Showing posts with label realistic fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label realistic fiction. Show all posts

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Forward Me Back To You, by Mitali Perkins: touching story of teens finding their way through trauma, identity and friendship (ages 13-17)

Mitali Perkins' newest YA novel, Forward Me Back To You, pulled me in with characters navigating their way through trauma and secrets. It is a book that wrestles with many heavy topics, yet the story shines with sweet moments and fully developed characters. 
Forward Me Back to You
by Mitali Perkins
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan, 2019
Google Books preview
Amazon / your local library
ages 13 - 17
*best new book*
The core of the story takes place in Kolkata, India as three teens travel to spend the summer helping an organization supporting survivors of human trafficking. And yet each of them realize that their personal stories, their backstories, impact the way they walk through the world.

As the story opens, Katina King struggles to recover from a sexual assault at school by a popular boy. Although Kat fought him off using her training in martial arts, the school authorities don't believe her. In order to help her heal and move forward, her mother sends her to Boston to finish the semester with a family friend, Grandma Vee.

I so appreciate the way Perkins brings readers into Kat's point of view. Right from the beginning, she introduces the way Kat sees people classified into types -- canines, felines and birds -- based on the way they act, react and treat others.
"Katina King classifies herself as a mountain lion.

She might have become a tame cat in a safer world. But when she was eleven, her body changed so fast it turned her into prey. Nothing she could do to stop luring canine eyes, so she’d put on a feral mask since then to prowl the hills of Oakland.

Fangs, claws, snarl.

They should have kept wolves away, but they didn’t."
In Boston, Kat meets Robin (Ravi) Thornton, who's struggling with his own past. Adopted from an orphanage in India, Robin numbs himself to his own pain by keeping the world at a distance. When his church group leader suggests a summer service trip to Kolkata, Robin decides to take the opportunity, in part to see if he can locate his "first mother." Once they are in India, Robin asks to be called Ravi, his original name.

The second half of the novel takes place in Kolkata, as Ravi, Kat and Gracie, Ravi's long-time best friend, work to support survivors of human trafficking. Kat and Gracie work in a shelter, while Ravi helps with data entry and trains with a local policeman. Perkins shows the complicated aspects of volunteer-tourism, and yet she also shows clear love for the city of Kolkata and the value of connecting across cultures.

Perkins excels at weaving together characters. Main characters and secondary characters have full backstories that create multidimensional, relatable people. The characters of Bontu, Miss Shireen, Kavita and Grandma Vee will stay with me. Perkins explores heavy, important issues of identity, trauma, international adoption and human trafficking, yet the characters' journeys and growth remain central.

I especially think teens will be drawn to the way Kat and Ravi move through their pain. They both find it hard to share their stories, and both more naturally retreat within themselves; yet it is through sharing, feeling and connecting that they are able to move forward. I absolutely agree with the way Barbara Moon describes this novel:
"This search for identity and recovery is a sweeping saga that explores the serious problem of international human trafficking. Gripping storytelling, eye-opening adventure in a faraway city, Forward Me Back to You packs an emotional gut punch that lingers long after the final page. A story not to be missed."
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Ten outstanding audiobooks (ages 4-18)

Is your family taking a long drive this winter? Consider listening to an audiobook together, letting it take you on an adventure, laugh together or learn about something new. You'll notice that I'm including three memoirs here -- I especially find listening to some tell their story on audio particularly inspiring.

Try downloading e-audiobooks through your public library for free; check if your library uses OverDrive, Axis 360 or Hoopla Digital.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah: Comedian Trevor Noah narrates his memoir, sharing his harsh experiences growing up in South Africa in the final years of apartheid and the chaotic aftermath as the son of a white Dutch father and a black Xhosa mother. Listeners get to hear Noah tell these stories in his South African accented English and several other South African languages. He is engaging, funny and relatable, while also delivering thoughtful and perceptive social criticism about race, gender and class. (ages 13 and up)

Dominic, by William Steig, narrated by Peter Thomas: As Dominic leaves home in search of adventure, young listeners will be captivated by this delightful hero’s journey. Dominic bumbles his way through his journey with curiosity, goodwill and a solid sense of right and wrong as he makes friends, helps others in need and battles the Doomsday Gang. (ages 6-9)

Dory Fantasmagory, by Abby Hanlon, narrated by Suzy Jackson: Dory (called Rascal by her family) wants to play with her big brother and sister, but they complain that she's a pest. Narrator Suzy Jackson captures Dory's 6-year-old voice, with a full range of enthusiasm and emotions. Families will recognize themselves in Dory's attention-getting strategies, her mom's exasperation or her siblings' bickering. A joyful, funny celebration of imagination and resilience. (ages 4-9)

