of course we know what's going to happen, we know it's not going to be good. I do kind of wonder if middle grade readers will be familiar with what happened at the Challenger launch - you might want to make sure before you hand this to kids or else the ending could be pretty devastating.

The author of this book was a teacher at a school for children with autism and has a lot of experience working with kids with autism and with foster kids. So, although it's not an own voices title, it's written by someone who has a lot of knowledge.


Readers who like Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind (Atheneum, 2010) for its glimpse inside the mind of a nonvocal child with disabilities will love Nova's story, as well; particularly the parts written from Nova's point of view.

Ann M. Martin's Rain Reign (Feiwel & Friends, 2014) is another heartfelt story about kids on the autism spectrum who face really hard things in their lives.

The quest for understanding and for people in their lives who will communicate with them on their own terms is also a strong theme in Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly (Delacorte Press, 2019). Twelve-year-old Iris is Deaf and goes to a mainstream school where many people assume she's not smart or struggle to communicate with her.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Ten Picture Books for Father's Day

Father's Day is coming up on Sunday, June 16 and I have ten great picture books to share or display at your library.


Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Dan Santat. (Putnam, 2017). Nicholas is scared of lots of things, but having his toy dinosaur nearby helps him face the world. When his dinosaur goes missing, Nick must count on his dad's help to face his fears. This is a really sweet story about a father's power to encourage.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi , illustrated by Thi Bui. (Capstone, 2017) Bao and his father go to the pond early in the morning to try to catch fish for their family's food before his father head's off to his second job. And as they fish together, Bao's father tells him about a pond he fished at when he was a boy in Vietnam. This is a beautiful, quiet story about the power of family.


Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison. (Kokila, May 2019) Does anything show fatherly love better than a father willing to work and work at getting his daughter's hair just right? I love the expressive illustrations in this adorable picture book.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall. (Candlewick, 2017). When Jabari is unsure about jumping off the high diving board at the pool, it just takes some encouraging words from his father to give him the courage to take the plunge.


My Dad Used to Be So Cool by Keith Negley (Flying Eye Books, 2016). A young boy looks at his dad's tattoos and imagines all the cool things his dad used to do, like playing in a rock band and riding a motorcycle. This is an ode to all the "cool dads" out there, or dads who like to think they're cool, anyway.

My Daddy Rules the World: Poems About Dads by Hope Anita Smith. (Henry Holt, 2017). This collection of poems celebrates all kinds of dads, from dads who snore to dads to cook breakfast to dads serving overseas. Some funny, some poignant, this collection has a little something for everyone.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña. (Kokila, May 2019) Daisy Ramona takes a ride on her papi's motorcycle all around their neighborhood and visits all her favorite places. As they ride together, Daisy notices that her neighborhood is changing, but one thing will always be the same: her love for her father.

Don't forget the grandpas! It's their day, too!


The Bagel King by Andrew Larson, illustrated by Sandy Nichols. (Kids Can Press, 2018). Every Sunday morning Eli's zaida goes to the bakery and gets bagels for everyone. But when zaida falls and the doctor insists he has to rest, Eli must take things into his own hands. This is a charming story about one boy and his grandpa and the community around them.

Natsumi! by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Priscilla Burris. (Putnam, 2018). Natsumi is sometimes a little... much. But her grandfather is always patient and accepts her as who she is. When he introduces her to a new hobby, he knows just what will suit her.

Drawn Together by Minh Lêillustrated by Dan Santat. (Disney-Hyperion, 2018) When a young boy visits his grandfather, they find it hard to communicate because they don't speak the same language. When they sit down to draw together, they find that art is a different way they can communicate. I love Dan Santat's brilliant illustrations in this book that shows that love is stronger than language barriers.

(This post first appeared in a slightly altered form on our staff blog: Floyd County Library Staff Blog!)

Friday, June 7, 2019

Firefly Award Kit Update

A couple of months ago, I posted about the Firefly Book Award Kits that I made for our library in order to spread the word about the Indiana Early Literacy Firefly Award and try to collect more votes from our county.

I am happy to say that we had a lot of success with this program, learned a lot, and plan to continue (and expand it!) next year. My goal was to collect 100 votes with the Firefly Kits and we ended up collecting 196 votes. Together with the other programs we did, we sent in over 200 votes. I'm really proud of that and hope that we can make it even more next year!

Teachers were really enthusiastic about participating. I had the most success in reaching out to preschools and daycares that we have already worked with in the past, but I hope that next year with some experience under our belt we may be able to advertise it more broadly and pick up some new groups. 

I really did not have to convince teachers about the worth of this program. Once they understood what it was, they were super into it. I had several teachers ask me about participating again, so I think we'll hit the ground running next year. My plan is to get this started earlier in the year next year since we now have a template for it. That will allow more time for the teachers to keep the bags and more time to spread the word. 

