A Review of All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

by Hal Patnott

This week’s featured title is a highly anticipated September release by Victoria Jamieson, creator of the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl. In keeping with our theme of selecting titles that uphold ALSC’s Core Values (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness), All’s Faire in Middle School demonstrates excellence. Stop by the Butler Center to check out our advanced reading copy of All’s Faire in Middle School.

Alls faire

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, Penguin Random House/Dial (2017)

Every year, Imogene and her family work at the Florida Renaissance Faire. Her dad plays a villainous knight and her mom runs a shop selling flower crowns. For the first time ever, Imogene has a quest of her own—middle school. As much as she loves her geeky Ren Faire family, she isn’t sure what her new friend group will think. Between mean science teachers and learning the rules of popularity, the year ahead turns out to be a more fearsome challenge than Imogene expected.

Victoria Jamieson returns with another full-color graphic novel about navigating school, friendship, and identity. Not unlike Astrid from Roller Girl, Imogene shows determination throughout the story, even when she must confront her own mistakes. Although Imogene dreams of becoming a knight, she learns to recognize the dragon and the princess inside her heart too. All’s Faire in Middle School fully embraces the Ren Faire aesthetic. Each chapter begins with a page designed like an illuminated manuscript with dragons and jousters in the border art. This upcoming graphic novel is the perfect back-to-school read for tweens.

April B3: Immigration Stories

These days, it’s more important than ever for us to share stories about immigration with the young readers we serve; both for the sake of immigrant kids in our communities, and to encourage understanding among others of these kids’ experiences.

Join us on April 5, 2017 in the Butler Center from 5:30-7:00 (books & snacks out at 5:30; discussion from 6-7) to discuss the following list of recently published books with an immigration theme, from picture books to children’s fiction to teen fiction. We’re focusing on fiction this time; we know there are lots of excellent informational books too. You may remember the Butler Center’s “Big Read” bibliography from last year; this month’s list complements the selections recommended there.


Calling the Water Drum
by LaTisha Redding, illus. by Aaron Boyd (Lee & Low, 2016)

A Piece of Home
by Jeri Watts, illus. by Hyewon Yum (Candlewick, 2016)


A Long Pitch Home
by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (Charlesbridge, 2016)

The Only Road
by Alexandra Diaz (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2016)


Girl Mans Up
by M-E Girard (HarperTeen, 2016)

by Marina Budhos (Random/Wendy Lamb, 2016)

Forthcoming from Past Award Winners

By Alena Rivers

Hot on the heels of this week’s ALA Youth Media Awards announcement, this week we are looking ahead to two forthcoming books from award-winning authors and illustrators. These awards, including the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Sibert, Geisel, Printz, awards, are the gold standard of excellence in children’s media.  In keeping with our review of books that highlight ALSC’s Core Values (collaboration, excellence, inclusiveness, innovation, integrity and respect, leadership and responsiveness), these books represent first of all excellence, and also collaboration and integrity and respect.

life-on-mars   dad-and-the-dinosaur

Life on Mars by Jon Agee (Penguin, 2017)

An astronaut arrives on Mars confident in his search for life on the barren planet. The reader follows the astronaut as he walks the planet carrying a gift to share with whomever he discovers. In the meantime, a creature reveals itself to the reader but remains unseen by the astronaut. Young children will delight in watching the creature follow the unknowing astronaut who grows more doubtful of finding life on the planet. Just as the astronaut gives up his search and leaves behind his gift, he finds life on the planet, but it is not the creature who has been quietly and curiously watching the young astronaut. Satisfied with his discovery, the astronaut makes his way back to his ship, which presents a new challenge. He no longer remembers where he left it.The remaining pages reveal clues of the creature’s existence that the astronaut overlooks but are obvious to young readers.

Agee’s text is clean, straightforward and engages readers in the astronaut’s search for life on Mars. The easily discernible illustrations are done in muted grays and browns depicting the barren planet which is contrasted by a black background highlighting the infinite space beyond. Life on Mars is an entirely amusing story perfect for a humorous read-aloud to children ages 3-8.

Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Dan Santat (Penguin, 2017)

Wishing to be as brave as his father, young Nicholas secretly finds comfort from his fears of the dark, giant bugs and hidden creatures by keeping with him a constant companion in the form of a small, toy dinosaur. Nicholas knows dinosaurs are not afraid of the dark and other unknowns so, with his dinosaur in tow, he finds the courage he needs to conquer a climbing wall, sleep in the dark and score a winning soccer goal against a tough goalie. That courage disappears as soon as he discovers he has lost his dinosaur on the soccer field. After a fruitless search, Nicholas finds himself vulnerable to the fears that have been kept away by his dinosaur. A touching moment is shared between father and son when Nicholas reveals the secret source of his strength to his father who offers to take Nicholas to the soccer field to find his missing dinosaur.

