Love—In the Air and on the Shelves

Family, friend, or a secret crush, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to celebrate love in all its forms, and these brand-new titles have them all covered. So, curl up with a handful of conversation hearts and your favorite of these lovely titles to feel all the sweet emotions of everyone’s favorite heart-shaped holiday.

You are Loved: A Book About Families
Margaret O’Hair, illustrated by Sofia Cardoso
Scholastic
Picture Book
March 7, 2023
Age 4-8

No matter how they’re formed or how they look, love is what makes a family. Inspired by the adoption story of Down Syndrome advocate Sophia Sanchez, O’Hair explores the many ways families are come together—birth, adoption, blending, and found families are all celebrated—and that their love is the thing that matters most. Candy colored illustrations of both everyday activities and special events complement a text that honors family in all its forms, and is a follow up to the inclusion-focused You are Enough (2021).

Best Friends Furever (Love Puppies #1)
JaNay Brown-Wood
Scholastic
Early Chapter Book
February 7, 2023
Age 7-10

In this first installment of the Love Puppies series, the team of magical pups is there to help shy third grader, Meiko, make a friend at her new school. But as plan after plan goes awry, feelings are hurt and messes are made until mayhem leads to a brand new friend. Reminiscent of the Care Bears or Paw Patrol, but with dashes of sparkle and magic, Best Friends Furever centers love as a magical component of friendship. A final chapter recap in the Doghouse gives explicit tips on what the pups learned about how to make and be a friend.

The Love Match
Priyanka Taslim
Simon & Schuster/Salaam Reads
Young Adult
January 3, 2023
Age 12 and up

Zahra is a princess in name only (read: no royal bank account) and must put dreams of college and writing on hold to help support her family. But in their small Bengladeshi American community, her mother’s plan for a rich suiter and her flirtation with a dishwasher/musician soon come into conflict. What’s a girl to do but fake a relationship with the family-approved boy and keep saving for college one day? Conflict abounds in family, friend, and romantic relationships as Zahra works toward her true goals and clarifies her true feelings. Taslim will leave readers guessing about the OTP until the very end as love for her family and herself help set Zahra’s course.

All in a Days Work: A Review of Stillwater and Koo Save the World

Stillwater and Koo Save the World (A Stillwater and Friends Book)
Jon J. Muth
Scholastic Press
Ages 4 to 8
February 7, 2023

Koo, a young giant panda, wakes up inspired to change the world and enlists his thoughtful Uncle Stillwater to help fix it all—today. As they go about their day, Koo proceeds to have giant expectations of what he would like to do, but Stillwater teaches him that making small changes in the environment, and helping the community, can be their own meaningful way to change the world.

Told using a variety of animals, humans, and anthropomorphic pandas, the diverse characters reflect the diversity of the world and all the characters that might need kindness. Pandas as symbols of peace and friendship in Asian countries, are the main character in this story as they try to bring small improvements to the world around them. The pace of the story changes from rapid excitement as Koo suddenly wakes up one day and instantly ropes his uncle into the expectations of wanting to save the whole world, then slows only when Stillwater speaks to Koo about making small differences in the world around him. As the pace changes, the tone of the story changes to one of acceptance and encouragement of his personal efforts Encouraged by his uncle, Koo begins to bring joy to those around him through small but meaningful actions, such as cleaning his room and making a cake for the neighbors. These realistic everyday chores and acts of thoughtfulness offer young readers clear examples of how their actions impact the world around them. Drawn with pencil and granulated watercolors, the airy but vivid illustrations exemplify the beauty in the world around Stillwater and Koo and why they want to help save it. Stillwater and Koo Save the World is an uplifting story about wanting to make giant differences in the world by doing something small, inspiring readers to make meaningful changes in the world regardless of age.  

