A Home Run Debut! Review of Get A Grip, Vivy Cohen

get a gripGet A Grip, Vivy Cohen!
By Sarah Kapit
February 25, 2020
Published by Dial Books
Grades 3-8

Ever since VJ Capello showed Vivy how to throw a knuckleball three years ago at a fundraiser for autism, Vivy has been dreaming of the day when she will get to play as a pitcher for a baseball team. As luck would have it, after playing catch with her brother Nate, a coach notices Vivy’s talents and recruits her to play for his little league team. Things get even better when VJ responds to the letters Vivy has been sending him, updating her progress as a knuckleballer! Although she began writing to VJ as an assignment for her social skills class, the more the two write, the more they bond over their love of baseball and the challenges that they face in the game. For Vivy, challenges occur when kids on her team bully her because of her autism. Making matters worse, Vivy’s own mother questions Vivy’s ability to play the sport because of her autism. With the support of her dad, brother, and pitcher Alex, Vivy is able to prove once and for all what an amazing knuckleballer she is to everyone.
This epistolary novel vividly and honestly captures Vivy’s growth out on the field and in her personal life. As she grows confidence as a knuckleballer, she also becomes more confident in herself and in making friends. The novel has a diverse cast of characters– from Vivy, who is a young Jewish girl with autism, VJ who is African American, Alex who is Latino, and her brother, Nate, who comes out as gay. Kapit’s writing is thoughtful and nuanced, capturing the unique struggles that each of these characters faces in their day to day lives. As a chairperson for the Association for Autistic Community, Kapit writes knowledgeable about autism and perfectly depicts Vivy as a child on the spectrum. Kapits debut novel is a home run for sure!

Most Anticipated 2020 Middle Grade Titles

We’ve been getting a few advanced copies of 2020 titles and we thought it would be fun to share some of our favorites titles so far. Make room on your tbr list for these middle grade titles and make sure to grab them off the shelves when they come out!

get a grip.jpgGet A Grip, Vivy Cohen!
By Sarah Kapit
Published by Dial Books
February 25th, 2020
Ages 8-12
Vivy Cohen is determined to pitch for a real baseball team, but her mom is worried about Vivy being the only girl and only autistic kid on the team. Vivy writes to her hero, major-league pitcher VJ Capello, who writes back to her! As if this wasn’t already too good to be true, Vivy gets invited to join a team where she uses the advice she gets from VJ to be the best pitcher she can be. When an accident benches Vivy, she is forced to fight to stay on the team. Written by Sarah Kapit, chairperson of the Association for Autistic Community, this is an own voice title worth checking out.

blackbird girls

The BlackBird Girls
By Anne Blankman
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers
March 10th, 2020
Ages 9-12
When Chernobyl collapses in an explosion, rivals Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko are forced to escape and find safety while their government tries to keep the disaster a secret. Can the two rivals learn to trust one another long enough to survive? Told from three different perspectives, this book shows that even a nuclear disaster is no match for the power of friendship.

stand up.jpg

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!
By Jessica Kim

Published by Kokila
March 17th, 2020
Ages 9-12
Yumi dreams of being a stand-up comedian, even if she is shy and gets called “Yu-MEAT” by the kids at school because she smells like her family’s KBBQ restaurant. Instead of spending her summer watching and studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to try and qualify for a private school scholarship. An unexpected opportunity arises one day after class when Yumi stumbles upon a comedy camp taught by her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that everyone at the camp thinks she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura, and Yumi doesn’t correct them. This debut novel by Jessica Kim is a stellar and hilarious entry into middle grade fiction.

ghost squad Ghost Squad
By Claribel A Ortega
Published by Scholastic Press
April 7th, 2020
Ages 9-12
Right before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend Syd cast a spell that accidentally awakens an evil spirit that wrecks havoc all across St. Augustine. The two girl’s join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her cat, Chunk, to reverse the curse and save the town before it’s too late.  Inspired by Ortega’s Dominican heritage and all things 80’s, this book blends nostalgia with the supernatural beautifully and puts a refreshing spin on this familiar tale.

place at the table

A Place at the Table
By Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan

Published by Clarion Books
May 12th, 2020
Ages 10-12

Sara feels completely lost at her new middle school, which is totally different from the small Islamic school she’s gone to her entire life. Elizabeth has problems of her own: her best friend seems to be pulling away and her British mom is struggling with depression. When the two girls are thrown together at an after school South Asian cooking class they don’t really hit it off. But when they learn that both of their mom’s are applying for American citizenship, they form a shaky alliance and make plans to win a spot on a local food show. They may make great cooking partners, but could they make great friends too?

Do you READ LOCAL?

Sarah Aronson Do you shop at your local farmers market? Support local arts organizations? How about adding “Read local authors” to the list?

Join us on Thursday, Sept 20th when we host Evanston author Sarah Aronson for a chat about local authors and creative ways to incorporate their books into your programming.

Made in Illinois: New Books by Illinois Authors and How to Use Them in the Classroom (and Library)

When: Thursday, September 20th– program starts at 6:15pm

Where: Butler Children’s Literature Center– Crown Library Room 214

RSVP: By September 17th to butler@dom.edu

You can find out more about Sarah, her books, and her love of exclamation points at www.saraharonson.com

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: A Review of Darius the Great is Not Okay

 

Darius the Great is Not Okay

Darius the Great is Not Okay
Adib Khorram
Dial Books, August 2018
Ages 14 and up

Darius Kellner, named after Darius the Great, doesn’t always feel great, and he and his family know that. Darius’s father also has Depression, and while he struggles to vocalize his love for Darius, does not shy away from tougher conversations about his own mental health and the importance of both therapy and medication. These conversations happen against the backdrop of a rough patch for Darius – he is bullied at school, not appreciated at his part time job at Tea Haven, and feels distance growing between himself and all of his family members: dad, mom, and younger sister, Lelah, who he sees as a replacement for himself.