Choldenko’s text is vivid and astutely balances the ideas of fear and courage. Santat’s illustrations are done in deep blue, green and orange tones that span each two-page spread building a fully immersive depiction of every scene. Young readers will identify with the sense of security a special object can provide and the comfort in sharing its secret existence with someone special. Dad and the Dinosaur is a compelling read-aloud and provides opportunity for discussion with children ages 3-8 about their fears and how they overcome them.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

by Hal Patnott


We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (Penguin Random/Dutton, 2017)

The day after her grandfather disappears into the ocean forever, Marin boards a plane from San Francisco to New York determined to disappear too, even if it means leaving behind the people who care about her. At her college in the city, far away from her old life, she can become someone new, pretend her phone is secondhand and that the girl named Mabel sending her messages is a complete stranger. However, some relationships mean too much to end. As Marin’s grandfather once tells her, “[Sometimes] two people have a deep connection. It makes romance seem trivial. It isn’t about anything carnal. It’s about souls. About the deepest part of who you are as a person.” Neither Marin or Mabel can forget about their bond. After months of silence from Marin, Mabel still refuses to give up on her best friend, the girl she fell in love with during the summer of their senior year. She’s willing to fly three thousand miles to learn the truth and convince Marin to come home to the people who want to support her.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour is a haunting coming-of-age story about love and moving on after betrayal. The novel is written in first-person from Marin’s perspective. Chapters alternate between the present and flashbacks to her senior year of high school. LaCour’s lyrical prose and her sparing use of dialogue beautifully convey Marin’s loneliness and longing. Despite the heavy sorrow that fills the pages,the book ends on a note of hope. Grab a box of tissues. We Are Okay is a must-read of 2017.

Check out our advanced reading copy of We Are Okay at the Butler Center!

Four Books for Four Hogwarts Houses

By Hal Patnott and Alena Rivers

In anticipation of the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child this weekend, we decided to feature four books and sort them into the Hogwarts Houses based on the traits of their main characters. The original idea for this post came from a post on the yalsa-bk listserv titled “Sort YA into Hogwarts Houses?” written by Rachel Moir, the teen services librarian at Worcester Public Library. The titles we selected are all middle grade fiction from our 2016 collection. Stop by the Butler Center to check them out for yourself!


Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan (Disney/Hyperion, 2016)

When thirteen-year-old Thorn’s father disappeared, he promised his mother and little siblings that he would bring him home by harvest, but ever since he left his village, Thorn’s circumstances went from unlucky to a living nightmare. Bound into the service of an executioner, the road ahead of Thorn leads straight to Gehenna, a kingdom of shadows where necromancers wear the crown.

Lilith never wanted to wear the Mantle of Sorrows and assume the position as the Lady Shadow, ruler of al Gehenna, but after the brutal murder of her parents and older brother, she has no choice. Without her father’s sorcery, her kingdom is falling apart. Magic flows through her veins too, but the law forbids her from learning.

Shadow Magic begins in the thick of danger, and the stakes only get higher for Thorn and Lilith as they become ensnared in dark magic and a murder mystery. To survive and save Gehenna they need the courage to disregard the rules and unleash their own hidden talents.


The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Penguin/Dial, 2016)

The Gallery begins in present day New York where 100-year-old Martha O’Doyle is being interviewed by a young reporter sent to do a short piece featuring Martha as she crosses over her centennial year. The young reporter has discovered that Martha is the only surviving witness to the death of a newspaper tycoon and his wife who were in their home when it was bombed. Curious about the details of the bombing, the young reporter probes Martha for more information. Though the reporter doesn’t get her story, Martha decides it’s time to write out the details as she remembers them from nearly 90-years ago. She reflects on her year as a maid for Mr. J. Archer Sewell and his wife, Rose Sewell. In her younger years, Rose had been known to be a rambunctious, socialite who was not adverse to scandal. But when young Martha arrives at the Sewell house she finds that Rose has become a recluse, never leaving their home and only caring for the countless, priceless paintings she and her father collected over the years. Rose refuses to interact with anyone other than a small handful of people but Martha is curious, strong-willed and has little regard for rules so she devises a way to communicate with Rose and in doing so, discovers there is more to Rose’s story.

Told in retrospect, Martha’s character is independent, determined and resourceful. Readers will feel the tension between the story’s characters and Martha’s challenge to balance restraining her thoughts and opinions while pushing to learn the truth.


