Read with Pride: June Book Recommendations

Before we get into June’s book recommendations, I just want to let everyone know that there won’t be a book list for July, and possibly not one for August. As a children’s librarian, summer is my busiest time of the year. Much as I wanted to create a book recommendation list for every month this year, I’m a little overwhelmed right now and it’s just not in the cards. 

June is my favorite month for many reasons: my birthday, the start of summer, and many good memories I have of school ending. June is also  Pride Month! First established in 1999, Pride Month commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots that are often used to mark the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States. LGBTQIA+ rights have come a long way since then, but it is still an uphill battle, particularly for the trans and nonbinary community. 

I live in Florida, which has passed extreme anti-LGBTQIA+ laws, including the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law (which recently was extended to eighth grade); HB 1521, which regulates bathroom use; and SB 245, which bans gender-affirming care for trans minors and allows the state to remove children from their families if they receive gender-affirming care.  The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQIA+ group in the U.S., has even issued a travel advisory for  individuals traveling to Florida.

I am obviously disgusted and enraged by the bigotry and cruelty present in these new laws, and my heart breaks for the trans and nonbinary community. I often feel frustrated and small, and that there should have been something more I could have done to stop this from happening. 

One way I can fight back is through my job. I’m a public librarian, which means that (for now) I don’t have the same restrictions on talking about gender and orientation as school staff do. At the time of this writing, public libraries also don’t have the same restrictions on what books people can have access to. I take my job very seriously. I feel that I have a responsibility to help fill the gaps that kids and teens no longer have easy access to. 

I do a lot of the ordering for YA books at my library, and I’m really pleased to see that there is a lot more LGBTQIA+ representation than there has been in the past. Certainly much more than when I was a teen, and more positive representation as well! Queer and non-binary characters are no longer relegated to being one-off jokes, side-kicks, or dying gruesomely, but are fully realized characters whose orientation or gender identity does not define them. 

There are still many areas where LGBTQIA+ fiction is lacking. For example, I’ve come across way more books about trans boys than trans girls, and very few books have asexual characters as the lead. Also, the majority of LGBTQIA+ fiction I come across is contemporary romance. I think all of these things will improve with time, but it’s the last one I want to talk about right now. There’s nothing wrong with contemporary romance, of course, though it’s not my favorite thing to read. There still isn’t a large amount LGBTQIA+ representation in genre fiction (though it’s improving!), which is disappointing. Queer and nonbinary individuals should still be able to see themselves in their favorite genres – historical, fantasy, sci-fi…and yes, even contemporary romance, if you insist. 

For the fiction half of this list, I’m focusing on genre fiction. Because you know what’s better than two boys finding true love? Two boys finding true love IN SPACE!


This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson

This Book is Gay has the honor of being one of the most challenged books in the U.S. for two years running, for “LGBTQIA+ content” and “providing sex education.” Dawson’s book seeks to education both queer and straight teens on same-sex relationships, including the physical aspects of those relationships. But sex is far from the only thing this book covers. It’s got everything from coming out, dating apps, discussions of queer culture, and the downsides of being LGBTQIA+. The breezy, upbeat writing is frequently witty and always informative, and black and white cartoons add humor into even the hardest topics the book covers, like harassment and discrimination. But I honestly can’t describe this book any better than the summary itself: “There’s a long-running joke that, after coming out as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex person, you should receive a membership card and instruction manual. This is that instruction manual. You’re welcome.” 

The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality by Julie Sondra Decker

While there is much better queer representation in the media today, asexuality is an orientation that often gets left out. It’s also frequently misunderstood, or treated as a joke. Because of this, it can be difficult for someone on the asexual spectrum to understand their orientation or have it be taken seriously.  It can be a huge relief to find the right word to describe yourself, and know that you’re not the only one who feels this way. The Invisible Orientation discusses asexuality and other ace-spectrum orientations, while emphasizing fluidity and that asexuality can change over time. It also addresses myths about asexuality, that being asexual is healthy and not the result of a physical or mental illness, and includes a chapter for friends and family of asexual people. I’ve known for awhile now that I’m on the ace spectrum, and while the label doesn’t matter to me much anymore, seeing myself in this book made me feel validated in a way I’d never been. 

Say it with me: we’re here, we’re queer, we don’t wanna touch your rear!

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

You’ve probably heard of Gender Queer before: maybe because it’s a Stonewall Honor Book, or maybe because it’s been the most frequently challenged book in the U.S. for the past two years. Gender Queer is a graphic novel that chronicles Maia Kobabe’s (e/eir/em) journey from childhood to adulthood, as e discovers eirself as nonbinary and asexual. The book starts in Maia’s childhood, and covers eir confusion about eir orientation, gender identity, and dating. Even after Maia discovers that e is gender queer, eir journey continues with coming out to friends and family, changing pronouns, and coming into eir own as a nonbinary person. This is a great choice for older teens and adults who are nonbinary, or seek to understand what it means to be nonbinary. 

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

Richard and Sasha’s paths probably would have never crossed if not for the 57 bus, which runs between Sasha’s middle class home Oakland’s foothills, and Richard’s crime-riddled community in the flatlands. Agender teen Sasha fell asleep on the bus, and woke to find their skirt in flames. The fire was set by Richard, and left Sasha with severe burns. Sasha’s recovery would require a lengthy hospital stay, multiple surgeries, and months of follow-up treatments. Richard was arrested and charged with two felonies and two hate crimes, potentially facing life in prison. The 57 Bus tells both Sasha’s and Richard’s stories: Sasha’s love of language and all things Russian, discovering their gender identity, and life after a devastating attack; Richard as a troubled kid trying to turn his life around, despite many obstacles. The book examines prejudice, discrimination, and even danger faced by  individuals, as well as the injustices of the juvenile justice system. 

Queerstory: An Infographic History of the Fight for LGBTQ+ Rights, published by Tiller Press, with forward by Linda Riley.

Queer history in the United States didn’t begin with Stonewall, and it didn’t end with the legalization of same-sex marriage. You can find a number of books about LGBTQIA+ history – especially if you’re looking for information about Stonewall or the AIDS Crisis – but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. If you’re just looking for a quick overview of the LGBTQIA+ rights movement, a jumping-off point for more in-depth learning, or a very colorful way to learn queer history, then Queerstory will not disappoint. Loaded with illustrations, timelines, brief biographies, and facts, Queerstory presents LGBTQIA+ history in a visually appealing and digestible way. While not as in-depth as other books on queer history, the colorful presentation and infographic format add a splash of fun into what is often a weighty topic.


Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Lea wasn’t just Rumi’s sister. Lea was Rumi’s best friend, the other half of her soul. Writing songs with her was one of the greatest joys of Rumi’s life. Lea understood Rumi in a way that no one else did, like how Rumi felt left behind when her friends started dating and she just doesn’t understand why romance has to be such a big deal for everyone but her. When Lea is killed in an accident, Rumi is lost, unsure of what to do with her life without her sister in it. Her distant mother, consumed by grief, sends Rumi from their home in Washington to live with her aunt in Hawaii. Rumi navigates her grief, survivor’s guilt, and deep rage over her sister’s death and mother’s abandonment, while trying to understand her asexuality and complete the last song she and Lea would ever write together. At first, she wants nothing to do with Hawaii or her new neighbors – Kai, the cheerful boy next door, and the curmudgeonly Mr. Watanabe. But maybe, with their help, she can find her way back to the music that she once loved so much. 

Dreadnought by April Daniels

Danny Tozer has known for a long time that she’s a girl, even if she has a boy’s body. She’s afraid to come out as trans, but her secret’s out when the world’s greatest superhero, Dreadnought, falls out of the sky. Dying, Dreadnought transfers his superpowers to Danny, giving her super strength, flight, and the body she always wanted. Transitioning suddenly and gaining superpowers makes life a little complicated: Danny’s vitriolic and verbally abusive father is looking for a way to “cure” her; the Legion Pacifica of superheroes are in disagreement if Danny should be the new Dreadnought; even Danny’s best friend has abandoned her. “Caping” with fellow superhero Calamity helps Danny escape from her civilian troubles. The girls start small, but Danny is determined to track down Utopia, the super villain who killed Dreadnought. Danny doesn’t feel that she deserves the gift that he gave her, and this is how she can repay him. Yet as her journey as a trans girl and a superhero go on, she comes to understand that she deserves Dreadnought’s mantle – and more – as much as he did. 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Melinda Lo

It’s 1954, and seventeen-year-old Lily struggles to find a place where she belongs. While other girls her age are worrying about boys, Lily instead dreams of working at the Jet Propulsion Lab, like her aunt. She and her classmate Kath connect over an ad for a male impersonator at the lesbian bar, The Telegraph Club, and both girls’ lives are forever changed.  Lily gradually realizes she is a lesbian and falls in love with Kath, but following her heart is a huge risk. McCarthyism is in full-swing, and Chinese-Americans like Lily and her family could face deportation if they are accused of being Communist sympathizers. Being a lesbian only adds to the danger.  Lily learns how to switch between ostensibly straight, Chinatown Lily and Telegraph Club Lily. But when the two halves of her life collide, she will have a difficult choice to make that will change everything. 

The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer

Ambrose Cusk wakes to find himself in space, but he has no memory of a launch. Apparently, he was injured in an accident at launch and has been in a coma for weeks. Even so, Ambrose remembers his mission clearly: he is being sent to Saturn’s moon, Titan, to rescue his sister. He’s also surprised to find that he is not alone on the ship. Spacefarer Kodiak Celius is from Demokratia, the country locked in a cold war with Ambrose’s home country, Federacion. At first Kodiak keeps his distance, but Ambrose gradually draws him out of his chosen seclusion. As their journey progresses, both boys discover that there’s something sinister happening on board. Why can’t they get in touch with mission control? Is the ship’s AI telling them the truth about Ambrose’s sister? These two sworn enemies must work together to discover the deadly secrets being kept hidden from them, at the same time coming to understand each other in the stark isolation of outer space. 

On a personal note, I recommend that you don’t read this on your lunch break at work. Once your break is over you’ll have to go back to work and try to be normal and not act like you’ve just been emotionally destroyed at the hands of a paperback. 

The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

In the beginning, Sol and Tierra made the gods: the “powerful but vain” Golds, the “kind but focused” Jades, and the “passionate but selfish” Obsidians. But Sol and Tierra loved humans the most, and the jealous Obsidians turned them into mindless slaves. Sol sacrificed their body to protect humans, leaving the Sun Stones behind. Every ten years, the Sunbearer Trials are held, in which the children of the gods, or semidioses, compete to be chosen as the Sunbearer who will rekindle the Sun Stones. The loser of the trials has the dubious honor of being sacrificed to fuel them for another decade. Teo, the trans son of the goddess of birds, has no interest in the Trials. As a Jade surrounded by more talented Gold peers, he’s certain he’ll never be picked. But he and his best friend, Niya, must both compete against each other in the Trials, alongside Aurelio, Teo’s old friend turned enemy. Then there’s Xio, the thirteen-year-old trans son of the god of bad luck. No matter the outcome, Teo and Niya are determined to protect Xio from being sacrificed. The Hunger Games meets Mexican mythology in a lush, Mexican-inspired and queer positive fantasy.