Track series: Ghost, Patina, Sunny & Lu, by Jason Reynolds, narrated by Guy Lockhart, Heather Alicia Simms: Ghost is an all-time favorite, and I've loved the audiobooks for the rest of this series. Guy Lockhart captures the emotions and voice of each different character, with energy and enthusiasm. I especially appreciate how he balances the humor with the darker moments in each book. I've just started listening to Lu, and his swagger and confidence is perfect. Heather Simms captures Patina's many different moods, moving from sassy to tender with ease. All together, these are outstanding audiobooks--"for real for real", as Lu says. (ages 9-14)

I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, by Chessy Prout: As a freshman at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, Chessy Prout was sexually assaulted by an upperclassman. In her raw and honest memoir, Prout shares her experience of assault and the subsequent journey with the tumultuous trial, media attention and search for healing and change. As I read this, I was particularly angered by the way the school resisted Chessy's search for justice and struck by how the legal system does not help our young people find the resolution they need. A powerful memoir. (ages 13-18)

Like Vanessa, by Tami Charles, narrated by Channie Waites: Eighth grader Vanessa Martin dreams of winning her school’s beauty contest, despite feeling too fat, too dark and too shy. Her spirits soar with Vanessa Williams’ historic win as the first black Miss America. But the journey is hard -- will her talented singing shine? Or will her doubts weigh her down? Channie Waites’ narration brings Vanessa’s worries, laughter and grace to life, and her voice sparkles with magnetic charm. (ages 10-14)

The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo: Elizabeth Acevedo shines narrating her debut novel, using her talents as an award-winning slam poet to bring passion and life to Xiomara’s story. A first-generation Dominican-American, Xiomara struggles balancing her mother’s strict Catholicism with her own desire to find her place in the world. Writing poetry helps Xio come into her own, channelling her feelings, worries and questions. Acevedo’s poetry is beautifully crafted and the audiobook brings the passion and pacing of the rhythmic free-verse poems to life. (ages 14-18)

Proud: Living My American Dream, by Ibtihaj Muhammad: U.S. Olympic fencing medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad shares her inspiring memoir, showing how faith, hard work and determination helped her reach her goals. She frankly talks about the many obstacles she faced, yet she comes across as both humble and realistic. She conveys the excitement of winning, and the frustrations and self-doubt she faced. Even though I know nothing about fencing, I couldn't put this down. Ibtihaj is a true American hero. (ages 10-16)

Refugee, by Alan Gratz: Gratz alternates the stories of three children from different periods of time, each of whom are fleeing their homes in search of refuge. Josef is escaping persecution from Nazis in Germany during World War II. Isabel and her family are fleeing Cuba in 1994, escaping the riots and unrest under Castro's rule. And Mahmoud's family flees Syria in 2015 after their home was bombed. These parallel stories are engrossing and compelling. The structure keeps the suspense high, and helps readers see how each character must cope with extreme stress, separation and loss. Gratz uses historical fiction at its best to help readers understand global issues in a way that inspires hope and empathy. (ages 10-16)

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, narrated by Jayne Entwistle: My students have particularly loved this audiobook and its sequel, The War I Finally Won, finding the story of Ada inspiring as she realizes how she's able to overcome many odds stacked against her. As the story opens, ten-year-old Ada has a clubfoot and is kept locked in her family's one bedroom apartment in London, during World War II. Ada practices making herself walk, so she and her younger brother, can escape and join a train of children being evacuated to the countryside. Jayne Entwistle's narration brings Ada's complexities to life, with her layers of distrust and strength, courage and doubt. (ages 9-12)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Ten top books for speaking your truth (ages 7-18)

As I continue to celebrate 10 years of blogging, I want to turn to books that encourage us to speak our truths. While books can't change the world, they can help give us the courage to stay true to our beliefs, to do the right thing in difficult situations. These stories focus on young people courageously speaking up for themselves in the face of difficulties.

