Small & Mighty: A Review of Front Desk by Kelly Yang

front deskFront Desk by Kelly Yang
Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books
May, 2018

Mia and her parents, recent immigrants from China, are managing a California motel in the early 1990s. It’s a family affair, as ten-year-old Mia finds herself responsible for checking in motel guests while her parents tend to the rooms and motel maintenance – though it sometimes feels like it’s Mia against the world. After a rough start including washing machine mishaps, bad grades, and arguments with her mother (who wants Mia to stick to math, something she considers Mia to be a “native” in), Mia hits her stride when she realizes the power of using her ever-improving English to help others, especially the motel guests she considers family.

Adventurous subplots and dynamic secondary characters add to the appeal of this compelling middle grade novel. Mia believes in herself and wants what is best for her friends and family, and though her quick thinking sometimes gets her in trouble, at the end of the day she is a force for good in her community. This book is fun, yet thoughtful, and shows that there’s no age requirement for taking action against injustice.

2018 Short Story Collections

In honor of Short Story Month, we’re featuring several new collections of stories in various forms – fiction, nonfiction, personal, biographical, historical, and more. Whether told in words, images, or both, short stories have the power to inspire, educate, and entertain in just a few pages. Whatever your fancy, there’s a collection for that!

ssmeetcute

If you’re looking for love stories…
Meet Cute
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2018

With a tagline of “Some people are destined to meet,” this collection of 14 stories takes us to the beginnings of relationships, when love has potential and anything can happen. Experienced YA readers will recognize many of the contributing authors, who bring a diverse cast of characters and a variety of introductions – romantic, funny, tender, and whimsical – to the page.

sshopenation.jpg

If you need a good dose of inspiration…
Hope Nation, edited by Rose Brock
Philomel Books, February 2018

Personal essays from 24 contemporary YA authors show that hope is an action – a decision we each make to hold our heads up in the face of opposition or defeat. Stories of childhood dedication and perseverance, moments of doubt overcome by conviction, and the belief that words have power combine in this collection to show there is strength in hope.

ssvoicesIf you’d like to hear about WWII from people who experienced it firsthand…
Voices from the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today
Candlewick Press, March 2018

This collection includes a variety of personal accounts of life before, during, and after World War II from 80 people who lived through it – as child evacuees, service men and women, prisoners of war, survivors of concentration camps and bombings, and resistance fighters. Their stories are presented as they were told to children of today through interviews, letters, and school visits alongside photographs and other historical images that were originally published in association with First News, a weekly newspaper for children.

ssphoenix

If you want to test run some fresh comics…
The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection: Volume One
Scholastic/David Fickling Books, March 2018

Eight artists are featured in this volume, each with unique styles and content. Readers can follow the adventures of Troy Trailblazer, Looshkin, “the maddest cat in the world,” Doug Slugman, P. I. and others. The comics included in this collection were originally published in The Phoenix, a weekly comic magazine for children.

ssradical

If feminist historical fiction is your thing…
The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and Other Dauntless Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood
Candlewick Press, March 2018

In stories that range in setting from Savannah, Georgia in 1838 to Los Angeles in 1923 to Boston in 1984, this collection of historical fiction by 12 different authors features characters who refuse to let society define them. They boldly claim their identities and pursue their dreams in defiance of the norms of their communities.

ssbrazen

If feminist historical nonfiction is your thing…
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu
First Second, March 2018

Over 30 historical figures are represented in this collection of “broad-stroke portraits” in both text and illustration. Bagieu pays homage to women from various walks of life, geographic settings, and periods of history with brief biographical comics and detailed drawings that invite readers in to each story.

