Friday, March 20, 2020

Allies by Alan Gratz

Allies is an action-packed, multi-faceted look at a day in history that many young people know little about. Readers see D-Day from multiple perspectives, including Samira, an Algerian girl whose mother is part of the French resistance; Dee, an American soldier on a Higgins boat; James, a paratrooper; and Henry, an African American medic trying to save lives on the beach. The book realistically includes blood and death and the terror of the war, and there is not a happy ending for all of the characters. Alan Gratz has many fans, and Allies will not disappoint. Highly recommended for middle schoolers who want to read about war and who like books full of action and heroism.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Lovely War by Julie Berry

Aphrodite is in a fancy New York City hotel room having an argument with some of the other Greek Gods. Using her wealth of experience, she tells two love stories, both set during World War I, to prove a point about the power of human love. One is the story of a young British couple, a pianist and an architect, who fall in love just before both head to France, one as a soldier and the other as a volunteer. The other story is of an African American musician/soldier and the traumatized Belgian woman that he falls in love with. Both relationships face major struggles and life-threatening situations. Readers who enjoy romance and historical fiction will absolutely love these stories and will be drawn into scenes of World War I France. I recommend this book for middle school students willing to take on a challenging book (probably best for grade 8-up) all the way up through adults who love historical fiction and romance. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone

Scoob Lamar has been whisked away on a strange road trip by his beloved G'ma. Scoob, biracial and brown-skinned, is with his white grandma as she drags him through the south with the guidance of her historic Green Book. Scoob learns that travel used to be dangerous and difficult when G'ma and Grandpa made the same trip years ago. Scoob also figures out that his G'ma is cutting off contact with his father and may be committing crimes along the way. The characters are fresh and funny, and the social history will make for great conversations. Nic Stone is making great contributions to YA literature and brings her talent to a younger audience with this middle grade story. Recommended for grades 4-7.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Secrets behind What You Eat (Young readers edition) by Michael Pollen

In this nonfiction book, a journalist and food detective takes a deep dive into modern food and how it gets to American consumers. You may never have wondered where your food comes from, but once you read this book you will think about it in ways you never did before. Michael Pollen begins by investigating industrial farming. He talks about corn (who knew that corn had such a huge influence on our diet?) and cattle (he buys one cow and tries to trace its life from birth to the industrial slaughterhouse). He also investigates organic farming on an industrial scale, and organic farming on a small scale. He even takes a turn at being a hunter-gatherer. Young people who care about taking care of the planet, feeding the hungry, vegetarianism, or personal health should wellness should absolutely read this book. For that matter, anyone who eats should read this book. Recommended for smart, curious middle schoolers on up through adults.

Crying Laughing by Lance Rubin

If you like laughing through tears, this may be the book for you. Winnie Friedman is funny, but a couple of years ago she humiliated herself doing stand up comedy at her bat mitzvah. Now in high school, she joins the school's improvisational comedy troupe at the suggestion of a boy who laughs at her jokes. Suddenly Winnie is right where she belongs and even her love life is looking up, but things get complicated when she gets bad news about a family issue. Winnie's parents are well-rounded characters with lives of their own, and Winnie's hijab-wearing best friends also are unique individuals with strong back stories. At it's heart it's a story about family and friends and forgiveness, and how to be good to the people you love. But what I enjoyed the most were the descriptions of improv comedy games and the play-by-play scenes that these high schoolers create. I don't know of any other YA book that focuses on improv. Actors and aspiring comedians will want to read it, but so will teens who like Jordan Sonnenblick and Julie Buxbaum. Recommended for grades 7-10, and for my college roommate who introduced me to the world of improvisational theatre.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Everything Awesome about Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts! by Mike Lowery

You may think dinosaur books are for little kids, but I would argue that this book contains everything that most humans of all ages would want to know about the history of earth and the prehistoric creatures that lived here long ago. Mike Lowery, a prolific illustrator, is the author and illustrator of this fun- and fact-filled full-color book that is full of jokes and irreverent humor. He expertly packs a well-curated array of information into 122 heavily illustrated pages. In Part One he explains three criteria that define dinosaurs (this was news to me!). In Part Two he gives a "Brief History of Earth" that succinctly (and humorously) puts the timeline of prehistoric life into perspective. He goes on to describe various dinosaurs and other "awesome extinct cenozoic beasts, and even includes how to draw a four kinds of dinosaurs. The book includes jokes and bonus facts that make the book fun for kids as well as adults. It's a little-known secret that a quality middle-school level nonfiction book can provide all that adults need to know about a topic, and this book perfectly supports that theory.

