At Last I See the Light: A Review of This Was Our Pact

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This Was Our Pact
Ryan Andrews
First Second
June 11, 2019
Grades 6 and up

In Ryan Andrews’s graphic novel, This Was Our Pact, the agreement Ben and his friends made was simple “No one turns for home”(1) and “No one looks back”(2) to follow the lanterns of the night of the Equinox Festival. Despite the arrangement, only Ben stayed along with the outcast Nathaniel as they traveled by following the river. Along the way, they meet a talking bear tasked with bringing back the fish for the feast. After the boys got lost they go on a side quest to obtain a star for the renowned chemist, Madam Majestic. Ben and Nathaniel discover more than they could ever dream on their journey. For now, Andrews leaves it up to his readers to decide where Ben and Nathaniel will wander to next. This graphic novel was illustrated in pen with a watercolor backdrop and layered using Photoshop. Andrews uses shades of blue, red, and yellow to create the whimsical magical realism environment, which brings the story to life and adds to the mood. These illustrations have an enchanting wondrous, effect with an unsettling undertone of creatures and monsters lurking in the pages. It is a relatively fast-paced book, but there is enough development to see the friendship between Nathaniel and Ben grow. Each of their personalities felt well-distinguished, helping the characters come to life and more natural to emphasize with them. This book is a phenomenal addition to any middle-grade collection, exploring themes of friendship all within an astonishing adventure.

Pride Month Book List!

June is Pride Month! The LGBTQIA+ experience is vast, no one book can define what the experience is like for any one person. With the political climate pushing for policies that would deny those who fall within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella rights, it can be comforting to read books that extol the LGBTQIA+ experience. To celebrate Pride, we would like to share with you some of our favorite LGBTQIA+ books that have come out so far this year. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the LGBTQIA+ books that have come out this year, but it is a start for those who wish to read more books with LGBTQIA+ protagonists.

Happy reading everyone!

61auCUPW94L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_It Feels Good to be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity
Theresa Thorn
Illustrated by Noah Grigni
Henry Holt and Company, June 4 2019
Ages Pre K-8

Ruthie is a Trans girl; when she was born people thought that she was a boy but she is actually a girl. When Ruthie was five years old, she corrected her family, telling them that she was a girl and not a boy like they thought. Ruthie has a gender fluid friend named Alex, and a non-binary friend named JJ. Ruthie’s brother Xavier is cisgender. Even though they all have different gender identities they are all still valid. The book is thoughtfully written and educates children and adults alike about various gender identities and what they mean. The book also includes resources at the end of the book for both children and parents to learn more about gender identity. The illustrations are colorful and beautifully complement the topic of the book. The book is illustrated by Noah Grigni who themselves is non-binary.

810WSYBncdLStonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution.
Rob Sanders
Illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Random House, April 23, 2019
Ages Pre K-10

The Stonewall Inn has changed over the course of the 20th and 21st century. In the 1960’s, the Stonewall Inn began to attract the LGBTQIA+ community. As the inn began to attract more and more LGBTQIA+ people, police officers began to raid the building and arrest people for being LGBTQIA+. On June 28, 1969, police once again raided the inn and began arresting people; only this time the people resisted beginning the Stonewall Uprising. Following the events of the Stonewall Uprising, each June people around the world celebrate LGBTQIA+ rights. Written from the perspective of the Stonewall Inn rather than those who participated in the Uprising, this book does a great job of simply explaining the events that led to the Stonewall Uprising. The illustrations are gorgeous and make the book come to life. Resources at the back of the book provide a more in depth history of the Stonewall Inn and the Stonewall Uprising, as well as books and websites to learn more.

911GEL0JZ1LBloom
Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau
Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau
First Second, January 29, 2019
Ages 12 and up

Ari wants to move away to the city with his friends and bandmates, but is stuck at home working at his family’s bakery. Looking to find someone to take his place at the bakery, Ari meets Hector who is studying to be a baker. As Ari tries to find himself and move away, he realizes that Hector may be one good reason to stay. A sweet, slow-paced, graphic novel about falling in love and finding oneself. The illustrations are entirely in shades of blue, creating a calming atmosphere for the story. The end of the book included a recipe on how to make the Kyrkos Family Bakery’s Famous Sourdough Rolls, (which looks delicious).

51lH-OCV+oL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Weight of the Stars
K. Ancrum
Macmillian, March 19, 2019
Ages 13 and up

Since the death of her parents, Ryann has become the sole provider for her brother James and his son Charlie. With the weight of the responsibilities she now has, Ryann is forced to give up her dreams of going to space. When Ryann meets and befriends the Uninaut’s daughter Alexandria, her dreams of space re-awaken. As the two girls spend more time together, they begin to develop feelings for one another, which makes Ryann wonder, is going to space worth leaving Alexandria and her family behind? A poignant and nuanced book, it explores what it means to take care of others, and what it means to pursue your dreams knowing that those dreams may make it so that you can never see your loved ones again.