I decided to make the bags circulating for one week, but several of the teachers kept them longer in order to do the activities in the provided teacher guide. One preschool made their own voting poster for the whole school. One preschool even took pictures of all the crafts the kids did and make a big thank-you poster for us! I love the creative things the teachers thought to do with the voting and I want to encourage that. I had no problem being flexible with the check-out time since we never had a wait list for the bags. Next year, starting earlier will give us even more time, so I will probably extend the check-out time. 

Next year, I would also like to circulate the bags to families, too. We did not have a ton of participation from individual families with our in-house voting. I think we might get more participation if families could check out all the books and read at home. I didn't want to do that this year since we had a limited number of bags for our pilot program and I had a small window of time. I wanted to concentrate on groups of kids to get the most bang for our buck. If we offer the bags circulating to the public, I think it'll be easier to spread the word and that may catch the eye of our local teachers, too. 

It was a great, pretty easy program to run and I think our teachers and their students got a lot out of it. It was definitely successful and I'm excited about doing it again next year!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Roll With It

Roll With It by Jamie Sumner. Grades 4-7. Atheneum, October 2019. 256 pages. Digital galley provided by publisher. 


Ellie is a kid who tells it like it is - which surprises some people because Ellie has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. People expect her to be sunshine and inspiration, but Ellie doesn't hold back from telling people exactly what she thinks. Ellie loves baking and dreams of being a professional baker. And one big thing that's going on in her life is that her grandfather is not doing well. So Ellie and her mom decide to move to small town Oklahoma to help out. 

Now, not only is Ellie the new kid, she's the new kid in the wheelchair who lives in a trailer park on the wrong side of town. It could be a recipe for disaster, but unexpectedly Ellie has met some kids that she's connected with. For the first time, she's found her people. She's found kids who not only see her but see her for who she is instead of just seeing "the kid in the wheelchair". 

Now, Ellie's just got to convince her mom that moving to this small town that's kind of unequipped to handle a kid in a wheelchair - a kid sometimes in fragile health - is the best thing that's ever happened to her. 

My thoughts:

Ellie's voice grabbed me from the first page and just wouldn't let go. I honestly couldn't put this book down. This is a story with a lot of heart and humor and an absolutely unforgettable protagonist. Author Jamie Sumner has a son with CP, so she writes from a place of experience with CP and wheelchairs and the like. I don't have the knowledge to judge how accurate this story is to a disability experience, but coming from a writer who has a lot of experience with a close family member with a disability gives me some confidence in its authenticity. 

So, I appreciate a story about a girl living with a visible disability and I really appreciate having a girl in a wheelchair on the cover. But at its heart, this is a story with very universal themes - finding true friends who accept you as who you are, doing what you need to do to help family members in times of need. This is a book that has wide appeal to readers who enjoy character-centered stories and characters with strong voices. 


When I think about middle grade novels with strong voices, my first thought is always of Mo LoBeau in Three Times Lucky (Dial, 2012) by Sheila Turnage. Although the subject matter is different, readers who love characters with a strong voice who aren't afraid to say what they think and a story set in a small, rural town will enjoy both of these books. 

Braced by Alyson Gerber (Scholastic, 2017) is an own-voices, character-centered story about 12-year-old Rachel who must wear a back brace when her scoliosis worsens. Readers interested in reading about characters living with a visible disability may enjoy both of these. 

Finding true friends is a major theme in Roll With It and readers interested in more stories about girls finally finding true friends who like them for who they are may enjoy Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic, 2019). When Emma starts a new school after being homeschooler through fourth grade, her greatest wish is to find a best friend. But navigating new friends turns out to be harder than she thought it would be. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

#MiddleGradeMay Wrap Up!

And that's a wrap for Middle Grade May! I had a fabulous month reading and sharing middle grade books with you all. I've still got some book posts I'm working on (things got nuts toward the end of this month with Summer Reading coming up!), so look for those in the coming weeks. 

And check out my Instagram, where I've got video booktalks of some of my favorite new and upcoming middle grade reads (more to come there, too). 

This month, I wanted to concentrate on new and upcoming middle grade books. I was hoping to read 10 books and ended up reading 12 books, so I met my goal. Here's what I read this month: 


Pie in the Sky by Ramy Lai (Henry Holt, May 2019). 

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Balzer + Bray, May 2019). 

Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic, March 2019). 


The Great Penguin Rescue by Sandra Markle (Milbrook, 2017). 

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow, September 2019). 

Roll With It by Jamie Sumner (Atheneum, October 2019). 


Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos (Random House, May 2019). 

Camp by Kayla Miller (HMH Books for Young Readers, April 2019). 

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Viking, June 2019). 


Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman (Pajama Press, May 2019). 

Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya (Kokila, August 2019). 