#1000BlackGirlBooks: Hallway Diaries

Now that I’ve finished my exploration into the NYT best seller’s list, I’ll be going back to some of my regular content. I still have posts drafted for #1000BlackGirlBooks and Books I Didn’t Pick, and I have a few other book reviews planned as well.

But for now, let’s pick up where we left off with Hallway Diaries.

Hallway Diaries is composed of three novellas, each of which stars a Black girl in high school. Friendships, romance, and drama are inevitable in these slice-of-life stories. It was published in 2007 by Kimani TRU, and imprint of Harlequin Enterprises. The front page welcomes us:

Dear reader,

What you’re holding is very special. Something fresh, new, and true to your unique experience as a young African-American! We are proud to introduce a new fiction imprint–Kimani TRU. You’ll find Kimani TRU speaks to the triumphs, problems and concerns of today’s black teens with candor, wit, and realism. The stories are told from your perspective and in your voice.

But before we get into each of them, I want to talk about the physical book itself. I know, I know, we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but that’s exactly what I’m about to do.

I want to start with the back of the book, which has summaries for each of the three stories.

How To Be Down by Felicia Pride When Nina Parker decides to straighten her Afro, lose her valley-girl accent and get a total makeover for her new school in the hood, the cutest guy notices—yes! But so does the meanest girl, Vivica, queen bee of her crew, who wants Jeffrey for herself.

Double Act by Debbie Rigaud

In the hood, Mia Chambers is ‘the smart girl,’ but at her prestigious new prep school she hardly stands out. So Mia does what it takes— only to be accused of selling out by her old friends!

The Summer She Learned To Dance by Karen Valentin

At first, Giselle Johnson hates spending the summer with her cousin from the Dominican Republic. But she soon starts loving the island and even learns to dance to her own rhythm. That is, until her cousin attracts Giselle’s high school crush…

These descriptions make these novellas sound like “mean girl” stories, but that’s a big misrepresentation of what they actually are. Take the summary for How to be Down. It sounds like two girls fighting for the affection of a boy. That is part of the story – but not the whole thing. It’s really a story about Nina trying to fit in at a new school, and Vivica’s insecurities about her own racial identity. I can only assume that these descriptions were written to attract readers to buy the book, even if it’s misleading.

Now I want to talk about the cover.

I don’t think that these models are meant to represent any of the characters in the books, but I noticed something: everyone has relatively light skin on the cover, even the Black models. And I think that’s a bit weird, considering the publisher is trying to give Black teens stories that feel authentic and relevant to their lives.

To be honest, this is something I probably wouldn’t have noticed until a couple years ago. Today, I can see that it smacks of colorism.

Colorism is, essentially, a preference for people with lighter-colored skin, even among BIPOC. The term has been made more mainstream in the past couple years, especially following the release of the film In the Heights. The movie was criticized for featuring mainly light-skin Latinx actors, and not being representative of the Afro-Latinx community.

Colorism wasn’t something that was even on my radar for a long time, but once you start noticing it, you can’t stop. You can see it everywhere, from advertisements to entertainment, and, of course, book covers. This is not to say that Hallway Diaries is a bad book. But the cover, like the summaries, is misrepresentative of the book itself. I think both the back and front covers were deliberately misleading to sell more copies. It makes sense from a marketing standpoint, but it does annoy me. For anyone actually looking for mean girl love triangle stories, the reality of this book could be a huge disappointment.

But we’re not here to judge books solely on their covers (and/or marketing strategies), so let’s get into the novellas themselves. I’ll start off with a few more accurate summaries:

How To Be Down by Felicia Pride: Nina has just moved from her mostly-White hometown to Baltimore. She has a frenemy in Vivica, who calls Nina a White girl in a Black girl’s body. Vivica is insecure in her own racial identity, as she is half-Black, and half-Latinx. Tensions between Nina and Vivica explode during a school slam poetry competition.

Double Act by Debbie Rigaud: Mia leaves her old school and beloved Double-Dutch team to transfer to a new, mostly White high school. She struggles to fit in, but when she feels like she finally has a place, her old friends accuse her of forgetting where she comes from.

The Summer She Learned How to Dance by Karen Valentin: Giselle wants to connect with her late mother’s side of the family but isn’t sure how. She finally gets her chance when her cousin, Juanita, comes from the Dominican Republic to visit for the summer. However, Giselle finds Juanita embarrassing and wants nothing to do with her.

As I read these novellas, a common theme emerged: duality. I mentioned this a bit in my post about The Hate U Give, in which the protagonist often feels like she’s living in two different worlds.

In each of these stories, the girls find themselves being pulled in two different directions when life deals them an unexpected hand. All three have happy endings: Nina and Vivica learn to love themselves as they are; Mia manages to play piano in the school play and jump in the final Double-Dutch competition; Giselle embraces her cousin and learns more about herself and her family.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with happy endings like this. These were just light, fun stories and the message works for any teenagers reading them, particularly girls. To thine own self be true, make new friends but keep the old, be open-minded and you’ll be rewarded.

However, race can’t be ignored in these novellas. Boiling them down to a few pithy morals cheapens the meaning of the stories. The girls in these stories go through things most teenagers do: they need to figure out who they are in changing circumstances. This is hard enough, but they also must incorporate their racial identity into this journey of self-discovery.

Which brings me to my next point: the importance of representation.

When I was an teenager asking myself, “who am I?” I never had to worry if I was acting “White enough” or felt like I had to represent my race. Growing up, almost everyone I knew was White, and I never was made to feel like I didn’t belong among my classmates or relatives because of my race. Why would I, when almost all of us were the same race?

While I’ve known for a long time that representation in media was important, I rarely felt the impact when a show or a movie lacked diversity. Sure, I’d get annoyed at the way women were often treated in movies and TV shows, but I didn’t really understand on an emotional level the importance of representation for other minority groups.

Then I started playing a game called 2064: Read Only Memories. It’s a point-and-click cyberpunk adventure game, where you play as a journalist who teams up with the world’s first A.I., Turing. I was pretty excited when I started playing and saw that you could pick your character’s pronouns. Not just she/her, he/him, they/them, but also pronouns like zi/zie, hir, ve/ver, and many others that I had never heard of before. Early on in the game you’re introduced to your sister’s ex, who is another woman. One of my favorite characters in the game was TOMCAT, who goes by they/them. They majority of the characters, from main characters to minor ones, were queer, non-binary, or both. I have no problem with that — I thought it was really cool that there was a game that featured so many characters who ran the gamut of genders and sexualities.

But as I played through the game, I found myself getting weirdly annoyed. I caught myself thinking, “Isn’t there just one cishet character?!”

With a shock, I realized that this must be what queer and non-binary people feel like all the time.

I’ve had other moments like that since, but that was the first, and it was eye-opening. Like with colorism, once you start noticing the importance of representation in media, you can’t un-notice it. I remember working with a group of middle school girls talking about The Force Awakens, excited to finally see a woman as a Jedi. A friend of mine who’s a first generation immigrant who never saw herself represented in media until she heard “Breathe” from In the Heights. Another friend who’s bisexual and was excited to see that Disney’s Loki is, too.

I’m really glad that there is more representation for BIPOC and LGBTQAI+ individuals. I also think that there’s still a great deal of work to do in that regard, especially when it comes to representing people with disabilities, along with religious diversity. However, I’m so excited to see books, TV shows, and movies with a diverse cast of characters. We’ve come a long way – and we’ve got a long way to go still.

Now, I’ve got to be honest about one thing: I didn’t really like Hallway Diaries. Someone my age wasn’t the target audience, but even as a teen, I wouldn’t have had much interest in it. Teen drama just isn’t my thing, even when I was a teenager. However, I hope that this book, and others from Kimani TRU found the right person for them. I hope there are teenage girls out there who read this book, and other books like it, and finally felt seen.

Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – May Book Recs

May is Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! Asia and the Pacific Island are both huge areas, encompassing thousands of languages and cultures. Asia is the most populated continent, with around 50 countries (the number changes, depending on who you ask). I’ve also included a couple books from Hawaiian and Maori culture, as well as a memoir of a Syrian refugee family. This is where the “depends on who you ask” kicks in, since I consider the Middle East to be geographically in Asia, though not everyone does. I can’t cover all the aspects of Asian and Pacific Islander literature, but some key writers and illustrators to check out are Linda Sue Park, Grace Lin, Lauren Yep, Naomi Shihab Nye, Minh Le, Dan Santat, Uma Krishnaswami, Bao Phi, Erin Entrada Kelly, Justina Chen, Witi Ihimera, Kiana Davenport, and Kelly Yang.


Welcome to the New World by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan

This graphic novel tells the true story of a Syrian refugee family coming to the United States. Ibrahim Aldabaan, his wife, Adeebah, and their three children fled from war-torn Syria to Jordan. There, they make the hard decision to start a new life in the United States, even if it means leaving siblings and Ibrahim’s mother behind. The family arrives in the U.S. on November 8, 2016 – the day of Donald Trump’s election. His Muslim ban means that the family may never reunite again. Ibrahim and Adeebah have only four months to become self-sufficient, an already difficult task made even harder by a lack of English and Islamophobia. Meanwhile, their children must contend with learning new social customs, bullies, and not fitting in at their school. 

The Fishermen and the Dragon: Fear, Greed, and a Fight for Justice on the Gulf Coast by Kirk Wallace Johnson

Fishermen in 1970s in Galveston Bay were struggling. Droughts, oil spills, and petrochemical plants legally dumping chemical waste into the water were damaging the fishing industry, but White fishermen pinned the blame on Vietnamese refugees who’d broken into the shrimping industry. Racial tensions in the small town of Seadrift reached a breaking point when a Vietnamese fisherman killed a White man in self-defense. In retaliation, the White fishermen burned Vietnamese boats and homes, eventually calling on the Ku Klux Klan to drive the Vietnamese out of the bay. Colonel Nam, the de facto leader of the Vietnamese community in the bay, urged the Vietnamese community to stand their ground and place their faith in the Constitution, ensuring their freedoms. Amongst all the tension, one woman could see the harm that petrochemical plants were doing to the waters and people she loved, and became an renowned environmental activist, going to great lengths to ensure her demands were heard. This is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel, thoroughly researched and suspenseful that it’s hard to put down.