31681158._UY762_SS762_Starworld
Amy Coulthurst and Paula Garner
Candlewick Press, April 16, 2019
Ages 13 and up

Sam Jones is loves to draw, and dreams of becoming an aerospace engineer. Sam is nerdy and only has one friend, until the day Zoe Miller walks into her life. Sam and Zoe begin to text each other regularly about the world they created together—Starworld—where they can escape the problems that they face in their lives. As Starworld expands, so too do Sam’s feelings for Zoe. The only problem is that Zoe has a boyfriend. Written in the perspectives of both Zoe and Sam, this book shows that people’s lives are not always what we assume them to be and that the problems we face can be lessened with support.

 

41Lq87sSB7L._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Carmilla: The Novel
Adapted by Kim Turrisi
KCP Loft, May 7, 2019
Ages 13 and up

Laura has just begun her freshman year at Silas University when her roommate Betty goes missing. When Laura goes looking for answers, she is met with hostility by the dean of the university. It seems as though no one will take this seriously. To make matters worse, her new roommate, Carmilla seems to be actively antagonizing Laura. Despite this, Laura finds herself inexplicably attracted to Carmilla. Could it be because Carmilla is a vampire? Could Carmilla be behind Betty’s disappearance? Based on the web series of the same name, Carmilla is a fun, fast-paced, vampire story.  While making references to other well-known vampire novels, this one still feels original and fresh.

41473872I Wish You All the Best
Mason Deaver
Scholastic, May 28, 2019
Ages 13 and up

Ben recently came out to their parents as non-binary and was kicked out of their house. Desperate, Ben calls their estranged sister Hannah for help. After moving in with Hannah and getting enrolled at North Wake high school, Ben meets Nathan. Nathan is beautiful, funny, and kind, and becomes one of Ben’s closest friends. Scared of being rejected by Nathan, Ben decides not to tell him that they are non-binary. Still dealing with the fallout of coming out to their parents, Ben begins to learn that not everyone will reject them due to their gender orientation. Written by Mason Deaver, who themselves is non-binary, this is a touching story about coming to terms with your gender identity.

Slight Frights and Daring Scares: Nine Spooky Books for Middle Grade Readers

October is here, and with it come ghosts, goblins, witches, and monsters. Today we’re looking at a few of this year’s spooky reads for middle grades – books with slight frights that won’t give you nightmares.

sgirllockedThe Girl in the Locked Room: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn
Clarion Books, September 2018
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The cover and title of this story make it seem far scarier than it is in reality. Narration shifts between Jules, whose family has just moved into an abandoned house, and the “Girl,” Lily, whose family lived in the house decades ago. Both girls are curious about each other, and of their respective time periods, and their friendship might be just what Lily needs to find her final resting place. This is gentle ghost story, for readers want to ease into the season.

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The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby
Candlewick Press, July 2018
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Less a ghost story, and more historical fiction featuring supernatural characters, The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery’s scariest features are the German soldiers and the threat of a bombing looming over the action of the tale. In London during World War II, young ghost Flossie Birdwhistle is in charge of keeping the cemetery’s buried souls at rest, but a mysterious soldier – also a ghost – draws Flossie into England’s war efforts. Readers who prefer their ghosts to act with integrity and honor will find it easy to support Flossie and her ghostly friends.

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City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Scholastic Press, August 2018
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In this first novel of a new supernatural fantasy series, Schwab creates a world similar to ours: a reality TV show featuring two “ghost hunters” travels to Scotland to film their pilot episode. They are faking it: though the “Inspectres,” as they call themselves, truly believe in and want to see ghosts, they just don’t. Their daughter, Cass, does – and has even befriended the ghost who saved her from a near-death experience several years ago. The ghosts of Scotland aren’t nearly as friendly, and it will take another young “In-betweener” to help Cass realize her full powers as someone who can cross the Veil. There’s plenty of good versus evil in this ghost-hunting adventure, with humor and heart to balance out the action.

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The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee
Chronicle Books, August 2018
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Lee and Felix Vickery are twins, but the only thing they do together is travel to town on Halloween, the one night that Death allows. For the rest of the year, they go about their lives in Poplar Wood, on opposite sides of their house, as the Agreement states. Felix helps his father, who is an apprentice to Death, and Lee does the same for his mother, who is Memory’s apprentice. It’s not the best life, but they make it work – until the daughter of Passion’s apprentice is killed, and Gretchen Whipple, the mayor’s daughter, and sworn enemy of the Vickerys, decides to get to the bottom of a feud that has controlled the lives – and deaths – of everyone in their small town for years. Lee, Felix, and Gretchen form a friendship as strange as their living arrangements to set things right. Poetic descriptions give this book a contemplative feel, though the action ensures it’s never bogged down in too much detail.

