Writing a western set in the 1870s, Paul K. Brown invites readers on a ride with The Llano Kid, the first of the Llano Kid Adventures. Half Cherokee and half Irish, Llano was orphaned when he was twelve.  On Llano’s path to young adulthood, Brown recounts various encounters with drunks, bullies, thieves, and gunmen who seem to prefer bravado or mob mentality without any notion for getting the facts.  Now nineteen and seasoned by these experiences, Llano is looking for a place to find honest work and to hang his hat. However, he will have to navigate the harsh code of the West and theRead More →

Dark, gruesome, and captivating, The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker is Book One in a planned duology. In this first installment, Baker writes the story of an angry biracial girl—Ren Scarborough—who is trying to find out where she belongs. This feeling of being half and not whole, as well as the label foreigner haunts Ren, following her from London, England, where she serves as a Reaper, to Japan where Ren was born a Shinigami. In both roles, Ren, who is a descendent of darkness—made not of flesh and blood but of Death and Time—works for Death. This servitude is supposed to be sacred,Read More →

With the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 having recently been commemorated, we all might wonder whether we have progressed as a nation in the last two decades. We might ask ourselves if we treat others better today than we did in the days and months after the attacks. Because today’s school age youth were not yet alive in 2001, they may wonder why September 11 carries the motto, Never Forget. They may wonder why history is so important.  Saadia Faruqi’s novel Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero will guide middle grade readers to understand these complicated questions with their layered answers. Readers will learn that historyRead More →

Because of her parents’ arguing at home, racist comments and insensitivity from classmates at school, stress induced anxiety, and the typical horrors of high school, Quinn Jackson keeps a journal filled with lists.  A coping mechanism of sorts, her lists serve to calm her mind, provide a sense of focus, and give her a foundation.  She also lists her goals and dreams, her fears and worries.  Her journal contains her feelings when she doesn’t know how to express them out loud. When her journal turns up missing and she instead has a red-covered spiral that belongs to Carter Bennett, Quinn determines that Carter must haveRead More →

Known as the lonely girl who writes computer code, sixteen-year-old Xia Chan is offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in an incubator program for gifted young programmers. As a young tech prodigy, Xia has developed a predictive outcomes application (app) she calls Wiser. Because of this technology, she has been targeted by the Foundry, an institute run by Lars Lang in Silicon Valley. Only twenty youth are accepted for this all-expense paid experience. For one year, they live on campus in the San Francisco Bay area and compete to be that year’s Founder. Whoever wins will receive “one million dollars in seedRead More →

Secondhand Dogs by Carolyn Crimi is a book about dogs and humans. Eleven-year-old Quinn has lost his dad to a heart attack and his dog Murph to a vehicle accident, and now he’s losing his brother Jessie to a pack of bullies. Craving love and attention, Quinn accepts a job with Miss Lottie, who has created a family of dogs she is giving another chance. Quinn develops into a good belly rubber and an excellent chin scratcher, beloved by the pack of rescue dogs. When the story opens, four dogs comprise the pack. With his strength and courage, Tank is loyal and trusty—a true bulldogRead More →

Nina Hamza’s debut novel, Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year is an epic read. Weaving elements of three classic middle grade books: Holes by Louis Sachar, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, Hamza shares some important perspectives with her readers. Ahmed’s father needs a liver transplant, a medical situation that precipitates the need to move from Hawaii to Minnesota. Initially, Ahmed’s dominant emotion is anger. That shifts to confusion for the twelve year old skinny brown boy with curly hair. As a Muslim of Indian descent, Ahmed struggles to find his place inRead More →

Better with Butter by Victoria Piontek takes on the topic of mental health awareness. Her novel features twelve-year-old Marvel McKenna who lives with an anxiety disorder. When she’s not thinking of global, world-ending tragedies, Marvel is thinking of small “me-centric concerns.”  In fact, her insides feel like a forest with “one worry pollinating another” (70). Targeting middle school readers, Piontek’s storyline opens the dialogue about mental challenges. Through Marvel, young readers will come to know that pep talks don’t magic someone back to health, nor can anxiety be teased or bullied out of a person either.  What people with such a condition need most isRead More →

Sixth grader Bea Embers is a bright, competitive, and strong-willed girl. She and her mother have always been a team of two, but their quiet mornings eating Corn Pops and sharing the ritual of their “three things they’re grateful for, big or small” come to an abrupt end when Mom gets pregnant and decides to marry Wendell Valentine, who has three sons: Cameron, Tucker, and Bryce and multiple pets. Her mother’s marriage also means moving away from Aunt Tam with whom they share a wall in their condominium in Vermont.  It further means not living in the same neighborhood as Maximilian, Bea’s best friend whoRead More →