Jasbinder Bilan’s debut novel for middle grade readers, Asha and the Spirit Bird, is one rich with cultural detail and adventure. Set in a village in India called Moormandali, Bilan includes many Hindi and Punjabi words to add authenticity to the telling of this coming of age, epic journey. The story features eleven-year-old Asha Kumar and her twelve-year-old best friend, Jeevan Singh Gill.  The two children sneak away from home to travel from their village in the foothills of the Himalayas to find Asha’s papa in Zandapur. The journey calls on the children’s perseverance, courage, hope, and conviction that they will be successful.  Along theRead More →

Wrenched from her childhood home in Memphis and from a father she loves, sixteen-year-old Skye Rogers has been transplanted to New York City’s Upper West Side to reside with the ultra-wealthy—the American Royalty.  Calling The Monmouth School, which she attends with her twin brother Red, her personal hell, Skye lives with her mother, Deidre Allen, whom she despises, and a detached stepfather who tolerates her. While Red makes friends effortlessly, Skye (aka Blue) struggles to make tentative connections. However, she does befriend Jenny Johnson, with whom she bonds over a mutual wrist-slitting suicide attempt.   Both girls are also ambitious, with Jenny hoping to be aRead More →

A story of resilience, Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist addresses the issue of homelessness from a child’s perspective. The Dunn family’s homelessness is brought on by the death of Isaiah’s and Charlie’s father, Gary Dunn, on November 24 due to a heart attack. Gary’s wife, Lisa subsequently falls into a debilitating depression accompanied by a bout with alcoholism. While his mother is incapacitated by grief, Isaiah is expected to watch and entertain his four-year-old sister and to keep up in school at Woodson Elementary.  This ten-year-old young man is forced to accept other responsibilities, as well.  Hoping to get the fundsRead More →

Living in Nevada, Andre Rosario (Dre) is the opposite of smooth.  He’s flamboyant, out-spoken, and prone to hyperbole.  He’s also resentful that everyone is watching, judging, and offering snaky commentary about him and the sacrifices he has made for his father’s presidential candidacy. This openly gay young man is talented with monster makeup and photography, posting his creations online with a web presence called Dreadful Dressup. Dre’s best friend and partner in creating Dreadful Dressup is Mel—Emelda Vincente-Perez.  Mel is fiercely loyal, politically committed to her beliefs, and ready to change the world. Dre isn’t as interested in making so public a statement. When DreRead More →

Like nightmares, scary stories are a sort of dress rehearsal for real-life fear, helping children learn to cope with the emotion in a low-stakes setting.  After all, the world can be a scary place where children will encounter frightful situations—such as getting lost, losing friends, being less loved than a sibling, or experiencing abandonment as a result of parental death or divorce.  Therefore, knowing how to confront fear can benefit children and help them cope with difficulty. Scary stories like Dan Poblocki’s Ghost Hunter’s Daughter, targeted for middle grade readers in the eight to twelve year old age group, not only help children forge resilience but give them a senseRead More →

Clever, quick on her feet, and possessing a commanding but cheerful demeanor, Faith Herbert from Glenwood, Minnesota, is destined for superhero status.  Every superhero and character that she loves has endured “some awful thing to achieve greatness” (5), and she wonders whether her parents’ dying in the same car accident when she was quite young wasn’t her “awful thing.” Now, Faith lives with her Grandma Lou, works at the All Paws on Deck Shelter and Clinic for veterinarian Dr. Bryner tending to people’s pets, and spends a lot of time with her best friends, Matt Delgado and Francesca Palmer (Ches). Matt has Puerto Rican rootsRead More →

Eat Pray Love meets lust, love, soccer in Iva-Marie Palmer’s young adult novel Gimme Everything You Got. Set in Illinois in 1979 when Title IX was historically significant, Palmer’s book starts off with a snarky, candid, and humorous tone.  Who knew fulcrum could be sexually suggestive or that prolongedly was even a word, especially as an adverb to describe a fantasy kiss? I found myself laughing out loud about how genuine this all seemed. Initially, the discussion of masturbation and erogenous zones gave the novel an air of authenticity—given that such a focus is a natural part of the maturation process for teens—but it wasn’tRead More →

Although she wants to prove a point about Hollywood body standards, Shin Haneul (Skye)—a sixteen-year-old Korean mixed race girl who lives in Orange County—is tired and annoyed.  She’s tired of having to stand up for herself all of the time because she’s a plus-size girl who loves bright colors, loud music, and dancing! And she’s annoyed by her mother’s judgmental nature and by strangers’ perceptions of her weight.  Too often people look quickly and assume: lazy, lack of self-discipline, or no will-power.  Yet, genetics determine body shape more than life habits, and Skye knows she’s no less of a person because of her size. SkyeRead More →

Reading You Don’t Live Here left me wowed and gushing that author Robyn Schneider is a genius at capturing the search for one’s true self!  In her novel, Schneider not only shares insight into human nature and how keeping parts of ourselves hidden has consequences but includes multiple metaphors for the therapeutic power of art.  I also laughed out loud when she referred to high school as a “uniquely hellish social experiment” (70). Sixteen-year-old Sasha Bloom is a photographer, an identity she gravitated towards after her mother bought her a camera because Sasha would rather be invisible behind a camera lens than be a continuedRead More →