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.

 

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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.

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

Hearts Unbroken is strong, smart #ownvoices YA

Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763681142

Ages 13+

High school senior dumps her jock boyfriend when he makes disparaging comments about Natives in front of her. You see, she’s Native: Creek nation – Muscogee – to be precise. She shakes off his badmouthing and focuses on the school year: she’s on the school newspaper staff and she’s paired with Joey Kairouz, the new photojournalist. Her brother, Hughie, is a new freshman at the same school, too, and lands a coveted spot in the school play: he’s going to be the Tin Man in the school production of The Wizard of Oz. Not every parent is thrilled with the diverse casting, though: a group calling themselves Parents Against Revisionist Theater starts lodging complaints and pressuring local businesses against supporting the play. Hughie and other actors of color start receiving anonymous hate mail. Battle lines are drawn throughout the student body and faculty. Joey and Louise try navigating a relationship while they work on the paper together, but Louise’s worries about “dating while Native” may cause more hurt to Joey than she expects.

Hearts Unbroken is just consuming. I didn’t want to put it down until I finished it. There are such rich, realistic characters, and Louise is just brilliant. She’s no simpering heroine – the book starts with her breaking up with her boyfriend for disparaging Natives, and she never looks back. Cynthia Leitich Smith creates such textured, layered characters and educates readers on Native life and language, giving me an even deeper respect for #ownvoices work than I already had. She gives Louise and her family challenges both common and unique: Louise has a bad breakup; she is self-absorbed and isn’t a mindful friend when her friend Shelby needs her; she works through her feelings about sex and when she will be ready. Louise and her family also deal with racism and whitewashing among their own neighbors and classmates. Hughie agonizes over discovering that L. Frank Baum, who created the wonderful world of Oz, so rich in its own diversity, was a virulent racist who published pro-genocide editorials surrounding the death of Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to read, but it’s real, and she transfers this ache and this anger to her characters, giving them big decisions to make on their own while educating readers, too.

Cynthia Leitich Smith, who, like Louise is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, provides a Mvskoke/English Glossary to help readers with some of the phrases that appear in the book, and an author’s note that talks about parallels between Louise and herself, and the writing of Hearts Unbroken. Dr. Debbie Reese has a fantastic write-up of Hearts Unbroken on her page, American Indians in Children’s Literature.

An absolute must-add to your YA collections. Read a sample chapter and the author’s note on the Candlewick page.
Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Astrid the Unstoppable gives #kidlit a new fiery redheaded heroine

Astrid the Unstoppable, by Maria Parr, (Nov. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536200171

Ages 7-11

“The Little Thunderbolt”, as she’s nicknamed, Astrid is a 9-year-old girl who lives in the town of Glimmerdal, Norway, with her farmer father and her marine scientist mother, who’s often away on research adventures. She spends most of her days with her best friend, Gunnvald, who also happens to be her 70-something year-old godfather; she also spends quite a bit of time aggravating the mean old Mr. Hagen, who runs a resort – ADULTS ONLY! – nearby, but Astrid can’t be bothered to be upset when he yells at her: she’s got too much living to do! She’s a fun, spunky, free spirit, until Gunnvald has a terrible fall that lands him in the hospital. Secrets are revealed that send Astrid into a tizzy, but not for long: she relies on her new friends to help her set things right.

Astrid the Unstoppable is like the books I read when I was a kid. Classics like Heidi (a book which also plays a part in Astrid), Pippi Longstocking, and Caddie Woodlawn, all seem to have inspired Maria Parr and her beloved Astrid. She’s smart, yet not afraid to be vulnerable; she’s got a wonderfully upbeat personality and view of the world, and she’s not afraid to speak her mind, whether it’s to another child, or an adult who’s behaving badly. She’s got great relationships with most of the adults in the book, and even the ones she doesn’t see eye-to-eye with can’t stay too mad at her. She’s got an infectious personality, in all the best ways.

Astrid the Unstoppable is kidlit done right, and Astrid herself will be a character kids will be reading about in school and on reading lists for years to come. Make sure to add this one to your to-buy lists, and talk up our classic female characters, too: don’t let anyone be left out! Perfect for your more sensitive readers. The book has been translated into 19 languages and adapted for the stage (so why not look into some reader’s theatre with your copies?)