Barbara Dee: Star-Crossed

Mattie is chosen to play Romeo opposite her crush in the eighth grade production of Shakespeare’s most beloved play in this Romeo and Juliet inspired novel from the author of Truth or Dare.

Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Back in March, I read a post from Barbara Dee that broke my heart. Dee had been asked to give an author presentation at a school. However, right before she was to speak, she was pulled aside and told that while the school was thrilled to have her speak on inclusivity…could she please keep it more general and NOT TALK ABOUT HER OWN BOOK?

Excuse me?

Of course I put Star-Crossed on my TBR immediately. Because obviously if a school is censoring the author…it’s probably something I want to read.

And it absolutely freaking is. Star-Crossed might be the best middle-grade fiction I have ever read…maybe the best Shakespeare retelling too! It follows Mattie, an eighth grade bookworm as she traverses the awkwardness of school play rehearsals–Romeo and Juliet, of course. Throughout the book, she slowly comes to realize she has a crush on fair Juliet.

Besides the cute story itself, there are two key factors that made me love this book. First, Mattie starts off with a crush on a boy, and then slowly falls into crush with Gemma. Later, her friend asks her if she might ever like boys again and she tells her it’s possible. Bisexual representation in a Middle Grade story! Yes! And Dee allows her MC to explore her feelings about it…which leads us to point #2.

Coming out is a process, and one that is mostly supported. We don’t see her come out to everyone–the story ends before that happens. But one friend helps her begin to come to terms with what is going on, and another person also helps her talk through it. Neither pressure her or ridicule her…it’s all very loving. I think this is something that is important to show in MG especially, so that kids can know that it doesn’t always have to be hard. It will be, sometimes, but there are supportive people out there.

I just loved this. I hope that not all schools are as closed minded as the one that shut Barbara Dee down, and that they put this book on their shelves. My library in Peoria had the book, and I’m so glad that they did. Books like this one should be available to kids who need to find themselves in the pages.

Retelling w/ MC LGBTQIA+

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Patrick Ness: A Monster Calls

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

So usually when I tell you that a book made me cry, I don’t mean real tears. I get choked up or super emotional–I feel all the crying feels–but very rarely does a book ACTUALLY make me cry.

But I was having a seriously hard time holding it together when The Hubs and I were sitting by the bonfire and I was reading A Monster Calls. I’m not even talking “Oh it’s just the campfire smoke” kind of tears. No, this was full on sobbing kind of emotion.

I think it’s because we all know a family like this, right? A child who has to watch his parent slowly disintegrate before their eyes–everyone knows what is coming, but how do you explain it to that child?

Patrick Ness shows us so beautifully (and painfully) how much that child really does grasp–but without help, the grief twists those emotions into some terrible fears.

A Monster Calls is such a powerful and important book for both kids and their parents–not only for those families who are going through such a terrible tragedy–but every family. As I said before, we all know friends, neighbors, schoolmates who have or are going through this. I think (in my non-parent opinion, so take it or leave it) that this would be a good book to read together as a family, or at least talk about as you go through it. At least in my version, there were really great discussion questions in the back.

I’m super interested to see how closely the movie follows the book. I hope they stay true to the underlying message, and that it doesn’t get lost in Hollywood’s need for drama. I didn’t realize it was out already, guess I need to go watch it!

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Jacqueline Woodson: Feathers

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” starts the poem Frannie is reading in school. Frannie hasn’t thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more holy.”There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he’is not white. Who is he?

During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light:—her brother Sean’s deafness, her mother’s fear, the class bully’s anger, her best friend’s faith and her own desire for the thing with feathers.”

Jacqueline Woodson once again takes readers on a journey into a young girl’s heart and reveals the pain and the joy of learning to look beneath the surface.

Oh Jacqueline Woodson, you strike again. When I read Brown Girl DreamingI added this one to my TBR right away. I fell in love with her poetry and wanted to read more of her incredible writing.

I was not disappointed. Feathers is prose instead of poetry, but it is just as gorgeous. Written for middle-grade, her story combines so many different facets into a book under 150 pages. We see a young girl learning about life alongside a mother with depression and a brother who is deaf, and that gives her a unique outlook when a new boy comes to school needing a bit of compassion.

This is for sure going on my list of books to recommend when my parent friends reach out to me for their kids. If you have a child in middle school, definitely add this to your shelves.

DiversityBingo2017: D/dEAF/HARD OF HEARING MC

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Dual Review: Thelonious Legend: Sins of the Father + Childish Things

I reviewed Sins of the Father a year ago, when it was first released. I hadn’t developed my Book Dragon system yet, but I gave it a 3 on Goodreads. But it has stuck in my memory, and every time I think about it, I have wanted to go back and reread–I really did love these girls. Because he has written a sequel, Thelonious Legend contacted me and generously sent me both books, and so here is an updated review for Book 1, as well as my write up for Book 2.

