Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads, Tween Reads

Book List for Beginning Activists

It’s getting harder and harder, waking up to the world we’re living in today. Some of our best defenses are, and will always be, empathy and information. I was inspired to create my own list of books to cultivate young activists by CuriousCity’s Books for All of Us post; I hope these books inspire you, too. Remember what J.R.R. Tolkien told us: even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

 

A is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara, (Nov. 2013, Triangle Square), $9.40, ISBN: 978-1609805395

Available in board book or hardcover, A is for Activist is a rhyming abcedary of activism. The book introduces little ones to ideas like Co-Op, Equal Rights, Grassroots, Indigenous, and Justice. Best for pre-k and up in terms of grasping the concepts, but it’s never too early to get an ABC book in front of the little ones. The illustrations are loaded with new things to find with each reading.

 

Change the World Before Bedtime, a collaboration by Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, and Karen Good (Schiffer Publishing, 2012). $16.99, ISBN: 978-0764342387

One of my storytime constants, Change the World Before Bedtime is loaded with ways for kids to make positive changes in their world, from eating locally to visiting a sick friend, to donating money from a lemonade stand to a good cause. It’s another rhyming text, with homespun, cozy artwork that immediately evokes the warm fuzzies.

 

Say Hello!, by Rachel Isadora, (Apr. 2010, GP Putnam), $14.95, ISBN: 978-0399252303

Everyday activism! Carmelita is a little girl going to visit her abuela. As she walks through her neighborhood, she and her neighbors greet one another in their native languages: “Buenos días!”, “Konichiwa!”, “Shalom!”, and other joyful salutations embrace the multicultural world in which we live. Say Hello! will have kids sharing their own greetings with one another.

 

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, by Justin Roberts/Illustrated by Christian Robinson, (Sept. 2014, GP Putnam), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0399257438

Little Sally McCabe may be the smallest girl in the smallest grade, but she’s making big things happen when she decides to speak up when she sees bullying at the playground. This rhyming story lets kids of all sizes know that we can all make a difference.

 

Letters to a Prisoner, by Jacques Goldstyn, (Sept. 2017, OwlKids Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781771472517

This wordless picture book is inspired by human rights organization Amnesty International’s letter writing campaigns. A man is arrested during a peaceful protests and languishes in jail. A cruel guard burns letters that would sustain the man, inspiring more letter writers to come together and create a winged army of written support that overwhelms the guard and lifts the prisoner up and away. The book illustrates the power of the written word to sustain as well as to take a stand.

 

A Good Day for Climbing Trees, by Jaco Jacobs, Translated from Afrikaans by Kobus Geldenhuys/Illustrated by Jim Tierney, (Apr. 2018, One World Publications), $11.99, ISBN: 978-1-78607-317-4

Middle graders have more of a grasp on the world around them, can take action in different ways. Marnus, the 13-year-old protagonist in A Good Day for Climbing Trees, and a friend take action to save a local tree from demolition by petitioning and holding a sit-in, which alerts others to their cause. Readers get a more involved view of activism, and some potential results, here.

 

This is just a small handful of the growing number of books out there.  I encourage you all to read these books, read them to your kids, and add them to your collections.

 

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Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Dusti Bowling spends 24 Hours in Nowhere

24 Hours in Nowhere, by Dusti Bowling, (Sept. 2018, Sterling), $14.95, ISBN: 9781454929246

Ages 9-12

Gus is a 13-year-old kid, abandoned by his parents, living with his grandmother in Nowhere, Arizona. When Bo Taylor, the worst bully in town, tries to force him to eat a spiny cactus, Rossi Scott interferes. She’s one of the best dirt bike racers in nowhere, and she’s got designs on winning the big race the next day – until she gives up her bike to save Gus. Now Bo has the bike, and Gus heads to Dead Frenchman’s Mine in the hopes of finding a piece of gold to get the bike back. Matthew, one of Bo’s cronies, is along for the trip, making sure Gus doesn’t spray paint a rock; Jessie, Gus’ former best friend, and Rossi show up to talk some sense into Gus, but a cave-in traps the four friends, leaving them to seek a way out and avoid mountain lions.

