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

Middle graders, make way for Merci Suarez!

Merci Suárez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763690496

Ages 8-12

Sixth grade Cuban-American Mercedes “Merci” Suárez lives in South Florida with her family in Las Casitas: three houses, side by side, where Merci lives with her brother, Roli, and their parents; her Abuela and Lolo; and her Tía Inéz and her crazy twin 5-year olds, Axel and Tomás. She and Roli also attend an exclusive private school, Seaward Pines. In order to help pay their tuition, Merci has to take part in Sunshine Buddies, a community service program that matches her with a new student from Minnesota, Michael Clark. Merci has a pretty full plate with Sunshine Buddies, practicing for the soccer tryouts at school, and tolerating the school’s resident mean girl, Edna Santos, but things get even more complicated when her grandfather, Lolo, starts acting differently. He forgets his glasses in the refrigerator; he falls off his bike, and he tries to pick up the wrong twins at school one day. Merci finds herself with mounting family responsibilities and pushes back against the frustration of school and home life, but she and her family will work together, like they always do, to get through life’s challenges.

Meg Medina creates the most memorable, likable characters, from Piddy Sanchez (Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass) to Mía and Abuela (Mango, Abuela and Me). She creates an atmosphere that immediately feels comfortable and tactile; reading her books feels like home for me. The peppered Spanglish throughout the narrative; the mouth-watering descriptions of food, the chaotic, crazy family life all fit like a comfortable sofa that I sink into to read my books. She creates strong Latinx girls and women who run businesses and raise families, who have straight talk with their families and friends, even when those conversations are painful, and they know the strength that family provides. Every character in Merci’s story feels real because these characters are real: they’re the kids next to you in school, or who live down the block. Meg Medina uses humor and authentic voices to create a story about a tween girl who has insecurities, worries, and frustrations; she’s also funny, smart, and creative, with a whip-smart wit. Merci Suárez Changes Gears is a story about growing up and about how much it hurts to see your grandparents aging. Put this in every kid’s hand, because it’s that good. This one’s on my Newbery 2018 short list.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears has starred reviews from Kirkus, Horn Book, and Booklist. Meg Medina has an author site where you can learn more about her books and read her blog, and make sure to check out the Girls of Summer website; a project co-designed by Meg Medina and author Gigi Amateau. Girls of Summer reviews 18 titles for strong girls (picture book, middle grade and YA) every year, in early June; there are also giveaways and weekly Q & As with selected authors. The blog is active from June until Labor Day every year, but you can still check out the content (from 2011-present) no matter what time of the year!

 

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

Grief and conflict collide in The Girl with More Than One Heart

The Girl with More Than One Heart, by Laura Geringer Bass, (Apr. 2018, Amulet), $16.99, ISBN: 9781419728822

Ages 10+

Briana is starting her eighth grade year when her father dies of a sudden heart problem. Her mother spirals into grief, leaving Briana with the responsibility of caring for her 5-year-old brother, Aaron, who’s on the autism spectrum. Briana thought of her father as “her” parent and her mother as “Aaron’s parent”, which introduces frustration and resentment on top of her own grief. Briana feels a “second heart” form in her stomach, which communicates to her in her father’s voice, telling her to “find” her mother, and to “let go”.

Told in the first person in Briana’s voice, this novel is a touching, sensitive look at the complicated grief process: it’s messy, frustrating, and filled with mixed emotions, especially when thrown into the volatile mix of adolescent emotions. The writing is so believable, so real, that I felt overwhelmed by both Briana’s and her mother’s grief at points. Readers receive a wealth of information through Briana’s “Before Aaron” flashbacks, back to when her mother had as much time for her as her father; back when they were a cohesive, whole family. This process also helps Briana become a more present sibling to Aaron, and to reach out to new friends when the opportunities present themselves. We get a glimpse of what grief can do to a parent, and the effect of that grief on a child, and we see how the extended family – in this case, Briana’s grandfather – have to take on roles that they may be unprepared for.

The Girl with More Than One Heart is a must-add to your realistic fiction collections, and keep this one in your booktalking pocket for books on grief and loss.

 

Readalikes:

 

Never That Far, by Carol Lynch Williams: Twelve-year-old Libby and her father work through their grief after her grandfather dies.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, by John David Anderson: Three school friends give their dying teacher the best day ever.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness: Thirteen-year-old Conor’s mother is fighting cancer and losing; at the same time, a yew tree tells Conor stories and expects him to tell his.

The Haunted House Project, by Tricia Clasen: Andie tries to hold onto her mother’s memory by having her “haunt” the family home.

Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan: Twelve-year-old Willow loses both parents in a car accident, leaving her to find her place in the world.

Teen Librarian Toolbox and Pragmatic Mom have additional choices, all excellent reading.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

The Mortification of Fovea Munson is hilarious Summer Reading!

The Mortification of Fovea Munson, by Mary Winn Heider/Illustrated by Chi Birmingham, (June 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484780541

Ages 9-13

From the opening line, “Dead bodies are the worst”, you just know you’re in for a good time with this book. Fovea Munson is the 12-year-old daughter of two doctors: cadaver surgeons. They operate on dead folks, and they teach medical students how to work their craft on dead folks. They’ve got the corniest senses of humor, a never-ending love for Hippocrates, the father of medicine, and they’ve just hired Fovea to be their receptionist for the summer. This is bad enough for a 12-year-old who’s already feeling tragically uncool, but wait: three heads in the cadaver lab start talking to her. Death isn’t necessarily final, after all, and Lake, McMullen, and Andy – the three heads in question – want to start a barbershop quartet, hit a recording studio, and have a release party, and it’s up to Fovea to make it happen. Quickly. Because that receptionist that quit left a lovesick, slightly unhinged cremator, behind, and he’s got information that will ruin Fovea’s family. The heads know something, so it’s a little quid pro quo in action.

Is this madcap? Absolutely! Is it hilarious? Without question! Fovea narrates this laugh-out-loud story of a summer vacation gone sideways with a priceless, put-upon tween voice as she navigates her relationship with her parents, her friends (both dead and living), and her scooter-riding grandmother. There’s an unexpected amount of pathos here as Fovea comes to care for a classmate and the trio of cadaver heads in her care, and a bittersweet realization that some friendships aren’t meant to last. There are black and white illustrations throughout, adding some visual humor to the story, and chapters titles remind us how much Hippocrates has influenced Fovea’s life. The end of the book leaves me hopeful that we’ll get some more fun with Fovea down the road, and an appendix (snicker) includes amusing little in-jokes that readers will get a kick out of.

The Mortification of Fovea Munson is a perfect summer read, especially for kids who think their parents are weird (which is, honestly, most of ’em). Don’t miss it. Add it to your STEM reading – cadavers science is a thing!

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

Just Under the Clouds shows us the working poor

Just Under the Clouds, by Melissa Sarno, (June 2018, Knopf Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9781524720087

Ages 10-14

Middle schooler Cora, her Mexican-American mom, and younger sister, Adare, are homeless. After her father died, she and her family have lived in a series of temporary homes and shelters in Brooklyn, New York, while her mother tries to make ends meet at an hourly retail job, giving up her art to keep her family going. Adare sustained brain damage at birth, so Cora must look after her when their mother isn’t around. When they get back to their room at the shelter and discover it’s been broken into, the family heads to Cora’s mom’s childhood friend, Willa, a successful lawyer with an apartment of her own, hoping to stay until a better, safer, placement comes through. Cora loves life in Willa’s stable home, but the girls’ mother is frustrated by what she sees as Willa’s meddling. Meanwhile, at school, Cora struggles with math and bullies, and meets a friend named Sabina, who lives on a houseboat and was homeschooled until this school year. Cora has both parents’ passions within her; she keeps her father’s tree diary with her and searches for a special tree that her father wrote about, paired with her mother’s artistic talent – with an arborial bent. She has the stress of caring for Adare, the stress of being homeless, and being bullied.

Just Under the Clouds is narrated in Cora’s voice; author Melissa Sarno creates a strong, moving narrative where we meet a family that often falls through the cracks in our society: the working poor. Cora’s mother, Liliana, is working at a job that doesn’t cover the cost of living for a family of three, let alone in metro New York, and her daughters are in school, clean, and fed, if not full. It’s a tale of poverty, grief, empathy, and hope. The book addresses childhood stress, which comes with long-lasting fallout, and caring for a special needs child, and how poverty affects those children receiving necessary services to help them. It’s a sensitive, painful look in our own backyards and courtyards, our own classrooms and workplaces, and deserves a space on bookshelves and in readers’ hands. Pair this with 1958’s The Family Under the Bridge, by Natalie Savage Carson, and ask readers how things have changed – and how they’ve stayed the same – over 60 years. Start a booktalk by asking your readers, “How would you feel if you lived in a place that wasn’t safe to go to alone?”

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

BIG Summer Nonfiction Reads Roundup!