Anger Is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro: Black teen Moss struggles with panic attacks and anxiety, a result of his father's death from police brutality six years earlier in Oakland, CA. When school administrators bring armed police in for random locker searches and install metal detectors, Moss and his friends organize a protest. I especially appreciated how Oshiro balances Moss's personal journey and the way his community comes together to protest the authoritarian administration. A powerful book, with an authentic local setting, for fans of The Hate U Give. (ages 14-18)

Front Desk, by Kelly Yang: Mia's family has recently immigrated from China, and finding a steady job has been really tough for her parents. When an opportunity to manage a motel comes their way, they leap at it. Mia's excited that she can help out, managing the front desk while her parents clean the rooms. Kelly Yang bases this story on her own experience, immigrating from China to Los Angeles. She weaves humor and compassion into her story, speaking from her personal experience to frankly address poverty, bullying and the importance of family. (ages 8-12)

Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes: After being killed by a white police officer, a 12 year old black boy returns as a ghost to process what has happened and how it is affecting his family. The ghost of Emmett Till, a black boy murdered in 1955, and other "ghost boys" who have been murdered, help Jerome understand the larger historical context. The chapters jump back and forth in time, weaving together the social and political framework to help young readers grapple with the impact of police violence on communities of color. (ages 10-15)

I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, by Chessy Prout: As a freshman at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, Chessy Prout was sexually assaulted by an upperclassman. In her raw and honest memoir, Prout shares her experience of assault and the subsequent journey with the tumultuous trial, media attention and search for healing and change. As I read this, I was particularly angered by the way the school resisted Chessy's search for justice and struck by how the legal system does not help our young people find the resolution they need. A powerful memoir. (ages 13-18)

#Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women, by Lisa Charleyboy: This anthology shares the voices, art, poetry, and insight of modern Native women about their life experiences--the good and the bad, the joyous and the painful--creating a powerful message of the importance of speaking the truth and being visible in a culture that it so often dismissive or manipulative. I especially appreciate the wide diversity of Native women that is represented here. Brilliant and moving collection. (ages 12-18)

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang: Prince Sebastian feels comfortable identifying both male and female, often wearing dresses and going out as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia. When he hires Frances, a young seamstress, to make him a wardrobe of boldly beautiful, dazzling dresses, Frances hesitates at first, but they soon discover a shared passion for fashion. Incorporating the feel of classic fairytales, Wang creates a story that revolves around friendship, following your dreams and speaking your truth. (ages 10-15)

The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo: A first-generation Dominican-American, fifteen-year-old Xiomara struggles balancing her mother’s strict Catholicism with her own desire to find her place in the world. Writing poetry helps Xio come into her own, channelling her feelings, worries and questions in her journal, as she explores her blossoming romance with Aman, her science partner. As Xio starts figuring out how she can stand up for what she believes, she discovers the power of her voice through the poetry club at school. This powerful coming-of-age story poignantly speaks to teens finding their voice. (ages 13-18)

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say, by Angela Dominguez: Stella is shy, self-conscious about her accent and the way she jumbles Spanish and English when she can't find the right word. As third grade starts, she's also worried about being in a different class from her best friend Jenny. I  especially appreciate how Stella's Mexican-American family supports her and cheers her on as she discovers her courage and voice. (ages 7-10)

Swing, by Kwame Alexander: Noah, Walt and Sam (Samantha) have been best friends since elementary school, but ever since they got to high school, Noah hasn't been able to figure out how to tell Sam that he really likes her. No matter how much Walt (aka Swing) encourages him to take a chance, Noah struggles to express his feelings for Sam. Inspired by love letters he finds in a thrift store, Noah finally starts to put his feelings onto paper using both art and poetry. While I related to Noah, I was utterly charmed by Swing's humor and optimism. Readers will want to talk when they reach the end--be there for them, as they find their voice about the larger issues impacting our society. (ages 13-18)

The Witch Boy, by Molly Ostertag: This graphic novel will appeal to readers with its magical setting and strong protagonist. In Aster's village, there are very clear expectations: girls will learn witchcraft and spells, while boys will learn to become shapeshifters. Yet Aster yearns to learn the spells that his sister is perfecting, and is not interested in the other boy's aggressive play. When several boys go missing, Aster tries to use his developing magical abilities to solve the mystery. I especially appreciated the way Aster questions society's gender expectations and stays true to himself. A delightful graphic novel -- I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, The Hidden Witch, which has just come out. (ages 8-12)

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ten winning sports books for kids (ages 5-14)

Whether you play sports with your kids or love watching games together, you’ll have fun sharing these books. You'll find a balance of nonfiction and fiction and a wide range of sports. One thing I'm noticing is that I haven't read as many novels with girls playing sports -- clearly, that's a goal for 2019!