Book 1:  Sins of the Father

This was going to be a special year for the Parker sisters. Eve was going to dominate in the classroom and on the basketball court. Gwen was going to make the starting five and go down in history as the greatest prankster ever. Ana was going to do as little as possible. But without warning, all three sisters gain extraordinary abilities that defy science… powers that come with a cost. Now all they want to do is make it through the school year without drawing any undue attention, while racing to find a cure before the side effects of their new abilities kill them. Eve’s temperament, Gwen’s fondness for pranks, and Ana’s predilection for money, however, are challenges they must overcome to achieve their goals. Because if they can’t, they’re dead…

My memory did not deceive me. The Parker Sisters are just as incredible the second time as they were the first. They are smart, strong, and fast–and that doesn’t just refer to their super powers, but the plot itself. I read this over Christmas weekend and kept having to put my Kindle away. I couldn’t wait to get back to the story! It is racially diverse without bringing attention to it. It simply IS diverse.

At the book’s core is a story about three black middle school girls who develop super powers and have to navigate school drama while fighting for their lives. But behind all that is also a backdrop of privilege and culture that teaches us all to look deeper than the mask people wear.

I would definitely recommend this for older middle schoolers (7th grade+) or really anyone who likes YA. There is some violence and darker themes so just be cautious with younger audiences–though I’d never discourage anyone wanting to read this.

 

Book 2:  Childish Things

Mo Powers Mo Problems! It’s a new school year for the Parker Sisters but it’s the same song and dance. Get good grades, avoid being kidnapped or killed before dinner, and don’t forget to take to out the trash. But this year there are a few new players in the game. Players who are as special as the Parker Sisters. Let the games begin.

I know I’m reading a really good book when I stop and it is way too quiet. Was I listening to music? No…the book is just THAT good.

This happened more than once while I was reading Childish Things. The action gets completely turned up in Legend’s second book. The girls are older, wiser, and more powerful. They are training harder, and are more prepared for the bad guys that are, well, badder.

Childish Things is Gwen’s story, where Sins of the Father centered more around Eve. This gives the book a very “middle child syndrome” spin, as we see her take on friends, boys, and life while constantly comparing herself to her older sister.

The social justice spin is more subtle in this second book, but it is there in the margins for those who are paying attention. I am very interested in the almost backward character development of Stacey in particular, and how Legend is using her to show white privilege and the kind of subtle unknowing prejudice we don’t realize we have.

 

Both of these books are fantastic, and ones that’ll be making my top recommendations this year. For sure add this series to your Diverse YA TBRs. I cannot wait to see what Legend does with Ana’s story next–she got quite a bit of development in Childish Things, and she’s my favorite of the three sisters. I said in my original review for Sins of the Father that Thelonious Legend would do “Legendary” things with his writing, and it may have been a pun…but I wasn’t wrong. I LOVE these books, and you will too!

Disclaimer:  The author did provide me with copies of both books for an honest review, after I had reviewed the first last year for a book tour. 

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Hans Christian Andersen: The Snow Queen

Hans Christian Andersen’s magical tale of friendship and adventure is retold through the beautiful and intricate illustrations of Finnish illustrator Sanna Annukka. Cloth-bound in deep blue, with silver foil embellishments, The Snow Queen is elevated from a children’s book to a unique work of art. It is an ideal gift for people of all ages.

It’s interesting how fairy tales used to be so harsh and murderous. The world was so simple. Death was a part of life–people felt, they got angry, there were consequences and murder. Fairy tales were not for children.

Now, these stories have been so watered down. This isn’t a fairy tale I’ve read before, and maybe that’s because it would be pretty hard to Disney-fy it. That said, I wonder if this influenced CS Lewis when he wrote The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. There is a lot of resemblances to Edward’s story line.

The book itself is stunningly beautiful with its blue paper cut out illustrations, done by Sanna Annukka. That is what drew me to it on Blogging for Books.  It is cloth bound hardcover, and would make a gorgeous gift for any collector.

A copy of this book was provided by Blogging for Books and Ten Speed Press. This post does contain affiliate links.

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Review: Women in Science

It’s a scientific fact: Women rock!
 
A charmingly illustrated and educational book, Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary. The trailblazing women profiled include well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
 
Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more!

I requested this book because I wanted to read it. And once a book is in my collection, it is very hard for me to part with it. I don’t lend very many books out, and almost NEVER do I give one away. I’m selfish like that.

But Women in Science will not be staying on my shelf. It will be one of the rare exceptions that is so good that I MUST give it up. It is not for me. I am seeing my niece this weekend and she needs it more than I do. For this book is meant for the encouragement of our next generation. And my niece is pretty badass, just like the women in this book.

