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

March graphic novels look at the power of relationships

The Breakaways, by Cathy G. Johnson, (March 2018, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626723573

Ages 8-12

This Bad News Bears of Soccer story stars Faith, a child of color who joins her school team at the urging of Amanda, one of the school’s popular girls. Thinking it’s a great way to make new friends, Faith signs up, only to discover that there are different soccer teams, and she’s been put on the Bloodhounds, which is made of up the lousiest players in the school. They may be horrible at soccer, but the group gradually comes together to form a tight friendship unit, and that’s the heart of the story.

There’s a fantastic diversity among the group. There are queer characters, including one who’s transitioning, and characters of color. The storyline is moved forward by each character’s quest for identity and acceptance within their families and the group, making for some deeply heartfelt moments. It’s a book about friendship, self-awareness, and acceptance, set in a middle school – often a battleground for kids who want to stand out without being “different”.

This one’s a must-add to your shelves. Talk this one up to your Lumberjanes fans.

The Mary Sue has a great write-up and preview of The Breakaways, and you can visit author/illustrator Cathy G. Johnson’s website for more info.

Kiss Number 8, by Colleen AF Venable/Illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw, (March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596437098

Ages 12+

Mads is a Catholic school teen who whose dad is her best friend. They go to minor league baseball games together, watch TV shows together, and generally just hang out together. It rocks her world when she discovers that her dad is hiding a secret, and it couldn’t have come at a harder time: Mads is also discovering that she may be attracted to her friend, Cat.

Kiss Number 8 looks at a sexual awakening within a close Catholic family. Mads tries out different kisses with different guys, trying to feel something, because her wilder friend, Cat – the archetypal Catholic school bad girl – encourages it, and it’s because what Mads feels like she’s supposed to do. While she torments herself over what she thinks her father’s hiding, she and Cat fall out, and the rumor mill goes wild, leading Mads to admit to her feelings and attractions to herself, and to Cat. Once Mads accepts herself, she has to deal with her father’s secret, his reaction to her emerging identity, and his overall mindset; luckily, she has support from a place she never dreamed of.

I really enjoyed Kiss Number 8. The characters are real, and Mads’ struggle with her own identity and sexuality works seamlessly with the family secret, revealed in all of its emotional pain. Mads has to come to realizations about herself, her relationships, and her own father, in order to move forward, but she’s a smart heroine that navigates these challenges to come out on top. Kiss Number is an exploration of teen sexuality, families, and relationships. A necessary book for your collections.

Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw‘s websites both offer some sneak peeks at Kiss Number 8 and their additional work.

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Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

February Graphic Novels bring big feelings

PTSD, by Guillaume Singelin, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626723184

Ages 16+

A veteran home from an unpopular war, Jun is an outsider whose fate is similar to many of our own vets in the here and now. She’s mentally and physically broken, finding relief in the drugs she’s addicted to. When she connects with a single mom running a food booth, and a fellow vet and his dog, Red, Jun begins to heal and works toward helping her fellow vets heal.

Set in a fictional, Hong Kong-inspired city, PTSD chooses a gritty, urban futuristic landscape to tell the story of a veteran who went off to fight a war, and came home to indifference. Jun gives us a chance to glimpse into a vet’s psyche: beaten down, haunted by her memories, and physically broken, she’s been left behind by the people she thought she went off to defend. She’s angry, she’s in pain, and the only thing that seems to take the edge off is drugs. Basic human kindness angers her – she initially rebuffs the woman who runs a food stand, because she’s so unused to humane gestures. Readers will see our vets reflected in Jun and her fellow homeless vets.

The story is strong, although I struggled with the artwork. The manga-inspired artwork is dark and often muddy. It’s atmospheric, but often left me struggling to figure out what was going on and where. Manga fans will snap this up, and booktalk this with books like Elizabeth Partridge’s National Book Award nominee, Boots on the Ground. This is a young adult and up-level graphic novel with language and content that may be too rough for middle grade readers.