Baseball: Then to Wow! by the editors of Sports Illustrated Kids: Whether it’s looking at changes in equipment or comparing playing styles then and now, this high-interest book provides opportunities for fans to analyze different aspects of the game. Great layout, photographs and illustrations engage kids and help them see the progression of the game over the past 150 years. (ages 7-12)

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery, by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier: Although his athletic skills brought Ernie Barnes success as a professional football player, his true passion was art. He would quickly sketch scenes as he sat on the bench between plays. Barnes pursued his dreams, eventually becoming the official artist for the American Football League. (ages 6-10)

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon, by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Micha Archer: In 1966, Bobbi Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, even though the authorities would not recognize her efforts. Despite the authorities’ rejection, she decides to run alongside the registered racers, determined to prove that the rules were wrong. An inspiring picture book biography of defying the odds. (ages 5-9)

Proud: Living My American Dream, by Ibtihaj Muhammad: U.S. Olympic fencing medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad shares her inspiring memoir, showing how faith, hard work and determination helped her reach her goals. She frankly talks about the many obstacles she faced, yet she comes across as both humble and realistic. She conveys the excitement of winning, and the frustrations and self-doubt she faced. Even though I know nothing about fencing, I couldn't put this down. Ibtihaj is a true American hero. (ages 10-16)

Rising Above: How 11 Athletes Overcame Challenges in Their Youth to Become Stars, by Gregory Zuckerman with Elijah Zuckerman and Gabriel Zuckerman:  Names like Lebron James, Steph Curry, Tim Howard, & Dwyane Wade will pull in young readers. Strong, accessible writing and inspiring stories will keep them reading. Look for the second in this series, focusing on inspiring women in sports. (ages 10-14)

Fiction for young players

Pedro’s Big Goal, by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Tammie Lyon (Picture Window / Capstone; ages 5-8; $4.95; 32 pp.). First grader Pedro LOVES playing soccer with his friends and dreams of playing goalie. Will he make it as his team’s goalie, or is he too small? Beginning readers will enjoy this fun, accessible series -- perfect for 1st and 2nd graders. (ages 5-8)

The San Francisco Splash, by David A. Kelley, illustrated by Mark Meyers: The Ballpark Mysteries series is great for emerging readers who need short chapter books, and this local story does not disappoint. Cousins Kate and Mike love it when Kate’s sports-reporter mom brings them to a game, and here they start in kayaks out in McCovey Cove trying to catch fly balls. (ages 6-10)

Middle grade & young adult fiction

After the Shot Drops, by Randy Ribay: When high school basketball star "Bunny" Thompson transfers to wealthy private school, where he is one of a handful of black students. Bunny struggles to keep true to himself, stay close to his neighborhood friends, and make new friends at school. Meanwhile, his best friend Nasir struggles with feeling left behind and figuring out what to do when his cousin starts getting into trouble. The conflicts escalate, on the court and off, with an explosive climax. Hand this to fans of The Hate U Give and Ghost(ages 13-18)

Ghost (Track #1), by Jason Reynolds: BOOM! Third time reading this and it still pulls me straight through each time. A 5th grader told me: "I loved how you feel like you're Ghost. You get mad at someone, then forgive them. It feels like your emotions are building up until Ghost takes the shoes. Then they break when his coach brings him back to the store." Catch others in this stand-out series: Patina & Sunny. (ages 9-14)

Rebound, by Kwame Alexander: My students clamored to read Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, and this prequel is outstanding, with Chuck Bell--Josh & Jordan’s father--taking center stage. Kwame creates a great cast of characters in Rebound, with Charlie's family and close friends. I especially love that two of his close friends are girls. CJ is brainy, sassy and sweet. Roxie can play ball better than most of the boys. Full of humor, heart and poetry slam in comics (!!), this novel in verse is really about how we can hold onto hope even though we feel storm-beaten and shattered. (ages 9-14)

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Tackling Issues: an interview with Katherine Applegate & Jen Petro-Roy (ages 8-14)

Katherine Applegate is one of my students’ favorite authors. Her books include Home of the Brave and wishtree, both of which center around the experience of young immigrants. Jen Petro-Roy is a vital new voice for young readers. Her debut novel P.S. I Miss You has garnered national attention for centering on young same-sex love. I’m excited to welcome them as we explore how fiction engages kids as they think about difficult subjects.

This conversation came out of our panel together at the Bay Area Book Festival last spring. I am so lucky to know these talented, thoughtful women.
Mary Ann: Katherine, You’ve written for many age levels, from very young children to adults, yet it seems that your sweet spot is middle grade. What draws you to this age group?

Katherine: You’re right that middle grade readers are my favorite audience. Typically that’s defined as children 8 to 12 years of age. Children this age are beginning to think about the wider world. They start asking Big Questions (to the delight and frustration of the adults in their lives): What does fairness mean? Why is there cruelty in the world? What defines who I am? Why did Joey get the biggest meatball?

I just wrote an introduction to an essay collection by the beloved children’s writer, Natalie Babbitt (Barking with the Big Dogs: On Writing and Reading Books for Children, coming out on November 20, 2018). Babbitt is perhaps best known for her remarkable novel for middle grade readers, Tuck Everlasting, which Anne Tyler called “one of the best books ever written -- for any age.”

