Thursday, January 17, 2019

Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968, by Alice Faye Duncan (ages 8-12)

As we get ready to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I want to share a powerful new book about his work. Alice Fay Duncan's powerful picture book gives context for King's work, helps explain his assassination, and provides inspiration to keep dreaming big.
Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968
by Alice Faye Duncan, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Calkins Creek / Highlights, 2018
Amazon / your local library
ages 8-12
*best new book*
We often talk about Dr. King's legacy leading nonviolent protests and fighting for civil rights, but I'm not sure we talk enough about his commitment to fight for workers' rights for fair wages and better working conditions.
"Men, women and children contributed to the strike in 1968. Whole families sacrificed their comforts. They suffered for the cause. However, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paid the highest cost. He gave his life to the struggle for freedom and justice."
Duncan brings young readers into this story centering it on Lorraine Jackson, whose father was a striking sanitation worker. Duncan bases her character on Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, whose father helped organize the strike. The author deftly moves between helping readers connect to Lorraine and providing information about the bigger issues at stake.
"I remember Memphis and legions of noblemen.
I remember broken glass and the voice of a fallen King."
As the story begins, we learn about the sanitation workers' strike and the tragic deaths of two black garbagemen because of old, unsafe equipment. "Daddy told Mama, 'It ain't right to die like that.' Mama shook her head, and I saw a new storm rising up. I saw it in their eyes." This detail helps young readers feel the tension and understand the injustices. Throughout, Duncan highlights the dedicated efforts of community and the personal cost of striking.
"My daddy marched in that number. He marched for better pay. He marched for decent treatment. My daddy marched for me."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Memphis to help the striking men, inspiring them to keep fighting for better pay and working conditions. Through young Lorraine's voice, Duncan tells about King's "Poor People's Crusade" to fight for the working poor, using the Memphis strike to draw national attention to the larger problems.

I especially appreciate Duncan's poetic language throughout, both in her prose and poems:
  • "But as Daddy's soles wore think on his mountain climb, there came a spark of light. Good news filled the air."
  • "Since Martin had conquered giants in the valley of injustice, Reverend Lawson believed his powerful friend could help the striking men."
  • "I was there on that stormy night Dr. King returned. Clouds blotted out stars in the Memphis sky. Wind whipped through the bending trees."
Illustrations copyright ©2018 R. Gregory Christie, shared by permission of the publishers. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights. 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.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Ten graphic novels to read again & again (ages 8-15)

Graphic novels have hooked many kids on reading. Kids find their favorites, reading them again and again, but I also love to encourage my students to read widely. I also encourage parents to read aloud graphic novels with their kids -- these stories are full of things to talk about and enjoy together.

Here are ten of my favorite graphic novels--some are silly, some are out of this world, and some will make you think and wonder. Check out my Graphic Novels shelf on Goodreads for more. All of them have terrific characters and stories that make you want to keep reading.

Amulet series, by Kazu Kibuishi: This series combines mystery, adventure and fantasy as Emily and her younger brother search for their mother, captured in an alternate universe. Em and Navin follow their mother into an underground world full of demons, robots, and talking animals. A favorite series with its epic fantasy and adventure. (ages 9-14)

The Baby-Sitters Club series, by Ann M. Martin, illustrated by Raina Telgemeier and Gale Galligan. These graphic novel adaptations add energy and humor to Ann Martin’s classic Baby Sitters Club series. Four best friends help each other deal with everything from crabby toddlers, enormous dogs and prank calls. With relatable characters and straight-forward plots, these make a great entry into graphic novels for developing readers. Definitely check out the two new books in this series, just released this year. (ages 7-12)

Giants Beware!, by Jorge Aguirre, illustrated by Rafael Rosado: Claudette, a feisty warrior-in-training, is determined to follow her father's footsteps and slay a giant. Never mind that she's tiny, hotheaded, and a girl--she is absolutely sure she's perfect for the job. Aguirre and Rosado weave in surprises, tension and plot twists throughout the story. Best of all, Claudette constantly defies the expectations society sets for her. (ages 8-12)

El Deafo, by Cece Bell: When she was four years old, cartoonist Cece Bell became severely deaf after she contracted meningitis. This delightful, heartfelt memoir shares her journey through school, searching for friends, trying to fit in and dealing with her deafness. She mixes warmth and humor with complex issues. (ages 8-12)