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Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan
Walker Books, February 2018
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This first book in an forthcoming trilogy creates a world where witches live across an invisible border and live by a set of ancient rules. Mup, her mam, and her brother cross this border to save her her dad after he is kidnapped by the creator of these rules – her grandmother. Reminiscent of other fantastical journeys taken by young women to rescue those they love and get back home, Begone the Raggedy Witches gives its readers characters to care for and a magical world to explore. The villains are just cruel enough to resent, but good witches abound as well, and Mup’s fight becomes more than just a rescue mission – she must save Witches Borough itself from her grandmother’s control.

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Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner
Simon & Schuster, September 2018
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Nia Winters likes vampires. AJ likes Nia, but since he isn’t a vampire, he can’t seem to catch her attention – until he decides to become a vampire himself. Then he realizes it’s not that Nia likes vampires – she slays them. Suddenly his great idea could be the death of him, if he can’t convince Nia it was all a ploy, and that a real vampire of Spoons Middle School is still out there. This graphic novel is more silly than scary, with all of its parodying of other well-known vampire tales. The illustrations add a level of fun, and the relationships between AJ and his sister and AJ and his friends are sweet with plenty of goodnatured needling. For readers who would rather laugh at monsters than be terrified by them, Fake Blood will satisfy.

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The Cryptid Catcher by Lija Fisher
Farrar Straus Giroux, August 2018
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Clivo Wren is only taking up the family business when he becomes a cryptid hunter at age 13, after his father’s death, but he may have taken on more than he knows how to handle. After all, he just found out cryptids really do exist – is he really ready to track and catalog them? Humanity as we know it may be on the line if Clivo isn’t up for the task of finding the rumored “immortal” cryptid, so with the help of several trustworthy friends, and a few more less-than-trustworthy colleagues, he sets out to catch whatever cryptids he can. Teenagers with plenty of dry humor and monster-hunting lore make this a delightful read that’s less scare and more dare.

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Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor
First Second Books, April 2018
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Part Sherlock Holmes-ian detective, part Lara Croft action-adventure hero, and all quippy one-liners, Scarlett Hart doesn’t shy away from danger as she follows in her late parents’ footsteps. With the help of Napoleon, Mrs. White, and plenty of hunting gadgets, she tracks down and hunts various monsters – from gargoyles springing to life to zombies terrorizing the theatre – hoping to catch them before the conniving Count Stankovic catches her. Hand drawn illustrations bring the monsters and Scarlett to life and help to build intensity as she escapes each dangerous situation.

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Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2018
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For having a rather tame cover (though it gets creepier the closer you look), this story is shockingly scary. A field trip to a local farm turns terrifying as the bus breaks down on the way back to school and the bus driver smilingly says, “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Eleven-year old Ollie and two of her classmates are the only ones who take the driver’s advice, choosing to try their luck in the surrounding forest. They aren’t sure if they’ve made the right choice, or who (or what) exactly is coming for them, but they’ll soon find out. Excellent pacing and well-timed cliffhangers, along with a smart and courageous heroine make this a treat for brave readers.

2018 Graphic Novels and Nonfiction

Consider this your periodic reminder that graphic novels, graphic memoirs, and other graphic nonfiction are 100% real books! We think that if you enjoy them, you should keep on reading them, and if you are a caring adult (teacher, parent, librarian), you should encourage the kids in your life to read them as well. Visual literacy is an important and valuable skill to have, and reading graphics helps foster it. Plus they’re just plain fun to read.

 

The City on the Other Side

City on the Other Side
Mairghread Scott & Robin Robinson
First Second, April 2018

Isabel learns the strength of her convictions in this human world/fairy world adventure set in early 1900s San Francisco. This was a beautiful and beautifully told tale of friendship, loyalty, and doing what’s right, even if it scares you. Full page maps and detailed and vibrant illustrations elevate the story. Ages 8 and up.

 

Be Prepared

Be Prepared
Vera Brosgol
First Second, April 2018

What happens if you beg to go to summer camp, and then you hate it (and it hates you)? Brosgol creatively remembers a summer of her youth with all its ups and downs in this funny and bittersweet graphic novel for middle grades and up.