And what is Tuck about, this little book for children? Immortality. Why we have to die. What matters most in our short and magical lives. All those things we try not to think about . . . and absolutely must think about.

And it’s a book for kids.

That’s why I love writing for middle grade readers.

Mary Ann: You're so right -- kids are really beginning to wrestle with big issues. Jen, what has been your experience?

Jen: In my job as a librarian, I found that kids often sought out books about tough topics. They want to read about kids going through struggles--with homelessness, with difficult family situations, with friend troubles, with illness, and more--because they are often going through the same struggles themselves.

When I'm reading, it’s reassuring to see that I’m not the only one going through a specific situation...and it’s even more reassuring to see that characters can find their way through, triumph, and thrive. For kids, this is an even more necessary process, because they don’t have as much life experience. They need to see that representation on the page and they truly want to. It makes them feel so much less alone...and isn’t that one of the aims of literature?

Katherine: I love your point about literature helping us feel less, alone, Jen. That’s probably the greatest gift books can give us. That, and helping us make sense of a world that doesn’t always make sense. (That’s particularly true lately.)

Mary Ann: Jen, can you tell us a little bit about the issues Evie has to wrestle with in P.S. I Miss You?

Jen: After being raised in a very Catholic family, Evie starts to question the beliefs of her parents after her older sister gets pregnant and Evie herself gets her first crush on a girl. Teen pregnancy, religion, and sexuality are definitely three “tough issues” and many have questioned why I raised them in a middle-grade novel. For me, though, this was exactly the place to raise it, because middle school is the time when kids start to question the world, who they are, and how they were raised. It’s so important that these kids can see themselves now, and don’t have to wait until they’re teens or even adults to see themselves represented in literature. At the same time, though, I love hearing about teenagers and adults reading P.S. I Miss You. I think it helps different age groups in different ways.

Mary Ann: Have you heard from young readers about the tough issues you bring up in your books? How have they reacted? What do they find powerful?

Jen: Hearing from and interacting with readers is my absolute favorite part of this job. I’ve heard from a bunch so far about how wonderful it is to see representation of different sexualities in books for their age group. After one of my school visits, I had a girl come up to me and share that she’s a queer middle schooler with a brother about to go off to college, and she really related to Evie, who writes letters to her older sister Cilla. I am so proud to be able to help people feel a little bit less alone.

Mary Ann: Katherine, with wishtree you tackle tough issues around immigration and racism, and yet you do this in a way that 3nd graders can relate to. Do you keep the age of your audience in mind while you write?

Katherine: I do, very much so. (Although I know many writers for children who say the age of the audience doesn’t figure into their writing.) School visits have helped me a lot in this regard. I see the innocence and the honesty in younger readers, and I try to write what they need to hear. If it works for other ages, great.

Mary Ann: One of my students, Clara, told me that books “give kids an idea of how the world can be and how we can change it.” Katherine, while Endling is clearly fantasy, what are you hoping that readers think about while they read it?

Katherine: Endling is a fantasy about the last individual in a doglike species. Here in the real world, we’re in the midst of what is often referred to as the Sixth Extinction, a huge loss of species that seems to be almost entirely the result of human behavior. I wanted to touch on that, but in a way that I hope is accessible to younger readers.

Mary Ann: What do you think parents or teachers are afraid of when they push back against “heavy” or “mature” books for kids?

Jen: As a parent myself, I can understand the impulse to shield kids from tough issues. The world is scary, and it’s even more frightening to think of innocence being shattered. I wish the world was perfect for my daughters, and I wish they could believe it was so. So when parents push back, I think a lot of that impulse comes from fear or the desire to avoid discomfort. It’s hard to imagine explaining things like school shootings or death to children, so it can be easier to avoid the topic entirely. And for issues that parents or teachers don’t believe in, it may be “easier” to ban books or topics entirely. Out of sight, out of mind, after all. The problem there is that issues never remain out of sight. And when kids don’t know the realities of the world, those realities will be that much harder to deal with in the future. They won’t learn tolerance or acceptance, either.

Katherine: This is why librarians were invented. To get books into the hands of the children who most need them.

Mary Ann: Many of my students are drawn to realistic fiction that deals with tough issues. Why do you think this is? How do stories help us?

Katherine: When you’re in the middle of figuring out your place in the world, it helps to have a map. Books are like GPS for our hearts. They help us navigate the hard stuff.

I’ve had OCD since I was a kid. A book like OCDaniel (by Wesley King) would have changed my life.