Hilo series, by Judd Winick: D.J. Lim’s life turns from ordinary to exciting when he discovers Hilo, an extraterrestrial boy wearing nothing but silver underpants. This story is full of action and humor, as Hilo and D.J. battle robots and giant insects intent on destroying Hilo’s home planet. (ages 8-12)

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang: Prince Sebastian feels comfortable identifying both male and female, often wearing dresses and going out as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia. When he hires Frances, a young seamstress, to make him a wardrobe of boldly beautiful, dazzling dresses, Frances hesitates at first, but they soon discover a shared passion for fashion. Incorporating the feel of classic fairytales, Wang creates a story that revolves around friendship, following your dreams and speaking your truth. (ages 10-15)

Princeless series, by Jeremy Whitley, illustrated by M. Goodwin: When Princess Adrienne’s parents lock her away in a castle guarded by a dragon to await rescue by a prince, she decides to take matters into her own hands. I love this feisty heroine--we have so few stories with characters of color, where race isn’t an issue. Readers are able to enjoy classic fairy tale setting in this graphic novel, while turning so many stereotypes and tropes on their heads. (ages 8-12)

Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson: Astrid joins a roller derby boot camp the summer before middle school, making new friends and navigating this rough-and-tumble sport. My students love the way Astrid deals with friendship issues and discovers her own strength and stamina. (ages 9-13)

Secret Coders series, by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Mike Holmes: Hopper isn’t sure she’s going to like her new school, especially with its creepy birds and crazy janitor, but things turn around as she and her new friends use logic and computer programming to discover the school’s secrets. Kids love the way they’re drawn into figuring out logic puzzles right alongside Hopper. (ages 8-12)

Smile, by Raina Telgemeier: Raina Telgemeier’s memoirs Smile and Sisters are absolute favorites. She draws readers in with her relatable situations and humor, creating a real bond as she reflects on family relationships, friendship dramas and the pressures tweens face at school and at home. This remains one of my family's all-time favorite read alouds. (ages 8-14)

The Witch Boy, by Molly Ostertag: This graphic novel will appeal to readers with its magical setting and strong protagonist. In Aster's village, there are very clear expectations: girls will learn witchcraft and spells, while boys will learn to become shapeshifters. Yet Aster longs to learn spells and is not interested in the other boy's aggressive play. When several boys go missing, Aster tries to use his developing magical abilities to solve the mystery. I especially appreciated the way Aster questions society's gender expectations and stays true to himself. A delightful graphic novel -- I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, The Hidden Witch, which has just come out. (ages 8-12)

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, December 17, 2018

Ten funny books to get you laughing (ages 4-13)

We all like doing the things we have fun with. Psychoanalysts might call this the "Pleasure Principle," but I call it common sense. So how do we help our kids discover the fun in reading? Here are ten books that tickle my funny bone, especially when reading them aloud with kids.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, by Lenore Look: Asian-American second grader Alvin Ho is afraid of everything: elevators, tunnels, girls, and, most of all, school. He’s so afraid of school that, while he’s there, he never, ever, says a word. This first book in the series is full of everyday adventures and misadventures -- from trying to get chicken pox, to hanging from a tree branch in a desperate attempt to grow taller. A great read aloud. (ages 6-10)

Bad Guys, by Aaron Blabey: Mr Wolf decides that he's fed up with always being the "bad guy," so he persuades Mr. Shark, Mr. Piranha & Mr. Snake that they need to do nice things for a change. The want-to-be good guys try hard to shed their carnivorous ways, rescuing a stranded kitty who's terrified of their point teeth. Kids are loving the hilarious antics, exaggerated illustrations and slapstick humor in this chapter book. (ages 6-10)

Dog Man, by Dav Pilkey: Kids can't get enough of George and Harold, and their superhero creation Dog Man. Originally of Captain Underpants fame, George & Harold show how Dog Man, with the head of a dog on the body of a police officer, battles crime and saves the day. Kids love the silliness, the explosions and fight scenes, and the encouragement to create their own outlandish stories. (ages 6-10)