 

Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter

Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter
Marcus Sedgwick & Thomas Taylor
First Second, April 2018

Part Sherlock Holmes-ian detective, part Lara Croft action-adventure hero, and all quippy one-liners, Scarlett Hart doesn’t shy away from danger as she follows in her late parents’ footsteps. With the help of Napoleon and Mrs. White, she tracks down and hunts various monsters – from gargoyles springing to life to zombies terrorizing the theatre – hoping to catch them before the conniving Count Stankovic catches her. Ages 10 and up.

 

All Summer Long

All Summer Long
Hope Larson
Farrar Straus Giroux, May 2018

When Bina’s best friend, Austin, goes to soccer camp for the summer, she’s left to befriend Austin’s older sister and fears growing apart from Austin. A love of listening to and creating music keeps Bina occupied, but when Austin returns, things don’t go back to normal. This middle grade story of the growing pains of friendship hits all the emotional notes without getting melodramatic, and a bright color palette and bold artwork keep it fresh and fun.

 

Animus

Animus
Antoine Revoy
First Second, May 2018

A haunted playground in Kyoto, Japan seems to hold the key to the mystery of missing schoolchildren. Sayuri and Hisao, themselves children, follow the clues they discover to find their classmates, and to hopefully return “Toothless,” the boy haunting the playground, back to where he belongs. Echoing the atmosphere of the story, Revoy’s illustrations are haunting and fantastical.

 

Making Friends

Making Friends
Kristen Gudsnuk
Graphix, July 2018

Dany is a seventh grader now, and all of her friends ended up in a different cluster – together, without her. In need of a few friends, and armed with a magic sketchbook, she literally makes new friends without worrying about the consequences. With anime and other tongue-in-cheek pop culture references on every page, Making Friends charms and delights. Ages 10 and up.

 

Hey, Kiddo

Hey, Kiddo
Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Graphix, October 2018

With stark honesty and a muted palette, Krosoczka tells the story of his upbringing through his high school years. Raised by his grandparents and never quite sure of his place in his family, or how to mix his school life with his home life, Krosoczka leans into his artistic interests and finds his place in the world. This graphic memoir for young adults echoes themes from Krosoczka’s TED Talk in 2012.

Summer STEM Reads

In honor of National Summer Learning Day here’s a roundup of some new STEM based fiction and picture books guaranteed to spark interest in a deeper dive into their subjects.

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Crash! Boom!

Crash Boom: A Math Tale – Robie H Harris, illustrated by Chris Chatterton (Candlewick, 2018)

Elephant wants to stack his blocks as tall as, well, an elephant. He’ll count, stack, evaluate, and build his way to success. With introductory concepts in math, problem-solving, construction, and good old-fashioned perseverance this a great tale for future engineers.

 

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The Jamie Drake Equation

The Jamie Drake Equation – Christopher Edge
(Delacorte Press, June 2018)
Jamie Drake knows that each of his family members are like stars, keeping each other in orbit. He’s worked out the equation, and especially with his dad 400 kilometers away on the International Space Station, Jamie needs to make sure everyone and everything is in the right place to keep the Drake family intact. Christopher Edge brings math and science to life in this middle grade novel, giving them heart without sacrificing the integrity of the very real formulas and equations that make space travel possible. A bonus “The Science of The Jamie Drake Equation” chapter goes into more detail about the real-life science in the story, making this an easy tie-in to a solar system or space travel unit.

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Potions & Parameters

Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters – Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes
(First Second, March 2018)
Hopper, Eni, and Josh are back in the 5th installment of the Secret Coders series, which picks up where Robots & Repeats left off: continuing their battle against the evil Dr. One-Zero as he  tries to control their town with his “Green Pop” potion. Luckily, they have Professor Bee and their coding skills to help them. Gene Luen Yang (National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature) and Mike Holmes continue to entertain with their fun characters and comic-style illustrations. Readers interested in basic coding and logic puzzles will want to start this series at the beginning, since both the plot and the concepts build off previous books!

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The Nebula Secret

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret – Trudi Trueit (National Geographic, 2018)

Cruz Coronado and his classmates will travel the world using science, exploration and conservation practices while training to be the next generation of National Geographic Explorers. All the while trying to evade a secret society that may be the cause of his mother’s mysterious death. The series (launching in September) will be supported by a digital extension (available now on the National Geographic Kids site) with games, videos, and “truth behind” content revealing the science behind the story.

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The Mortification of Fovea Munson

The Mortification of Fovea Munson – Mary Winn Heider (Disney-Hyperion, 2018)

Fovea Munson is NOT interested in dead bodies! But spending the summer working in her parents’ cadaver lab is not helping convince her classmates she is NOT gross. While this sweet and funny story isn’t based in fact (have you ever met a partially-frozen, singing head?), there is just enough medical science to get the curious doing their own research into dissection and maybe even medical school.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.