Bloom, by Kevin Panetta/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781250196910
Ages 13+

This YA/New Adult graphic novel is a gentle love story. High school is over, and Ari can’t wait to move out of his hometown. He and his bandmates are planning on a big move to the city, where they can get more gigs and make their names – now, all Ari needs to do, is convince his dad to let him quit his job at the family bakery. At the same time, Hector comes to town to wrap up his deceased grandmother’s affairs and sell her house. He loves to bake as much as Ari is sick of it, and he ends up being the perfect replacement for the struggling bakery: even Ari’s dad loves Hector! But as Ari works side by side with Hector, getting him up to speed on the bakery, the two fall in love… until disaster hits, in more ways than one. Can Ari’s family recover when their business and home burns to the ground, and can Hector and Ari ever work out their relationship?

Created with soft blue and white artwork, Bloom is a sweet story of first love, identity, and independence. Ari can come off as pretty whiny, but his friends are even worse. Hector is the strong, silent type that pulls Ari out of himself and helps him discover who he is – and that he doesn’t need his friends in order to give him an identity. Bloom also explores consequences: Ari has to make big choices in this book, and not every choice is going to be the best one for him. It’s part of growing up, and growing up can be painful. It’s how you work through it that matters. Bloom is a good add to your YA/New Adult graphic novel collections and a love story that will give readers the warm fuzzies.
Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Crossover Fiction: New Dark Ages

New Dark Ages, by Warren Kinsella, (Dec. 2018, Dundurn), $14.99, ISBN: 9781459742154

Ages 16+

The second book in Warren Kinsella’s X-Gang series, while set in the ’80s, sees the rise of a candidate that’s eerily familiar: Earl Turner is an all-American guy running for President on a “White is Right” platform, and the country seems to be eating it up. His numbers are going up, his rallies are teeming with supporters, and, most distressing to Kurt Blank and the rest of the X Gang, their former drummer, Danny Hate, is right smack in the middle of it. He went “conservative” after incidents from the first novel (Recipe for Hate, 2017), but to be showing up at political rallies as Earl Turner’s right-hand man? Meanwhile, dead punks are being discovered in cities right after the Nasties’ – the X Gang’s band – shows, and Kurt’s drug habit is starting to become a problem.

Set in the ’80s, New Dark Ages is a reminder that we haven’t come as far – or is it fallen as far? – as we thought we may have. Earl Turner has that jock appeal that went over so well at the time, with the current administration’s open malice for anyone not like him. The narrative tends to jump around a bit, though, and while there’s some good punk culture fiction happening here, along with potentially interesting political intrigue, there are too many balls in the air to keep a cohesive storyline in play.

Is New Dark Ages YA? Not necessarily, but it’s got crossover potential. The characters are in the age range, and confronting issues that will most definitely affect their futures. It’s an additional purchase if you’ve got readers interested in punk culture (including us Gen X readers who were around at the time) and politically charged fiction.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Bully on the Bus – a novel in verse

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel, (Sept. 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677707

Ages 7-10

Elementary schooler Leroy loves his teacher, Mrs. Wilson. He loves being one of her “Superkids”. But he hates taking the bus to school every day, because there’s a bully on the bus: a high schooler named DJ has it out for him every single day, and no one can stop her. Not the bus driver, and not his older sister, Ruby. Every day, DJ pinches, pokes, insults, and steals from Leroy, threatening him if he tells. When he brings a special cupcake to school, one he made just for Mrs. Wilson, DJ takes it and eats it, ruining his schoolwork in the process. From there, Leroy begins to withdraw until he can hold it in no longer. With Ruby’s encouragement, he tells his parents, who meet with the Mrs. Wilson; together, they come up with a plan to deal with the bully on the bus.

Told in verse from Leroy’s point of view, Bully on the Bus is sensitive, often heartbreaking, and ultimately, hopeful. Leroy’s employs self-confidence, bolstered by his family’s and teacher’s support, and a ‘secret weapon’ that holds messages – strategies – to distract him from DJ’s bullying. There’s strong advice for kids enduring their own bullies: “Show the bully you don’t care. Tell an adult.” The story ends on an optimistic note, and while Leroy’s “secret weapon” and support system may not apply to every reader’s situation, it is a story that lets kids know they are seen; their stories heard. It’s a story that encourages kids to seek help and assures them that someone out there wants to listen and wants to help. The story is set in Australia, but can easily take place anywhere.