Dory Fantasmagory, by Abby Hanlon: Dory (called Rascal by her family) wants to play with her big brother and sister, but they complain that she's a pest. They try to scare her with a story about the witch Mrs. Gobble Gracker. Dory creates outlandish tales with her imaginary friend, tricks Mrs. Gobble Gracker and wins over her siblings. Families will recognize themselves in Dory's attention-getting strategies, her mom's exasperation or her siblings' bickering. A joyful, funny celebration of imagination and resilience. (ages 6-10)

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems, by Gail Carson Levine: Using William Carlos Williams's poem "This Is Just to Say" as her starting point, Levine spins a series of playful un-sorry poems. She uses famous characters like Snow White, Humpty Dumpty, the Little Engine that Could and Barbie to twist expectations and create laughs. "I, Rapunzel,/ and not the witch/ have lopped off/ my braid/ which/ you daily/ climbed/ to me/ Forgive me/ you're not worth/ the pain/ in my scalp." Subversively hilarious. Kids will love sharing this with friends, laughing together. (ages 8-12) 

Funny Girl, edited by Betsy Bird: As television comedy writers Delaney and Mackenzie Yeager explain in their opening entry, "Joke-telling is the greatest superpower a gall can posses." Being a comedian takes confidence--a combination of audacity and courage to put yourself out there. This collection of short personal essays, short stories and comics is terrific. In "One Hot Mess," Carmen Agra Deedy shares about the time her mother set a bathtub on fire to get rid of the germs, unwittingly melting the fiberglass tub in their new apartment. With this great range of stories, you're bound to find new authors you'd like to explore. (ages 9-13) 

Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein: One of my all-time favorite read alouds, a little red chicken keeps interrupting his papa's stories at bedtime, trying to save the day. When Papa starts reading Hansel and Gretel, little red chicken interrupts just as they are about to enter the witch’s house. Papa tries again with Little Red Riding Hood with exactly the same result. The interruptions bring laughter, and children love the repetition. Stein excels in comedic timing. A true crowd-pleaser. (ages 4-8)

Judy Moody, by Megan McDonald: Judy Moody is a favorite series because kids can relate to her struggles and her moods. Whether it's having a toad pee in her hand or losing her lucky penny,  Judy is always getting in a bad mood, at least for a while. Even better, each story ends with a satisfying climax. Judy realizes the power of friendships and keeps herself from throwing a tantrum. She rescues her homework, quite resourcefully, and even forgives her brother. (ages 7-10)

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz: With dark humor, Gidwitz weaves together different Grimms' tales to create an original story starring Hansel and Gretel. I especially love the author's interruptions, where he pauses to talk directly to the reader. “This is when things start to get, well . . . awesome. But in a horrible, bloody kind of way." A terrific read aloud that will have readers alternating between laughter and suspense. (ages 9-13)

The Terrible Two, by Mac Barnett and Jory John: Miles Murphy is known as the best prankster in his school, but now his family is moving and he dreads building his reputation in a new town. When he gets to school on the first day and sees the principal's car has been parked at top of the steps, blocking the school doors, Miles knows that there's already a prankster at this school. Can Miles out-prank this whoever is doing this...or maybe they can join forces. Written by a comedic duo, this series excels in deadpan humor in a school setting. (ages 8-12)

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, December 16, 2018

Ten favorite picture books (ages 3-10)

Picture books are truly for everybody. Read them together with young children, sharing a story together, savoring the joy of discovery. Encourage older children to take a break with picture books and savor the story. Here's a selection of old and new picture books I love.

Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal: Oh how I love this book. As one young reader told me, “it makes me want to learn more about my own name.” Alma helps us all feel like we are special for being unique. Alma Sofia Esperanza Josi Pura Candela worries about her long name until her father tells her family stories, one for each person she's named after. The illustrations are soft and gently sweet, showing the distinctive essence of each ancestor and the affections between Alma and her family. (ages 4-8)

Drawn Together, by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat: When a young boy visits his grandfather, they struggle to communicate because the grandson only speaks English and his grandfather only speaks Thai. After an uncomfortable dinner where the cultural divides are palpably painful, the boy pulls out a sketch he's made of a superhero. He's surprised when his grandfather starts drawing a Thai warrior. As they start drawing together, they build a new world layered and complex with both cultures. Not only is this a beautiful story, it is full of universal emotions: connecting across generations and cultures, relating to each other through art and storytelling, and discovering shared passions. (ages 4-9)

