Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sometimes You Just Need a Librarian Win



(This is what I look like after a librarian win day)

I love my job. I think it's the greatest job in the world and I am excited to go to work every day. But as much as I love it, I can still have days that are just off.

A couple of weeks ago, my weekly toddler storytime had a huge number of attendees. We don't have registration, so while we have regular attendees, we also have a lot of visitors and new faces each week. This week I happened to end up with 40 kids and 30 adults in my storytime, which made the room very crowded! It's not unheard of for us to get these many for one storytime, but it always takes me by surprise when the crowd just keeps coming in, especially when it's not summer (in summer we get huge numbers!)

It's not that my storytime was bad. The books were fine, I did stories about frogs, sang my regular songs, did the Five Little Frogs fingerplay, and had lots of activities around the room about jumping, tossing flies into the mouth of the Wide Mouth Frog, and a favorite, play-dough. It's not that the adults didn't interact-they did. They sang the songs, talked to the kiddos about the books, everything I want to happen in storytime.

But it was such a big crowd that everyone interacting created a hum of involvement as I read. And the room was so full, I had to project my voice over everyone so all the kids and parents could hear me. At the end of storytime, it just felt like it was OK. Not the greatest, but not awful either. There was just something that felt off to me and it left me feeling a little disappointed and like I hadn't done my job very well. Did the kids like the books? Did the parents even hear my information about the early lit skill we were working on that day? Did they only think of storytime as a playgroup activity and didn't care what I had to say?

The blah feeling stayed for my preschool storytime. It was OK, the kids had an OK time and liked the books and songs well enough, but it just felt off somehow.

Flash forward a week later. Time for my weekly toddler storytime. This time, I had around 30 kids and 20 adults, which felt so much smaller! I introduced my book theme as a fan favorite, Transportation and Things That Go. There was a hum in the room, but it was a hum of excitement over the seeing the trucks in the books. They sang along with my songs, loved identifying the various trucks for "Where Are Trucks" (I stole this from Stortyime Katie because she's brilliant. Seriously, do this song in storytime and watch your kiddos go bonkers!) They couldn't wait to dance The Freeze and laughed when we sang Seals on the Bus. They had a blast with the various construction activities I had set up around the room.

I don't know exactly what made this storytime different than the week before. The layout and format were the same. I even repeated several songs and books. But there was just something that clicked that made me feel awesome. My books flowed with my early literacy skill, my adults were involved, and the kids had a blast.

Same thing happened in my preschool storytime. They loved the books-I read It's a Tiger and we did the Greg and Steve version of Goin' On a Bear Hunt-total hit!

Then, later that afternoon, one of our regular families came in and said they had loved a book I had suggested and could I give them more ideas? I got to spend part of my afternoon giving them booklists, sharing resources we had at the library, giving them book suggestions, putting them on hold for books, and talking about books we liked and didn't like. It made my day!

And it didn't stop there. Other patrons heard me talking about various books and wanted suggestions of their own (I love when that happens!) I got to spend my afternoon doing my favorite part of the job-reader's advisory.

I walked away that day thinking I had had such a Librarian Win of a day. I had a blast in storytime and I felt as though my kids had a blast as well. I felt like my adults got involved and came away with new books and songs for their kids. I had helped patrons find great resources and books. It was the type of day that made me fall in love with my job all over again.

As librarians, it seems like we're always talking about how can make an impact in our community, how can the library stay relevant in changing times, and how can I prove that my job matters? Especially when you work in youth services where there's an idea that all you do is read books and cut paper all day (which believe me, is so not true!) It sometimes feels as though we have to fight for our jobs. We know what we do is important, but it can be draining. It's hard work. It's a lot of preparation. It's relationship building. It's constantly working to expand your knowledge base to meet the needs of your patrons.

Sometimes we just need those librarian win days to make us feel like what we do matters. We are important. We are making a difference. And those librarian win days make all the difference.

So thank you to all the library users out there who come into the library and make our days special even when you don't realize it. You make our jobs so much fun. You are why we do what we do.

