Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

Black History Month: The Youngest Marcher, by Cynthia Levinson February 14, 2017

youngest-marcherThe Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, by Cynthia Levinson/illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton, (Jan. 2017, Atheneum Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481400701

Recommended for ages 5-10

In May 1963, children in Birmingham, Alabama, trained in peaceful, civil disobedience, marched to protest segregation. Nine year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks was the youngest marcher, fully invested in civil rights and aware that she would likely go to jail. She spent a week in juvenile hall with flimsy blankets and no toothbrush, but she persevered and made history. Nonfiction author Cynthia Levinson tells the story of the youngest marcher, with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, here for younger audiences, assuring children that no one is too small, too young, to make a difference in the world.

I’ve been handing this book to kids coming in, looking for African-American biographies for their Black History Month reports for just this reason. I want children to see that they are important. They count. At a time when many feel marginalized, books like The Youngest Marcher, with its powerful words and images, offer representation and affirmation. Children have a voice, and with support and encouragement, they can use them and be heard.

Cynthia Levinson’s author website offers links to further resources, including curriculum guides and videos. Illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton was spotlighted by the WeNeedDiverseBooks initiative, for which she also created original artwork. For more information about the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, visit or the Zinn Education Project, offering information about the award-winning documentary, Mighty Times.



My Dad is a Clown heals bodies and souls November 17, 2016

my-dad-is-a-clown-coverMy Dad is a Clown/Mi papá es un paysaso, by José Carlos Andrés/Illustrated by Natalia Hernández, (Jan. 2017, NubeOcho), $14.95, ISBN: 978-84-944137-6-6

Recommended for ages 4-8

A boy with two dads is proud of what they do for a living, and wants to be like them both when he grows up. Both of the boy’s dads are healers: one dad, Pascual, is a doctor and heals his patients’ bodies; his other dad, whom he refers to as simply “Dad”, is a clown, and heals people’s souls. Pascual and the boy sneak into Dad’s rehearsal one day, where the boy realizes the hard work that goes into being a performer, and decides that he will combine the best of his fathers’ professions when he grows up.

This is a sweet story about a boy who loves and is proud of his parents. We also see a loving relationship between the boy’s parents, who happen to both be men. The cartoony two-color art, primarily black and white with reds added for visual interest and emphasis, is both sweet and dramatic. The family is tender with one another, unafraid to show affection. It’s a gratifying, emotional read, particularly when the family reunites after Dad’s rehearsal and they share happy tears.

This third edition of the story is a bilingual edition, translated into English and includes the Spanish text directly beneath the English text, both featured in a highlighted typewriter font that makes for easy independent and cuddle time reading. It’s good for English and Spanish language learners, and is a sweet story about family love to add to your bilingual collections and your storytime rotation. Put this 0ne on your shelves: there are families out there who need and deserve to have their stories told.


A teaspoonful of drama queen: Dara Palmer’s Major Drama June 27, 2016

dara palmerDara Palmer’s Major Drama, by Emma Shevah (July 2016, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492631385

Recommended for ages 8-13

Dara Palmer was born to be a star: just ask her, she’ll tell you.  But when she’s passed over – once again – for a part in the school play, The Sound of Music, Dara wonders whether it’s because she looks different. Was she passed over to be Maria because she doesn’t look like a typical fraulein? It’s not, as she learns: she just can’t act. Or rather, she overacts. But this episode starts Dara thinking about her life: about being Cambodian, about being an adoptee, and about not seeing any actresses or models who look like her. And then, it hits her: she’s going to write a play about her own life. Because she has to be the star of that, right?

Emma Shevah nails it again. I loved her voice as Amber in Dream On, Amber; here, she captures another tween who’s facing some big issues: realizing the world doesn’t revolve around her, and feeling like one person “on the inside” while looking like a different person “on the outside”. As an adoptee, she wonders about her birth parents and the circumstances that led her to the Happy Family home where she ended up, ultimately being adopted by her British family. As she becomes more aware of who she is – beyond her daydreams of marrying her British actor crush – she notices that no one looks like her in Hollywood, or on the covers of magazines, and this motivates her to action. She also realizes what fair-weather friends are, and handles it with a minimum of angst, which is beautifully done.