The Inn Between by Marina Cohen (Macmillan/Roaring Brook, 2016)

Eleven-year old Quinn’s best friend Kara is moving with her family from Denver to Santa Monica. Quinn and Kara have been best friends since kindergarten and the thought of them being apart has both girls dreading the impending move. Quinn is invited to join Kara’s family on their trip to their new home so she and Kara can spend more time together and to help Quinn reconcile some of her own personal issues. The story opens as the girls and Kara’s family drive through a long stretch of desert. As the evening approaches the weary travellers decide that they all could use a break from the road so they stop at a grand Victorian inn that seems out of place and isolated in the great expanse of desert. While The Inn Between is a magnificent and beautifully ornate building, only moments after checking-in, Quinn begins to feel uneasy about their temporary shelter. After spending the night in the hotel, Quinn, Kara and her brother, Josh, discover that Quinn’s parents are missing and not long after, Josh goes missing as well. These are not the only strange things the girls notice about the inn, its staff and its guests. Quinn and Kara must unravel the mystery of Kara’s missing family or risk never leaving The Inn Between.

Marina Cohen’s story explores the strong bond between Quinn and Kara. Readers will be touched by Quinn’s loyalty to their friendship and they will be drawn into Quinn’s intuitive distrust of their surroundings that is matched by her determination to find the answers to the mysteries that unfold.


Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, 2016)

Claudia Miravista has no friends in her sixth grade class, but she knows everything about art history. She spends her free time drawing, and reading about the great painters of the past. Her only companion, a mysterious blue-eyed boy named Pim, lives inside the canvas, where he has been trapped for over three-hundred years. Although Claudia has just begun to discover her powers as an Artista, she is the only one with the skills to save Pim and free him from his prison.

Footnotes of historical facts and commentary about art accompany the story in Behind the Canvas. Claudia’s enthusiasm for art is infectious. In spite of what her classmates may think of her at first, she holds onto her passion and learns to harness her artistic power.

Soul-Searching Books for Sweltering Days: Middle Grade Summer Reads

By Alena Rivers

In a recent blog post, we featured picture books that speak to the summer experiences of young readers. This week’s books are summer-themed tomes fit for the elementary and middle-grade reader. These older children are embarking on a new level of self-discovery and finding their place in the world amongst their family and friends. Slow summer months can be full of opportunities for older children to do some soul-searching and to confront issues in their lives. The children in the stories featured here explore bigger themes in their lives such as adoption, death and divorce. Their experiences may be challenging but their stories are interlaced with touching, humorous and revelatory moments that lighten their moods. When given the space and the freedom that summer vacation can often provide, children can take another step into maturity by discovering that elusive balance between accepting their circumstances and doing something about them.

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2016)

Twelve-year-old Genie and his older brother Ernie are spending a month with their grandparents in North Hill, Virginia while their parents spend time together sorting out their fading marriage. Genie is distraught knowing that his parents are on the brink of divorce so his time away from them has him more anxious than usual. Shortly after they arrive at their grandparents’ home Genie learns that his grandfather is blind. This revelation, and adapting to an environment unlike his home in Brooklyn, only adds to Genie’s anxiety. Country life offers a quiet and industrious place for Genie to roam, think and get to know his grandfather. All of these experiences deepen his understanding of his family history and help him discover more about himself and his role within the family. Readers will empathize and laugh with Genie as he braves new territory learning about grits, sweet tea and family secrets. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Just Like Me by Nancy Cavanaugh (Sourcebooks, 2016)

Julia is an eleven-year-old girl who has been encouraged by her parents to attend a week-long, overnight summer camp to bond with her “Chinese sisters.” Julia, Becca and Avery are not exactly sisters, but they were adopted from the same adoption agency in China and their families get the girls together occasionally. Julia is not excited about spending more time with Becca and Avery who identify more with their Chinese heritage than Julia. To add to her frustration, within minutes of checking into their camp cabin, Julia realizes that all six cabin-mates are not going to get along well. Through narrative text and periodic journal entries, Julia shares her week-long experiences as she tries to navigate contentious relationships while still enjoying proverbial summer camp activities. Julia’s concerns about her adoption story and her periods of reflection provide readers with thoughtful examples of how taking risks can help us find answers. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Summerlost by Ally Condie (Penguin Random House/Dutton, 2016)

Nearly a year ago, twelve-year-old Cedar Lee suddenly lost her father and youngest brother in a car accident. Cedar, her mother and her remaining younger brother, still feeling the pain of their loss, move to their mother’s home town for the summer where Cedar finds an unexpected friendship, mystery and a summer job at the Summerlost theater festival to keep her busy. Despite her new distractions, the loss of her loved ones leaves a void not easily filled. Cedar’s time over the summer is spent building relationships, bravely taking on new experiences and learning how to find strength through the recovery process. A heart-felt exploration of the growth we hope to find after losing loved ones. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Young Adult Narratives for the Digital Age


by Hal Patnott

More and more we live on the Web, narrating our days in snaps, tweets, IMs, and status updates. It only makes sense then that we can find books on the shelves that reflect our digital lives. Why not? People thousands of miles away from one another connect, form communities around shared passions, and fall in love (or, at least, fall in love with the idea of having someone to love) online.