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (Balzer + Bray, October 2019). 

What a great month of books! Next up, I'm going to be going back to my Romance Project and picking up a bunch of LGBT books for Pride Month. 

What's on your reading agenda for this summer? 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

#MiddleGradeMay: Lalani of the Distant Sea

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly. Grades 5-8. Greenwillow, September 2019. 304 pages. Reviewed from digital galley provided by publisher. 

There are stories of extraordinary children who are chosen from birth to complete great quests and conquer evil villains. 
This is no such story. 

Sometimes, you are an ordinary child. 

Sometimes, you choose yourself

So begins Lalani's story. Lalani is about an ordinary a child as it gets. She's not especially smart or brave or hardworking. But times are getting desperate in her village. There's been no rain for weeks and weeks. The plants that they make into medicine are no longer growing, so the sick are dying. Lalani's father set off on a Sailing Day and never returned - just like all the sailors that leave their island - and her mother has just been been struck with mender's disease. 

There's no hero showing up to save them. But maybe all it takes is one girl, stubborn or foolish enough to start things in motion. Maybe all it takes is one girl who will never, ever give up. One ordinary girl with an extraordinary will: Lalani of the Distant Sea. 

My thoughts:

This is an extraordinary story. Based on Filipino folklore, this is a layered look at a community on the verge of something and a girl with nothing left to lose. When Lalani's father didn't come home, she got a stepfather and stepbrother who are domineering and demanding. "The sky was clear, but a storm had entered their house." When Lalani's mother takes ill, she's finally desperate to break the norm and start looking for extraordinary solutions to save her own family and the village. 

This story is set in a world of fantastic creatures, a menacing mountain that threatens the village's existence and a land of plenty that no one has ever reached (or returned from, anyway). Readers who are looking for a lush fantasy novel that's unlike anything they have read will want to pick up this book. 

It's dark. It's scary sometimes. It's rich and layered and feminist. This is a book to watch. 


Hand this to fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Algonquin, 2016) by Kelly Barnhill for readers who like a rich fantasy story with a wholly original setting where you may not always know where it's going but things come together in a really satisfying way at the end. 

Hand this to fans of A Path Begins (The Thickety) (Katherine Tegen 2014( by J.A. White for readers who like a strong heroine in a dark fantasy novel with scary moments. 

Hand this to fans of Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (Walden Pond, 2011) for readers who love a strong everyday heroine who will stop at nothing to save her friends. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

#MiddleGradeMay: Other Words for Home

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga. Grades 4-7. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 352 pages. Reviewed from galley provided by publisher.


Jude always dreamed of America, but her dream was nothing like what actually happened. She dreamed of becoming a famous movie star just like in the American movies she and her best friend watched from their seaside city in Syria. It was nothing like what actually happened - leaving her father and brother to travel to stay with family in Cincinnati as things grow more and more violent. Actually living in America is way different than the movies.

In America, Jude is "Middle Eastern". She gets looks from people and realizes that they assume that she has come from violence. She struggles to learn English and to make friends at her new school where her American cousin wants nothing to do with her. When she wants to try out for the school play, her cousin and her friends frown on it, assuming that someone with an accent will never get cast. Can this place ever feel like home? Will she ever be reunited with the other half of her family?

My thoughts:

There were so many details that struck me throughout this story - like the reaction that Jude gets when she starts wearing hijab. Strangers approach her to tell her that she doesn't have to cover herself in America, but Jude has never seen hijab as anything but a joyous symbol of growing up. And the moment when Jude realizes that everyone here assumes that her country is violent and wartorn, when in fact Syria was peaceful for most of her life and she believes it will be again. Reading this book as a white woman, it shone a light on a lot of assumptions that American make about Muslim people and Middle Eastern countries. Jude learns what it's like to see her country through the eyes of others and it's much different than how she views her own home.

And the verse is so beautifully crafted, there were so many passages that made me sit up and take notice. Jason Reynolds has a blurb on the back of the galley where he says this is a story that "peels back layers of culture and identity, fear and prejudice, exile and belonging" and that is the perfect way to explain why this story is so important.


Readers who rooted for the intrepid young heroine Ha in Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (HarperCollins, 2011), another novel in verse about a refugee girl coming to America, will root for Jude, too.

This is an older title, but another great novel in verse about the refugee experience is Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (Feiwel & Friends, 2007). The way that Kek, a refugee from Sudan, experiences the overwhelming new world of America is similar to what Jude goes through. Both are lyrical portraits of the refugee experience.

And readers interested in contemporary stories of Muslim girls navigating middle school will also enjoy Amina's Voice by Hena Khan (Salaam Reads, 2017). Amina is a Pakistani-American girl and Jude is a Syrian immigrant, but both face prejudice and stereotyping as Muslim girls. Both also have a hidden talent for singing.