Duck! Rabbit!, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld: Is it a duck? Or a rabbit? What do you think? Turn it upside down - do you see anything different? The off-stage narrators argue back and forth, trying to convince each other that their perspective is right. Lichtenheld's illustrations, with absolute clearness and utter ambiguity, are perfect for encouraging your own kids to join the debate. (ages 4-9)

Firebird, by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers: A young African American girl looks up to Copeland saying, "the space between you and me is longer than forever"--how could I ever become as beautiful and graceful as you? Copeland turns to the young girl, reassuring her that she was once just as small, just as shy--and the magic comes when you pursue your dreams. (ages 6-10)

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson: One night, Harold decided to go for a walk. Bringing only his giant purple crayon, Harold draws himself a world full of wonder and imagination, from a sailboat on a stormy sea to a picnic with a moose with nine kinds of pie! This classic picture book has inspired young children since 1955, but it captivates children still, showing them how far their imagination can take them. (ages 3-7)

Hello Hello, by Brendan Wenzel: This picture book will delight young readers, saying hello to different animals. Read the spare rhymes slowly, encouraging readers to notice how the animals are similar and different. "Hello Stripes. Hello Spots." Sure, tigers have stripes and cheetahs have spots, but what about fish and lizards? Which they have stripes and spots, too! I especially love the way Wenzel gives clues on each page of what's coming next--the whale shark's spotted tail, leads into: "Hello Giant. Hello Not." Wenzel's animals are full of life, and a key in the back will help eager readers to learn all of their names. (ages 3-8)

Julián Is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love: After Julián, a young Afro-Latinx child, sees three fabulous people dressed as mermaids, he creates his own costume. When Abuela discovers this, will she support him or chastise him? In this delightful story, Julian's grandmother embraces his creativity, helping him complete the outfit, and then proudly taking him to a parade. This story delights readers and never becomes too preachy, staying rooted in the joy of imagination and the importance of being seen and recognized. (ages 4-8)

Niño Wrestles the World, by Yuyi Morales: With a huge imagination and a love of luche libre, the popular Mexican wrestling sport, little Niño battles his own make-believe monsters. Whether he’s defeating the Guanajuato mummy or exploding the giant Olmec Head, this is one confident little kid. Morales brings humor, dynamic energy and vivid artwork to this terrific picture book. (ages 4-8)

Press Here, Hervé Tullet: This ingenious interactive book invites readers right into the action of this story, pressing dots to multiply them, blowing on them to scatter them across the page, clapping to make them blow up like a balloon. It is utterly simple and yet completely engrossing, showing readers that they are truly part of making any story come alive and leap off the pages of a book. (ages 3-7)

Rain, by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson: Have you ever noticed that a good mood can be contagious? One a rain day, a grumpy old man complains about his "nasty galoshes" and the "dang puddle." But not everyone feels that way. A little boy is so excited to put on his froggy hat and rain boots. When they bump into each other, the little guy's mood eventually rubs off on the old man. A delightful story, perfect for spreading a smile. (ages 4-8)

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

Friday, December 14, 2018

Ten terrific chapter books for growing readers (ages 6-9)

Chapter books play an important role in children’s reading -- helping them transition from decoding individual words to reading for the joy of a story that builds in their minds over several days. Enjoy and share!

Bad Kitty, by Nick Bruel: This hilarious series will hook kids with its goofy humor and exaggerated illustrations. Bruel balances simple sentences with fast-paced stories in this series that make new readers laugh and beg for more. In Bad Kitty Gets a Bath, one of my family's favorites, Bruel explains exactly what you’ll need to do to get your favorite feline into the bath. (ages 6-10)

The Bad Guys, by Aaron Blabey: Mr Wolf decides that he's fed up with always being the "bad guy," so he persuades his friends that they need to do nice things for a change. The want-to-be good guys try hard to shed their carnivorous ways, but when they rescue a stranded kitty she's terrified of their pointy teeth. Each mission brings hilarious antics--and a terrific underlying message challenging prejudice and refusing to let setbacks get you down. (ages 6-10)