And thank you to all the librarians out there who work tirelessly to have winning days every day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

So You Want to Read Middle Grade: Julie Jurgens


Julie Jurgens is a children's librarian who blogs at Hi Miss Julie.

After writing out all of my selections, I realized how many of them would be great read alouds. If I can emphasize anything, it would be that reading aloud to children shouldn’t end at kindergarten! The more children can hear expressive, fluent reading, the better readers they will be (in my unscientific opinion). Teachers, give it a try! Librarians, schedule some older kid storytime programs or reader’s theater! Okay, agenda pushing over, on to the books!



The House with the Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

I don’t remember many of the details of my childhood-- frankly, not a whole lot of it was worth remembering--but I do remember vividly the books that most comforted and thrilled me. The first and foremost would be The House with the Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs. How, pray tell, is a mystery/horror novel illustrated by Edward Gorey at all comforting? Because Lewis Barnevelt is my awkward upper elementary soul mate. Chubby, fidgety, orphaned, Latin quoting Lewis Barnevelt--even as I was so glad to not to be him, I seriously wanted to be his friend.

Further, I wanted his adopted caregivers, warlock Uncle Jonathan and witch Florence Zimmerman, to be my guardians (although now, in my thirties, I frankly would love to date Uncle Jonathan). In a time when younger and younger kids are routinely watching gory movies like Saw, this seething, atmospheric piece might be a hard sell, but if you can book talk the heck out of that creepy, assiduously ticking doomsday clock, you’ll definitely hook some readers. I’d also strongly suggest this book as a classroom read-aloud--with the right reader, kids will be sucked in immediately. Even better, scan and blow up and project Gorey’s illustrations to up the spooky factor!



The Ordinary Princess by M M Kaye

This is a perfect third grade book, and another one of my childhood favorites. It takes fairy tale tropes and turns them on their head.  The story of Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne of Phantasmorania opens much like the story of Sleeping Beauty, with a royal birth, a procession of gift bestowing fairies, and one fairy who feels slighted. In this tale, instead of a curse of eternal sleep, the slighted fairy bestows upon the princess the gift of being ordinary. Princess Amethyst--who goes  by the very ordinary name of Amy-- eventually runs away from home to avoid being married to a stuffy prince. In her adventures, she actually finds a prince who shares her same ordinary sensibilities, and lives happily ever after. Again, this book is a perfect read-aloud, and is included in The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.



I Put A Spell on You by Adam Selzer
Selzer’s a master of writing novels for children and teens that work on multiple levels, and like one of his major influences, Daniel Pinkwater, Selzer isn’t afraid to push any and all boundaries. I Put a Spell on You is the tale of the annual spelling bee at Gordon Liddy Community School, which is rife with corruption and insanity, and only intrepid reformed tattle-tale Chrissie Woodward can crack the case. This book is told using a variety of text types--interoffice memo, first person narration--and by a variety of viewpoints, which ups the text complexity (ding ding ding)! If you couldn’t tell from the school name and Chrissie’s name, this novel is chock full of allusions to and riffs on the Watergate scandal. So, a background knowledge of the Nixon administration could add a layer of enjoyment, but it is absolutely not necessary. The target audience can read this book strictly as a goofball, mystery narrative, while a middle school or high school classroom could use it as additional reading when they are studying the politics of the sixties in social studies class.



Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Oh, my darling Clementine. Clementine is the quintessential oddball third grader who makes questionable yet hilarious decisions. In this, her first outing, Clementine gets angry with her friend Margaret, cuts off some of her (Margaret’s) hair, then tries to fix it by coloring her scalp in with a permanent marker. And that’s just the beginning. Clementine has several books in the series now, so once kids get hooked, they’ll be able to continue enjoying Clementine’s adventures. Clementine is a modern day, urban Ramona Quimby, which is high praise for any middle grade novel.