I loved Dusti Bowling’s fantastic debut, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017), so I immediately requested the ARC for 24 Hours in Nowhere. I am happy to say, there’s no sophomore slump here! Dusti Bowling continues writing smart, empathetic books about kids who are just doing the best they can in the face of everyday life. The teens share stories about their Worst Day Ever, giving us a glimpse into poverty, abuse, neglect, abandonment, race, (Jessie is Mexican-American, and Rossi is Native American, from the Tohono O’odham Nation) and white privilege, all within the greater examination of life in poor, rural America. Gus is a first-person narrator and alternately has moments of introspection, empathy, and humor. There’s a little bit of Goonies, a little bit of Holes, and a lot of great storytelling to be found here. Psst… teachers… put this one on next year’s Summer Reading lists, please?

Check out Dusti Bowling’s author website for extras (just Cactus for now, but sure to be updated with 24 Hours shortly) and school visit info, including free Skype visits! 24 Hours in Nowhere has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

The Key to Everything: But will it cure?

The Key to Everything, by Pat Schmatz, (May 2018,  Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763695668

Ages 9-12

Eleven-year-old Tash is angry. She doesn’t want to go to camp, but her Uncle Kevin needs to travel to Australia, and she and Cap’n Jackie, their friend and neighbor, clashed over the whole business. Tash ends up having a pretty good time at camp, after all, but returns home to find Cap’n Jackie gone: she’s had a fall and is in the hospital, and Tash’s world turns upside down overnight. She’s determined to return a special key to Cap’n Jackie; one that opens up a magical world to her, and that’ll make it all better. Cap’n Jackie even said so, so it has to be true, right?

The Key to Everything can be a bit hard to follow. We have Tash, seemingly abandoned by her mother and living her with uncle while her father is in jail. Kevin, who takes care of Tash, Cap’n Jackie, a loving and cantankerous older woman, and Nathan, Cap’n Jackie’s nephew, who lives in New York, but comes back when Cap’n Jackie is hurt. We don’t get a lot of exposition in this story, but we do learn that family is who you make it. Two major characters, Jackie and Nathan, are gay; something that’s very lightly touched on, but it’s nicely done. Tash suffers from PTSD and a fear of being alone, while Jackie struggled with agoraphobia. Readers have to put in a bit of work to make all the lines connect, but it’s a solid read about family, grief, moving on, and growing up.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Garrison Girl: YA in the Attack on Titan universe!

Garrison Girl: An Attack on Titan novel, by Rachel Aaron, (Aug. 2018, Quirk Books), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-68369-061-0

Ages 12+

Humanity lives in walled cities while giant titans roam the earth. They’re without sense, without intelligence, motivated by a ravenous hunger for human flesh. The military guards the walls, always watching, always waiting. Rosalie Dumarque is the daughter of a wealthy, prominent general; her only purpose in life is to marry well and bring honor to her family, but that’s not going to work for Rosalie. She graduated from military school with honors, and she wants to fight titans, not get married. She convinces her father to let her serve for the six months before her wedding; he sends her to the Wall Rose Garrison in the hopes that she’ll be scared off. With titans wandering too close to the wall, death is always a possibility; under the command of Jax Cunningham, it’s more of a certainty. But Rosalie, along with new friends Willow and Emmett, are determined to stick it out and improve. At first, Rosalie is looked down on as the rich girl, but her commitment to the wall and Rose Garrison quickly makes her part of the team. She even manages to get through to Jax, who starts seeing her as more than a spoiled rich girl. The specter of her engagement looms as a romance blooms between the two, and when Rosalie decides that six months isn’t enough for her, she risks losing her father’s respect and her family’s support. BUT WHO CARES? THERE ARE TITANS, MAN!