 

Who Wants to Be Normal?: A Review of Good Different

Good Different
Meg Eden Kuyatt
Scholastic Press
March 7, 2023
Age 8-12

Always follow the rules for “normal” people: no crying in public, smile and nod, tell people you’re “fine.” But Selah doesn’t always want to be normal. In fact, she wants to be a dragon—escaping to fly free above the chaotic world below. She is pretty good at hiding her feelings in order to fit in, until an outburst at school pits Selah against her classmates, the school administration, and her mom. This leaves poetry (and her grandfather) as her only avenues to explore her feelings when speech fails her. A chance encounter with an understanding vendor at FantasyCon opens her eyes to a new definition for her experience—autism.

Kuyatt’s novel in verse follows Selah’s journey as a burgeoning poet and her exploration of neurodivergence as an explanation for the feeling and reactions she has always thought of as weird. Selah’s perspective shifts through the novel from a longing to hide, to self-discovery, to a desire to advocate for her needs, her loved ones, and her place in the world. Harsh treatment by teachers and school administrators, and her mother’s denial of any differences, paint a lonely picture of Selah’s experience. Other caring adults in her life help lighten the tone of this story, which focuses primarily on her struggles. As narrator, Selah’s typical seventh-grade self-centeredness leaves secondary characters like her mother, grandfather, and best friend less well-defined than they could be and add to the sense of isolation. Through her own determination, Selah finds her voice and a way to work with her world instead of against it. A thoughtful endnote, detailing the author’s own autism diagnosis as an adult, places the text as both a mirror for undiagnosed kids and a potential tool for adult readers, and provides an uplifting interpretation of neurodivergence as a strength rather than problem.

Best Friends Forever: A Review of When a Friend Needs a Friend

When a Friend Needs a Friend
Roozeboos (Anne Roos Kleiss)
Scholastic
February 7, 2023
Age 4-8

Creativity and imagination rule for best friends Aya and Oskar. But when Oskar is feeling sad, Aya isn’t sure how to help him get back to enjoying their adventures. With guidance from some caring adults, she finds a way to understand his big feelings, give him space, and offer support until he is ready for fun again. In this thoughtful exploration of friendship, Roozeboos illustrates both the experience of sadness in oneself and in a loved one, and how working through our own feelings of confusion and rejection can help support a friend. Mixed media collage art, with a naïve sensibility, complements the chaos of both creativity and emotion found in the story. Rich natural tones play well with vibrant oranges and turquoise and add a sophistication to the guileless art. Despite simple faces, she captures the feelings of both central characters as they move from joy to sadness to understanding. Spreads that depict the passage of time let both Aya and Oskar feel their feelings and come through them to a new perspective on their surroundings and each other.

Empathy and compassion shine in a gentle story about accepting a friend and their feelings without trying to fix them.

Road Trip Gone Wrong: A Book Review of EXIT 13: The Whispering Pines

EXIT 13: The Whispering Pines
James Preller
Illustrated by Kevin Keele
Scholastic
February 7, 2023
Ages 8 to 12

Stopping at the EXIT 13 Motel was the worst decision the McGinns could have made. Lost in the fog, the McGinns decide to stop when the shadowy motel appears out of nowhere when they needed it most. Dealing with suspicious hotel staff, the mysterious wolf that appears and disappears just as quickly, and the haunting voice that keeps talking to Ash, the youngest McGinn, was not what they were looking for on a road trip. Ash and his sister, Willow, must solve the mystery of the motel for their family, or else they may never have the chance to check out.

Told in the third-person to gain the perspective of all characters involved, the book mainly focuses on Ash and Willow as they search for answers. Written primarily in prose, black and white comic panels are used to expose new secrets the children find out about EXIT 13 and provide an in-depth view of the emotions on the characters’ faces. Although Willow and Ash don’t get along at the beginning of the book, as they face each secret and obstacle of the motel and its creepy forest, their concern for one another and familial bond grows stronger. Humor, lighthearted moments, and a new friend balance out the sense of doom that the children and readers feel is coming. Left on a giant cliffhanger, young readers who enjoy thrilling mysteries will want to continue to explore the secrets of EXIT 13 with Ash and Willow as they try to leave.