Strike Three, You’re Dead by Josh Berk


In a challenge to myself, I picked up this book because it’s a middle grade sports mystery, three types of fiction that I normally don’t read, and I was so glad I picked it up. Berk’s writing is fast-paced and funny, and the characters--Lenny and his friends Mike and Other Mike--are quirky and engaging. My favorite part of this book is the opening prologue, which puts us right in the backyard with Lenny and his friends, deathly afraid that they are about to be done in by a mysterious antagonist. Hand this to fans of sports, mysteries, or humor.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Flame in the Mist Halloween Mini-Spokathon Tour



Visit Kit’s website: www.kitgrindstaff.com

About the Book: Secrets surround Agromond Castle and young Jemma. Life at the castle is all she's ever known, but Jemma is not who she thinks she is and there is more to her past that she's about to uncover. Jemma soon finds herself in a race for her life and with the help of her pet rats and her friend Digby, Jemma becomes wrapped up in a fight against darkness.


Follow the Tour: Friday 25th: Green Bean Blog - Top 13 Spooky Things at Agromond Castle I Monday 28th: Icey Books - interview with Jemma about Halloween Tuesday 29th: Emily's Bookshelf - book review Weds. 30th: Literary Rambles - Guest post: Promoting a debut Kidlit novel: tips for nervous newbies Thurs. 31st: The Mixed Up Files - guest post: Why scary books could save mankind Thurs 31st: The Lucky 13s - Interview with Laura Golden: How the Agromonds would celebrate Halloween
TOP 13 CREEPIEST THINGS ABOUT AGROMOND CASTLE


13. The bats…until you realize they’re friendly.


12. The corridor of spiders’ webs


11. The cold, damp mustiness that seems to crawl under your skin


10. Everything rotting; worm holes in the woodwork, clumps of granite falling from the ceiling, the mirrors getting tarnished and blotchy. (Impossible for putting on makeup.)


9. Too much spleen in the Entrail Soup making it way too slimy.


8. The Pickle Corridor, with its walls glistening black with mold and shelves of bottled gherkins that look like severed limbs.


7. The decrepit old servant Drudge. (Or  so you might think.) He looks as though if you pricked him with a pin, yellow stuff would ooze out.


6. The Agromond motto carved about the Lush Room fireplace: Mordus Aderit. Which means “Mord is Everywhere”. “Mord” being a word for “death”, that’s pretty creepy.


5. The dungeons, especially the dungeons of bones, and the one you might get thrown into.
4. Feeling as though you’re being watched all the time. (You probably are.)


3. The Ceremonies. All those scary entities they summon. Very wearing on your nerves.


2. The Agromonds, especially Shade. And you can never be sure whether Nocturna Agromond is smiling at you or planning to do something really evil.


And the number one creepiest thing at Agromond Castle: (Drum roll, please. Or bone-rattle.)


1. Waking up to the sound of screaming. Though it might just be in you, because of all the creepy things you’ve seen there.


Or maybe it was all in your dreams.

Check out the Creeptastic Trailer!



Want to win a copy? Readers have a chance to win either one signed hardcover (US Only) and one e-book (international)







a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

So You Want to Read Middle Grade: Catherine Gilbert Murdock




Catherine Gilbert Murdock is the author of several young adult and middle grade novels. Her most recent novel, Heaven Is Paved With Oreos was released in September. You can find her online at http://catherinemurdock.com


I've been thinking a lot about Christopher Healy's post (GreenBeanTeenQueen August 27, 2013) on how lame the term "middle-grade fiction" is, how it should be called awesome-grade fiction. Now I feel really silly for never getting the double entendre of "middle grade." Perhaps that explains the blank looks I get at cocktail parties. Ah. 

I agree that “middle-grade fiction” is lame and that "awesome-grade fiction" is awesome. But I'm thinking even bigger. I've heard that jazz musicians don't call what they play "jazz," they call it "the music." There's "the music," and then there's all the other kinds of music that all need qualifiers: classical, hip-hop, folk . . . In that vein — so I'm thinking — why can't "middle-grade fiction" be, simply, "fiction"? Because that's what it is: it's fantastic stories. It's the stories that people have been telling each other since people could speak: myths and fairy tales and epics and fables and that great human arc called growing up. Everything else is simply a variation in need of a qualifier: adult fiction, young adult, picture books, early chapter . . . 