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner

In twelfth-century Japan, Yoshitsune’s father went to war with the Taira, a rival samurai family. His father was defeated and killed, his mother was captured, and his only surviving brother was exiled from Kyoto. Only a baby at the time, Yoshitsune was fortunate to survive, spending his early years in a Buddhist temple. He ran away from the temple to train as a samurai, determined to reclaim his family’s honor and glory. Yoshitsune’s story may have ended centuries ago, but his feats of heroism have rendered him immortal. This is a bloody and action packed biography, as deliciously readable as any novel. Who says history has to be boring?

Kapaemahu by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer, and Joe Wilson. Illustrated by Daniel Sousa.

Kapaemahu is a picture book that depicts the Hawaiian mo’olelo – or traditional story – of the ancient healers who came to Waikiki. The four healers were mahu, people who were neither male nor female, but a mixture of both in mind, spirit, and heart. The mahu taught the Hawaiian people healing arts, and the Hawaiians created a monument of four massive stones to honor them. Over time, changes to Hawaii’s cultural and physical landscape, the sacred stones were lost. Though they have been recovered now, their true story still needs to be told. This is a bilingual book, written in both the Hawaiian dialect ‘Olelo Ni’ihau, and English. The illustrations are done in a gorgeous palette that evokes sunset, and hope for the future.

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo

In 1982, the American auto industry was in decline, and anti-Asian sentiment was on the rise. Many American auto workers blamed falling car sales and mass layoffs on imported Japanese cars. In Detroit, the heart of the American auto industry, Chinese-American Vincent Chin was brutally murdered almost a week before his wedding. There was no doubt about who his killers were: Chrysler plant supervisor Ronald Ebens, and his adult stepson Michael Nitz. They plea bargained their charge from second degree murder to manslaughter, and were given a $3,000 fine and three years probation. Incensed at the lenient sentencing, the Asian-American community rallied to seek justice for Vincent Chin and his family. The U.S. had never seen Asian-American activism on this scale before. Hate crimes had not yet been codified into U.S. law, and eventually Ebens and Nitz would be tried again for violating Vincent Chin’s civil rights. United States vs. Ebens would be the first federal civil rights case regarding a crime committed against an Asian American. Exhaustively researched, From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry gives an objective view of the events and people involved in this tragedy. It’s both hard to read and impossible to put down. An afterword (written in 2021) discusses the link between COVID-19 and anti-Asian sentiment, a sobering reminder of why Vincent Chin must never be forgotten. 


The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

Malaysian Melati has a djinn who shows her visions of her mother’s gruesome death on repeat. She has developed complex counting and tapping rituals to appease the djinn and keep her mother safe. She doesn’t know that her djinn is actually obsessive compulsive disorder, which was poorly understood in 1969, when the story takes place. Her life is plagued by anxiety, which has only grown worse following the death of her father the previous year. After a general election, violence breaks out between the Malays and Chinese of Kuala Lumpur. Melati is narrowly saved from certain death by a Chinese woman, Auntie Bee. While violence rages outside, Melati takes shelter with Auntie Bee, Uncle Chong, and their sons, Frankie and Vincent. Melati cannot bear to be separated from her mother, and she enlists Vincent’s help to find her. It will take all of her courage to go out into a city under fire and reunite with the person she’s always tried to protect.

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

Apirana is chief of his Maori tribe, one of a  long, unbroken chain of male leaders. When his first great-grandchild is a girl, he wants nothing to do with her. Young Kahu wants nothing more than his love and tries to learn all she can about Maori culture, despite his firm rejection of her. The book is narrated by her uncle Rawiri, who deepens his understanding of his Maori identity as he travels in Oceania. When dangerous omens wash ashore, Apirana asks: will the Maori culture live, or die? The answer lies in the girl he’s rejected. Beautifully written, this short novel deftly interweaves traditional Maori religion and the Maori language.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

When Bengali-Irish teen Nishat tries to come out to her parents as a lesbian, their silence speaks volumes. Her parents think that being a lesbian is a choice, and they ask her to make a different one. But Nishat knows who she is, and her growing crush on her Brazilian-Irish classmate Flavia can’t be ignored. When the school announces a business competition, Nishat starts a henna business, excited to connect with her Bangladeshi culture. In a move that smacks of cultural appropriation, Flavia and her cousin Chyna (who happens to be Nishat’s biggest enemy) start a rival henna business. Angry as she is, Nishat can’t ignore her feelings for Flavia. But with her ultra-supportive sister Priti at her side, Nishat is determined to win this battle. 

Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba. Illustrated by Miho Satake. Translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa 

Fifth-grader Kazu is almost certain he saw a ghost walk out of his house, a girl wearing a white kimono with red baubles in her hair. The next day, he’s shocked to see the ghost in his class, looking alive and well. According to his classmates, Kazu and Akari have been neighbors for years, though Kazu has no memory of her. Stranger still, he learns that his home may have once been the site of the ancient Kimyō Temple. Legends have it that the Kimyō Temple could bring the dead back to life. As he uncovers more about his neighborhood’s history and the temple, he discovers that Akari’s new life is in danger. Featuring a story-within-a-story, Temple Alley Summer is a charming novel about friendship and not-so-scary ghosts.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia’s family left China and came to the United States looking for a better life. What they found was xenophobia and a daily struggle to get by. They think they’ve hit the jackpot when Mia’s parents are hired to work at the Calivista Motel, but the motel’s unscrupulous owner exploits the family. Mia faces troubles at school with bullying and being one of two Asian kids in her class – the other being the Calivista’s owner’s son. She loves to write, but her mom encourages her to focus on math, believing that Mia will never be able to write in English as well as the American kids. While her parents clean the rooms, Mia makes herself the manager of the Calivista Motel, working at the front desk. She befriends the “weeklies” who live at the motel like herself, and helps hide and support other Chinese immigrants alongside her family. Mia dreams of owning a motel, and helping her family claim a piece of the American pie. Mia is a wonderful character, and the novel has an immensely satisfying ending. 

52 Books in 52 Weeks: Best Sellers & Diversity

This is the final post in my 52 Books project, and it covers an enormous topic: diversity in youth literature.

This is a hugely important topic to me. I didn’t grow up in an area with a lot of diversity of race, religion, or otherwise. Like many small town kids, my window to the wider world came from media: books, TV, and movies. Growing up, my impressions of people who were different from me came from what I saw and read.

But good representation is even more important if you’re part of a group that isn’t depicted frequently in media, or depicted stereotypically. This is especially true for children and teens. Think back to your childhood heroes for a minute. Who did you admire, and why? As I’ve mentioned before, one of my heroes was astronaut Eileen Collins, the first woman to command the Space Shuttle. I followed her career with great interest, dreaming of the day I would be the first person on Mars. While I’m not an astronaut, she inspired a lifelong interest in space, aviation, and most importantly to my current career, STEAM education.

All people, but kids especially, need to see themselves in the books they read or shows they watch. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.

Things are changing in the publishing industry. Since 1985, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center has kept track of youth literature by and about Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. While we certainly have more BIPOC voices than before, publishing remains White and male dominated. It’s also important to see how many debut writers of color are published each year. Kwame Alexander and Jason Reynolds may top the charts (and with good reason), but one or two voices can’t speak for an entire

Another reason this is so important for me is because I’m a public librarian in Florida. Florida is one of the most diverse states in the U.S.A., and I live in one of the most diverse counties within that state. Florida is also banning books and removing them from schools left, right, and center. Legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” law, bans on teaching critical race theory, and even blocking AP African American Studies in schools have forced teachers and school media specialists to go through their libraries and remove books, or risk losing their jobs. I won’t get into all of this right now – that’s another post entirely. But I will say that anti-LGBTQAI+ and removing discussions of race in the classroom is both infuriating, and a disservice to our kids. Kids have the right to information and books, and to learn about the wider world, and politicians are robbing them of that freedom in a reactionary attempt to appeal to their base.

None of these laws target public libraries yet. I feel that I have a responsibility to the kids and families that I work with to keep our collections diverse and inclusive, so every kid can see themselves as heroes and leaders.

While reading my 52 books, I took note of what racial diversity was present. There are a few ways that I could do this, but I decided to keep track of the main character(s) in each book. They’re who the reader will be spending the most time with, after all. It’s not perfect data, either, but I love a good pie chart. My stats also don’t go into how these characters are depicted. Some books are represented more than once, in the case of multiple lead characters. For example, Ground Zero stars Brandon, who is cued as Latinx, and Reshmina, who is Afghani. For that book, I marked it as both Latinx and Middle-Eastern. Other books that have ensemble casts are marked as “multiracial.” To clarify: I use the term “multiracial” as it refers to race, while “multiethnic” refers to cultural identity. I’ve also included the categories of “animal” and “objects,” since a few books star critters or machines (Dog Man is categorized as “Animal,” btw). Finally, when characters’ races aren’t mentioned, White is the assumed default. Wait, don’t click away! Let me explain:

This is an issue when it comes to reading and writing fiction: if a character’s skin color is not described, most readers picture that character as White. Cover art may support this as well. It’s also really unfair, so for you novelists out there: please describe ALL your characters’ skin tones, not just some of them! The Tumblr Blog Writing With Color is an awesome resource for writing all kinds of skin tones.

Now, let’s get to the data! And if you’re uncomfortable, good. I am too.

I am far from an expert on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I also need to acknowledge that being White, cishet, and middle class, I’m speaking from a point of privilege.

To that end, I’ve started talking to people who aren’t me and have different identities and experiences one simple and important question: “Why does representation in literature matter?” I have already received some very well-thought out and in-depth answers, and I’m looking forward to reading more and sharing responses in a later post.

Until then, there are a plethora of resources online that can help you find multicultural literature, and why #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

National Poetry Month: April Book Recs.

Poetry is an art form close to my heart. I discovered poets like Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, and Bruce Lansky in early elementary school, and devoured children’s poetry collections. By the time I was ten, I was writing poetry of my own, my first real foray into creative writing. Poetry allowed me to express so many things that I was too shy to say, and in any way that I wanted to say it. While I don’t write poetry as much as I used to, I still love this artistic form. 

April is National Poetry Month, so the non-fiction books are all about writing. The fiction section – in honor of National Poetry Month – are novels in verse (or mostly in verse). 

Now, the usual disclaimer. I am a youth librarian, which means I’m most familiar with books written for young people. This means you’ll see a lot of YA and juvenile books on these lists. If you’re an adult looking for something good to read, don’t feel bad or embarrassed about reading youth books. Juvenile and YA books deal with themes and ideas that are applicable to all ages, even if the text isn’t as challenging as books written for adults. And there’s no age limit on good stories. 

I also want to remind everyone that not every book will appeal to everyone. You may hate a book that I love, and that’s okay. Not liking a book doesn’t mean that the book is bad, it just means that you don’t like it. I’ll try to appeal to a wide range of interests, but I don’t expect for you to love or even be interested in everything on this list. There’s a reader for every book, and every book has a reader. I’d love to help readers and books find each other! 


Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway

There are a plethora of books that offer writing advice, but the simply titled Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway is my favorite. Each chapter takes you through a different aspect of fiction writing, be it description, plotting, dialogue, characterization, or setting. Every chapter ends with a few short stories that exemplify that chapter’s subject, along with writing exercises to challenge and inspire you. Burroway’s writing style is engaging and she understands well the angst of writing and the fear of the blank page. This is far and away the most useful book on creative writing I’ve ever used. If you’ve ever wanted to take a creative writing class, but can’t seem to fit it into your schedule or your budget, this book is the next best thing.

Putting the Fact in Fantasy edited by Dan Koboldt
Putting the Science in Fiction edited by Dan Koboldt

Most fantasy and sci-fi writers haven’t actually led a cavalry charge against the wicked king or traveled through a wormhole to a new dimension. We might not even know how to ride a horse, or have an understanding of physics beyond Newton’s laws of motion. This is where the research begins. Putting the Fact in Fantasy and Putting the Science in Fiction are collections of essays written by experts to help you bring more accuracy and realism to fantastical worlds. Fact in Fantasy includes essays about history, language, culture, and other survival and adventuring tips (My favorite is “Historically accurate ways to die”). Among other topics, Science in Fiction discusses technology, medicine, robots, space, and the far future. While you’re not going to be an expert, each essay provides a starting point for research, usually with a list of resources that you can use for further research. All writers make mistakes. The goal isn’t to be perfect. It’s to be a little less wrong.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott shares the painful secret to writing that every writer should know: that there is no secret to writing. There’s no magic spell or secret formula for churning out best seller after best seller. The only thing you can do is to sit down, day after day, and write authentically. With humor and personal anecdotes, Lamott tackles characterization, plot, dialogue, and “shitty first drafts.” She also explains how she deals with her own self-doubt, writer’s block, professional jealousy, and learning discipline – things most writers deal with. While this book is intended for novices, there are many gems even seasoned writers can take away from each fantastic and funny chapter. I often turn to my favorite chapter, “Shitty First Drafts” when I’m frustrated with my work. It always gives me a boost and gets my butt back in the chair, working on that writing habit. 

The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms by Mark Strand

The Making of a Poem is more than an anthology. Each chapter is dedicated to a different poetic form, from ballads and sonnets to haiku and free verse. The chapters begin with an overview of the form, followed by a brief history, such as the sonnet’s Italian roots and its evolution to Shakespeare’s work.  Poems in each chapter feature both “classic” poems, as well as works from contemporary, 20th century poets. Finally, chapters close on an analysis of one of the poems in the chapter, alongside a brief biography of its author. The information and analyses are interesting without being overwhelming, making this great introduction to poetic techniques. 

How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Storytelling from The Moth by Meg Bowles, Catherine Burns, Jenifer Hixson, Sarah Autin Jenness, and Kate Tellers

From astronauts to grandmothers, comedians and that guy sitting next you, everyone has a story. Perhaps no one understands this better than the directors of The Moth, a non-profit ground dedicated to the art of storytelling. You may be familiar with The Moth Radio Hour, in which participants tell true, personal stories of their lives. Some famous Moth storytellers include Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Gilbert, but people from all walks of life are invited to share their stories on the Moth stage. How to Tell a Story is a guide to help you find stories from your own life, and learn to tell them with aplomb. Those of us who aren’t as keen on public storytelling will still find How to Tell a Story loaded with helpful advice for speaking with confidence, alongside strategies for toasts, eulogies, business presentations and even job interviews. The book is also interspersed with stories from The Moth storytelling programs, including stories from comedian Mike Birbiglia and actor and writer Hasan Minhaj. 


Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham

Jane Arroway’s life was normal: homework, chores, friends, the occasional trip to the beach. But during an otherwise normal day at the beach, Jane is attacked by a shark. Jane survives the attack, but her right arm is amputated just above the elbow. Her story is broadcast on nation-wide news, and Jane knows that she’s going to be “shark girl” forever. Jane doesn’t want to be famous, and she certainly doesn’t want to be told that she’s “so strong” or “inspirational.” What she wants are all the things she’s lost: her artistic talent, cooking for her family, and not being stared at when she goes to the grocery store. Jane grieves for the things she’s lost and all the ways her life has changed. Gradually, Jane adapts to her new life, and starts planning a future that she thought she’d lost. Come for the shark attack, stay for the character growth. 

The Things She’s Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Alternative Title: Catching, Teller, Crow

Beth Teller is dead, but she’s not going anywhere. Instead, she’s sticking close to her dad, an Australian detective. He’s the only one who can see or hear Beth, or so she thinks. His grief has made him withdraw from the rest of his family, and Beth’s determined to stay at his side. When he’s sent to a remote town to investigate a mysterious fire, Beth tags along, wanting to help her dad solve the case. Their only witness is a girl who goes by Catching…who can see and talk to Beth. Enigmatic Catching speaks in cryptic verse, talking about “Snatchers” and stolen colors. Beth and her father must decode Catching’s story as they investigate, and reveal hidden truths about this quaint Australian town. The novel, starring Aboriginal girls and written by two Aboriginal authors, reflects on grief, friendship, and the effects of colonialism in Australia.

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca

It’s 1983, and Reha wants the same things that all middle-schoolers want: to wear fashionable clothes to birthday parties instead of the dresses her mother makes her, to go to the school dance, to watch MTV and wear lip gloss. What she wants, most of all, is to fit in. But as the only Indian-American in her school, fitting in seems about as out of her grasp as the stars she’s named for. She often feels like she has two lives, and is frustrated by her immigrant parents trying to replace her American values and habits with their Indian ones. When Reha’s mother becomes seriously ill, both of her lives come together to support Reha and her family. The poetry shines with metaphors, and the layered, evolving relationship Reha has with her parents feels authentic and relatable. 

D-39: A Robodog’s Journey by Irene Latham

This isn’t your typical “a girl and her dog” story. The girl lives in a war-torn dystopia, and the dog is a robot. Twelve-year-old Klynt lives with her father on their farm in the midst of a civil war. With schools closed due to the war, Klynt has only her father and six-year-old neighbor Jopa for company. Then D-39 arrives on the farm. D-39 is a robot dog, or “robo” for short, and the only kind of dog left in the Worselands. It’s thought that all real dogs were eradicated after the onset of BrkX plague, carried by dogs, but Klynt knows better. Her mother left years ago to start the K-9 Corridor that helps bring real dogs to safety. Though no one has heard from her mother in years, Klynt believes that she’s still running the K-9 Corridor in the Wilds. Klynt has D-39 for company, bringing her companionship and joy during a time of fear. After the war reaches her home and bombardment destroys the farm, Klynt and Jopa are separated from their families. Klynt, Jopa, and D-39 set out on a treacherous journey to the Wilds to find their families, and a new home. I debated about including this book for this month’s list, as it’s written in prose poetry rather than traditional verse. But it’s a compelling and atmospheric adventure story, with a bit of whimsy, that will keep you turning pages. 

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep by Allan Wolf

The Donner Party was perhaps the most infamous group of pioneers to travel to California. Snowbound and trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the surviving members of the group resorted to cannibalism to keep themselves alive. While it’s certainly a fascinating – and horrifying – part of their story, it was not the only trouble they faced. The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep gives voice to these misguided pioneers, whose decisions led to disaster. The book is narrated by Hunger, which stalked the Donner’s wagons long before they reached the Sierras. Members of the Donner Party also tell their own stories in evocative verse: Young Patty Reed; George Donner’s wife, Tamzene; the Miwok Guides who tried to lead the Donners through the mountains; even the oxen, pulling their heavy loads. The book is historical fiction, with an incredible amount of research behind each word. The real-life people the book is based on are portrayed with respect and sympathy, and invite us to re-think our judgements of the Donner Party. Author’s notes in the back give select biographies of some of the real-life characters, notes about the decisions and creative liberties he took in writing the book, much more information on the real Donner Party, and resources for those hungry to learn more. Pun intended.

52 Books in 52(ish) Weeks Part 3: Surprise and Unsurprise

Apologies for the delay in this post! I was celebrating my Irish pride over the weekend and simply forgot. This week, I’m continuing my journey of reading youth books off the New York Times best seller lists.

As I read through all these books, there were some things that surprised me, but probably shouldn’t have, if I had thought about them for more than a few minutes. Then there was some stuff that did surprise me. Thankfully, it was usually a pleasant surprise.

Things That Surprised Me (But Shouldn’t Have)

Picture books come in series, too.

When I think of book series, I usually think of YA books and early chapter books, not picture books. I don’t know why I was surprised when I saw more books starring Little Blue Truck, the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Pete the cat. I had plenty of different picture books as a child featuring the same characters over and over again (Madeline and Corduroy were my favorites). It just makes sense: kids can get excited to see their favorites again and again, in different stories, and the creator typically has commercial success.

In picture books, the illustrations are not just decorations.

When I read picture books, my focus goes naturally towards the words. This is probably some awful side-effect of being an adult. In some picture books, like ones for older children, this is fine: the illustrations enhance the story, but the story can be understood without it. But in many others, illustrations are as much a part of the story as the text is. If you ignore the illustrations, or only give them a glancing look, you can miss a lot of the story, as well as some of the best jokes. There are also many wonderful wordless (or very nearly wordless) picture books out there that I love. My favorite picture books are the ones where you need text and illustrations to tell a complete story.

Books are cyclical.

This is another one I should have seen coming. It didn’t surprise me to see holiday books top the list when they were in season. But it did surprise me to see the same holiday books come up again in the following year’s list, continuing on until 2023. I found out recently that this is true for YA books, as well as picture books. In 2022, Long Live the Pumpkin Queen, by Shea Ernshaw, made it onto the Best Seller list just before Halloween. Are these new holiday classics? Time will tell.

Things that Surprised Me

Things don’t move around on the Best Seller List as much as you’d think.

With a year of reading books from the New York Time’s Best Seller List, I expected I’d read a lot of things I might never have tried otherwise, as well as well-known books. I did, but found that books didn’t move around on the list as much as I thought they would. Towards the end of my year of reading, I kept having to go further down the list to find a book or author I hadn’t read yet. This was especially true for middle grade fiction. Wimpy Kid and its offshoots and Wonder never seemed to move off the list, though they did move up and down it sometimes.

YA Inexplicably on the Middle-Grade List

When I started this project, I chose to read only from the lists for picture books, children’s middle grade books, and children’s series. I decided not to read anything of the YA Best Sellers list, just because I can’t whizz through a YA novel in a week, and I did want to get this done in a year. Even so, I ended up reading four books that were unquestionably YA (Shadow and Bone, Serpent and Dove, The Cruel Prince, and Part of Your World.) There were also several others that could be either middle-grade or YA. The four YA books were all on the “Children’s Series” list – which is just called “Series” now. So perhaps it’s not that weird, but it was to me at the time.