Garrison Girl is a YA novel set in the Attack on Titan universe. Look, I’d never seen an episode or cracked open an Attack on Titan manga in my life before Ivy at Quirk sent me this book; I had a vague notion of what the story is about, so that was good enough for me. I finished the book in a day and a half. I refused to put it down, it was so good. These are original characters in a familiar universe, but if you’ve never set foot in that universe before, fear not! The book gets you up to speed pretty quickly with everything you need to know, and the action hits fast, hard, and brutally. I turned to my 14 year-old, who watches anime and reads manga, and said, “HE ATE A GUY!” My son sagely nodded and said, “Yup. Like a carrot.” I threw the book down on the couch in the break room at work and yelled at the end, and had a coworker comment, “You read books like people watch movies”. Well, yes, I do, and if you read this book, you will too. There are characters you will love and want to shield with your own body, and there are characters you will want to punch until a titan walks by and munches on them like potato chips. The book moves fast, the characters are well-thought out and written, and the action and tension are equally high. Fantasy fans, add this to your TBR. Put this on your Attack on Titan displays.

And, Rachel and Ivy? We’re getting more of this, right? RIGHT?

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

My Year in the Middle: Relevant then, relevant now

My Year in the Middle, by Lila Quintero Weaver, (July 2018, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9780763692315

Ages 8-11

Sixth-grader Lu Olivera and her Latin American family find themselves in the middle of a civil rights struggle in their Red Grove, Alabama neighborhood one hot summer in 1970. The tensions run high in her integrated school: black kids sit on one side of the room, white kids on the other; she sits in the middle row. She’s in the the middle child, smack dab between her older, activist sister and younger twin siblings; she’s in the middle when it comes to local politics: many of the white families want to re-elect segregationist governor George Wallace, while Lu and her family support incumbent Albert Brewer. Many of her classmates are leaving their school to go to a private, white school. When Lu befriends fellow track runner Belinda Gresham, an African-American girl, and her classmates turn on her, she decides it’s time to take a stand.

Inspired by the author’s Alabama childhood, My Year in the Middle is a story of civil rights and finding one’s voice. Lu puts up with the passive racism in her community, with remarks like, “she’s from South America, she doesn’t mind going to school with Negroes”. But seeing how her African-American friends are treated by her fellow classmates, and by the general public in her town, pushes her buttons. Lu is a character who stands out: she’s a character of color stuck in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, but because she’s not African-American, she’s tolerated: until she digs in her heels and says, “No more”. She gives and receives support from her black classmates and from Sam, her classmate and crush, a white preacher’s son who is bullied for his civil rights stance.

Lu is at once relatable and a mirror for our society today. We’re still divided, and more and more people are forced from the middle to take a stand. Readers may recognize recent political speeches and attitudes in George Wallace’s condescending stumping and the racial tension that permeates Lu’s classroom. My Year in the Middle is a solid work of historical fiction that provides excellent discussion topics for readers on civil rights, social justice, and where we’ve gone versus where we are.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Crossover YA: The Mermaid by Christina Henry

The Mermaid, by Christina Henry, (June 2018, Berkley Publishing Group), $16, ISBN: 9780399584046

Ages 16+

A mermaid walks out of the sea to live with a man she’s fallen in love with. Years later, the sea takes him away from her. That’s the beginning of the story in Christina Henry’s newest fairy tale for young adults and grownups, The Mermaid. Living in a small seafaring Maine town, most of her neighbors are respectful of Amelia’s – the name her husband gave her – privacy, but rumors have a way of spreading; this time, they spread all the way to New York, and to the ears of none other than The Greatest Showman himself, P.T. Barnum. Barnum dispatches his partner, Levi Lyman, to Maine to talk to the “mermaid” and convince her to become one of Barnum’s spectacles. Amelia, a strong, smart woman in a time when women have no voice, no property, and no agency of their own, she decides – after sending Lyman on his way – to make her way to New York and negotiate with Barnum. She wants to travel the world, and she agrees to work with Barnum on her own terms for six months, in order to be able to finance it. The partnership between the two headstrong characters is tenuous, and Lyman finds himself falling in love with Amelia. The Mermaid is amazing storytelling that has a distinctly feminist voice.