I am, of course, hopelessly prejudiced on this subject. I write [middle-grade] fiction, and I mainly read [middle-grade] fiction. I have always read [mg] fiction — from the time I could read chapter books up until the point when high school and college beat the love of reading out of me. It took me twenty years to recover from higher education and return to my true love: FICTION. Not the depressing grown-up stuff, but good stories with defined arcs and satisfying endings — usually happy, but certainly resolved. Or a cliff-hanger for the next book. But definitely a sense of completion. And tucked inside, like the yolk of an egg, is a tangible lesson (but not preachy; heaven help us, no) about how to be better at this thing we call life. 

FICTION is the center of the Venn diagram of reading: it's what everyone who can read can read. Clean but not prim, suspenseful but not terrifying, positive but not gooey. As I write this, my seventeen-year-old son is taking a break from college-application essays to read Jonathan Stroud's Ring of Solomon; my freshman daughter for her birthday wanted only the third Mortal Instruments book. My kids are readers. Just like me, they read fiction. 

Here’s my list of good FICTION, culled from three bedrooms’ worth of shelves. I don’t have a clear-cut sense of the boundaries between fiction and young-adult, or the boundaries between fiction and chapter books. Many of these books are probably labeled one or the other. But I leave to others the task of parsing borderlines, and say only that many kids between 5th and 8th grade will enjoy these. And many other ages will, too. 


Watership Down by Richard Adams
An epic story about rabbits. It's long and broad and deep, and great for earnest middle-schoolers weary of normal fare. 


Larklight et al. by Philip Reeve
Witty as only the British can be — robots and Queen Victoria. For younger readers, but clever enough to attract clever older ones too. 


The Bartemeous Trilogy and now The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud.
Again, is this middle-grade or YA? How many demons can dance on the head of a pin? My son read them in middle school, ergo they're FICTION. 



Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster
This book is over 100 years old, but gosh it doesn't show. I think this was the favorite book in our mother-daughter book group, and a neat window into history, too. 


How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks
I don't do scary books, but I did this one (it's not that scary, but so taut!). Another great window into history, and into the hardscrabble yet adventurous life of Victorian orphans. 


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
This time it’s a history of the Dark Ages of the 1970s, way back when kids could cross the street by themselves. Fantastic, fantastical story. 


Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson
Again: Middle Grade? Chapter Book? I’m thinking it depends on the reader. (I will add that my son, inspired by the book, dug a bottomless pit in our backyard that we kept for many years.) 


Half Magic by Edward Eager
I’m sensing a theme here, at least for me: clever stories attract a range of ages. 


Leviathan et al. by Scott Westerfeld
Ten pages in, my son announced that this was the best book he’d ever read in his life. 


Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
I love the setting, I love the history, but most of all I love the voice — an orphan girl disguised as a boy working on a British man-o’-war. 


Oh. My. Gods. Tera Lynn Childs
I have not read this, but my daughter, who is extremely picky, read it five times. A California girl finds out she’s the daughter of a Greek god — what’s not to love? 


Cinder et al. by Marissa Meyer
Another daughter favorite about a cyborg Cinderella. Now my daughter’s waiting breathlessly for the third book in the series. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bibliobop Dance Party

About two years ago, I came across a program called Bibliobop from a blog called Storytiming. One thing librarians are great at is sharing programs and ideas, so I emailed Storytiming, asked if I could take the idea and name and use it at my library, and my version of Bibliobop Dance Party was born.

It's one of my most favorite programs that I run. The idea of Bibliobop is to give kids and parents a chance to dance and have fun with creative movement while highlighting the great music collection the library has. I always tell parents that all the music I use is available to check out and it's a great way to let them hear kids artists that they might not know about. Plus, it's just a blast to run and get to dance with kids!