As a narrator, Darius is not without faults – he routinely gets in his own way, and many times would rather remove himself from a situation or conversation with an “Um” and redirection towards the nearest tea kettle – but his character does learn and grow in his own way. During a family trip to Iran, where his mother grew up, Darius begins to recognize and find his place in his family as son, brother, and friend, though not without mistakes, painful conversations, and learning how to advocate for himself. This young adult novel, told from the perspective of an awkward but earnest narrator, is a testament to the importance of open and honest conversations around mental health. Aspects of daily life in Iran, from religious customs to food preparation rituals, add depth and interest to the characters and give the story a firm sense of place and nuanced secondary characters allow for a reader to see multiple facets of Darius as a protagonist.

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

If you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate Harry Potter’s birthday next week (and who isn’t?), you might check out one of these awesome local library programs taking place in the Chicago area over the next few days:

  • Naperville Public Library- July 28
  • Forest Park Public Library- July 29
  • Brookfield Public Library- July 31 (Harry’s actual birthday)
  • Oak Park Public Library- August 4

*I’d advise checking the library’s website for details, times, and residency requirements.

But if you’re not in Chicago, or your local library isn’t having a birthday bash, how about picking up a book guaranteed to bring you back to the world of wizardry, magic, adventure, and friendship that J.K. Rowling’s books created. One of these magical 2018 releases might be just like a ticket for the Hogwarts Express.

 

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform, February 2018)

the belles

The Belles

Camellia Beauregard and her sisters are the Belles of Orleans, creators of all beauty for the cursed grey citizens of their world. In competition with her sisters to become the palace favorite, Camellia must navigate the intrigues and dangers of court life, while trying to stay connected to her sisters, her magic, and her own identity.

Harry Potter fans will love:

  • the detailed world-building
  • complex relationships
  • characters struggling with the ethics of magic

 

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt, March 2018)

children of blood and bone

Children of Blood and Bone

Child of a murdered Maji Reaper, Zélie Adebola will fight against a powerful and oppressive monarchy bent on destroying her people and magic forever. With the help of her overbearing brother, a renegade princess, and the last remaining magic she can find, Zélie struggles to save herself and a society that is nearly a memory. This dark and detailed story is closer in mood to the later books in the Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter fans will love:

  • the unlikely heroes
  • magical creatures
  • community building

 

The Forgotten Book by Mechthild Gläser (Feiwel and Friends, January 2018)

the forgotten book

The Forgotten Book

Emma Morgenroth is a woman of action. When she finds a seemingly magical book in her boarding school’s all but abandoned west wing library, she decides to solve its mysteries herself. The book doesn’t reveal its secrets that easily, though, and the consequences of using its magical powers aren’t always predictable. Emma may need the help of the intriguing, yet aloof, Darcy de Winter to set things right. Jane Austen fans will recognize nods to Emma and Pride and Prejudice in this YA novel translated from German.

Harry Potter fans will love:

  • set in a boarding school complete with abandoned wings and secret passageways
  • book with magical properties that hides its more dangerous effects
  • secret student club
  • strong friendship of diverse personalities coming together to make things right.

 

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr, illustrated by Katie Harnett (Chronicle, June 2018)

the language of spells

The Language of Spells

Grisha, a dragon who has spent his long life hiding in plain sight and Maggie, a girl who has spent her short life feeling invisible become fast friends over hot chocolate, late night conversations and the ability to truly see each other. But this ordinary girl could become a hero by giving up something she loves (the price of magic) to save a group of Grisha’s fellow dragons. This charming and graceful story is gentler than Rowling’s books, but with familiar themes of friendship and magic.

Harry Potter Fans will love:

  • the magical creatures
  • unlikely heroes
  • complexities of good and evil

 

Saint Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures by W. Stone Cotter (Henry Holt, January 2018)

st philomenes

Saint Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures

A habitual limit-tester, and occasional hole-digger, Chance Jeopard has not only discovered an underground hospital for magical creatures, but also a plot to destroy it. Chance is followed on his quest to save St Philomene’s Infirmary by his skeptical big sister, who’s out to rescue him from his rescue mission. Together they will evade a cast of magical creatures, from the common demon to the very rare Sowlth and endangered Wreau, while they chase the man bent on threatening the infirmary and 1.8 million inhabitants.

Harry Potter fans will love:

  • the magical creatures
  • unlikely heroes
  • adversity helping the characters to mature

 

Wizardmatch by Lauren Magaziner (Dial Books, March 2018)

wizardmatch

Wizardmatch

When the Prime Wizard de Pomporromp decides it’s time to retire, all of his grandchildren are invited to compete for his title in Wizardmatch. Lennie Mercado wants nothing more than to be Prime Wizard, and to hold the unlimited magical powers that come with the job, but finds out the deck may just be stacked against her. Written for a younger crowd, Wizardmatch leans into its silliness and takes a more irreverent approach to magic and spells, though it’s not without a deeper message of acceptance and equality.

Harry Potter fans will love:

  • the wizarding families and competitions
  • a light story with an underlying message of acceptance and belonging
  • power imbalances.

 

Having fun exploring these books for the magic that drew you to Harry Potter in the first place, while you raise a butterbeer to Harry on his 38th birthday!