Dara Palmer’s Major Drama has received a starred review from School Library Journal. Booktalk this with Shevah’s first book, Dream On, Amber, and  Nancy Cavanaugh’s Just Like Me.  A great add to reading lists and collections all around for its discussions about adoption, diversity, and ethnicity.



New spooky fun series! Bruce Hale’s Monstertown Mysteries! June 14, 2016

werehyenaMonstertown Mysteries: The Curse of the Were-Hyena, by Bruce Hale, (July 2016, Disney/Hyperion), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4847-1325-9

Recommended for ages 8-12

It’s another day in Monterrosa, California, and buddies Carlos and Benny are in class with their favorite teacher, Mr. Chu. Who starts acting really weird. He’s laughing and growling, he’s quick to be angry and aggressive with students, and… well, you’ll read about the chicken incident. Carlos and Benny start investigating the situation, enlisting the help of their local comic book dealer and a classmate who elbows her way into the group, they discover that Mr. Chu has been bitten by a were-hyena, and unless they can find the alpha hyena in a couple of days – in time for the full moon – Mr. Chu is doomed to be a were-beast forever!

This is the first book in a new scary-fun series for middle graders by favorite, Bruce Hale, and it’s perfect for Goosebumps fans who are looking for new territory. The kids rule the stories, there’s great characterization, some laughs, and lots of excitement, adventure, and mystery. Adults take a backseat and let the kids get the work done, but they’re supportive and there to help, like Mrs. Tamasese, the former pro wrestler turned comic book shop owner.

There’s also some very nice diversity in the book, with characters of different ethnicities and abilities (including Mrs. Tamasese, who’s wheelchair-bound, but doesn’t let that stop her from going on adventures).

I loved the book, and think this one will work nicely with the kids here, who have read my Goosebumps collection (in both English and Spanish) until they fall apart. I introduced the Eerie Elementary books to my younger readers, and they’ve snapped them up; something tells me that Monstertown Mysteries are going to find a very happy home on my library’s shelves. The ending sets up for a series very nicely. There’s some fun black and white illustrations that will keep readers’ interest, especially once you get to the Big Bad Hyena.

Add this fun series (number two is due out in the Spring) to collections where spooky and fun go hand in hand. If you’ve got kids in your life who love creeptastic excitement, put this on your list.

Bruce Hale is a hugely popular children’s author: the Chet Gecko, the Underwhere, and School for S.P.I.E.S. series are just a few of his hits. You can check out his author website to learn more about his books, author visits, and find some cool downloads and activities.


Draw the Line addresses hate crimes and homophobia with empowerment and comics May 14, 2016

draw the line_1Draw the Line, by Laurent Linn (May 2016, Margaret K. McElderry Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481452809

Recommended for ages 14+

Adrian is a quiet high school junior that really tries to go through life unnoticed. He hangs out with his two best friends at school, Audrey and Trent, and they form their own little group of misfits, and he tries to avoid Doug, the local football hero/top cop’s son, and his sidekick, Buddy. At home, Adrian loses himself in movie and video game soundtrack music and creates his comic book character, Graphite, who ponders life from his lunar fortress of solitude and pines for someone to share life with. Graphite is Adrian’s secret – and, at first, so is the fact that he’s gay. That all changes when a hate crime is committed right in front of him. An openly gay classmate is attacked by the “bubbas”, as Adrian refers to them, and the town spin makes Adrian see red. He’s got to take a stand: someone has to draw the line.

This is such a powerful story that builds on so many levels: friendship, budding romance and the challenge of taking a romance public when you’re a gay teen in Texas, family problems at home, and self-esteem/image issues. Every character –  much like every kid in real life – has a challenge they’re facing in their own lives in addition to the big-ticket challenge that frames the novel. Adrian is a smart, funny, complex main character who has a strong voice that drives the story. His friends and antagonists all have their own voices, and while you may root for some and hiss for others, they are real and act and react believably. The black and white comic book art enhances the story and illustrates that having your own voice can take a multitude of forms.