Just the Start of Spooky Season: A Review of The Whispering Dark

The Whispering Dark
Kelly Andrew
Scholastic Press
October 18, 2022
Ages 14 and up

Being Deaf, Delaney Meyers-Petrov has always been seen as fragile, but when she gets accepted into the mysterious Godbole School, with its history of teaching students how to roam between worlds, she jumps on the chance to prove herself. Meeting Colton Price again at the school was not part of the plan. Colton Price’s life has orbited around one person ever since he woke up from death at her feet – Delaney’s. Forced together on campus, but forbidden from interacting, Colton struggles to keep away from her. They form an uneasy alliance to discover why students are dying gruesome deaths and brace themselves for an age-old enemy that has risen from the shadows of the school’s dark history.

Described by the publisher as a romantic fantasy, it reads more as a mystery thriller, with its strange murders and supernatural entities, with only subtle themes of romance. Andrew skillfully builds tension that makes readers need to find out the cause of the deaths and the secrets of the school to be appeased. The story could have been more effectively told in the first-person, by the alternating narrators, to provide in-depth understanding of each character. Its third-person narration waters down the emotion and hinders evolving character arcs. Delaney sees herself as fragile in the beginning and doesn’t tell friends or professors that she’s Deaf, which hurts her relationships and grades. Even in the end, she doesn’t tell people around her. Elements like the frequently changing narrators and elaborate language are disorienting and add to the mystery. The puzzling secrets of the school that only Colton seems to know but are hidden outside the grasp of the reader until the rushed resolution are an additional element of suspense. This perplexing story will make young adult/new adult readers ponder what they would come back to life as after a deathly experience: a better version of themselves or something possessed by evil.

More Than “Goode” Enough: A Review of The Glass Witch

The Glass Witch cover art

The Glass Witch
Lindsay Puckett
Scholastic Press
October 18, 2022
Age 8-12

Adelaide Goode is the youngest in a family of cursed and complicated witches, doomed to feel she is not magic enough, thin enough, or “Goode enough.” About to be left with her grandma for the summer, Addie clings to her mother in a snap decision that unleashes the curse, turns her bones to glass, and makes her the target of a witch-hunting spirit. Only by accepting herself and connecting with her family’s magic, or kindred, can she save herself, her family, and her town from shattering.

Challenged by low self-esteem and fear of abandonment, Addie uses tween snark and extraordinary baking skills as a shield against her fears. Puckett weaves heavy themes of body image, bullying, and family tension with more whimsical notes of a Halloween Pageant, delicious food imagery, and brave rescue rabbits to keep the tone light and the pace lively. And the addition of a fearless and monster-obsessed new friend, Fatima, makes for the perfect foil for Addie and her ideal companion in a magical crisis. Secondary adult characters begin in a less-defined manner but shine in a conclusion that sees Addie find her self-worth while learning about her family and her place in it.

Friendship, family, and magic combine in this lighthearted story of self-discovery and acceptance.

Paving the Way For Future Generations: A Review of Bessie the Motorcycle Queen

Bessie the Motorcycle Queen
Charles R. Smith, Jr.
Illustrated by Charlot Kristensen
Scholastic Inc. / Orchard Books
September 20, 2022
Ages 6 to 8