There’s a decent amount of non-fiction on Best Sellers lists for youth.

It wasn’t until the past ten years or so that I started to enjoy non-fiction, and it wasn’t until about two years ago that I started reading it regularly. As a kid, I always thought non-fiction was boring, just stuff you read for school. In a world where Harry Potter exists, there was no way I was ever choosing an informational text instead of a boy wizard’s adventures. Most of my peers were the same way. I was surprised to see so much non-fiction on the list. I might’ve predicted Becoming: Young Reader’s Edition, but not other books of biographies. Yet the Who Is/Was series is remarkably popular, and I’ve talked to kids at my library who have become interested in history and non-fiction. I don’t see as much demand as the What Is/What Was or the newer Where Is/Was series, but they still get a lot of check-outs. These books turn history into a narrative, and pack a lot of information in each one. As far as other types of non-fiction: I had no idea that I’d see cookbooks on the same Best Sellers list, alongside books with a narrative. I just assumed that cookbooks would be their own thing. But it is cool to see kids taking an interest in non-fiction. At least they won’t have to wait until they’re in their twenties to discover that non-fiction can be fun to read, too.

Empowerment, confidence, and topical issues.

Along with nonfiction, another theme I saw in the books I read was empowerment and confidence. Books like Ambitious Girl, Living the Confidence Code, and Change Sings all focus on building confidence, and encourage kids (often girls) to chase after their dreams. There were also books focusing on topical issues as well. Books like Stamped (For Kids) and We are Water Protectors are the most obvious. The novels also had a lot of topical messages and tackled current events, too. Ground Zero was about 9/11, then jumped ahead twenty years to the war in Afghanistan, and how it affected Afghanis. Ali Cross brought up the topics of policing and race (though not to a deep extent) as well as homelessness. I can’t think of a fictional book I read as a kid that dealt with current events in such a direct way. This may have just been my reading choices; most of my favorite middle-grade books were fantasy and sci-fi, sometimes with a conservation message. Of course, you’re also talking to the person who missed the Aslan-as-Jesus metaphor when I first read The Chronicles of Narnia.

There’s a lot of diversity!

I’ll expand on this in my next post on this project. Suffice it to say, in the past, books in the U.S. have overwhelmingly featured White characters over characters of color. While the majority of characters in these books were White, I was happy to see as much racial diversity in the books as I did. This is something I’ll get into more detail with later. Until then, if that’s something you’re interested in, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center from University of Wisconsin-Madison has a lot of interesting statistics and information about diversity in children’s books (CCBC Diversity Statistics).

Women’s History Month – March Book Recs

In the U.S., March is Women’s History Month. I love learning about women’s history, so selecting only 10 books for this list was hard! There are so many women who have inspired me, and some incredible stories that are rarely heard. I want to shine a light on some women’s history that you may be unfamiliar with, as well as celebrate the women and girls leading us into the future. 

Now, the usual disclaimer. I am a youth librarian, which means I’m most familiar with books written for young people. This means you’ll see a lot of YA and juvenile books on these lists. If you’re an adult looking for something good to read, don’t feel bad or embarrassed about reading youth books. Juvenile and YA books deal with themes and ideas that are applicable to all ages, even if the text isn’t as challenging as books written for adults. And there’s no age limit on good stories. 

I also want to remind everyone that not every book will appeal to everyone. You may hate a book that I love, and that’s okay. Not liking a book doesn’t mean that the book is bad, it just means that you don’t like it. I’ll try to appeal to a wide range of interests, but I don’t expect for you to love or even be interested in everything on this list. There’s a reader for every book, and every book has a reader. I’d love to help readers and books find each other! 

Our Bodies, Ourselves by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective

Our Bodies, Ourselves something I’d typically put on my monthly list, because it’s not exactly a book with a narrative. It’s a medical book about girls’ and women’s health that covers everything from puberty to women’s geriatric health. It also give straight-forward facts on abuse, sexuality, orientation, sex, birth control, pregnancy, and answers many questions that you (okay, me) were too afraid to ask. All the information is easily digestible, and the book never feels like it has an agenda of anything other than to inform you about your health and choices. I’ve pulled my 2005 edition out many times when I had questions (or was just plain curious) and the information was always helpful, and didn’t overwhelm me like a Google search might. The newest edition came out in 2011, but if you’re not up for a big fat book, the website still has plenty of relevant information. 

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, published by Oxford University Press, inspired by Our Bodies, Ourselves. This is another medical reference book focused on health and wellness for transgender and non-binary individuals, with its second edition published in 2022. 

Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars by Eileen Collins and Jonathan Ward

Eileen Collins always dreamed of the stars, but the odds of her reaching them were slim. Growing up in the 1970s in a small town and a struggling family, she seemed destined to be a math teacher, rather than a pilot. Yet through hard work and perseverance, Eileen Collins became the first woman to command the Space Shuttle. This memoir covers her small-town origins, flying operational missions for the U.S. Air Force, becoming the second female test pilot for the USAF, and finally, her four space flights, including the Return to Flight mission after the Columbia Tragedy. The book is written very much like Col. Collins herself: straightforward, without frills. Her journey is a fascinating one, especially for anyone interested in the science of space flight…or those among us who were fascinated by shuttle launches, and dreamed of being among the stars. 

On a personal note, Eileen Collins has been a huge inspiration for me throughout my life. I was always fascinated by space, and seeing her become the first woman to command a Shuttle mission made me feel as though I could reach the stars too. 

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery.

In 1955, 67-year-old Emma Gatewood told her children she was going for a walk. What she didn’t tell them was that her “walk” would be the entirety of the Appalachian Trail. For nearly five months, Emma “Grandma” Gatewood hiked from Georgia to Maine, a journey of over 2,000 miles. She was the first woman to solo thru-hike the entire trail, and a pioneer of ultra-light hiking, never carrying more than about fifteen pounds of equipment or food with her. She would go on the hike the Appalachian trail four times, and become the first person to thru-hike the AT (man or woman) three times. She even hiked the Oregon Trail – yes, that Oregon Trail – at age 71. Unfortunately, Emma endured a horrifically abusive marriage for years, and finally divorced her husband in the 1940s, at a time when it was very difficult for women to do so. Her story – and her walk – has inspired generations of hikers and helped preserve the Appalachian Trail. Be careful reading this; it may just make you want to disappear into the woods yourself.

Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by Jason Porath. 

There are many women whose achievements and escapades you’ve never heard of before. But just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they weren’t amazing. Rejected Princesses is a collection of biographies of women who were too incredible to be turned into Disney movies, but most certainly deserved one! This book introduced me to some historical bad-asses who deserve far more recognition: Gráinne Ní Mháille (Grace O’Malley), the Irish pirate queen; Sybil Ludington, who put Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride to shame; and Emmeline Pankhurst, the controversial but incredible English suffragette. There’s also plenty of diversity, with stories of women of all races. It doesn’t shy away from their sexualities or gender identities, showing trans and non-binary individuals alongside ciswomen. Each biography is accompanied by a full-page Disney style illustration. This book is an absolute joy, and as fun as it is educational. 

Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Daughters: Heroines in Folk Tales Around the World, edited by Kathleen Raglan 

Folk tales have always shaped our culture. Even today, fairy tales and nursery rhymes are some of children’s earliest introductions to literature. Many of the most well-known traditional tales feature strong male characters saving damsels in distress from certain doom. While there are many books today that flip the script on these old stories, Kathleen Raglan noticed a dearth of proactive heroines in familiar folk stories. Raglan collected over 100 folk tales starring folk heroines. These women and girls don’t often use brute strength to solve their problems; rather, they use wisdom, creativity, perseverance, guile, loyalty, and kindness. The collection also expands beyond Western European stories, though they are also present. Stories from many different parts of the world are included: Sub-Saharan Africa, Northern Africa and the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific, and Indigenous North Americans. 


No Stopping Us Now by Lucy Jane Bledsoe

It’s 1974, and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools, was passed two years ago. So why aren’t Louisa and her friends allowed to have a basketball team at their school? After a feminist rally where she meets Gloria Steinem, Louisa is inspired to petition her school to start a girls’ basketball program. While she receives support, there are plenty of obstacles – and people – standing in her way. She faces public criticism, bullying, intimidation from school staff, and even threats to her college plans while she fights for her and her friends’ civil rights. Louisa is also dealing with her grandfather’s dementia, her best friend shutting her out, and her growing feelings for her teammate, Barb. Yet Louisa pushes forward, demanding equality in the face of opposition. An autobiographical novel, No Stopping Us Now celebrates sisterhood and activism in the early days of Title IX. 

The Huntress by Rose Quinn

After World War II, three lives are entwined by the Huntress, a Nazi who has long eluded justice. Nina Markova is a Soviet Pilot who joined the legendary Night Witches, an all-female unit of pilots who bombed and harassed German targets. Tough as nails Nina was the only known survivor to escape the Huntress’s clutches. She was witness to the Huntress’s ruthlessness when the Huntress murdered Nina’s traveling companion, escaped POW Sebastian. Sebastian’s brother, Ian Graham, is a wartime journalist turned Nazi hunter. He’d nearly given up on finding Seb’s killer when Nina storms back into his life. Across the sea, Bostonian Jordan McBride dreams of becoming a wartime photographer, like her heroes Margaret Bourke-White and Gerda Taro. Jordan’s father would rather have Jordan stay safe in Boston, marry her doting boyfriend, and help him run his antique business. Jordan’s new step-mother, Annelise, is much more supportive of her step-daughter’s dreams. While Jordan adores Annelise, there’s something about her that just doesn’t add up…but trying to figure out Annelise’s secrets may rob Jordan of everything she holds dear. Told in the alternating perspectives of Nina, Ian, and Jordan, The Huntress is a powerful and absolutely gripping historical fiction.

Go With the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann

Being the new girl is hard enough, but Sasha’s first day at Hazelton High is even harder when she gets her period for the first time…while she’s wearing white pants. Close knit friends Abby, Christine, and Brit swoop in to her rescue, only to find the school’s tampon dispenser empty. Again. A new friendship is formed when Abby gives Sasha a pad and Brit lends the new girl a sweatshirt to conceal the stains. Upset about the consistent lack of period products available in her school, Abby speaks to the principal, who says providing feminine products is out of the school’s budget, even though the football team got new uniforms last year. Abby and her friends are outraged and working to end period poverty at their school. But when letter writing campaigns and blog posts don’t move the school administration, Abby makes a statement that may have gone too far. This graphic novel is both informative and entertaining, with a diverse cast (who all have diverse periods!). Menstruation for trans men and non-binary individuals is also discussed. The backmatter provides resources, information, and ways to help fight against period stigma. 