Women in Science is fully-colored, with fun, cartoonish illustrations. Each biography fills one page, and is hardly boring. The women are diverse, and many fields are represented–microbiology, psychology, zoology, and many others. Inspiration can be drawn from every path that these women had to follow to achieve their dreams.

This is one of those books that should be on every library display and classroom shelf. Parents of daughters especially, but sons too, should put this in their child’s hands. Kids need to know about these women along with the men we study in school. I didn’t know about any of them, but maybe 2 or 3, and even then it was mostly just their name and field of study.

Watch out though, this will inspire your kids. Be prepared for them to do something amazing!

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Blogging for Books and Ten Speed Press provided a copy of this book for unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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HOWARD LOVECRAFT FCBD 2016 EDITION

I participated in my very first Free Comic Book Day this year, since we did a Paws in the City event at a Dallas Comic Book store. I picked up some great titles, but still haven’t had a chance to read them. I’m going to be parsing them out in the coming weeks. The reviews will be short, but I figured I’d at least do a write up on them in case you want to check out the full versions.

First up on the list was Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom. I’m always interested in books that break down classic fiction or authors into something kids can grasp onto, and this is no exception. Kid HP Lovecraft and his pet Cthulhu (named Spot) have a spooky snowball fight and end up chasing a  “squishy” snow monster into a cave.

It’s not a book I would pick up myself, but totally one I would give to my husband’s nephew. He would LOVE this.

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Ella Enchanted

At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: “Instead of making me docile, Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.” When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella’s life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.

One of my friends has been on a mega fairy tale kick lately, and she sent Ella Enchanted my way last week when it was on sale. I think I read this way back when I was young, but I didn’t remember this story at all.

Cinderella has never been my favorite fairy tale–maybe it’s just not dark enough? You know I like a good, dark villain (like Maleficent). Ella Enchanted kicks up the classic story up a notch. It combines Sleeping Beauty‘s fairy gift with Ella’s obedience to show us that it isn’t always just the thought that counts.

After getting stuck this past week, it was nice to go back to some kidlit and relax my brain a bit. Ella Enchanted is such a sweet story–an easy read for an adult, but there are definitely some deep themes here:  friendship, honesty, secrets, manners, even learning foreign languages. Fairy tales were not only written for children, after all. It isn’t a new book by any means, but if you have kids (or even if you don’t), for sure pick it up from your library or book store for your next bedtime rotation.

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Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale

My name is Kano Murasaki, but most people call me Risuko. Squirrel.

I am from Serenity Province, though I was not born there.

My nation has been at war for a hundred years, Serenity is under attack, my family is in disgrace, but some people think that I can bring victory. That I can be a very special kind of woman.

All I want to do is climb.

My name is Kano Murasaki, but everyone calls me Squirrel.

Prepare your TBRs, friends. You are going to want to add Risuko to the very top!

Set in the time of the Samurai, this mysterious historical fiction novel draws you into a secret world of Japanese women. Sheltered away from the rest of society, they manage a shrine…or do they? Kano Murasaki thinks there is something not quite right about these shrine caretakers.

I immediately got sucked into this one. I couldn’t put it down. At some point, or another, you kind of side-eye every person in the shrine, to figure out who is causing trouble. And the description of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cultures are fascinating. Of course I liked the cooking parts the best! But it also reminded me of my Japanese language classes in school–it makes me sad to have lost so much.

I give this book an A++ for sure. The story is beautiful, the characters are incredibly badass and mysterious. There is some violence with swords and poison, but I would give this to my middle-grade aged niece. She’d love the kick-ass females. I’m hoping this gets turned into a series–the way it is labeled on Goodreads, looks like it’s going to be!!

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NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. I also received a $10 Amazon gift card for filling out a survey about the book after the fact. Releases June 15.

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The Cage

“Could it happen here, Mommy? Could it happen again?”

“If we forget the past, it could happen again. We must learn from these horrors. We must learn what happens when people remain silent while others are persecuted.”

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Ruth Minsky Sender’s Holocaust memoir The Cage was required reading in school, and it has stuck with me for over a decade. I have been meaning to go back to it for awhile now, so when I finished Harry Potter, I figured I’d bring it into my reread cycle.

Even knowing that it had made an impression on me in school, I forgot just how incredibly poignant this book is. Riva pulls her family and friends through one of the worst crises our world has ever known–serving as a mother figure to her brothers in the ghetto, inspiring those around her in the concentration camps, even touching the heart of a fierce commandant. This is a very simple story, meant for children in middle school, but it shows all of us just how important hope is in the face of absolute horror.

Minsky Sender also has one very important message for all of us. We cannot forget. We must remind ourselves what happened to the Jews (and others who were persecuted), and we must NEVER let that happen again.

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