Boris for the Win, by Andrew Joyner: Boris dreams of winning the big race at school. He practices and works hard, but when it comes down to the big day, he's faced with a dilemma: will he go for the gold, or help a friend in need? Kids will relate to Boris, the goofy little warthog who’s the star of this very easy beginning chapter book. (ages 5-8)

Critter Club, by Callie Barkley: In the series opener, Amy she spends her spring vacation helping at her mom’s veterinary clinic. When a local puppy goes missing, Amy tracks down the clues and saves the day. With the reward money, Amy and her friends start a local animal shelter. This series brings lots of smiles with four likable, diverse characters and plenty of cute animals. (ages 5-8)

Emma Is on the Air by Ida Siegal: Emma Perez dreams big and bold. She wants to be FAMOUS! When she sees an investigative reporter on the TV news, she knows that this is just the career for her. When Javier, finds a worm in his lunch at school the next day, it’s the perfect story for Emma to investigate. Emma is a likable character with an upbeat attitude. (ages 6-10)

Ivy & Bean, by Annie Barrows: Ivy and Bean is my absolute favorite series for 1st - 3rd graders. I love these two friends who are so goofy and full of mischief. Bean is sure that she will never be friends with Ivy, especially when her mother insists that Ivy is such a nice girl. “Nice, Bean knew, is another word for boring.” But when she finds out that Ivy is in training to become a witch and might have the perfect spell to cast on Bean’s bossy older sister, this unlikely duo become inseparable. (ages 6-10)

Mercy Watson, by Kate DiCamillo: Mercy Watson is not just a lovable pig, she’s the darling of Mr. and Mrs. Watson. They are sure she’ll get them out of trouble, but readers know that Mercy is really only thinking about hot buttered toast. Kids laugh at each one of the Mercy Watson books, full of crazy antics and lots of hot buttered toast. (ages 5-8)

The Notebook of Doom, by Troy Cummings: A 2nd grade student wrote to me, "This book was terrific!!!! It was really funny. The main character is Alexander. His dad thought the balloon goons were just balloons but they were evil and sucked all of the air. I think people that like funny books would like this book." Definite kid approval. (ages 6-10)

Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale: Who says princesses can’t wear black and fight the bad guys?! Princess Marigold is prim and proper as she has tea with Duchess Wigtower. As soon as the monster alarm sounds, the princess makes a quick costume change and heads out to save the day using special moves like the "Sparkle Slam" and the "Twinkle Twinkle Little Smash." Terrific fun! (ages 5-8)

Sofia Martinez, by Jacqueline Jules: Sofia does all sorts of things to get noticed--from wearing a huge hair bow to making her grandmother a piñata for her birthday. It isn’t easy being one of three sisters, especially when your mother can’t tell your pictures apart! Sofia’s happy, loving Latino family brings smiles, and many readers will relate to her stories. (ages 5-8)

Unicorn Rescue Society, by Adam Gidwitz: On his first day at a new school, Elliot and his new friend Uchenna discover a mythical creature that looks like a tiny blue dragon. When Professor Fauna, their eccentric science teacher, realizes this is the mythical Jersey Devil, he invites them to join the Unicorn Rescue Society. As the series unfolds, Elliot and Uchenna will rescue mythical animals from different cultures and places, bringing young readers traveling the globe with them. Emerson students are loving this new series, perfect for readers who are moving beyond Magic Treehouse but still want a story that moves quickly. (ages 7-10)

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, December 13, 2018

Ten outstanding audiobooks (ages 4-18)

Is your family taking a long drive this winter? Consider listening to an audiobook together, letting it take you on an adventure, laugh together or learn about something new. You'll notice that I'm including three memoirs here -- I especially find listening to some tell their story on audio particularly inspiring.