I have a trans daughter who’s 21. I wish Alex Gino’s George had been around for her when she needed it.

I know too many young girls on their way to eating disorders. I’d love to get Jen’s upcoming novel, Good Enough, into all their hands.

Jen: Stories help us feel like we’re not alone in the world, that we’re not the only one dealing with certain issues. Readers can think, “Hey, if that character can get through such a difficult situation, maybe I can, too.” Simply seeing that books like this exist can make readers feel a sense of belonging, too. If readers see LGBTQ books in libraries or classrooms or are handed a book by their parents, they will know that those authority figures are safe and accepting. That they can go to them if they need to talk. Books can help facilitate a community of love and acceptance, and I love that about them.

Mary Ann: Jen, can you tell us a little about your upcoming books? With Katherine raving about them, I can't wait to know more!

Jen: Absolutely! I have two more books coming out in next year, both out on February 19th. Good Enough is another middle-grade fiction, about a 12-year-old named Riley who has been hospitalized for anorexia nervosa and is struggling to recover amidst parents who don’t understand, a fellow patient who is trying to sabotage Riley, and a gymnastic star sister. I’m so proud of this book, as it was inspired by my own struggle and recovery from anorexia, and there’s not much out there in this area for young readers that is both hopeful and non-triggering. Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends will also be simultaneously releasing You Are Enough, which is a non-fiction guide to eating disorder recovery, body image, and self-esteem for middle-schoolers and teens. Advanced copies of both are starting to make their way in the world!

Katherine: As an early reader, I can offer this spoiler alert: Good Enough is amazing. It belongs in every library.

Mary Ann: I wonder if you can end with any advice for parents about reading.

Jen: Reading is anything your kids want it to be. As a former librarian, I’m familiar with parents steering their children away from books they don’t think are “real literature.” They don’t want their kids to read graphic novels or those easy chapter books with mermaids and puppy dogs on the covers. But any kinds of books are good. Kids thrive when they are reading the books they want, whether it’s a book filled with fart jokes or War and Peace. Let them follow their interests. Let them love the written word.

Katherine: Couldn’t agree with Jen more. Reading is supposed to be fun, people!

I was a reluctant reader myself, and it took me a long time to find my “perfect” book. For me, it was Charlotte's Web. But for your child, it may be a graphic novel. Or non-fiction. Or a picture book. Or a chapter book. Or poetry. Or song lyrics.

It’s all about words. It doesn’t matter how they’re packaged. It only matters how much they’re loved.

Thank you both so much for your time and all of the care and love you pour into your stories. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Tight, by Torrey Maldonado -- real boys, navigating emotionally complex decisions (ages 8-14)

I've been thinking a lot about how we show our boys different ways to handle emotions, so that we are breaking the expectations of acting tough and macho. In Tight, by Torrey Maldonado, Bryan must navigate making friends, controlling his temper and choosing the right path. Hand this to young readers who loved Jason Reynolds' Ghost, who want a book that feels real, and a character that is believable and emotionally honest.
by Torrey Maldonado
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Google Books preview
ages 8-14
*best new book*
I wonder what kids will think about the cover of Tight. Which train is Bryan going to get on? Is he struggling with a decision? Is he in a tight place? How do you feel if you're tight? What other meanings does it have? Whenever I'm showing a student a book, we spend some time wondering about the cover and thinking about its meanings.

Bryan, an Afro-Puerto Rican sixth grader, lives in the projects in Brooklyn and generally keeps to himself, heading to his mom's office after school to do his homework, read comics or draw. His mom likes it that way, wary that he might fall in with a bad crowd. So Bryan is surprised when she encourages him to get close with Mike, a slightly older boy in their neighborhood who seems like a good kid.

Soon Mike and Bryan become close friends, but Bryan realizes that Mike isn’t as good as Ma and others think. Bryan can't stand the way his dad and sister tease him for being "soft," and he likes some of the ways that Mike encourages him to break the rules, throwing rocks at cars from rooftops and skipping school.

Bryan realizes that he's following Mike into more and more dangerous situations, and his honest, internal dialog shows how difficult it is to dothe right thing. When Mike asks Bryan to tell Little Kevin how great train surfing is (holding onto the outside of the train as it speeds through the tunnels), Bryan follows along even though he has misgivings:
"I start doing that, and the whole time I wonder why I don't just say what I really feel. Now it's like I'm two people. On the outside I'm promoting train-surfing so hard. On the inside, I'm like, Why am I being Mike's hype-man with this?"
Torrey Maldonado skillfully creates a believable, real character facing his vulnerabilities, figuring out what it means to be a friend and how to make the right decisions. I especially appreciate the way that Bryan and Mike bond over superhero comic books and television shows. Bryan's voice is authentic, filled with slang that rings true. This is not a simple morality tale, but rather one that peels back the complex, contradictory currents that make these decisions difficult.

