Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Lowriders Blast from the Past, by Cathy Camper & Raul the Third -- outstanding graphic novel (ages 8-14)

Do you have kids who love cars? Who doodle and draw all the time? Who only read graphic novels? You'll want to race out to get Lowriders Blast from the Past, the newest graphic novel from Cathy Camper and Raul the Third. Not only does this celebrate Latinx lowrider culture, it turns cultural expectations on its head with Lupe's girl-power & fixit prowess.

As we celebrate Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month, you'll definitely want to highlight this series. My students especially appreciate the mashup of cultures, the humor and the Spanish slang.
Lowriders Blast from the Past
by Cathy Camper and Raul the Third
Chronicle, 2018
Amazon / Your local library
ages 8-14
This story brings us back to the origins of Lupe, Flapjack and Elirio's friendship. Mosquito Elirio loves painting more than anything else, especially mixing words with art. He paints giant murals on an alley wall near his home.
"This alley wall is my secret studio.
It's like my own museum."
But when Elirio is bullied by Las Matamoscas, the local gang, he feels alone and helpless, until he meets two new friends, Flapjack and Lupe.  Flapjack is a sweet little octopus who's always willing to lend a hand (or eight). And Lupe can fix anything, especially bicycles and cars.

I especially appreciate how this series turns cultural expectations upside down. Not only is Lupe a fixit whiz, her Mamá Impala runs the junk store, and her Mamá Gazelle runs a papel picado workshop.
"Mama Gazelle's workshop is pretty awesome, right?
Want to watch me fix your bike?"
Elirio, Flapjack and Lupe are excited to go to Señor Bufolardo's car show. The bullies won't leave the younger kids alone--and they insist that girls can't be in car shows. Will the friends figure out how to get their mamas' car entered, or will the bullies win?

If you like this, you'll also want to get the first two in the series:
Raul the Third won the 2017 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award for Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, honored for his "energetic ballpoint pen drawings portray a complex mash-up of cultures with humor and verve," as the committee chair Eva Mitnick said.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Raul the Third, shared by permission of the publishers. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Chronicle Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Tackling Issues: an interview with Katherine Applegate & Jen Petro-Roy (ages 8-14)

Katherine Applegate is one of my students’ favorite authors. Her books include Home of the Brave and wishtree, both of which center around the experience of young immigrants. Jen Petro-Roy is a vital new voice for young readers. Her debut novel P.S. I Miss You has garnered national attention for centering on young same-sex love. I’m excited to welcome them as we explore how fiction engages kids as they think about difficult subjects.

This conversation came out of our panel together at the Bay Area Book Festival last spring. I am so lucky to know these talented, thoughtful women.
Mary Ann: Katherine, You’ve written for many age levels, from very young children to adults, yet it seems that your sweet spot is middle grade. What draws you to this age group?

Katherine: You’re right that middle grade readers are my favorite audience. Typically that’s defined as children 8 to 12 years of age. Children this age are beginning to think about the wider world. They start asking Big Questions (to the delight and frustration of the adults in their lives): What does fairness mean? Why is there cruelty in the world? What defines who I am? Why did Joey get the biggest meatball?

I just wrote an introduction to an essay collection by the beloved children’s writer, Natalie Babbitt (Barking with the Big Dogs: On Writing and Reading Books for Children, coming out on November 20, 2018). Babbitt is perhaps best known for her remarkable novel for middle grade readers, Tuck Everlasting, which Anne Tyler called “one of the best books ever written -- for any age.”

And what is Tuck about, this little book for children? Immortality. Why we have to die. What matters most in our short and magical lives. All those things we try not to think about . . . and absolutely must think about.

And it’s a book for kids.

That’s why I love writing for middle grade readers.

Mary Ann: You're so right -- kids are really beginning to wrestle with big issues. Jen, what has been your experience?

Jen: In my job as a librarian, I found that kids often sought out books about tough topics. They want to read about kids going through struggles--with homelessness, with difficult family situations, with friend troubles, with illness, and more--because they are often going through the same struggles themselves.

When I'm reading, it’s reassuring to see that I’m not the only one going through a specific situation...and it’s even more reassuring to see that characters can find their way through, triumph, and thrive. For kids, this is an even more necessary process, because they don’t have as much life experience. They need to see that representation on the page and they truly want to. It makes them feel so much less alone...and isn’t that one of the aims of literature?