A powerful addition to YA and teen collections, and packed with diversity and events that are happening now: this book will spark discussions.

Draw the Line has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

Check out the book trailer/cover reveal for Draw the Line below:


OCDaniel looks at compulsive behavior from a middle schooler’s point of view April 4, 2016

ocdanielOCDaniel, by Wesley King (April 2016, Simon & Schuster), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481455312

Recommended for ages 9-13

Daniel is a back-up kicker for his middle school football team, but he’s awful and he knows it. And he’d rather be arranging the water cups in perfect formation, anyway. Daniel has lots of rituals; behaviors that keep things copasetic for Daniel – in his mind – but that are wearing him down. He has a night time ritual that often takes hours to complete, leaving him exhausted and drained the next morning, but he works desperately to keep the rituals secret from his friends and family. When he receives a note from a schoolmate named Sara – nicknamed Psycho Sara – everything changes.

Sara believe she is a Star Child – children who have been sent here from other areas of the universe to help the people of earth. They are “different” from other kids; they have behaviors that set them apart. Daniel is a little concerned about Sara’s ideas, but she seems to understand everything he’s going through. She gets his rituals; the Zaps – the tics that herald the start of the need for a ritual; the Great Space; the Collapses. He starts talking more with Sara, who has an adventure planned for them both. Sara has answers that she needs, and she needs a fellow Star Child to help her.

Told in the first person from Daniel’s point of view, OCDaniel is a brilliant, heartfelt look into obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. King’s writing puts real faces on issues we often read about but hold at a distance. I appreciate the We Need Diverse Books movement for so much; most importantly, for making sure that the kids in my library have books with characters that look like them, but also for taking challenges like mental illness under its collective wing. Kids living with these challenges have been almost invisible in kid lit, particularly as empowered main characters. Here, Daniel and Sara are funny and likable; they are students, they have interests, they face adversity every day, but they don’t want to be poster children: they just want to be.

Pair this with Susan Vaught’s Freaks Like Us for older readers who are ready for a frank discussion on mental illness and reliable versus unreliable narrators. For tween and younger teen audiences, Joey Pigza Swallows the Key by Jack Gantos is a great choice, and the American Association of School Librarians has an excellent article, Unpacking Mental Health Issues in Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature, which includes a link to a spreadsheet of middle grade and YA titles. An author’s note from Mr. King includes information about seeking help for OCD. This is s solid, and important addition to middle grade collections. Must-add.

Wesley King is also the author of the tech sci fi/fantasy, Dragons vs. Drones, and The Incredible Space Raiders. His author webpage includes links to social media, the author’s blog, and media events.



Book Review: Bindi Babes, by Narinder Dhami (Delacorte, 2004) November 19, 2011

Recommended for ages 8-12

The Dhillon sisters – Amber, Jazz, and Geena – are perfect. They are perfect students, perfectly dressed, and perfectly popular. Their teachers always look to them for help with their classmates and for the right answers, and the girls never disappoint. The girls keep their act airtight so no one will sense the pain they are in from losing their mother the year before. The sisters will not even talk about her at home for fear of letting loose all the emotions they have bottled up.

Escaping his grief through work, their father is rarely home and when he is, rarely speaks to them other than to indulge them in nearly everything they ask. When he announces that their Auntie is coming from India to live with them and take care of the girls, they are furious – they certainly do not need anyone to babysit them! When Auntie arrives and starts interfering in their lives – especially when their father starts saying no to new clothes, sneakers and pierced ears – they decide she’s got to go. Marrying her off would be the best way to benefit everyone, but who to choose, and how to do it?

The book is ‘tween chick lit; it is an easy read with little emotional depth or character examination. The ending is predictable but satisfying, and leaves the family’s story open to a sequel. In fact, the book is the first in a 4-book series. Ms. Dhami provides a glimpse into Indian culture which has doubtlessly introduced many girls to a new culture in our increasingly diverse society.

Narinder Dhami has also written the popular film Bend it Like Beckham. Her website offers links to her books, author facts, and a link to Amber’s blog, where the Bindi Babes narrator keeps readers up on the latest gossip. Random House provides a teachers guide complete with discussion questions and links for further reading on diversity.