Grenade by Alan Gratz

Alan Gratz visited my school and told the students the inspiration for this book. Gratz learned that in 1945, middle school students in Okinawa were conscripted into the Japanese army and given two granades. One was to kill the American "monsters" that were coming, and the other was to kill themselves. This grabbed my attention as well as the students, and this book did not disappoint. The story follows two soldiers--Ray, an American who is unused to killing, and Hideki, a 13-year-old from Okinawa who has his two grenades. In alternating chapters we learn about their families, their fears, and what they face in the brutal battle for the island of Okinawa. It is heartbreaking for the reader, as well as Hideki, to realize that the Japanese never intended to stop the Americans. Rather, they used Okinawan children to slow their advance. Alan Gratz books are wildly popular, and this one fits right in with his other action-packed books with war as a backdrop. Read a great story and learn about history with this well-written historical fiction story.

Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The year is 1890 and the setting is Atlanta. Jo Kuan and her guardian, Old Gin, live in an underground railroad era secret chamber under the house of a prominent newspaper publishing family. They are Chinese-American immigrants and must work as servants to make a living. Teenage Jo works full-time as a maid, and begins writing a newspaper column under the name "Dear Sweetie," which helps increase newspaper circulation and gives her a platform to speak about women's rights as well as racial equality. No one would read the column if they knew it was written by a Chinese American girl, so she keeps her identity secret, even from the handsome young newspaper publisher. Jo gets involved with a criminal, enters a horse race, discovers some family secrets, and finds romance in this eye-opening historical fiction novel.

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

In the 1960s, a family from India moves to New York City to make a better life for their children. The two daughters, Sonia and Tara, are very different and they make their own choices about pursuing their dreams and falling in love. They each have a daughter, and the book picks up with the stories of the two cousins, one who lives in the United States and the other who lives in India. In the end we have learned about three generations of Indian-American women and how they have dealt with love, marriage, cultural differences, and caring for their daughters. If you like to read about families and cultures and how things connect together, or if you are interested in India, you will want to read this book.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Nisha is the daughter of a Hindu father and a Muslim father. This was never a problem for her until 1947, when India obtained independence from Great Britain and was partitioned into two countries based on religion. Suddenly Muslim and Hindu people who were once friends become enemies, and her formerly peaceful city is torn apart. Nisha has a twin brother, Amil, and their mother died giving birth to them. Nisha has trouble expressing herself out loud, but receives a diary for her twelfth birthday where she writes to her mother about the hardships that occur when her family flees to safety. It's a compelling story of survival and family as well as a window into a piece of history that many Americans know nothing about.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

I was so intrigued by this historical fiction graphic novel. It is based loosely on the early years of Queen Elizabeth I, but it is set in an imaginary kingdom of Albion. The heroine is an orphan girl named Margaret. Margaret lives on an island that holds a convent of nuns called the Elysian sisters. Strangers rarely come to the island, but in this story Margaret meets William, who becomes a dear friend, and Eleanor, the exiled queen who longs to take back her throne. The book is complex and the truth about the island (and Margaret) is revealed little by little. When all the threads come together it makes for an action-packed finish. The artwork is varied and lovely, unlike any other graphic novel I have read. Highly recommended for middle school and up.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagen

Powerful, well-written, and inspiring, this story about New York teens at a social justice high school deserves a wide audience. A couple of high school girls start a Women's Rights Club and find that it's too much for even their progressive high school to handle. This book is brimming with poetry and activism, and also deals with racial microaggressions and interracial friendships. This book includes a poem about body image, with every word taken straight from a teen fashion magazine, that I will never forget. Highly recommended for grades 8-up.

Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith

Hugo Wilkinson, a sextuplet from England with his life planned out for him, is planning a train trip across America with his girlfriend, Margaret Campbell before heading to college with his five siblings. When Margaret breaks up with him, he must find another Margaret Campell to claim his train tickets. In this meet-cute story, Hugo and another Margaret Campbell take the trip and it's a sweet, funny, poignant coming-of-age story. I am grateful that Jennifer E. Smith writes fun romances that middle schoolers can enjoy (and they are legitimately fun for adults to read as well). Recommended for anyone in the mood for romance!

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie is an empowering book about a girl who sees the toxic masculinity of her high school and does something about it. Vivian, an unlikely heroine, starts an underground zine that seems to go nowhere, but in the end influences the whole culture of her school. Women and teen girls will love it and take inspiration from Vivian, but I'm going to make sure boys to read it as well--they definitely could learn from the mistakes that boys and men make in the taunting, groping, silencing culture of Vivian's high school. Moxie is also a romance and a coming of age story and I highly recommend it to grades 8-up.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Emoni is a teen mother who is raising her daughter while living with her abuela. Emoni works a part-time job, takes care of her daughter, and dreams of being a chef with her own restaurant. She's a patient mother, a devoted granddaughter, and a little bit afraid to dream too much for herself. When a culinary arts class opens up at her school with the opportunity to study cooking in Spain, the reader knows she needs to make the most of the opportunity. Of course, obstacles appear and Emoni does not have smooth sailing. A new boy, Malachi, moves in and takes an interest in her. He is almost too good to be true, but Emoni deserves a good relationship with someone who cares about her. It's a hopeful story, and one that's in high demand at my school right now. Elizabeth Acevedo is definitely an author to watch.