Katherine: I love your point about literature helping us feel less, alone, Jen. That’s probably the greatest gift books can give us. That, and helping us make sense of a world that doesn’t always make sense. (That’s particularly true lately.)

Mary Ann: Jen, can you tell us a little bit about the issues Evie has to wrestle with in P.S. I Miss You?

Jen: After being raised in a very Catholic family, Evie starts to question the beliefs of her parents after her older sister gets pregnant and Evie herself gets her first crush on a girl. Teen pregnancy, religion, and sexuality are definitely three “tough issues” and many have questioned why I raised them in a middle-grade novel. For me, though, this was exactly the place to raise it, because middle school is the time when kids start to question the world, who they are, and how they were raised. It’s so important that these kids can see themselves now, and don’t have to wait until they’re teens or even adults to see themselves represented in literature. At the same time, though, I love hearing about teenagers and adults reading P.S. I Miss You. I think it helps different age groups in different ways.

Mary Ann: Have you heard from young readers about the tough issues you bring up in your books? How have they reacted? What do they find powerful?

Jen: Hearing from and interacting with readers is my absolute favorite part of this job. I’ve heard from a bunch so far about how wonderful it is to see representation of different sexualities in books for their age group. After one of my school visits, I had a girl come up to me and share that she’s a queer middle schooler with a brother about to go off to college, and she really related to Evie, who writes letters to her older sister Cilla. I am so proud to be able to help people feel a little bit less alone.

Mary Ann: Katherine, with wishtree you tackle tough issues around immigration and racism, and yet you do this in a way that 3nd graders can relate to. Do you keep the age of your audience in mind while you write?

Katherine: I do, very much so. (Although I know many writers for children who say the age of the audience doesn’t figure into their writing.) School visits have helped me a lot in this regard. I see the innocence and the honesty in younger readers, and I try to write what they need to hear. If it works for other ages, great.

Mary Ann: One of my students, Clara, told me that books “give kids an idea of how the world can be and how we can change it.” Katherine, while Endling is clearly fantasy, what are you hoping that readers think about while they read it?

Katherine: Endling is a fantasy about the last individual in a doglike species. Here in the real world, we’re in the midst of what is often referred to as the Sixth Extinction, a huge loss of species that seems to be almost entirely the result of human behavior. I wanted to touch on that, but in a way that I hope is accessible to younger readers.

Mary Ann: What do you think parents or teachers are afraid of when they push back against “heavy” or “mature” books for kids?

Jen: As a parent myself, I can understand the impulse to shield kids from tough issues. The world is scary, and it’s even more frightening to think of innocence being shattered. I wish the world was perfect for my daughters, and I wish they could believe it was so. So when parents push back, I think a lot of that impulse comes from fear or the desire to avoid discomfort. It’s hard to imagine explaining things like school shootings or death to children, so it can be easier to avoid the topic entirely. And for issues that parents or teachers don’t believe in, it may be “easier” to ban books or topics entirely. Out of sight, out of mind, after all. The problem there is that issues never remain out of sight. And when kids don’t know the realities of the world, those realities will be that much harder to deal with in the future. They won’t learn tolerance or acceptance, either.

Katherine: This is why librarians were invented. To get books into the hands of the children who most need them.

Mary Ann: Many of my students are drawn to realistic fiction that deals with tough issues. Why do you think this is? How do stories help us?

Katherine: When you’re in the middle of figuring out your place in the world, it helps to have a map. Books are like GPS for our hearts. They help us navigate the hard stuff.

I’ve had OCD since I was a kid. A book like OCDaniel (by Wesley King) would have changed my life.

I have a trans daughter who’s 21. I wish Alex Gino’s George had been around for her when she needed it.

I know too many young girls on their way to eating disorders. I’d love to get Jen’s upcoming novel, Good Enough, into all their hands.

Jen: Stories help us feel like we’re not alone in the world, that we’re not the only one dealing with certain issues. Readers can think, “Hey, if that character can get through such a difficult situation, maybe I can, too.” Simply seeing that books like this exist can make readers feel a sense of belonging, too. If readers see LGBTQ books in libraries or classrooms or are handed a book by their parents, they will know that those authority figures are safe and accepting. That they can go to them if they need to talk. Books can help facilitate a community of love and acceptance, and I love that about them.