Through rhyming verse, Bessie the Motorcycle Queen tells the story of little-known adventurer, Bessie Stringfield. A Black motorcyclist, she was known for her spontaneous, cross-country motorcycle rides, flair for the dramatic, and ability to cruise easily past her white, male competitors. Fighting against conditions in the Jim Crow-era South, Bessie was often forced to sleep under the stars when motels rejected her, was chased by Klan members, and cheated out of her race winnings. The impulsive, determined, and highly skilled Bessie gives author Charles Smith, Jr. plenty of tales for an action-packed ride. His verse maintains a quick pace and fun tone, despite some heavy content, even if some lines are a bit clunky. The sherbet-flavored color palette, laid over the modern digital paintings, immediately places the story in the 1920s. Elements like her wheat penny, which she flipped to decide her next location, add to the period details and her legend. The rough, lineless illustrations feel cartoon-like and energetic, with Bessie and her motorcycle significantly more detailed than everything else, keeping the reader’s eyes always on her. The backmatter includes an author’s note explaining his discovery of Bessie’s story, and the inspiration he found in her bravery, as well as a bibliography with books and online articles for additional reading on Bessie.

With races, car chases, and daring motorcycle stunts, this tall tale of an overlooked historical figure shines a spotlight on her bravery and spirit in a story of empowerment.

Should Revenge Be Served at All?: A Review of Sweet and Sour

Sweet and Sour cover art

Sweet and Sour
Debbi Michiko Florence
Scholastic
July 26, 2022
Age: 8-12

Mai, budding birder and BTS stan, and her parents have always spent idyllic summers with family friends in small-town Mystic, Connecticut. Until two summers ago, when their son and Mai’s BFF, Zach, betrayed her and the friends suddenly moved to Japan. Now the trip is back on and Mai is unhappily headed from west coast to east with a new BFF, Lila, and years of built up anger. When Zach, so changed from two years away, wants to pick up their friendship right where he thinks they left it, Mai must decide how to handle her hurt feelings (not well), whether to hang onto a grudge she may have outgrown (not fun), and how to be a better friend to new friends and old.

Told from Mai’s point of view, Debbi Michiko Florence perfectly captures the 13-year-old voice with swings from light to moody, petulant to kind. The text is sprinkled with good and bad memory flashbacks, labeled sweet or sour, providing the backstory of Mai and Zach’s childhood and the racist incident that fractured their bond. Mai’s journey from sadness to anger to letting go is choppy and full of tween uncertainty. But her moments of introspection and insistence on standing up for yourself and your friends, whether it be from anti-Asian hate, bullying, or on matters of consent, keep her character from verging into the self-centered and vengeful. With wise words from friends, she learns to process her feelings rather than bury them and how to both forgive and ask for forgiveness. The relationships between Mai and Lila, Zach, and a new friend Celeste provide powerful examples of different types of friendships and illustrate the value of each. A secondary storyline, featuring Mai’s parents and their perceived inability to handle her big emotions, could have been better developed, but lends import to the central theme of communicating one’s feelings. Mai’s complicated emotions add both sweet and sour notes to the narrative of this summer adventure exploring the complexities of friendship, memory, growing up.

Summer Love for All—YA Romance 2022

The Feeling of Falling in Love

The Feeling of Falling in Love
Mason Deever
Scholastic/Push
August 2, 2022

When his perfect friends with benefits situation is complicated by feelings—yikes—Neil panics. But instead of talking things out, he determines the best way to help Josh get over him is to fake a new relationship with the roommate he barely tolerates. A conscientious student and budding musician, Wyatt agrees to the plan in exchange for a potential audition with Neil’s music exec brother. But a family wedding in Beverly Hills is a long way, in every way, from their North Carolina boarding school. And if Neil thinks he’s a complicated mess, introducing sweet, sensitive Wyatt to his mother’s performative allyship and his grandparents’ transphobia only adds to it. As fake feelings turn real, Neil realizes he deserves better than he’s had and that Wyatt deserves better too. So it’s time to be better. Though not an especially sympathetic character, Deaver draws Neil as a messy and emotional jerk who is ultimately capable of change. Tenderly awkward Wyatt is an adorable foil and rounds out Neil’s found family of LGBTQ friends and support. This train wreck turned love story is full of snarky humor, complex friendships, and just the right amount of angsty YA romance.