Daughters of Oduma by Moses Ose Utomi

In a West African inspired fantasy setting, girls compete in the all-female martial art of Bowing to protect their found families. Sixteen-year-old Dirt is the Second Sister of Mud Fam, and retired from Bowing. She coaches the other girls and supports their new main fighter, Webba. Webba is a strong contender to win the South God Bow tournament, which Mud Fam desperately needs to win. There are only five sisters in Mud Fam, and if their numbers drop any lower, they’ll be disbanded. When Dirt turns seventeen, she will become a woman, undergo the Scarring ceremony, and leave Mud Fam forever. Winning the tournament is crucial to recruit more members to Mud Fam. The rival Vine Fam believes that war with the Gods is imminent, and aim to destroy Mud Fam and gain new recruits for themselves. When Webba is injured by a competitor from the Vine Fam, Dirt must step up and take her place in the tournament. Out of shape and plagued by self-doubt, Dirt must train her body and mind to save her family. With fantastic worldbuilding, tenacious and complex characters, and flowing pidgin dialogue, Daughters of Oduma is an absolutely absorbing underdog story. 

He Must Like You by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Libby’s having a rough senior year. Her parents have drained her college fund, and her outburst-prone father is kicking Libby out after she graduates so he can Airbnb her room. To earn money for college and a place of her own, Libby takes a job at a local restaurant, The Goat. She’s making good money, but a drunken hookup with one of her fellow servers leaves her upset and confused, especially after a school assembly about sex and consent. When a customer sexually harasses Libby and finally pushes her too far, it’s understandable that she’d dump an entire pitcher of sangria over his head. But the harasser in question is Perry Ackerman, local hero and Libby’s mom’s boss. Libby’s family is no help in this situation, and Libby realizes she needs to make a stand for herself, her girlfriends, and for the women at The Goat who face harassment on a daily basis. Libby is a great character and seeing her take a stand and reclaim her life is immensely satisfying. The book explores the gray areas of consent and harassment, along with the effects of assault, in a thoughtful and nuanced way. It’s an important book for all teens, not just girls. 

52 Children’s Books in 52(ish) Weeks: The Authors

52 Books in 52 Weeks: The Quest
Part 1: The Books
Part 2: The Authors – You’re here, silly!

When I embarked on my quest to read youth books off the New York Times best seller list for a year, I was a lowly library associate, dreaming of being a children’s librarian. It was really important to me to know what kids were reading, and not just what I was reading. A lot has changed since I started my quest in January 2021 – like the fact that I’m now a children’s librarian! I won’t bore you by talking endlessly about how much I love this role (it’s a lot), but knowing what’s popular and topical among kids and teens is a really important part of my job. Undertaking this challenge was a great way for me to get a feel for what kids are reading today, as well as some trends in youth book publishing.

I wanted to take a little bit to reflect on some of the things I observed during my year of NYT reading. First, the authors.

As I read, I started dividing the books’ authors into different categories in my head. I like my categories neat and organized, but authors could fit into more than one, or in none. At any rate, here’s what I’ve got:

Celebrity Authors: These are the authors who are famous, but not for writing. This included Jimmy Fallon, Michelle Obama, Scott Cawthon, Matt and Rebecca Zamolo, LeBron James, and Misty Copeland.

To be honest, if not for their celebrity, most of those books wouldn’t have ended up on the best seller list. Cawthon’s and the Zamolos’ books weren’t well-written, and they were such a slog for me to get through. If I had enjoyed the source material (Five Nights at Freddy’s and The Game Master YouTube Channel, respectively), I probably would have liked them more. Fallon’s Christmas story was cute, but no cuter than many other Christmas picture books. I did like LeBron James’s book, We Are Family, even though the writing could have been stronger (and I didn’t love all the messaging in it). The two biographies here (Becoming by Michelle Obama and Black Ballerinas by Misty Copeland) were educational, but I just wasn’t that into them. However, that’s based more on my preferences than anything with the books themselves. I simply don’t read biographies that often because they usually don’t interest me much. Even so, illustrations in Black Ballerinas were stunning.

I don’t want to imply that just because you’re a celebrity, your book is bad. I adore John Lithgow’s picture books. Steve Martin has written several well-received books. I’ve read Tina Fey’s memoir, Bossy Pants, twice. Chris Colfer, originally famous from Glee, has two popular juvenile fantasy series and YA books that people love. I’m genuinely happy to see that he’s becoming well-known for something outside of musicals. Celebrity authors are talented people, but their talents don’t necessarily include writing.

Author Celebrities: These are authors who are famous for their work. This list included Jeff Kinney, Dav Pilkey, James Patterson, and Mo Willems. It’s not surprising to see them on best seller lists, and I enjoyed a lot of the books written by authors in this category. In my previous post on this topic, I mentioned “clout” as the reason some of these books got on the best-seller list, or were even published in the first place.

I think you can see this most clearly with Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney. Simply put, it might be the most meta-fiction book I’ve ever read. In this book, Rowley, Greg’s best friend in Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, writes a fantasy novel. Most of the book is the story that Rowley’s writing, with occasional interruption from Greg. I’m not a fan of the Wimpy Kid franchise, but I had fun with this one. Even so, I really think it only exists because the Wimpy Kid franchise is wildly (and lucratively) popular. Can you imagine if I queried an agent describing my book as, “A fantasy story written by a secondary character in another story I wrote”? I don’t think that’d go over well.

I’m a big enough person to admit I’m jealous of them. But I’m also petty enough to have that envy in the first place.

Established Authors: Slightly different from author celebrities, these are authors who are well-established in the industry, usually with a few well-received books under their belts by the time they made it to the best-seller list. These included Sharon Draper, Rainbow Rowell, and Holly Black. Of course, there’s a decent amount of cross-over with the “author celebrity” categories as well. I thought this would be the sweet spot for me: people who know their craft, with book sales to match their skills. In some cases it was, but how much I enjoyed the book really depended on the book itself. For example: I’ve loved some of Holly Black’s books in the past, and her work has been influential on me as a writer. Yet The Cruel Prince was so hard for me to get through, event though the series has been well-received.

New Authors: This was by far the smallest category. These are authors whose first books were recently published. No clout, no celebrity, just well-written books that caught on. This small group included B.B. Alston, Shelby Mahurin, and Holly Jackson. These were also some of my favorite books that I read as part of this project. Reflecting on this now, I’m glad to see these well-written books rise to the top of the charts based on their merit alone, not just who authored them.

I have a few more thoughts on this project, with some observations (some that surprised me, and some that shouldn’t have) that I’ll post at a later date. I originally wanted to include them in this same post, but things started to get lengthy. I have a lot to say (about everything, according to my family. And boss. And everyone who’s met when me when I’m drunk.) but I’ll save it for another day.

Do you also have mental categories for authors you read? What are they? What’s your favorite?

Black History Month: February Book Recs

Welcome to my February book list! Each month, I’ll be bringing you a fresh list of books all based on a different theme. 

February is Black History Month in the United States, and that’s a vast subject area. Black history in the U.S. didn’t begin in 1776, and it didn’t end with Obama’s election. For this reason, I wanted to include some Black history that isn’t discussed frequently, and maybe a couple things you’ve never heard of. 

I also wanted to highlight Black authors and illustrators. I can’t possibly list every author or illustrator worthy of reading, but if you’re interested in reading more multicultural literature from Black authors and artists, might I recommend…

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kwame Alexander, Ashley Bryan, Bryan Collier, R. Gregory Christie, Christopher Paul Curtis, Leo & Diane Dillon, Edwidge Danticat, Sharon Draper, Roxane Gay, Nikki Giovanni, Nikki Grimes, Virginia Hamilton, Victor LaVelle, Julius Lester, E.B. Lewis, Kekla Magoon, Patricia McKissack, Christopher Myers, Walter Dean Myers, Kadir Nelson, Nnedi Okorafor, Jerry Pinkney, Jason Reynolds, Christian Robinson, Javaka Steptoe, John Steptoe, Nic Stone, Mildred Taylor, Rita Williams-Garcia, Colson Whitehead, and Jacqueline Woodson. 

Now, the usual disclaimer. I am a youth librarian, which means I’m most familiar with books written for young people. This means you’ll see a lot of YA and juvenile books on these lists. If you’re an adult looking for something good to read, don’t feel bad or embarrassed about reading youth books. Juvenile and YA books deal with themes and ideas that are applicable to all ages, even if the text isn’t as challenging as books written for adults. And there’s no age limit on good stories. 

I also want to remind everyone that not every book will appeal to everyone. You may hate a book that I love, and that’s okay. Not liking a book doesn’t mean that the book is bad, it just means that you don’t like it. I’ll try to appeal to a wide range of interests, but I don’t expect for you to love or even be interested in everything on this list. There’s a reader for every book, and every book has a reader. I’d love to help readers and books find each other! 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

While the USA has come a long way in terms of liberty and justice for all, there are still miles and miles to go. The New Jim Crow discusses mass incarceration of Black Americans, typically due to policies from Reagan’s “War on Drugs” and other anti-drug crusades that target people of color, especially young Black men. Being labeled as a felon allows for legal discrimination in housing, education, careers, and even the basic right to vote. Michelle Alexander posits that this has led to the creation of an “undercaste” of Black Americans, legally disenfranchised by the justice system. Originally published in 2010, The New Jim Crow has inspired activists to work to change the American justice system, including the creation of The Marshall Project and the Art for Justice Fund. One thing that I really appreciated about this book was that Alexander acknowledges that the information is hard to read and accept, and that the book’s not for everyone. These are hard but important truths to learn, but nothing can be changed until it’s acknowledged and challenged. 

One Last Word: Wisdom of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes, various illustrators. 

The Harlem Renaissance produced some of the United States’ most iconic musicians, artists, actors, and writers. One Last Word is a poetry collection that celebrates the work of writers from the Harlem Renaissance, like Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and many more. Alongside the original poem, Grimes remixes the work using the golden shovel method. She creates new poems from the originals, filled with truth and hope for modern readers. Vivid illustrations from accomplished artists accentuate each page. If you’re a poetry lover of any kind, this is a must read. 

The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James

The Haitian Revolution with the most successful slave rebellion in history. It was the only one that led to the creation of a country free of enslavement, and ruled by formerly enslaved people. The widespread political, economic, and cultural effects of the Haitian Revolution still echo today. Written in 1938, The Black Jacobins by Trinidad historian C.L.R. James set outs to correct the White, Euro-centric histories that marginalized or dismissed the Revolution. The Black Jacobins gives a thorough account of the Haitian Revolution. Its central figure is Toussaint Louverture. Born into slavery, Louverture became a central figure in the Revolution, as a general, politician, and unifying symbol for Haitians. This book is essential when learning about Haitian and Caribbean history. 