The Mermaid gives us a Barnum that isn’t quite so friendly and fun as Hugh Jackman’s portrayal in The Greatest Showman; this Barnum is concerned with money, who’s paying it out, and how much of it he can make off the back of his “spectacles”. He’s recovering from the backlash of one of his exhibits gone wrong, and trying to recover his reputation; he’s known as a liar and a “humbug” (not exactly untrue); he treats his wife and daughters shabbily, and cares little for anyone outside of himself. That’s enough about him.

Amelia is the star of this story. She’s a real mermaid who touches the lives of those who lay eyes on her. Charity, Barnum’s put-upon wife, resists believing in her at first, but later comes to treasure her friendship with Amelia, finding her own voice to stand up against her bulldozing husband. Caroline, Barnum’s young daughter, is enchanted with the idea of knowing a mermaid, and discovers her own young voice thanks to Amelia. Levi Lyman finds his scruples and love in her stormy eyes. Amelia refuses to be taken advantage of, and demands to be heard. She empowers those around her. She reminds Barnum that at any moment, she can walk away from him and he’ll never find her: she’s a mermaid, for crying out loud, and the Earth is 75% water; good luck finding her. We don’t learn about her family or her people; she is the focus of the novel and the narrative. She stands alone. An adult novel, this can easily cross over into YA/Teen for fantasy readers. There are discussion questions available at the end of the book.

Want more circus and sideshow books? Booktalk and display with Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and H.P. Wood’s Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. Want more of Christina Henry’s fairy tales? Check out her website and learn about her other books.

 

 

Water for Elephants

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Dollar Kids: Starting over, and fitting in

The Dollar Kids, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson/Illustrated by Ryan Andrews, (Aug. 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763694746

Recommended for readers 9-13

Lowen Grover is a 12-year-old artist is using his comic book artwork to cope with the gun-related death of his young friend, Abe. He just wants to get away: away from the memories of Abe and the shooting; away from his neighborhood, where everyone knows. When he sees an article about a former mill town, Millville, holding a lottery of dollar homes to bring new life into the town, he mentions it to his parents, who apply and secure a home. It’s a chance for his family to own their own home, and a chance for his mother to start up a business, but rural life isn’t what Lowen expected, and the Millville families aren’t as welcoming to the new “Dollar Kids” and their families as he’d hoped. As the Grovers and the other new families try to make inroads into their new town, Lowen works through his grief and tries to rediscover friendship, his love for art, and his place in the community.

The Dollar Kids unpacks a lot of ideas and moments, and it’s beautifully done by author Jennifer Richard Jacobson and illustrator Ryan Andrews. It’s a book about grief and loss, and the guilt that comes with grief. It’s also about friendship, and accepting friendship, even when one doesn’t think he or she deserves it. It’s a book about family. Finally, it’s a book about acceptance. Lowen is grieving the loss of a kid who was somewhat of a friend; a younger kid who hung around him constantly; he embraces this chance to start a new life in a rural town, but he and his family discover that a dollar home takes a great emotional and financial toll; the families in Millville don’t like change much, even when it’s to benefit their town, and feel almost contemptuous toward the newcomers. The characters are realistic and relatable, with the author giving as much attention to her supporting characters as she does her main characters. The comic book artwork by Ryan Andrews is an outlet for Lowen, and helps readers work through his grief with him.

A great middle grade book for realistic fiction readers. Explain to readers that dollar homes do, in fact, exist, and what the stigmas associated with buying a foreclosed home could entail: how may the Millvillians see the families that purchase them, in light of the town’s history? I’d booktalk this with Beth Vrabel’s Blind Guide to Stinkville and The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz, both of which look at life in a rural community, and The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin and Lisa Graff’s Lost in the Sun for addressing grief.