We’ve been accepted to the Explorer Academy!

nebula secret coverI was fortunate to spend my Wednesday afternoon with a lovely group of fellow book-lovers; professors, lit experts, book-sellers, and publishing industry insiders (oh, my!) at the lunch and launch of the new National Geographic Kids series Explorer Academy. The series will include seven fact-based fiction adventures for middle-grade readers that are inspired by the real scientists and explorers at the National Geographic Society. The first title in the series, The Nebula Secret, follows 12-year old Cruz Coronado and his fellow students as they travel the globe to become the next generation of explorers and possibly solve the mysterious death of Cruz’s mother. The blend of adventure, STEM topics, and world cultures is sure to appeal to a wide audience.

exp acceptance 2

trueitTrudi Trueit, the series author, is a weather forecaster turned writer that couldn’t help sharing her love for science with young readers. In our brief conversation, she proved to be a passionate advocate for readers, libraries, and scientists! She has tapped the knowledge of National Geographic Explorers (they are like the rock stars of the National Geographic Society) for the series to bring their real life discoveries, research, and innovations into the action-packed plots. Nizar Ibrahim, paleontologist and National Geographic Explorer, joined us to share his experiences with the NGS and a top-secret (sorry!) hint at some new discoveries.

Stop by the BCLC to check out the ARC in our signed books collection (as soon as I finish reading it) and keep your eye out for publication this fall by Under the Stars, the new fiction imprint of National Geographic.

A Review of Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe

Neanderthal cover art

by Preston Norton (Disney-Hyperion, 2018)

Life at Happy Valley High School sucks — especially for Cliff Hubbard, a 6’6” 250 lb. outcast, nicknamed “Neanderthal.”

With an abusive and alcoholic father, a passive and over-worked mother, a cast of assorted high school bullies, and a dead brother, Cliff has a lot on his plate (along with his favorite chimichangas)! Add to the list one of his chief tormentors, HVHS golden boy Aaron Zimmerman, who recruits Cliff to help complete his coma-induced to-do-list from god.

Teenage stereotypes abound as Cliff and Aaron attempt to make HVSH a better place by taking on the bullies, drug-dealers, Jesus teens, disgruntled teachers, jocks, computer hackers, and mean girls that most high schoolers will recognize from their own experience. Some of these characters are better developed than others, making for a large and unbalanced ensemble that can detract from the unlikely, yet oddly believable and very funny friendship developing between Cliff and Aaron.

The two effect an unrealistic amount of change in a very short time and tie up their happy-ish ending a bit too neatly. Despite this, you won’t be able to help cheering for sweet, smart, struggling Cliff to begin coming to terms with his brother’s suicide, make friends, find love, and open the door to the universe.

Two of a Kind: Fiction in Verse

With National Poetry Month coming to an end, here are two new novels in verse featuring young teens navigating difficult situations:

ebbandflow

Ebb & Flow – Heather Smith
Kids Can Press
April, 2018

Jett has not had a great year – after his father goes to jail for his involvement in a drunk driving accident, he and his mother move away for a “fresh start” that doesn’t go the way either of them wanted. Now, Jett is back on the Eastern coast to spend the summer with his Grandma Jo, who speaks in puns and tells him stories about herself at his age, a young Joanna. Slowly, Jett tells his own story, and struggles with wanting things to go back to how they were while also hoping the summer will help him move on from the mistakes of the past year.

As Grandma Jo says:
“…life is like the tides.
In, out.
Back, forth.
Push, pull.
High, low.
You just have to go with the flow, you know?” (p. 177)

Told in verse from Jett’s perspective, Ebb & Flow mimics the tides it refers to – swelling with emotion, pulling back, and surging again as Jett reveals his truths and secrets.

 

knockout

Knockout – K. A. Holt
Chronicle Books
March, 2018

Levi was born prematurely, and as a result he’s smaller than most of his classmates. And while sometimes he needs an inhaler or gets tired easily, he’s still mighty, and wants to prove he’s not as weak as his mom and brother think. When his dad offers to pay for a sport – any sport – he chooses boxing. That will show everyone how strong he is, right?

Shape poetry and Levi’s quick and punchy voice give this novel in verse plenty of heart. Readers will cheer for Levi as he makes his way through seventh grade, trying to avoid drama, keep his friendship with Tam, and impress everyone with his boxing.

A Review of Mabel and Sam at Home by Linda Urban

Mabel and Sam at Home: One Brave Journey in Three Adventures                                           

Mabal and Sam cover art

By Linda Urban, Illustrated by Hadley Hooper, Chronicle Books  (2018)

It’s moving day for Mabel and Sam! How do two creative kids stay out of the way while the grown-ups work? Why a cardboard box and a vivid imagination, of course. In the grand tradition of bossy big sisters everywhere, Mabel leads little brother Sam on a brave adventure; part sea voyage, part museum tour, part space odyssey, and all fun.

