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 →

Set in North Carolina, The Ghosts We Keep by Mason Deaver is a book about coping with grief. It confirms that healing is a complicated process different for everyone. When Liam Cooper’s brother, Ethan is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Liam loses the normal in his universe.  The sixteen-year-old, non-binary musician can find no life outside the music he makes with the aid of GarageBand software. Even his friends Joel and Vanessa consider him too morose. Feeling like he doesn’t belong anywhere and trying to navigate the grieving process alone, his anger and depression consume him. Initially, Liam believes that he will move through theRead 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 →

Targeting ‘tweens, How to Disappear Completely by Ali Standish is an interesting novel about difference, not only about how we treat others who are different but the ways our own differences can empower us and even transform us into more than we thought we could be. It is also a book about navigating junior high school and about coping with death. Set in Lanternwood, a town with the feel of stepping back in time, the plot revolves around twelve-year-old Emma Talbot who has just lost her grandmother, who is also her best friend. With Gram, Emma had lived in a world “made of old booksRead More →

Jacqueline Woodson’s recent middle-grade novel, Harbor Me imparts how story holds the power to heal because it helps us make sense of the world.  Woodson tells a tale about rising from tragedy and how tragedy not only takes away but bestows gifts. Similar to other novels that use trees as metaphors for survival and interconnected relationships—novels like Hidden Roots by Joseph Bruchac, Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith—Woodson’s book alludes to Ailanthus trees with their extensive root systems that help not only to ground them but to lend endurance in harsh conditions. Set in Brooklyn, the native landRead More →

Dana L. Davis is an actress, a classical violinist, and now an author.  Her debut novel, Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now is a remarkable book about a sixteen-year-old young woman who has found herself in a tsunami of change after her mother dies from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Because Grams is an elderly resident in an assisted living facility, suddenly Tiffany is flying from low-income housing in Chicago to a mansion in Los Angeles to live with the doctor dad she didn’t even know existed.  Uprooted from her familiar neighborhood, school, and friends and suffering from anxiety disorder, Tiffany must find comfort with a stepmother, four sisters,Read More →

With his debut novel, Tyler Johnson Was Here, Jay Coles tells the story of Tyler and Marvin Johnson, twin teenage boys living in Sterling Point, Alabama.  In their neighborhood, they worry often about police visits, gang-infested streets, robberies, vandalism, and gun violence.  For eight years, their father has been in Montgomery Correctional Facility for a crime he did not commit, and Marvin would “kill to have him back” (19). Because he hung around men who committed crimes, Jamal Johnson received his sentence from a corrupt system.  To cope with his dad’s absence and to see past the shame, Marvin writes letters to his absent father,Read More →

Her brother Nolan is dead, her parents are divorced, her aunt Joan is a “hurricane,” and Mel Hannigan has one of many versions of bipolar disorder, but some things you just don’t tell the world.  In the same spirit with which Terry Spencer Hesser skillfully and credibly illustrates obsessive compulsive disorder in Kissing Doorknobs  and Mark Haddon writes about life for someone coping with autism in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Eric Lindstrom shares his honest and informative novel,  A Tragic Kind of Wonderful.  Books like these, with realistic representations of people who experience mental health issues, can help readers notRead More →

Strong-willed and filled with questions as a child, Clara Hartel loves time spent with her dad, who promises, “You’ll never be lost as long as I’m here” (99).  Having already lost her mother to thyroid cancer, Clara requires reassurance that she will not be completely abandoned.  So, when her father dies suddenly from a heart attack, eight-year-old Clara no longer feels safe and secure. Devastated by her father’s death, Clara figuratively confines herself in a glass coffin, like that remembered from the bedtime story of Snow White.  Psychologically shut away from the outside world, Clara goes through the motions of life, where sounds are muffled,Read More →