From sharks, to space, to stories of survival in the wild, I’ve got books for all sorts of nonfiction tastes! Let’s start with the oogie stuff and go from there.

They Lost Their Heads! What Happened to Washington’s Teeth, Einstein’s Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts, by Carlyn Beccia, (Apr. 2018, Bloomsbury), $18.99, ISBN: 9780802737458

Recommended for readers 10+

If you have readers who loved Georgia Bragg and Kevin O’Malley’s books, How They Croaked: Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous, and How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous, this is a home run! Learn what happened to the famous body parts of 17 famous folks, and pick up some knowledge about other body parts and how they influenced science medicine. If you’ve ever ever wanted to know what happened to Thomas Edison’s last breath or Van Gogh’s missing ear, this is the place to go. You also learn cool stuff like what rots first after you die (psst… it’s the intestines). Loaded with black and white drawings, funny footnotes, sources, an index, and a bibliography. This one’s a hit for upper elementary readers, all the way through high school. They Lost Their Heads! has a starred review from Booklist.

StarTalk with Neil DeGrasse Tyson (Young Readers Edition), by National Geographic, (March 2018, National Geographic), $17.99, ISBN: 9781426330872

Recommended for readers 10+

I LOVE Neil DeGrasse Tyson and evangelize his StarTalk Radio podcast any chance I get. (Seriously, it’s great stuff.) NatGeo’s Young Readers edition of the StarTalk book is must-booktalk summer reading. Get your Summer Reading budget and buy some astronaut ice cream; while you and the kids feast, read the section on why you can’t get a pulled pork sandwich in space; find out what the Vomit Comet is; and read mini-bios on scientists like Carl Sagan. Not so much with the food? There are also sections on zombies and superheroes. Debate the eternal question: Could the Death Star really blow up a planet? There’s so much to discover in this book that every kid is darn near guaranteed to find something to interest him or her. (Psst… get an extra copy for yourself. You’ll thank me.)

 

Survivors: Extraordinary tales from the Wild and Beyond, by David Long/Illustrated by Kerry Hyndman, (Sept. 2017, Faber & Faber), $19.95, ISBN: 9780571316014

Recommended for readers 9-13

Do you know fans of Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived series? I’ve never been able to keep those books on the shelves, no matter which library I’ve been at. Middle graders go berserk for that series, and they’ll LOVE this oversized, illustrated anthology of true survival tales. There are 23 stories in here; the most famous being explorer Ernest Shackleton, who saved his crew when a 1914 Antarctic expedition put their lives in danger. There’s also the story of Hugh Glass, a “fur trapper and adventurer” who made the critical error of surprising a mother bear and her cubs by the Missouri River in 1823, or Mauro Prosperi, a runner competing in the 1994 Marathon of the Sands through the Sahara Desert, found himself in the middle of a sandstorm. Not crazy enough for your readers? There’s also a Hollywood pilot who crashed INSIDE a Hawaiian volcano in 1992. The stories are fast-paced, beautifully illustrated in color, and are perfect for adventure fans. Best part? All the stories are TRUE.

 

The Ultimate Book of Sharks, by Brian Skerry, Elizabeth Carney, & Sarah Wassner Flynn, (May 2018, National Geographic Kids), $19.99, ISBN: 9781426330711

Recommended for readers 7-13

Kids love sharks. This is a fact. The Ultimate Book of Sharks has all the info and pictures your shark-loving fans crave, just in time for Shark Week, which kicks off on July 22 (get your printables and programs lined up – I’ll do a separate post about Shark Week as it gets closer). The NatGeo folks bust myths about sharks, give us a look at shark anatomy, and – as always – provide loads of information about conservation and preservation, and how we can all help keep sharks, and our waters, safe and clean. This volume is chock full of fast facts and lists, with Up-Close Encounters, where marine wildlife photojournalist and author Brian Skerry shares some of his stories with readers. There’s an index at the end. This volume is an absolute must-add to your science and nature collections.

 

Red Alert! Endangered Animals Around the World, by Catherin Barr/Illustrated by Anne Wilson, (July 2018, Charlesbridge), $17.99, ISBN: 9781580898393

Recommended for readers 7-11

This is such a fun book. Think of a Choose Your Own Adventure about endangered animals, and you’ve got Red Alert! Red Alert! profiles 15 animals on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list. A beginning note explains the organization’s “Red List”: a list of endangered plants, animals, and fungi, and lists some of the categories mentioned in the book. Colorful endpapers start the fun: the first, a map of the world, with the 15 profiled animals drawn into their world regions; final endpapers highlight a plethora of endangered animals. From here, readers can pick a place to explore: deserts, forests, mountains, grasslands, rivers, or oceans; pick a creature from each of these regions, and go to its page to read further. You can also read the book straight through. Spreads include the animals’ scientific names, facts, endangered category, and factors contributing to the endangerment of the species. A section at the end provides resources for more information on taking conservation action. A solid introduction to environmental action for younger readers.