Torrey Maldonado crafts such an authentic voice because it's coming from his own experience. He's a middle school teacher who "still teaches in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was born and raised" and uses his students’ & his experiences to shape his stories and characters.

I highly recommend Tight for a wide age range. Although this is clearly a middle-grade novel, I think that many 13 and 14 year olds will be drawn to the emotional complexities and authentic voice that Maldonado creates. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen / Penguin Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Heretics Anonymous, by Katie Henry -- teen angst, student activism and personal reflections (ages 13-16)

As a teen, I bristled against rigid authority and strict policies--I wanted to understand why rules were made, and insisted that they were fair. As a teen, I would have fit right into Heretics Anonymous, the secret club at St. Clare's in Katie Henry's debut novel. Henry weaves together a story full of teen angst and student activism as she presents a multifaceted look at religion in a Catholic prep school.
Heretics Anonymous
by Katie Henry
Katherine Tegen / HarperCollins, 2018
Amazon / public library / Google Books preview
ages 13-16
*best new book*
Michael resents moving once again, having to start a new school a month and a half into his junior year of high school just because his dad has a new job. Now he finds himself struggling to fit in at St. Clare's Preparatory School, even though he doesn't believe in any kind of God. How is he going to make friends here, with "a bunch of mindless Catholic sheep people"?

Fortunately, Michael soon meets a group of St. Clare's students who question the school's rigid policies and dogma: Lucy, a feminist  Colombian-American who's a devout Catholic determined to reform the church; gay, Jewish Avi; Eden, a self-described pagan; and Max, a Korean-American Unitarian. At their secret club meetings of Heretics Anonymous, they share their grievances about St. Clare's.
We believe in one fundamental truth:
That all people, regardless of what they worship, who they love, and what they think,
Have a right to exist, and a right to be heard.
(from the Heretics Anonymous Creed)
Michael urges his new friends to do something to change St. Clare's, to go public to make it better for everyone. In a series of hilarious episodes, they take on the school administration, first by annotating the school's outdated sex-ed DVD to make it more accurate, informative and entertaining. Then they create an alternative newspaper to challenge the dress code. But Michael's family tensions impact his judgement and he rashly carries his mission to change the school too far.

I especially appreciate how Katy Henry develops her characters' friendship and respect for each other, even though they are all so different. Through their relationships, they begin to reflect on their own beliefs and accept each other. And in doing so, Henry invites her readers to do the same.

Personally, I identify more with Michael's world view, but I found myself appreciating Lucy's perspective the most. She's a fierce feminist, and she's also a committed Catholic--and both sides fit together in her well-rounded character. Religion can bring comfort, faith and support to people, and Michael sees this in Lucy. But religion has also been used throughout history to enforce social norms and uphold the existing power structures. Above all, I appreciate how Henry asks readers to separate these two strands and think about what they value.

Full discloser: Katie Henry writes in her acknowledgements about her childhood church, Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish in Berkeley, California. This was also my childhood church (although in different decades). She tells Kirkus how this liberal Catholic upbringing was so different from what she discovered when she went to college. While this novel stems from Henry's attempt to create a space for kids to think about the complexities and nuances of religion, she keeps it grounded in humor and everyday relationships.

Hand this to teens who want a heartwarming story with characters who question the rules and fight to make the world better for all of us. I purchased the review copy for my school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

After the Shot Drops, by Randy Ribay: authentic, relatable & fast-paced -- a great combination for teen readers (ages 12-16)

When high school basketball star Bunny Thompson transfers to a private school to play ball, his best friend Nasir feels betrayed and left behind. In this powerful dual-narrative, readers hear from both boys as they struggle to repair their friendship. Randy Ribay creates relatable characters, authentically capturing the teens’ voices and struggles. Hand this to teens who loved Kwame Alexander’s Crossover and Jason Reynold’s Ghost.