My library system just kicked off a Time for Kind program, starting on World Kindness Day (Nov. 13). This book is going to be a strong booktalker for me.

Author Kathryn Apel has some wonderful resources to accompany Bully on the Bus, including downloadable wolf masks and bus shape templates to create shape poetry.

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Celebrate holidays with Ellie May!

Ellie May on President’s Day, by Hillary Homzie/Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler, (Nov. 2018, Charlesbridge), $14.99, ISBN: 9781580898195

Ages 6-10

Second grader Ellie May loves learning about the US Presidents and is desperate to show her patriotism during Presidents’ Week at school. She just has to be flag leader during the Pledge of Allegiance during this week! She is on a mission to be presidential and to make sure her teacher, Ms. Silva, knows it; this way, she’ll be sure to get picked. But Ellie can’t seem to catch a break, whether she’s chopping the class plant (a cactus!) while trying to relive George Washington and the cherry tree, or taking apart the pencil sharpener and making a big mess, while attempting to tinker like Abraham Lincoln. Don’t even ask about how she tried to make her little sister, Midge, a flag, so she could teach her the Pledge at home. Ellie’s got a good heart and means well – she just has to learn to let that shine through, and most importantly, to be patient.

This is a brand new chapter book series that celebrates popular classroom holidays, and stars a dynamic, funny child of color named Ellie May. Second graders will love her, and they’re sure to see themselves reflected in her and her quest to be noticed. Patience? Who needs patience, when you’re eager? Ellie discovers she has a lot to learn as each of her attempts to show off for her teacher end in near catastrophe, but she’s surrounded by supportive friends, family, and teachers who are there to slow Ellie down and put her on the right path. Written in the first person from Ellie’s point of view, and illustrated with black and white sketches throughout, kids will enjoy this one – and it’s a great series to feature in classrooms and libraries. back matter includes the history of the Pledge of Allegiance, and of the Presidents’ Day holiday.

 

 

Ellie May on April Fools’ Day, by Hillary Homzie/Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler, (Dec. 2018, Charlesbridge), $14.99, ISBN: 9781580898201

Ages 6-10

Ellie May is back, and is ready for April Fools’ Day! Her class is allowed to celebrate, as long as the pranks are made in good fun. Ellie decides she’s going to prank her friend, Ava, whose birthday celebration is taking place on the same day! After a few attempts at pranks fall flat at home and at school, she’s ready for the big day: but this is Ellie May, after all, and her attempt at a silly goof goes awry when she gets carried away in the classroom. After sitting it out and thinking it over, Ellie May starts understanding the true meaning of a good-natured prank, apologizes to her friend, Mo, and to Ava, and celebrates April Fool’s Day with her whole class as her teacher takes them outside for a rare bird sighting!

This second Ellie May story is every bit as fun as the first one. Ellie is trying so hard to make a name for herself that she gets a little carried away, but it’s never mean-spirited, and she’s always got someone there to point her in the right direction. Kids will see themselves and their classmates in this one, and the story lends itself to a good discussion about how getting carried away can lead to hurt feelings or hurt body parts. The teacher’s April Fools’ Day activity is a fun one – I may have to try that one in the library. Back matter includes an explanation on April Fools’ Day’s history and traditions. Black and white illustrations throughout add to the fun and promote reader interest.

This series is going on my to-buy list. Chapter books do really well here at my library, and books about classroom holidays – holidays, in general, for my growing readers – are always in high demand. I’ll have to mention this series to a few visiting teachers, too!