 

National Geographic Kids Almanac (2019 Edition), (May 2018, National Geographic Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9781426330131

Recommended for readers 8-13

Another guaranteed must-have from NatGeo Kids, this latest edition of their Kids Almanac shows readers a baby animal “tweet-off” between several zoos and aquariums (it’s from 2017, but who doesn’t want to revisit that simpler, lovelier time?), talks about updates in robotics and technology, dwarf planets, and has a Special Gross Edition of their Just Joking feature. Facts, quizzes, updated maps and stats, and homework help ideas all in one volume? This is one desk reference every kid should have – put one on your shelves, and keep one in your reference area, to be on the safe side.

 

How’s that for a start? Next time a kid comes in, stressed about needing a nonfiction book, consider yourself ready.

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

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is wonderful!

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, by Stacy McAnulty, (May 2018, Random House), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5247-6757-0

Recommended for readers 8-12

I am so excited to talk up this book, because it is SO GOOD. I was lucky enough to be on author Stacy McAnulty’s “street team”, so I have evangelized this book to my library kiddos, bending the ear of everyone I talk to (including grownups) at the library and at home, and generally shoving this book at people to tell them that they need to read it immediately.

Lucy is a gifted tween, thanks to a lightning strike at age seven that left her with savant abilities in math. She loves math. She sees and smells the numbers and equations; they reveal themselves to her and tell them all their secrets, but social relationships have eluded her. She struggles with OCD behaviors and has been homeschooled by her grandmother, who finally decides that Lucy develop socially, and enrolls her in middle school, which doesn’t really go over so well with Lucy, who’s more ready for college applications. But Lucy promises her grandmother that she’ll make one friend, join one activity, and read one book that isn’t a math textbook. Lucy’s OCD automatically makes her a target to the local mean girl, but she persists, finding ways to use her talents in a class project, and making two pretty good friends, while she’s at it.

I can’t find enough great things to say about Lightning Girl. Stacy McAnulty gives us a strong, funny, sweet, and complex group of characters that reader will recognize bits of themselves in; supportive parental figures that are doing their best, and parents that need a bit more work. It’s a glimpse at everyday life with a touch of the extraordinary, and it’s a touching look at the power of caring about something bigger than oneself. Lucy goes through tremendous upheaval, but she rides it out, and grows through the course of the book. Before the events that form the narrative, she sees life as a series of problems that can be worked out, but learns that some of the toughest problems bring rewarding solutions. Even if the final answer isn’t correct, the work to get there makes a difference.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is compulsively readable, discussable, and perfect middle grade reading. Teachers, PLEASE put this on your Summer Reading lists, so I can hand this book to every middle grader I see this summer. Lightning Girl has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkusand Publisher’s Weekly. Author Stacy McAnulty is on a book tour for Lightning Girl right now: head to her author webpage for a schedule!

 

Posted in Middle School, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads, Women's History, Young Adult/New Adult

House of Dreams looks at a classic author’s life

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery, by Liz Rosenberg/Illustrated by Julie Morstad, (June 2018, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763660574

Recommended for readers 10+

This illustrated biography of Maud Montgomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, is a must-have for middle school and up biography readers. Her mother died when she was a toddler; her father left her in the care of her grandparents, and Maud grew up wanting more: passionate love and affection; education; a career as an author. She dealt with anxiety and depression throughout her life, and married for security rather than love. Drawing on correspondence and her unpublished journals, Liz Rosenberg draws a picture of a woman who led an often difficult life and who struggled against her circumstances to create one of the most memorable literary characters of all time.

It’s not always an easy read. Reading about Maud’s struggle against greedy publishers and her own gold-digging son can be rage-inducing, as is her fight to continue her education against the grandfather who refused to help her. Her callous uncle left Maud and her widowed grandmother to live in horrible conditions, waiting for his own mother to die so he could inherit her home, left to him by his father. But we also read about Maud’s devotion to her Prince Edward Island home, her lifelong love of writing, and her success at being able to sustain an income by writing.

L.M. Montgomery was a complex, conflicted woman and her struggles with mental health and financial independence make her more real, more three-dimensional, to readers who will understand and be inspired.