Mary Ann: Jen, can you tell us a little about your upcoming books? With Katherine raving about them, I can't wait to know more!

Jen: Absolutely! I have two more books coming out in next year, both out on February 19th. Good Enough is another middle-grade fiction, about a 12-year-old named Riley who has been hospitalized for anorexia nervosa and is struggling to recover amidst parents who don’t understand, a fellow patient who is trying to sabotage Riley, and a gymnastic star sister. I’m so proud of this book, as it was inspired by my own struggle and recovery from anorexia, and there’s not much out there in this area for young readers that is both hopeful and non-triggering. Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends will also be simultaneously releasing You Are Enough, which is a non-fiction guide to eating disorder recovery, body image, and self-esteem for middle-schoolers and teens. Advanced copies of both are starting to make their way in the world!

Katherine: As an early reader, I can offer this spoiler alert: Good Enough is amazing. It belongs in every library.

Mary Ann: I wonder if you can end with any advice for parents about reading.

Jen: Reading is anything your kids want it to be. As a former librarian, I’m familiar with parents steering their children away from books they don’t think are “real literature.” They don’t want their kids to read graphic novels or those easy chapter books with mermaids and puppy dogs on the covers. But any kinds of books are good. Kids thrive when they are reading the books they want, whether it’s a book filled with fart jokes or War and Peace. Let them follow their interests. Let them love the written word.

Katherine: Couldn’t agree with Jen more. Reading is supposed to be fun, people!

I was a reluctant reader myself, and it took me a long time to find my “perfect” book. For me, it was Charlotte's Web. But for your child, it may be a graphic novel. Or non-fiction. Or a picture book. Or a chapter book. Or poetry. Or song lyrics.

It’s all about words. It doesn’t matter how they’re packaged. It only matters how much they’re loved.

Thank you both so much for your time and all of the care and love you pour into your stories. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, September 24, 2018

Celebrating the Harvest Moon with two beautiful picture books (ages 3-8)

Cultures around the world celebrate the harvest every autumn, and many involve tribute to the glorious harvest moon. Two of my favorite new picture books honor both the magic of the moon and the importance of family. Both books connect to Asian traditions, and they also reflect North American families celebrating both their American and Asian identities.
A Big Mooncake for Little Star
by Grace Lin
Little Brown, 2018
Amazon / Your local library / Book chat with Grace Lin
ages 3-8
*best new book*
Little Star and her mother bake an enormous mooncake, sharing the joy of baking together. Mama tells Little Star she mustn't eat any yet. Little Star does her best and goes to bed, but when she wakes up in the middle of the night it's just too hard to resist a tiny nibble.
Would her mama notice if she took a tiny nibble? Little Star didn't think so. Mmmm, yum!
As each night passes, Little Star wakes in the middle of the night thinking only of the Big Mooncake. Just one more little bite, and she'll race back to bed. Young readers will smile as the mooncake slowly disappears, recognizing the phases of the moon.
"Night after night,
Little Star took tiny nibble
after tiny nibble
of the Big Mooncake."
Grace Lin creates a story filled with delight and love. In her author's note, she describes how this story celebrates the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, yet she is creating a new story here, one that reflects her experience as a mother.

I especially appreciate her video book chat, in which she describes the importance of using her work to explore the American side of her identity. I hadn't noticed the explicit nods to Blueberries for Sal before Lin pointed them out, but I certainly felt kinship toward this mother-daughter delighting in baking together.

Ocean Meets Sky, the beautiful, dreamlike new picture book from The Fan Brothers, also blends Asian and North American storytelling heritage. You'll notice nods to Sendak, Peter Pan and more.
Ocean Meets Sky
by Eric Fan and Terry Fan
Simon & Schuster, 2018
Amazon / Your local library / preview art
ages 4-8
*best new book*
In honor of his grandfather who has passed away, young Finn builds a boat for the journey they always wanted to take. Finn then crawls inside to sleep and dreams of a "great golden fish" who takes him on a journey, in search of the magical land of his grandfather’s stories.
"Finn remembered Grandpa's voice
Telling him stories about a place far away where ocean meets sky."
Finn follows the golden fish into his dreamlike world, searching for where the ocean meets the sky. He sees wondrous scenes, with whales swimming among the stars, bookish birds roosting on the Library Islands, and moon jellies dancing in the sea.
"'I didn't think the open sea would feel so lonely,'
Finn said after some time.
This caught the attention of a great golden fish."
Soon Finn's boat lifts out of the water and sails into the night sky, drifting toward the great full moon. As the golden fish swims toward the moon, readers realize that his grandfather's spirit fills both the wise fish and the luminous moon.