The Highwaymen: Florida’s African-American Landscape Painters by Gary Monroe

The Highwaymen were a group of 26 Black landscape painters in Florida in the 1950s and 60s. They painted idealized images of Florida’s landscape: palm trees swaying in the breeze, white sand beaches, sunrise by the ocean. Segregation was deeply ingrained in Florida, and galleries refused to sell Black artists’ paintings. Instead, the Highwaymen (and one Highwaywoman) sold their paintings from door-to-door and out of the trunks of their cars. This enabled the artists to make independent livings with their paintings, away from the back-breaking work in the citrus groves. Monroe’s book tells the story of the Highwaymen, alongside full-color reproductions of their paintings. Published in 2001, the book doesn’t tell the Highwaymen’s more recent history. In 2004, they were recognized in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and in 2020, they won the Florida Folk Heritage Award. Today, 18 original paintings hang in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson.

This children’s book is written in the style of a grandparent telling their grandchild the history of the United States. It starts with the fact that Black folks have been in the United States just as long as White colonists, but are rarely depicted in national history. It tells the story of the struggles and triumphs Black Americans faced, covering the Revolutionary War up to the Civil Rights Movement. An epilogue depicts the storyteller voting for Barack Obama. The text is informative and accessible, even when dealing with heavy topics. The illustrations are powerful, gorgeous full-page paintings. George Washington on a horse while an enslaved man stands beside him is one of the most poignant images that you’ll remember long after you close the book. 


Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis

Feisty, chain-smoking Mare is anything but a conventional grandmother. Octavia and Tali, her teenage granddaughters, are mortified to be seen with her. Going on a cross-country trip with Mare at the wheel is the last thing they want to do during their summer. Mare makes a deal with them for the trip: she won’t smoke, and they won’t use their “earphones.” As the miles pass, Mare tells the girls her story: growing up in segregated Alabama, running away from home at age 17 to pursue a better life, and lying about her age to join the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. Mare shares her experiences of life in 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion – the only battalion of Black women who served overseas in World War II. In alternating chapters of “Then” and “Now,” Octavia and Tali come to understand the experiences that shaped their grandmother, the family bond they share, and the same strengths and insecurities they share with Mare…and that it’s not so bad to be like their grandma. 

The Davenports by Krystal Marquis

In 1910, the Davenports are one of Chicago’s few wealthy Black families. As such, siblings Olivia, John, and Helen, are constantly under scrutiny. They must uphold the legacy that their formerly enslaved father built. Olivia thinks her successful courtship with Jacob, England’s most eligible Black bachelor will do the trick. That is, until she meets a civil rights activist who makes her question her privileged upbringing and shows her the horrors of Jim Crow. John and Helen are more focused on fixing horseless carriages, while Helen chafes at the limited roles women have in society. Alongside the siblings, Olivia’s best friend hatches a plan to marry John, and the siblings’ childhood friend and maid dreams of starting her own business. The book examines racism, gender norms, and classism in the often overlooked Reconstruction Era. The characters are passionate, take-charge women, and there’s plenty of romantic moments (and a couple love triangles) to swoon over.

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

AO (Anwuli Okwudili, but she prefers “Artificial Organism”) has extensive bionic augmentations as a result of severe physical disabilities. These augmentations include artificial legs, mechanical hands, and even a brain implant.  AO accepts these augmentations as a necessary part of her life and who she is. However, the world does not see it this way. There are many who see her as a devil, more machine than woman. When an altercation at the market leaves two men dead, AO must flee. She meets a Fulani herdsman, DNA, who has been falsely labeled as a terrorist. Together, they travel across the desert to the Red Eye: a perpetual sandstorm where the wind can strip your bones clean, and the only place they might find safety. Nigerian-American Nnedi Okorafor is the master of Africanfuturism, with books like Akata Witch and the Binti trilogy. If you’re interested in sci-fi, she needs to be on your radar. 

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Rashad is Black, Quinn is White, and though they got to the same school, neither boy knows the other’s name. A quick stop to a corner store on the way to the party pushes their lives together in ways they never expected or wanted. Quinn witnesses a police officer brutally beating Rashad, with little or no provocation. The narration follows both boys after the event. Rashad, recovering in the hospital, wants to be left alone to focus on his art. He doesn’t want the painful attention that comes with being the latest Black victim of police brutality. Quinn is troubled as well: the police officer is a surrogate father to him, and Quinn would have never imagined that he was capable of such violence. The large-scale issues of racism, power, and injustice are integrated seamlessly into the narrative. All American Boys was one of the most frequently challenged or banned books in 2020, for reasons including being “too much of a sensitive matter right now.” Speaking for myself, any book that makes the Top 10 most challenged books is a book I want to read.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

It’s 1968, and Delphine and her younger sisters are spending a month in California with their estranged mother, Cecile. They expect a warm welcome and a visit to Disneyland, but their trip to Oakland is nothing like they imagined. Cecile, a poet and member of the Black Panthers, resents the intrusion into her life. Instead of the mothering the girls are hoping for, she sends them to a nearby summer camp run by the Black Panthers. During the summer, Delphine participates in a Black Panther rally and becomes a young activist, all the while yearning for a true connection with the mother who left her. I love this middle-grade book for its memorable characters (particularly Delphine’s strong voice), a broader and more honest depiction of Black Panthers than typically seen in media, and the unique backdrop of 1960s Oakland. 

52 Children’s Books in 52(ish) Weeks: The Books

52 Books in 52 Weeks: The Quest
Part 1: The Books – You’re here, silly!
Part 2: The Authors

This next series of posts have been a year in the making. In January 2021, I announced that I would attempt to read one book a week off the New York Times‘s children’s best seller lists.* Admittedly, I didn’t quite manage to read a book a week, but I did manage to read all 52 books in 52 weeks…and then some. In my original post about this project, I set up a few rules for myself. First, I wouldn’t re-read books I’ve already read before, and would cycle through the separate lists for picture books, middle-grade hardcovers, and middle-grade series. As the year went on, I had to make another rule about not repeating authors or franchises. Mostly this was to ensure that I was getting a better sample of what kids are reading today, but also because I can only stand so much Diary of a Wimpy Kid and its spin-off books. My rule about not reading The Ickabog (and it was on the list for months!) had to be changed into not reading anything by JK Rowling. It wasn’t a problem for most of the year, but towards the end, her middle-grade book The Christmas Pig topped the list. I also decided that I would not be reading any cookbooks. It’s not just because I’m bad at cooking, but because I was looking for books with narrative.

Why did I chose to embark on this project? My husband asked me this when I was griping about a book I didn’t like. I didn’t do it just for the blog (though that was definitely a consideration). I like kids’ books, but mainly, I did it because at the time, my goal was to become a children’s librarian. (Mission accomplished!) While I had a good idea of what’s going on in the world of YA lit, I wasn’t sure what was popular among kids twelve and under today. I figured that I could use the best seller list as a guide to get a taste of what kids are reading.

I had quite a few different observations going through this project, which I’ll writing about in other posts. To start this off, though, I have some microreviews on the books I read for the past year.

Week 1 (Jan 3.): Five More Sleeps Til Christmas, by Jimmy Fallon. Illustrated by Rich Deas.

Cute, nice illustrations, and Jimmy Fallon had a fun virtual story time reading.

Week 2 (Jan. 11): Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney.

I never liked Greg Heffley much, but I was 100% here for Rowley’s wholesome adventure. Only someone with Kinney’s clout would even be able to publish a book like this. I’m kinda jealous.

Week 3 (Jan. 17): Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland.

I was surprised at how dark this book got, but I would have loved this series as a kid. I was definitely curious to see what happens later in the series. If I had more time, I’d read the whole main series just to see what happens next. I might still try the graphic novels.

Week 4 (Jan. 24): Little Blue Truck’s Valentine’s by Alice Shertle. Illustrated by Jill McElmurry.

Super cute, but I would have liked it better if the illustrations depicted the winter season rather than fall. Valentine’s Day is a winter holiday, after all!

Week 5 (Jan. 31): Little Leaders, by Vashti Harrison.

I really liked this collection of biographies, and learned about important Black women that I hadn’t heard of before. I do wish the illustrations had been a bit more dynamic; most figures were like paper dolls with the same face, with only their clothes and hair to distinguish them from one another.

Week 6 (Feb. 7): Dog Man, by Dav Pilkey.

I have the same “clout” suspicion as I did with Jeff Kinney, but Dog Man was a silly, fun comic book. Of course, I may be biased, since I was a fan of Captain Underpants as a kid. My favorite parts, though, were the notes warning Harold and George about how disruptive their comics were. And it doesn’t matter if kids are reading something simple, as long as they’re reading!

Week 7 (Feb. 14):  Ambitious Girl, by Meena Harris. Illustrated by Marissa Valdez.

I loved this book! It shows empowered women and characters of color, and its message is important for every kid to hear. 

Week 8 (Feb. 21): Ground Zero, by Alan Gratz.

I could write an entire post about this book. Harrowing, gripping, and emotional, without the “America, fuck yeah!” attitude I had expected. I think Reshmina’s eloquence and insightfulness on the war in Afghanistan stretched the believability a little thin for me, but she made excellent points. A novel that would definitely help kids understand the horrors of 9/11 and its aftermath better.

Week 9 (Feb. 28): Baby Sitter’s Club Graphix, by Ann M. Martin. Illustrated by Reina Telgemeir.

I never read The Baby-Sitter’s Club books as a kid, and reading the graphic novel didn’t make me feel as though I’d missed out on anything special. I do like Raina Telgemeier’s work, and it was kind of cool to see these books get updated for a new generation of readers. 

Week 10 (Mar 7.): Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle.

Very cute, and good for the whole year, not just Valentine’s Day. Needed more holes.  Rest well, Eric Carle.

Week 11 (Mar. 14):  Living the Confidence Code, by Katty Kay, Clare Shipman, and JillEllyn Riley.

This book is full of real-life stories of girls becoming leaders around the world. It was easy to read and uplifting. I found it inspiring, and recommended it to a friend with a tween daughter.

Week 12: (Mar. 21): Crave, by Tracy Wolff.

I didn’t understand the appeal of Twilight then, and I don’t understand the appeal of Crave now. I will say that the book was very funny, but I don’t think that was the author’s intention.

Week 13 (Mar. 28): How To Catch a Leprechaun, by Adam Wallace. Illustrated by Andy Elerkton.

Simple, cute, and fun! It reminded me of St. Patrick’s Day when I was still in elementary school.

Week 14 (Apr. 4): Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers, by Michelle Obama.

It looks like not a lot changed from the original version to the adapted edition. Unfortunately, I found most of the book pretty boring, but I’ve never been a huge fan of biographies. Even so, I can see someone other than me finding this memoir meaningful and inspiring.

Week 15 (Apr. 11): The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan.