Novels in texts and emails invite the reader to participate and explore the story. They offer an immediate narrative and pacing as rapid-fire as key strokes. Like in poetry, every word counts. There’s less room for leisurely description. Messages between two characters need to capture voice and carry the plot.

If you’re looking for an energetic, emotional, and suspenseful read to recommend to a teen, try one of these 2016 titles with a nontraditional narrative style. Come check out the advanced reader’s editions at the Butler Center if you want to see them for yourself!

Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson (Chronicle, April 2016) 

An entire country separates Gena and Finn. Gena attends a boarding school on the east coast. She looks forward to a future at an Ivy League school. Finn, on the other hand, followed her college boyfriend Charlie out to California, where she struggles to find a job. They have nothing in common except their love for the cop drama Up Below. Through fan fiction and fan art, two young women who might never have met form a bond that starts as shared enthusiasm for a television show and develops into love more complicated than friendship.

Fans of the book Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell will recognize a similar affection for the world of online fandom in Gena/Finn. Like Cath in Fangirl, both Gena and Finn cling to the stability of their fan community when they feel isolated and unsatisfied. Far away from her home with no friends to confide in but Gena, Finn fears taking the next step of commitment in her relationship with Charlie, who knows nothing about her obsession with Up Below. Always private about her past, Gena has her own secrets, a fight with mental illness, and unresponsive parents who left to gallivant around the globe. Told through blog posts, emails, text messages, and journal entries, Gena/Finn invites readers into an intimate and fast-paced story of two fans trying to make sense of the real world.

Girls Like Me by Lola StVil (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2016)

Shay Summers doesn’t “fit into the puzzle of high school” and she doesn’t fit in to her step-mother’s narrow-waist-line expectations (12). In class and in the halls, the head cheerleader Kelly torments Shay at every opportunity, while at home Shay is haunted by the memory of her father who died in a car crash. At least her two best friends Dash and Boots stand by her side on the outskirts of social acceptance. As the anniversary of her father’s death looms over her, Shay seeks a distraction online. She meets a boy called Godot on TrashFire.com, a website where everyone at her school shares the latest gossip. Godot falls for Shay’s wit, and he identifies with her feelings of loneliness at home. As their instant message relationship progresses, Godot urges Shay to meet him in real life. However, Shay fears rejection, especially when she learns Godot’s true identity: Blake Harrison, King of the School.  She must decide whether a chance at real-life love is worth the risk of losing Godot.

Girls Like Me alternates between verse and text messages. Short lines and chatspeak convey the urgency and the longing of Shay’s romance with Blake as the story unfolds. Over text message they use fonts to communicate their feelings. A single post carries enough weight to change the status of their relationship. Ultimately, neither Shay nor Blake is satisfied with digital love, but if they want their love to last in the real world, Shay needs to learn to love herself first.

Gemina: The Illuminae Files_02 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House, October 2016)

The second installment in the Illuminae Files picks up on space station Heimdall. Hanna Donnelly, daughter of the space station’s commander, knows nothing about the BeiTech Corporation’s assault on the illegal mining settlement of Kerenza. Consumed with her social engagements and her perfect love life, she has no idea that in less than two weeks BeiTech will launch a new attack to destroy the Heimdall and all evidence of what happened in Kerenza. When a BeiTech invasion force sneaks on board the Heimdall, Hanna is thrust together with unlikely hero Nik Malikov, a member of a dangerous criminal organization, to save their people before BeiTech destroys the station and a time paradox rips apart the universe.

Like the first book in the series, Gemina unravels through transcripts of video feed, radio transmissions, chat logs, reports, and emails. Kaufman and Kristoff raise the stakes—not only life or death hangs in the balance, but the existence of two entire universes depend on Hanna and Nik for survival. The intricately woven plot takes every detail into account. Frequent shifts in perspective build tension as the story twists and turns in unexpected directions with heart-stopping force. Although Gemina follows a new set of leading characters, readers should start with Illuminae to fully understand the context of the story. For fans of science fiction and thrillers, the Illuminae Files is a series worth exploring.