 

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

Reckless Club “remixes The Breakfast Club for the Instagram generation”

The Reckless Club, by Beth Vrabel, (Oct. 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762490400

Ages 9-13

I had to use Kirkus’ line in that opening, because how more perfect can one describe a book? Beth Vrabel, one of my favorite middle grade authors, reaches back into one of the movies that defined my generation and brought it back, with a few nips and tucks, to inspire a new generation. We take one group: a Nobody (Jason), a Drama Queen (Lilith), a Flirt (Wes), an Athlete (Ally, also known as “Sports Barbie”), and a rebel (Rex) all come together at a retirement home one day in the late summer. Each has done something so wrong in their last year of middle school that they’ve got to spend the last Saturday before high school here, helping elderly patients and their principal’s sister, who oversees the home. Each teen is paired with an elder, and their personalities quickly emerge, as does a mystery: is one of the nurse’s stealing from the patients?

The book has wonderful callouts to The Breakfast Club, meaning I’ll get to booktalk this to some of my parents, too. We Gen Xers never get tired of ’80s nostalgia! But the story is so much more than that. Beth Vrabel has the dual gifts of dialogue and character development, giving readers a voraciously readable story that delves into LGBTQ+, self-esteem and acceptance, and race matters.

I love Beth Vrabel’s books. I feel good at the end of a Beth Vrabel story, and I feel like people can and still want to make a difference when I read a Beth Vrabel story. She tells realistic stories about kids we could see in our classrooms, our libraries, and at our dinner tables every day, and provides insights that we may not even realize we’re overlooking. That handsome class president with the dimples may not have it as easy as you think. The drama queen that throws a hissy fit may have hit her last straw with an awful teacher. That star athlete may have something really unhealthy pushing her to excel. It reminds us, as adults, as well as middle graders and tweens, that everyone has something going on under the surface. A final note, a la the Breakfast Club, sums up the group’s experiences of the day, and we can only hope that The Reckless Club has another adventure in store for us soon.

Visit Beth Vrabel’s website for study guides, news about her other books, and info about school visits.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Saving Winslow is another hit for Sharon Creech

Saving Winslow, by Sharon Creech, (Sept. 2018, Harper Collins Children’s Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-06-257073-4

Ages 7-12

Louie is a gentle 10-year-old boy with a horrible history of caring for animals: worms, lightning bugs, goldfish, and several bigger animals have all perished or escaped under his care, but when his father brings home a baby donkey, orphaned at birth, from Louie’s uncle’s farm – to care for it until, “you know – until it dies”, Louie accepts the mission. He’s going to save this donkey. You see, Louie was a preemie at birth, and his parents weren’t sure he’d make it, either. Love and determination kept Louie going, and he’s sure that it will keep Winslow – the name he gives the donkey – going. And it does. Winslow struggles, but thrives under Louie’s care, to everyone’s surprise. His new neighbor, Nora, a girl grieving the losses of both her premature baby brother and her dog, is amazed, but pessimistic, warning Louie that Winslow is going to die, and not to get too attached. Louie puts everything into saving Winslow, wishing he could speak to his older brother, Gus, who’s serving in the military, about Winslow, but letters from Gus come few and far between these days, and are always signed “remember me”. As Louie saves Winslow, Winslow may save everyone around him.

Full disclosure: this is my first Sharon Creech novel. Now I get it. I get why she’s a force in kidlit, a multiple award winner, and why her books are always on my library kids’ summer reading lists. She masters feeling and emotion through eloquent, brief prose. I was hers from the opening lines in the book, and I was with her until the last phrase closed the story. I told a friend of mine that Saving Winslow broke me apart and put me back together in the way that Charlotte’s Web did when I read it the first time as a child. Sharon Creech invests readers in every single character in this book, from the baby donkey, to the pessimistic neighbor kid, to the crabby next door neighbor, but we are always focused on Louie and his story. Saving Winslow is a story of hope and perseverance, and it’s a story about the need to believe in the positive. Every library needs a copy of this book – let’s get this one on the summer reading lists, please! – and kids with gentle hearts and sad souls alike will find comfort in it. An absolute must-have, must-read.

Saving Winslow has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Horn Book. Sharon Creech has a Newbery Medal for Walk Two Moons (1995), and received Newbery Honors for The Wanderer (2001). Her book, Ruby Holler (2002), is a Carnegie Medal winner. Her author website offers information and links to her social media, and downloadable reading guides for most of her books.