Try downloading e-audiobooks through your public library for free; check if your library uses OverDrive, Axis 360 or Hoopla Digital.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah: Comedian Trevor Noah narrates his memoir, sharing his harsh experiences growing up in South Africa in the final years of apartheid and the chaotic aftermath as the son of a white Dutch father and a black Xhosa mother. Listeners get to hear Noah tell these stories in his South African accented English and several other South African languages. He is engaging, funny and relatable, while also delivering thoughtful and perceptive social criticism about race, gender and class. (ages 13 and up)

Dominic, by William Steig, narrated by Peter Thomas: As Dominic leaves home in search of adventure, young listeners will be captivated by this delightful hero’s journey. Dominic bumbles his way through his journey with curiosity, goodwill and a solid sense of right and wrong as he makes friends, helps others in need and battles the Doomsday Gang. (ages 6-9)


Dory Fantasmagory, by Abby Hanlon, narrated by Suzy Jackson: Dory (called Rascal by her family) wants to play with her big brother and sister, but they complain that she's a pest. Narrator Suzy Jackson captures Dory's 6-year-old voice, with a full range of enthusiasm and emotions. Families will recognize themselves in Dory's attention-getting strategies, her mom's exasperation or her siblings' bickering. A joyful, funny celebration of imagination and resilience. (ages 4-9)

Track series: Ghost, Patina, Sunny & Lu, by Jason Reynolds, narrated by Guy Lockhart, Heather Alicia Simms: Ghost is an all-time favorite, and I've loved the audiobooks for the rest of this series. Guy Lockhart captures the emotions and voice of each different character, with energy and enthusiasm. I especially appreciate how he balances the humor with the darker moments in each book. I've just started listening to Lu, and his swagger and confidence is perfect. Heather Simms captures Patina's many different moods, moving from sassy to tender with ease. All together, these are outstanding audiobooks--"for real for real", as Lu says. (ages 9-14)


I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, by Chessy Prout: 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. As I read this, I was particularly angered by the way the school resisted Chessy's search for justice and struck by how the legal system does not help our young people find the resolution they need. A powerful memoir. (ages 13-18)

Like Vanessa, by Tami Charles, narrated by Channie Waites: Eighth grader Vanessa Martin dreams of winning her school’s beauty contest, despite feeling too fat, too dark and too shy. Her spirits soar with Vanessa Williams’ historic win as the first black Miss America. But the journey is hard -- will her talented singing shine? Or will her doubts weigh her down? Channie Waites’ narration brings Vanessa’s worries, laughter and grace to life, and her voice sparkles with magnetic charm. (ages 10-14)

The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo: Elizabeth Acevedo shines narrating her debut novel, using her talents as an award-winning slam poet to bring passion and life to Xiomara’s story. A first-generation Dominican-American, Xiomara struggles balancing her mother’s strict Catholicism with her own desire to find her place in the world. Writing poetry helps Xio come into her own, channelling her feelings, worries and questions. Acevedo’s poetry is beautifully crafted and the audiobook brings the passion and pacing of the rhythmic free-verse poems to life. (ages 14-18)

Proud: Living My American Dream, by Ibtihaj Muhammad: U.S. Olympic fencing medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad shares her inspiring memoir, showing how faith, hard work and determination helped her reach her goals. She frankly talks about the many obstacles she faced, yet she comes across as both humble and realistic. She conveys the excitement of winning, and the frustrations and self-doubt she faced. Even though I know nothing about fencing, I couldn't put this down. Ibtihaj is a true American hero. (ages 10-16)

Refugee, by Alan Gratz: Gratz alternates the stories of three children from different periods of time, each of whom are fleeing their homes in search of refuge. Josef is escaping persecution from Nazis in Germany during World War II. Isabel and her family are fleeing Cuba in 1994, escaping the riots and unrest under Castro's rule. And Mahmoud's family flees Syria in 2015 after their home was bombed. These parallel stories are engrossing and compelling. The structure keeps the suspense high, and helps readers see how each character must cope with extreme stress, separation and loss. Gratz uses historical fiction at its best to help readers understand global issues in a way that inspires hope and empathy. (ages 10-16)

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, narrated by Jayne Entwistle: My students have particularly loved this audiobook and its sequel, The War I Finally Won, finding the story of Ada inspiring as she realizes how she's able to overcome many odds stacked against her. As the story opens, ten-year-old Ada has a clubfoot and is kept locked in her family's one bedroom apartment in London, during World War II. Ada practices making herself walk, so she and her younger brother, can escape and join a train of children being evacuated to the countryside. Jayne Entwistle's narration brings Ada's complexities to life, with her layers of distrust and strength, courage and doubt. (ages 9-12)