Love from Scratch

Love from Scratch
Kaitlyn Hill
Penguin Random House/Delacorte
April 5, 2022

Landing a coveted summer marketing internship with the foodie channel Friends of Flavor is a dream come true for super-fan Reese Camden. The Seattle media company is worlds away from her Kentucky home and the social media trolling nightmare that was her high school years. Thrown into a video with fellow intern and charming cooking wiz, Benny Beneventi, turns her summer upside down. Her safely behind-the-scenes job is suddenly not so hidden when their video is a viral sensation and becomes a regular feature on the channel. And friendly competition turns serious when the two are pitted against each other for the chance to stay on with the company come fall. What’s more important, her career goals or her potential romance? Hill throws plenty of obstacles in Reese’s way (internet trolls, sleazy executives, and LOTS of self-doubt), balanced by supportive friends and goofy, but loveable Benny. Reese’s work ethic, perseverance, and her desire to make a difference for the channel, keep things from getting too saccharine. A perfect sweet and salty combo!

My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding

My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding
Sajni Patel
Abrams/Amulet
April 19, 2022

Music college dreams hit family responsibility reality for hip hop violin phenom, Zuri Damani. Her college hopes seem dashed for good by a rejection letter from Juilliard, but a local competition offers a second chance if only she can fit it into a week packed with wedding prep, wedding photography, and LOTS of wedding parties. And hide it all from her very traditional, law-school-plotting parents. When her biggest competition turns out to be the heartthrob cousin of her future brother-in-law, Zuri turns challenge into inspiration. Support from a big, sneaky group of cousins and a growing rivalry/friendship with Naveen (the heartthrob) push her to get creative to follow her dreams and be there for her family. Well drawn primary characters, exhibiting all the insecurities, bravado, and creativity of teenagers, are balanced by very involved, if sometimes domineering adult family members. Full of vibrant colors, music, and smells that drift tantalizingly off the page, Patel pulls the reader right into the party and all the chaos you’d imagine from an 8-day wedding extravaganza.

Nothing Burns as Bright as You

Nothing Burns as Bright as You
Ashley Woodfolk
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Versify
April 5, 2022

This stark and beautiful novel in verse follows two unnamed queer black girls in a dual-timeline look at how they came together and how they burned it all down in the end. As their relationship moves beyond just friendship, their unhealthy and unbalanced dynamic begins to wear them both down. The neediness and desperation of the narrator and episodes of aloofness from a love interest only referred to as “You” foreshadow the moment one draws the other over the edge of self-destruction. The girls start a fire in a school dumpster, leading to the eventual destruction of their relationship. Woodfolk uses fire imagery throughout the novel, evoking volatile emotions, incredible passion, and actual acts of arson. Verses often flash back to their very different childhoods and follow a winding path exploring struggles with adultification, neglect, and the need to be seen. Spare language and many quick, yet powerful verses create a quick read that packs a powerful punch.  

Rivals

Rivals: American Royals III
Katherine McGee
Random House
May 31, 2022

In an alternate reality America, a royal family—the Washingtons—rules the country and they provide all the drama and romance one might expect of young royals. Newly crowned Queen Beatrice is learning how to rule while navigating a relationship with a disgruntled fiancé, who will always come in second place to her job. After years of being the Party Princess, Samantha has finally fallen in love with a future Duke, but with her relationship under a microscope, she might just be ready to run away from her royal duties for good. Prince Jefferson, the family heartthrob, has his pick of girls: Daphne, his on again off again girlfriend; Nina, his friend, turned lover; and Gabriella, a ruthless noble bent on becoming a princess. Three intertwined storylines follow the siblings as they deal with life, love, and friendship in the royal spotlight. McGee weaves themes of love and angst, with grief, guilt, and glamor to create an emotional connection to characters that might otherwise seem far removed from us commoners. This third installment in the series builds on their glittering world and complicated relationships, and ends on the perfect cliffhanger to leave royal-watchers on the lookout for volume four (coming 2023).


What’s on your summer romance reading list?