After the Shot Drops
by Randy Ribay
HMH, 2018
Amazon / public library / Google Books preview
ages 12-16
During the summer after freshman year, Bunny Thompson transfers from Whitman High, his neighborhood public school, to St. Sebastian’s, a private school in the suburbs. It’s a difficult transition—he misses his friends, struggles to fit in, and knows his old friends don’t understand.
“Pride in Whitman High’s basketball team runs real deep around our way, so a lot of people didn’t like that one bit. My main man, Nasir, straight up stopped talking to me.”
Nasir feels left behind and betrayed. Bunny was so focused on himself that he didn’t even tell Nasir about his decision to leave Whitman. Nasir hangs with his cousin Wallace, and is concerned when Wallace tells him he’s about to get evicted from his apartment because they’re behind on rent. Wallace fuels Nasir’s anger at Bunny:
“Wallace lets out a sarcastic laugh. ‘He ain’t your friend. He up and left you to go play ball with some rich-ass white boys. He doesn’t care about you. Bunny Thompson’s looking out for Bunny Thompson. That’s it, Nas.”
Wallace’s anger and resentment build, and he turns to betting against Bunny in order to make rent money. Readers will relate to Nasir’s difficult decision whether to support his cousin’s reckless behavior and how to walk away.

Race and economics play an explicit part of this story, although in a nuanced way. Whitman is a primarily Black community in Philadelphia, and Bunny’s parents work long hours to make ends meet. Nasir’s family is Filipino and Black, providing an alternative to the reductive black/white tropes of urban life. I appreciate how supportive both Nasir and Bunny's families are.

Teens will appreciate the fast pace of this story and the tense climax as Wallace pulls a gun on Bunny. I also appreciated the layered themes of friendship, identity and loyalty. Plus, I’ve got to give a big shout-out for Keyona, Bunny’s girlfriend. She’s a great character, who’s never afraid to set Bunny straight.

For more about After the Shot Drops, check out Rand Ribay's 5 Questions over at the Horn Book. Randy Ribay now teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read in The Horn Book about his experience teaching in Philadelphia, and why school libraries are so important.

The review copy came from my local library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, June 10, 2018

#SummerReading for 7th & 8th graders

Carve out time from your busy summer schedules for reading. Talk with your teens about their interests AND the importance of reading. The best way is to give them choice and power, and to make reading a priority.

Middle school is a time of great variety -- some kids want to reread their favorites from earlier years, and others are eager to try edgy YA. Go with their interests, and encourage them to keep finding books that make them want to read.
#SummerReading: 7th & 8th grade
click for full 2018 summer reading lists
Exciting Adventure & Fantasy
Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi
Miles Morales Spider-Man, by Jason Reynolds
Peak, by Roland Smith
Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy
Warcross, by Marie Lu

Powerful Nonfiction & Memoirs
The 57 Bus, by Dashka Slater
Because I Was a Girl, edited by Melissa de la Cruz
Boots on the Ground, by Elizabeth Partridge
Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral & Getting It Done, by Andrea Gonzales & Sophie Houser
How Dare the Sun Rise, by Sandra Uwiringiyimana

All the Feels: Modern Teen Romance
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
Just One Day, by Gayle Forman
Solo, by Kwame Alexander
When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon

Graphic Novels We Love!
Amulet series, by Kazu Kibuishi
Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang
Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani
Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer L. Holm

Stories that Touch Your Heart
Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Like Vanessa, by Tami Charles
Piecing Me Together, by Renee Watson
Refugee, by Alan Gratz
Rogue, by Lyn Miller-Lachman

Social Justice Reads
Ball Don't Lie, by Matt de la Pena
Dear Martin, by Nic Stone
Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

CLICK HERE for all of the 2018 summer reading lists.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, June 7, 2018

#SummerReading 2018 for 5th and 6th graders

Kids know that practice is important in developing any skill; our job as parents is making our expectations clear AND creating a positive environment to encourage practice. You'll have much more success persuading your kids to read if they are able to choose what to read.

Validate their reading choices, engaging them to think and talk about what they read. Prod them a little to try something new--I often like to talk about it in terms of having a varied reading diet. Here are some of my favorite books to hook 5th and 6th graders.
#SummerReading: 5th & 6th
click for full 2018 summer reading lists

Exciting Adventure & Fantasy
Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelley Barnhill
The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste
Peak, by Roland Smith
The Wonderling, by Mira Bartok

Funny Stories
Funny Girl, edited by Betsy Bird
Hamster Princess, by Ursula Vernon
Pickle, by Kim Baker
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger
The Terrible Two, by Mac Barnett

Historical Fiction
Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan
The Inquisitor's Tale, by Adam Gidwitz
The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani
Refugee, by Alan Gratz
The War I Finally Won, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Graphic Novels We Love!
Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang
Real Friends, by Shannon Hale
Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer L. Holm
The Witch Boy, by Molly Ostertag

Stories that Touch Your Heart

Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed
Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Like Vanessa, by Tami Charles
Rebound, by Kwame Alexander

Fascinating Nonfiction
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin
Boots on the Ground, by Elizabeth Partridge
I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai
Marley Dias Gets It Done, by Marley Dias

CLICK HERE for all of the 2018 summer reading lists.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books