Filled with atmospheric blend of Asian imagery and dreamlike fantasy worlds, this beautiful, magical picture book immerses readers into a young boy’s search for healing.

It strikes me how central storytelling is to both of these picture books, as a way for families to connect and pass down their heritage. In both, building and baking serve as a way for generations to connect, to share time and to create something together. My friends, please seek out these truly special books and share them with your families.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Grace Lin and ©2018 Terry Fan & Eric Fan, shared by permission of the publishers. The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Little Brown and Simon & Schuster. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, September 20, 2018

I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, by Chessy Prout (ages 13-18)

With the news cycle focusing on Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, I've been thinking about consent and rape culture, especially with high schoolers. This summer I listened to Chessy Prout's powerful memoir I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, which she narrates herself. I highly recommend this for teens, as an important personal perspective as they consider these issues.
I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope
by Chessy Prout, with Jenn Abelson
read by Chessy Prout
Simon & Schuster Audio / Margaret K. McElderry, 2018
Amazon / Your local library / OverDrive audiobook preview
ages 13-18
As a freshman at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, Chessy Prout was sexually assaulted by an upperclassman. In her raw and honest memoir, Prout shares her experience of assault and the subsequent journey with the tumultuous trial, media attention and search for healing and change.

At the end of her freshman year, a senior by the name of Owen Labrie lured and assaulted Chessy as part of a “Senior Salute” ritual at the school. Prout has cowritten her account with journalist Abelson. I especially appreciated the way she shares about her life before and after the rape, providing context for her experience both at school and with the legal system.

As I read this, I was particularly angered by the way the school resisted Chessy's search for justice. The case was turned over to the police and the public defender, and Chessy did find important allies. But I was struck by how the legal system does not help our young people find the resolution they need. She was  I so wish that Chessy's school and community had used Restorative Justice practices.

I've been inspired by The Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice. This practice helps communities "address harm through dialogue among those most impacted. Restorative justice brings together those who have harmed, their victims, and affected community members into processes that repair harms and rebuild relationships."

Chessy narrates the audiobook, balancing clarity with personal feelings, giving voice to her experience. She conveys her commitment to activism and justice for those who have experienced sexual assault.

I recommend this memoir for both middle schools and high schools, as an important component raising awareness about the importance for consent. Today, I was struck by the podcast The Daily, which interviewed Caitlin Flanagan, a writer for The Atlantic, about her assault in high school. What's especially notable is that the high school boy apologized to Ms. Flanagan two years after he assaulted her, asking for forgiveness. This enabled her to move beyond this traumatic event.

Chessy's memoir has an important place in the debate today around sexual assault, consent and our justice system. Please share this with teens in your lives. I highly recommend I Have the Right To for both middle schoolers (especially 8th graders getting ready for high school) and high schoolers. I think that many 13 and 14 year olds are ready to explore the emotional complexities and realities that Chessy describes. The review copy came from my local library, through OverDrive. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Tight, by Torrey Maldonado -- real boys, navigating emotionally complex decisions (ages 8-14)

I've been thinking a lot about how we show our boys different ways to handle emotions, so that we are breaking the expectations of acting tough and macho. In Tight, by Torrey Maldonado, Bryan must navigate making friends, controlling his temper and choosing the right path. Hand this to young readers who loved Jason Reynolds' Ghost, who want a book that feels real, and a character that is believable and emotionally honest.
Tight
by Torrey Maldonado
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Google Books preview
ages 8-14
*best new book*
I wonder what kids will think about the cover of Tight. Which train is Bryan going to get on? Is he struggling with a decision? Is he in a tight place? How do you feel if you're tight? What other meanings does it have? Whenever I'm showing a student a book, we spend some time wondering about the cover and thinking about its meanings.