In each dance party I include scarves, instruments, parachutes, and I've even done rhythm sticks, though my crowd tends to run a little young. I advertise the program for ages 2-6, but end up with mostly 2-3 year-olds and some baby siblings. 

I start each dance party with a book that's about singing or dancing or music, because every library program needs a book and this is another good way to highlight parts of our collection. Some of my favorites I've read: I Love to Dance by Anna Walker, Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae, Cha Cha Chimps by Julia Durango, Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin, and Hush Little Baby by Marla Frazee. 

Then after our storytime, I announce the rules of our dance party:
-Dance in the middle of the room, not around the sides by tables, chairs or doors
-Watch out for everyone who is dancing so we're careful and don't dance into each other
-The big people in the room need to dance too!
-And the most important rule: HAVE FUN!!

Then we dance. I switch between songs that have activities along with them and songs that are for free dance. I also take a break about halfway through and read another story and have a rest period. The entire dance party lasts about 40-50 minutes depending on the age of the group and how much dancing they want to do. And it's a blast!!! 

 I'm always looking for great music suggestions as well, so if you have some favorite kids music, let me know!

Here's my most recent playlist from Bibliobop:

Opening Song/Warm Up: Body Rock by Greg and Steve-a great warm up for little ones-I always tell them we have to warm up before we dance.

Dance Medley by Greg and Steve-a great intro to various styles of dance

Dance Around by Ralph's World

Wheels On the Bus by Mother Goose Rocks-I love Mother Goose Rocks-nursery rhyme lyrics put to pop song music-hilarious and fun to guess what artists and songs they are imitating

Scarves-God Only Knows by Rockabye Baby (The Beach Boys)-Another one of my favorites-lullaby music to pop songs

Reading Break

Hokey Pokey by Mother Goose Rocks 

Wiggle Your La-Di-Dah by Ralph's World 

Shakers/Instrument Song-Mahna Mahna by Cake-from For the Kids 

Parachute-Catch the Moon by Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell

Bop Til You Drop by Greg and Steve 



Friday, October 18, 2013

Reality Boy by A.S. King

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary/Realistic Fiction

Release Date: 10/22/2013

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About the Book: When Gerald was a child, his family took part in a nanny reality show-and Gerald was made out to be the star. He was the family terror, angry at everything and in his anger, he would defecate on anything. He earned the nickname "The Crapper." No one wanted to see that the show was edited and what the real problem in the family was. Instead, Gerald was the problem, he was forced into the special needs classroom at school, and he was told the only path he was on would land him in jail. But Gerald knows that's not true. And he wants to break free of everyone's labels and ideas about who he really is.

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: A.S. King is a writer who gets better with each book. Each new book she releases manages to top the last one and pull at my heartstrings in a new way. Reality Boy is no exception-I felt for Gerald-and not just a surface level of feeling bad for him. This was a real, deep, connection that made me painfully upset about his situation-so much so that I wanted to reach into the book and give him a hug, tell him I would help him, and find a way to help him escape. I thought about Gerald when I wasn't reading and couldn't be away from the book for too long because the story was pulling at me to get back and give Gerald my attention. It's a book I've thought about long after reading the last page.

Gerald is told he's on the path to nothing-he'll end up in jail someday. Everyone thinks there's something wrong with him, he's in a special needs class at school, and he's been through years of anger management and therapy. Gerald should be lost and hopeless, but he's instead an incredibly insightful character who has a lot of heart. Gerald has a great sense of humor and a fantastic insight about those around him-and himself. Instead of giving in to what others have said about him, he knows there can be more to his future-he's just not sure how to get there. But he's taking steps to reach a new path that he's laying out for himself instead of basing it on what everyone expects of him.

While this is Gerald's story of overcoming the path others have laid out for him, it's also a commentary on reality TV. We learn from Gerald throughout the novel about the episodes that aired and what really happened. We learn that nanny wasn't real, but an actor portraying a nanny, the director would stage scenes, and the show would be edited to fit what the show wanted to portray and what the audience wanted to see. The show is edited to give us Gerald the uncontrollable terror, but in reality, it's Gerald's sister who is the real horror.