I’ve always been interested in Greek mythology, but I didn’t love this book. Even so, it’s a quick-paced adventure that I’m sure middle-grade fantasy lovers will enjoy.

Week 16 (Apr. 18): Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure, by James Dean and Kim Dean.

Admittedly, I’ve been a fan of Pete the Cat for awhile now. Cute and colorful, and I love Pete’s grumpy face. 

Week 17 (Apr.  25): Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.

Heartwarming without being overly-cheesy. If you have a disability, or love someone who has a disability, this will hit very close to home. I liked it so much I even started reading one of the side stories.

Week 18 (May 2):  Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo.

I was pretty underwhelmed considering the hype around this book, but I liked it enough to check out the sequel. Even if I didn’t make it that far in the sequel before giving up.

Week 19 (May 9) We Are Water Protectors, by Carol Lindstrom and Michaela Goade.

Beautiful and moving artwork, and an important book for every audience. 

Week 20 (May 16): The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate and Patricia Casteleo.

I haven’t read the first book in the series (or watched the movie based on it), but Bob was a distinct, vibrant character and the story didn’t go the way I expected. Enjoyable.

Week 21 (May 23): Five Nights at Freddy’s: Fazbear Frights by Scott Cawthon.

A collection of stories about the titular pizza place. Fans may love it, but I’d put it into the category of, “Well, at least they’re reading.” 

Week 22 (May 30):   Peace Train, by Cat Stevens and Peter H. Reynolds

The illustrations were simple, but I liked the bright colors. I think it works better as a song than a picture book, but it was nice enough.

Week 23 (Jun. 6): Stamped (For Kids), by Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi, and Sonja Cherry-Paul.

I wish this was the sort of education I had on race as a kid, not just “Martin Luther King, Jr. solved everything.” Even the kids’ version can be uncomfortable to read, but it’s important to understand how deeply rooted racism is in America. Teaching kids about race and racism early gives me hope for the next generation of leaders. If kids are empathetic and receptive to this kind of learning, I hope our future leaders can make great strides against racism in the U.S.

Week 24 (Jun. 13): What Was/What Is… series. I read What Was Hurricane Katrina, by Robin Koontz.

Informative in a way that’s easy for kids to digest without ever talking down to them. It didn’t try to hide unpleasant truths about living conditions during and after the hurricane, and tied it back to current events and the danger of climate change. I was pleasantly surprised.

Week 25 (June 25):  Strange Planet: The Sneaking, Hiding Vibrating Creature by Nathan W. Pyle. 

This is such a strange idea for a picture book, especially if you’re not already familiar with the Strange Planet comics. Like the comic, this book is all about using context clues to figure out what the characters are saying. For some kids this could be a fun way to learn new words, but for others, especially younger ones, I think the vocabulary would be too hard.

Week 26 (Jun 27): The Game Master: Summer Schooled by Matt and Rebecca Zamolo.

There are much worse YouTuber books, but this one doesn’t have much to recommend to it unless you’re already a fan of the channel.  It changes perspective without any rhyme or reason, and the readers aren’t given enough information about the puzzles to solve them along with the characters.

Week 27 (Jul. 4): The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Brailler.

The monster apocalypse is terrifying, but it’s also kind of a kid’s paradise. This fun, funny romp through the end of the world has the feel of a comic book. It would be perfect for a reluctant reader, or anyone with a zombie apocalypse plan.

Week 28 (Jul. 11): The Bench, by Meghan Markel. Illustrated by Christian Robinson.

This is a very sweet book, though the narration addresses an adult rather than a child. The illustrations were simple, but I liked how they showed a lot of diversity.

Week 29 (Jul. 18): Ali Cross: Like Father, Like Son by James Patterson.

I thought some of its handling of current events was clumsy or heavy-handed, but I liked this fast-paced mystery well enough. Not enough to check out the other book in the series, but enjoyable for what it was.

Week 30 (Jul. 25): Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell.

There’s so much backstory to get through, especially in the first part of the book, that it feels like you’re coming in part way through the series instead of the first book. I liked the magic system, but the novel got bogged down by all the exposition. Even so, it was a fun read, and I’d recommend it to any Harry Potter fans who are mad at JK Rowling.

Week 31 (Aug 1): The Pigeon Has To Go to School by Mo Willems

Is there any children’s librarian who DOESN’T like Mo Willems? The pigeon books talk directly to the reader and makes it interactive. Plus, who hasn’t been nervous before their first day of school?

Week 32 (Aug 8): Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston.

I had a hard time getting into this one. I think I’m just burnt-out with youth fantasy series, especially ones that feature some sort of trial/rite of passage. There were a lot of information dumps, especially in the beginning, and sometimes it felt like I was just waiting for the real action to start.

Week 33 (Aug. 15): Serpent & Dove, by Shelby Mahurin

I liked this book way more than I thought I would. It’s marketed as a supernatural YA romance, but there’s action, intrigue, and some really great characters. I didn’t love the third act, or the ending, but I’m sure I’ll be reading the sequel.

Week 34 (Aug. 22): Three Little Engines, by Bob McKinnon

I was a little wary when I saw that one of my favorite books as a child had gotten a sequel, but this one did a fine job. Instead of the importance of determination, this book focused on teaching empathy, and how sometimes people need a little help. The message that sometimes saying “I think I can” isn’t enough detracts from the original <em>Little Engine That Could</em> a little bit, but overall I think it’s a worthy follow-up.

Week 35 (Aug. 29):  Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood, edited by Kwame Mbalia.

In a word: warmhearted. This is an anthology of short stories all starring Black boys by talented authors. There’s a variety of genres, too. Along with contemporary stories, there’s also science-fiction, fantasy, and poetry. “Extinct” by Dean Atta was my favorite, but each story will leave you smiling.

Week 36 (Sep. 5): The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black

I went back and forth on this book. I was excited to read this series, but also a little apprehensive. It eventually hooked me, but it didn’t stay. About 3/4s of the way through I realized I didn’t like any of the characters and didn’t care what happened to any of them. While I am curious about how the rest of the series plays out, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more books in it.

Week 37 (Sep. 12): We Don’t Eat Our Classmates! by Ryan T. Higgins

I loved this book! It’s funny, Penelope is an adorable T-Rex, and it teaches about empathy in a memorable, humorous way.

(And empathy is delicious.)

Week 38 (Sep. 19): We Are Family, by LeBron James and Andrea Williams

This was much better than I expected it to be for a celebrity book, though I have a feeling LeBron James didn’t do the bulk of the writing. I thought some of the plot lines needed more development, but it’s an easy read that will appeal to basketball fans and student athletes.

Week 39 (Sep. 26): A Twisted Tale series, by Liz Braswell. I read Part of Your World. 

I had a pretty good time with this book. The story did meander a bit in the middle without much progress, but overall I liked it. I’d pick up another book in the series for a light, fun read.

Week 40 (Oct. 3): Gustavo, the Shy Ghost, by Flavia Z. Drago

I never thought I would relate to an illustrated ghost so much. I definitely felt like Gustavo as a kid (and sometimes still do!) so I loved seeing him take a risk and make friends.

Week 41 (Oct. 10): Beasts and Beauty, by Soman Chainani. Illustrated by Julia Iredale.

This was such a cool book! Creative twists on classic fairy tales in ways that I couldn’t guess were coming. (including feminist morals, a gay Sleeping Beauty, a Black Snow White). 

Week 42 (Oct. 17): A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, by Holly Jackson.

I’ve never been a fan of mysteries, but I devoured this one. I think including things like the main character’s capstone journal and other visual aids helped me get into it. By the time the book switched over to conventional narration entirely, I was totally hooked. I thought the characters could be developed more, but the story was so gripping I couldn’t put it down. 

Week 43 (Oct. 24): The Bad Seed Presents: The Good, the Bad, and the Spooky, by Jory John. Illustrated by Pete Oswald. 

I’ve read a couple of The Bad Seed books and I really like the art style. I thought this one was a bit wordier than the ones I’ve read in the past, though I might not be remembering properly. I didn’t like this one as much as the other ones I’ve read, but it’s a cute Halloween story with tricks and treats.

Week 46 (Nov. 14): Change Sings by Amanda Gorman. Illustrated by Loren Long.

Amanda Gorman is a talented poet, but the illustrations are where this book truly shines. They show a group of diverse kids doing things to help their community and one another, making a big difference when they’re all together. I especially liked the end, where the reader is dared to join in and help make change.

Week 44 (Oct. 31): The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamilo. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

The set up is a bit generic for an adult who’s read fantasy novels for most of her life, but I liked the characters, especially Beatryce and Answelica. A sweet, short story that would be great for kids getting into fantasy.

Week 45 (Nov. 7): I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis. I read I Survived Gettysburg. 

I’ve seen these books around, and I’ve always been curious about them. I Survived Gettysburg is a fast-paced story starring a brave boy who escaped from slavery with his younger sister. It’s not the most in-depth historical fiction for youth that I’ve read, but the author has a helpful FAQ and other reading recommendations for kids who are interested in learning more about the Civil War.

Week 47 (Nov. 21): Black Ballerinas by Misty Copeland. Illustrated by Salena Barnes.

Here’s my confession: I am an uncultured swine who doesn’t care about ballet. The illustrations are beautiful, but the biographies didn’t really hold my interest. However, I understand that it’s important to highlight Black women in this predominantly White dance form. I hope children of color will be able to see themselves in this book, and know that they can break barriers like the ballerinas in the book…and Misty Copeland.

Week 48 (Nov. 28): Warriors: The Broken Code by Erin Hunter

This book is a good introduction if you’re not already familiar with the Warriors series. I wasn’t enthralled by it, but if I were ten, I’m sure it would have been one of my favorite books.

Week 49 (Dec. 5): Aaron Slater, Illustrator, by Andrea Beaty. Illustrated by Douglas Roberts.

I already really liked this picture book series, and this is another solid entry, featuring a child with dyslexia who learns to tell stories his own way.

Week 50 (Dec. 12): Out of My Heart by Sharon Draper

The plot is pretty thin: Melody, a girl with severe cerebral palsy, goes to summer camp. But Melody is such a good character and the book is so warm-hearted, reading it was like sliding into a bubble bath.

Week 51 (Dec. 10): Magic Tree House Series by Mary Osborne Pope. I read Knights at Dawn.

There’s plenty to capture kids’ imaginations in this fast-paced adventure, while also educating readers on some historical facts.

Week 52 (Dec. 26): Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker. Illustrated by Ag Ford.

I liked this cute, rhyming book, but I have just one gripe: why are all these construction vehicles boys? I loved construction vehicles when I was young, and I’m sure a lot of little girls do, too.

*Fun fact: Harry Potter is the reason the New York Times began a separate list for children’s best sellers. People were so tired of the Harry Potter books taking up slots on the regular best seller list, a separate best seller list had to be created.