The charming and funny text explores a new house as well as some of the anxieties that can come along with a move. Structured as three mini-chapters, each adventure gently delves into one of the possible causes of moving day jitters: the moving crew, finding your familiar things in a new place, and sleeping in a new bedroom. The printmaking techniques used in the illustrations, and the fluidity of the lines in Hooper’s drawings, create a soft and magical backdrop that complements the sweet relationship between the siblings and the emotion behind their adventure.

A fun and reassuring way to help kids process the emotions and uncertainty that can come with a move to a new house.

2018 Picture Book Poetry

April is National Poetry Month – celebrate with us by checking out new collections and illustrated poems. You can find these titles, novels in verse for older readers, and other lyrical picture books for children here at Butler Children’s Literature Center!

blackgirlmagic

Black Girl Magic (Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press, January 2018)
Written by Mahogany Browne
Illustrated by Jess X. Snow

With a dedication stating “This book is for you,” this spirited poem of strength and finding beauty in yourself despite what the world expects of you lifts up black women, acknowledging their accomplishments and struggles, and gives young black girls an anthem of support. The text is accompanied by striking black, white, and red illustrations that amplify the empowering message of the poem.

 

In the Past (Candlewick Press, March 2018)
inthepastWritten by David Elliott
Illustrated by Matthew Trueman

This collection of poems about ancient creatures ranges from the humble Trilobite to the mighty Quetzacoatlus and proves that anything can be poetic. Perfect for dinosaur fans of any age, In the Past includes a geologic timeline and notes for each ancient creature along with realistic mixed media images. The poetry is light-hearted and informative and plays on the illustrations on each page.

 

martinrisingMartin Rising: Requiem for a King (Scholastic Press, January 2018)
Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

In this collection of “docu-poems,” author Andrea Davis Pinkney presents the final months of Dr. King’s life. With a musicality of language and along with Brian Pinkney’s illuminating and spiritual paintings, each poem carries a different emotional tone and honors multiple facets of King’s life – his work, his family, and his ministry. This selection works on its own as a memorial of Dr. King’s life, but would also be a powerful read aloud in a classroom or theater setting, or as a part of a larger program for students at any age.

 

The Horse’s Haiku (Candlewick Press, March 2018)horseshaiku
Written by Michael J. Rosen
Illustrated by Stan Fellows

This collection of haiku about horses is organized into three sections: In the Field, At the Barn, and Under Saddle. Watercolor illustrations on each page allow the reader’s eye to graze while the mind contemplates the sparse verse. A note on haiku concludes the collection and teaches the reader how to enjoy haiku in everyday life. The Horse’s Haiku would be suitable for a read aloud for younger children, or as a read along as part of a larger poetry unit for older elementary students.

 

withmyhandsWith My Hands: Poems About Making Things (HMH/Clarion Books, March 2018)
Written by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Illustrated by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

This collection celebrates the “joy of making” with over 20 poems about different creative activities, each written in unique styles. The illustrations are also varied, ranging from crayon and colored pencil sketches to mixed media collages and paintings. With My Hands would pair well with an arts and crafts session, or as inspiration for creative pursuits of all types.

 

Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up (Candlewick Press, February 2018)earthverse
Written by Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by William Grill

Geographical concepts and natural events like minerals, fossils, earthquakes, and volcanoes are explored in this collection of haiku, accompanied by impressionistic and muted colored pencil illustrations. Each concept is explained in further detail at the end of the book, and a suggested reading list is also included, making this a perfect poetic tie-in or an added “layer” of a geology curriculum.

 

didyouhear

Did You Hear What I Heard? Poems About School (Penguin Random House/Dial Books, February 2018)
Written by Kay Winters
Illustrated by Patrice Barton

Over 30 poems fill this colorful collection – all about bus rides, fire drills, recess, field trips, tests, and teachers. Stylistically, the poems range from structured stanzas to free verse to singsong rhymes. Bright and playful illustrations make this collection suitable for younger students and perfect for classroom read-alouds or as a starting point for students to write their own school-themed poems.