And let me tell you, Gerald's sister Tasha is one of the scariest characters I read. She's manipulative, her mother gives into her every whim and her father ignores that there's anything wrong with his daughter and distances himself and numbs his emotions. Tasha is who frightened me the most throughout-especially when we get glimpses of her and how she worked the nanny show to her favor. This was also what pulled at me the most-Gerald is living in Tasha's shadow. He and his other sister Lisi know that something is not right with their older sister, but no one will listen to them-or acknowledge that things are perfect or okay. Gerald lives in fear of his sister but can't express this fear because no one will listen. Even those adults who see a glimpse of trouble won't do anything to help. And his mother-gosh, she's horrible. She's emotionally distant and numb and while she might try on the surface, you know she doesn't care for Gerald or Lisi. It's heartbreaking, terrifying and incredibly realistic.

Gerald is remembered from his reality TV days, even though he only appeared on the show a few times. At first I thought this was a bit unrealistic that he would still be such a celebrity after all this time. I mean, do I remember reality show stars from years gone by? But when I started thinking about him as a local celebrity in his community, it made sense and I believed that Gerald had to overcome this past. He was in school when the show was airing, his fellow students watched the show, and his reputation has followed him. Gerald's struggle to overcome his past reputation was believable.

While there are a lot of heavy issues about family, overcoming reputations and emotions, and finding your own path, A.S. King pulls off a nice balance of light and hope with Gerald's heartbreaking story. He has a crush on a girl who works the concession stand at the arena with Gerald and makes friends with a guy from a traveling circus. And as always, King's signature moments of magical realism are here in Gerald's daydreams about Gersday-his special day and place that's only for him and things go the way he wants.

Reality Boy is a powerful examination of the expectations that are placed on you and finding your own way. Gerald is a character that broke my heart and put it back together again. There may be brokenness, but there is hope for us all and Gerald helps us see that. A must read that I'm sure will continue to put A.S. King at the top of YA lit and garner her much deserved praise. One of my favorites reads of 2013.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from e-galley received from publisher




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

So You Want to Read Middle Grade: Mike Jung


Mike Jung is the author of Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities. You can find him online at http://captainstupendous.wordpress.com/
I wasn't familiar with the industry term "middle-grade" before I became a children's author. I'd spent a few years working with kids, so I knew they had a massive range of developmental levels, interests, and abilities, but the industry's specific breakdown of recommended reading ages was new to me. I knew I wanted to write for kids, and it was interesting to eventually realize that the stories I feel most compelled to write are for the middle-grade audience.
It's an odd thing to be aware of that, because my own reading habits have never fallen within such concretely defined boundaries. I started reading Stephen King's very adult horror novels when I was 12, but I also continued reading Anne McCaffrey's fantasy novels (which I think of as middle-grade) in my twenties and thirties. McCaffrey's HARPER HALL trilogy still has the power to instantly, stunningly evoke the sensations of the summer when I first read it, during the summer between fourth and fifth grade.
The MG years were when my love of books was permanently embedded into my psyche, and my future as a lifelong reader was indelibly cast. The books I read as a middle-grade reader were the most important books I've ever read, and one of the many joys of starting my career as a published author has been discovering the abundance of contemporary MG books with the same potentially life-altering power.





Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee
Millicent Min, Girl Genius won the inaugural Sid Fleischman Humor Award, and deservedly so – it’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. It’s no one-trick pony, however. Millicent is indeed a genius in the intellectual sense, but psychologically speaking she’s one of the least self-aware characters around, and the inverse relationships between those characteristics creates very real social and emotional barriers for her to overcome. Millicent’s struggles are funny, painful, real, and very relevant to all MG readers, geniuses or not.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers
These days Robin LaFevers is deservedly celebrated for the success of the His Fair Assassin trilogy, but my case of LaFevers Fever was fully diagnosed while barreling cheerfully through the Theodosia Throckmorton books. The eponymous Theodosia is one of the most appealing protagonists in middle-grade fiction. The child of two very distracted Egyptologists, Theodosia possesses the ability to detect curses on ancient artifacts, but her innate sense of responsibility is what puts her in the middle of an increasingly hair-raising series of adventures, and her perseverance, quick wits, and refusal to be intimidated see her through those adventures. Theodosia rocks.

Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino
Tammy Simpson, the protagonist of Neil Armstrong is My Uncle, is self-absorbed, occasionally unkind to the other kids in her neighborhood, and overly hostile toward Douglas “Muscle Man” McGinty, a foster child who recently moved into the house of her former best friend Kebsie. The loss of a best friend who no longer appears interested in being friends at all has devastated Tammy, but Muscle Man’s inability to stop telling exaggerated lies about himself masks a much greater tragedy, and it’s a mark of the author’s skill that sullen, crabby Tammy finds redemption for her regrettable behavior in a way that wins the reader’s respect and affection without being untrue to her thorny persona and difficult circumstances.

8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Reggie McKnight’s school year has begun in hideous fashion, illustrated by his new, unwanted nickname, “Pukey,” and his family is coping with financial uncertainty. Reggie has big dreams, however, as well as an equally big conscience and sense of community belonging, and it’s easy to root for him as he willingly grapples with a growing set of responsibilities and challenges. There’s a scene in which Reggie cracks a joke about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in response to a mock threat from his friend Ruthie – when I read that scene my head spun, because in that moment I understood Reggie’s life with utter clarity – his parents’ backgrounds, his daily family interactions, and the kind of communities he engaged with. Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich does a remarkable thing with 8th Grade Superzero; she takes heavyweight topics like social justice, faith, and civil rights activism, and blends them into a story that’s as funny and light as it is serious and profound.

Mudville by Kurtis Scaletta
I read a lot of Matt Christopher’s books while growing up – Catcher with a Glass Arm was a personal favorite – so it was a great pleasure to discover Kurtis Scaletta’s debut novel Mudville, which takes place in a town where it’s been raining for 22 years straight. The onset of the rain interrupted a legendary baseball game that the adults of rival towns Moundville and Sinister Bend still regard as unfinished business. Kids who are either baseball players or fans will be quickly drawn in by the author’s unabashed devotion to the game, but it’s also a thoughtful examination of the complex relationships between boyhood friends, fathers and sons, and local communities.


The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
There are so many things I love about this book that I’m having trouble deciding which of them to point out. I’m not the first person to describe The Boneshaker as “Bradbury-esque,” but I am the only person describing it that way in this blog post, har de har har. Set in 1914, The Boneshaker features a bare-knuckled, take-no-crap protagonist named Natalie Minks, a mysterious and tragic antagonist named Jake Limberleg, a traveling medicine show, creepy clockwork automatons, deals with the devil, high-intensity showdowns between good and evil, small-town entanglements, family histories…yeah, there’s a lot of great stuff. The author juggles all those elements with aplomb, creates an atmosphere that I want to describe as “mythical” as much as anything else, and brings it all home in rushing, terrifying, exhilarating style.


The 14 Fibs of Gregory K by Greg Pincus
Gregory K. is a poet, an aficionado of fresh-baked pie, and utterly incompetent at math, which is problematic when you’re the middle child in a family of mathematical geniuses. The 14 Fibs of Gregory K is bursting at the seams with charm – readers will be thoroughly taken by the devoted friendship between Gregory and his best bud Kelly, and the bakery owned by Kelly’s mother will instantly give those readers a new standard for ideal afterschool hangouts. On a deeper level, I suspect most (if not all) kids will relate to Gregory’s struggle to reconcile his own interests and abilities with the conflicting interests and abilities of his family. It’s no easy feat to make math and poetry this appealing, but the author manages it nicely, and if his readers are anything like me, this book will get far enough under their skin that before long they’ll start writing “fibs” (poems structured according to the Fibonacci sequence) of their own.
 
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