Bryan, an Afro-Puerto Rican sixth grader, lives in the projects in Brooklyn and generally keeps to himself, heading to his mom's office after school to do his homework, read comics or draw. His mom likes it that way, wary that he might fall in with a bad crowd. So Bryan is surprised when she encourages him to get close with Mike, a slightly older boy in their neighborhood who seems like a good kid.

Soon Mike and Bryan become close friends, but Bryan realizes that Mike isn’t as good as Ma and others think. Bryan can't stand the way his dad and sister tease him for being "soft," and he likes some of the ways that Mike encourages him to break the rules, throwing rocks at cars from rooftops and skipping school.

Bryan realizes that he's following Mike into more and more dangerous situations, and his honest, internal dialog shows how difficult it is to dothe right thing. When Mike asks Bryan to tell Little Kevin how great train surfing is (holding onto the outside of the train as it speeds through the tunnels), Bryan follows along even though he has misgivings:
"I start doing that, and the whole time I wonder why I don't just say what I really feel. Now it's like I'm two people. On the outside I'm promoting train-surfing so hard. On the inside, I'm like, Why am I being Mike's hype-man with this?"
Torrey Maldonado skillfully creates a believable, real character facing his vulnerabilities, figuring out what it means to be a friend and how to make the right decisions. I especially appreciate the way that Bryan and Mike bond over superhero comic books and television shows. Bryan's voice is authentic, filled with slang that rings true. This is not a simple morality tale, but rather one that peels back the complex, contradictory currents that make these decisions difficult.

Torrey Maldonado crafts such an authentic voice because it's coming from his own experience. He's a middle school teacher who "still teaches in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was born and raised" and uses his students’ & his experiences to shape his stories and characters.

I highly recommend Tight for a wide age range. Although this is clearly a middle-grade novel, I think that many 13 and 14 year olds will be drawn to the emotional complexities and authentic voice that Maldonado creates. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen / Penguin Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Dactyl Hill Squad, by Daniel Jose Older -- historical fiction with social justice and dinosaurs! (ages 10-14)

I'm really excited to share Dactyl Hill Squad with my readers--my first copy went out today to a reader who loves Percy Jackson fantasies. Dactyl Hill Squad is a terrific mix of historical fiction, action-adventure and fantasy--with a strong underlay of social justice themes. Hand this to readers who want high energy books and a critical look at race relations.
Dactyl Hill Squad
by Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Google Books preview
ages 10-14
Magdalys Roca chafes at the rules imposed at the Colored Orphan Asylum in Civil War era New York. Above all else, she cannot stand it when the matron calls her Margaret, instead of Madalys, her real name. Right from the opening page, readers know that Magdalys is strong-willed and proud of her Afro-Cuban heritage. But she also really wants to see the play at the colored theater, so she complies with the matron's demands.

Magdalys discovers that she has a special connection with the dinosaurs that are part of everyday life in this alternative history. She discovers that she can communicate with them mentally: they hear her wishes, and she knows how they are feeling. Dinosaurs and pterodactyls are both wild and tamed, serving people as beasts of burden and roaming free.
"It was only a few years ago that New York had passed a law granting black citizens the right to dinoride, and white people in Manhattan still bristled and stared when they saw someone with brown skin astride those massive scaly backs."
While Magdalys and her friends are seeing the play, riots break out on the streets and their orphanage is burned down. These riots are based on the Draft Riots of 1863. The children flee to Brooklyn, in a neighborhood called Dactyl Hill for all of the pterodactyls that fly over the homes. They find refuge with the Vigilance Committee, which, as Miss Bernice explains, "helps fugitive slaves make it farther up north and works to stop the Kidnapping Club from sending our folks south to bondage."

Once safe in Brooklyn, Magdalys and her friends form the Dactyl Hill Squad and set out to foil the Kidnapping Club, find Magdayls's brother and protect their friends. There's plenty of dinoriding, battles and near-escapes.

I especially appreciate how Daniel José Older weaves together complex topics such as race, power and gender in the Civil War in the framework of an action-packed, fantastical story. He provides fascinating historical background information in his author's note.

Given this, I do think that this story is best appreciated by kids who already understand some of the complexities of the Civil War and race relations in US history. My first reader who loved it had just finished reading Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains with his class, and this made a perfect follow-up. I wonder if the cover looks a little young--I imagine this working more with a middle school crowd.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books