Category Archives: Middle grade

Can it be “see ya later” not goodbye?


I had been lucky to attend conferences around launch time for Jason Reynolds’ previous Track books so I never had to wait like the rest of the world to read them when they were published. So when I was in a bookstore this weekend (who knew?!) I couldn’t pass up purchasing Lu, the fourth and final book in his middle grade Track series. And of course because it was chilly and rainy today, I thought what better time than right now to devour it? 

Then I regretted it. Why? Because it’s the last one.

2018-10-28 19.22.48What was I thinking? Plenty of us avid readers have felt sadness in the last book of a beloved series and this one was no different. Reynolds is the GOAT, period. Whoever designed the covers needs a raise. Reynolds’ ability to create deep characters with authentic middle grade voices has been spotlighted in this series and shines again with Lu, another track star under Coach’s tutelage who is helping his father right his wrongs while hopefully looking toward a future with a baby sister when his mother should have never even been able to have him. Rich with inspiration and motivation, it’s the power of our human experience through Lu whose Albinism hasn’t changed his perspective much, in fact his newest job as big brother has allowed him to grow as he passes through the awkwardness of youth.

This book is all that’s right with middle grade literature and the superstar that is Jason Reynolds. I’ve already placed an order for an additional four for our high school library because I will push the complete series like candy on Halloween (away from me and out into the world to be enjoyed by others) so it won’t be goodbye, rather “see ya later”.

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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Authors, Cover Love, Fiction, Middle grade


Four for Friday


With school being back full-swing, I’m still reading plenty but finding the time to sit down and share some of them hasn’t happened… until now. So, here’s four fantastic books for a Friday night!


Number one: Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives by Gary Younge picks one day, November 23, 2013 and researches, interviews, and writes about the lives of ten young people aged 18 and under and how they lost their lives to gun violence with a side of commentary on guns in America- so raw and emotional with plenty of thoughtful, discussion-worthy sidebars.

Number two: Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World by Mackenzi Lee has the best feminist voice to share a nonfiction story collection of these 52 women from across the globe from all time periods. Lee’s humor and contemporary lens might make it dated years from now with her vocabulary and word choice, but it’s an unforgettable and beautiful collective biography with no shortage of combined entertainment and research.

Number three: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison is visually stunning and as she states, it started with sketches she did during Black History Month and took on a life of it’s own and then eventually became this gem. Highlighting historical and contemporary black women and how they led the way is through an illustration and one-page biography for the two-page spreads.

Number four: Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel by Mariah Marsden keeps the classic story alive. And while it took a few pages to get used to our carrot-topped Anne with an E and Matthew’s long hair it finds its pace and story and pays homage to Green Gables and those that live (or come to live) there.

Go in to the weekend knowing you have some books to put on hold. Or if you can’t wait, purchase!


Call me Harry Potter


This post was originally published on the Times Union Books blog here

I had two goals for this summer: learn to play chess and read the Harry Potter series. And goal two was a formidable one. With seven books totaling 4,111 pages (the longest being the fifth book that clocks in at 870 pages), I would have to be strategic. But I’m also a librarian and reading is like, part of my job. It’s a skill. One in hone daily.

HarryPotterI began on July 20th not for any reason other than I was ready. I finished on August 7th. With some dedicated reading time, a few late nights, and encouragement from my elementary-aged kids (one who has finished the series and one who is on book five), I met that goal. What did I do on August 8th? I borrowed my kids’ Gryffindor robe, Potter glasses and tie, used eyeliner to make my scar, and took a picture to commemorate this feat. As was done when said child finished the series back in March and I will do when other said child finishes.

The goal came from several things. First, I have two kids who have become obsessed over this past year with them– waving their winds and casting spells. So, I wanted to enjoy the books alongside them. Second, I’ve already mentioned that I’m a librarian. I would have to have actually tried hard not to read it all these years. And that’s true because I was the perfect age when the series was launched twenty years ago to be one of Rowling’s Potterheads. I read the first one in college and thought, eh. Then never continued. Now was the time. And the third reason is just because. I like a good challenge. I like having goals.

And I can say that it feels pretty darn good, like I was channeling all of those non-readers out there that were turned into readers because of this series. There’s a reason Rowling is a billionaire because the books, the characters, the world she created is breathtaking.

There were instances where I had to sit back and marvel at her storytelling and commend her genius. She was building an empire. It’s the reason there is an entire website (Pottermore) dedicated to the books where you can be sorted into your house (proud Ravenclaw), discover your wand (10” English Oak with unicorn hair core and unbending flexibility), and find out what your patronus is (husky). You can visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Universal Studios in Orlando. You can buy Lego sets and tshirts. You want to be (fill in the blank character). All because of these seven books.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that the books are doorstoppers and readers can get bogged down in the details. But as a whole, it’s an experience and makes me appreciate Rowling’s statement

“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book”.

It should be on bucket lists and scored alongside other significant life events not only to marvel at them like a famous painting or classic car but to kick start out imaginations young or old.

I’ll make one last point for those that haven’t read the series and might consider it whether you’re fifteen or sixty-eight: know that there are many who would give anything to be in your place. A friend made a passing comment about my reading the series that I took to heart: what she wouldn’t give to go back and read them for the first time. Surely you have at least one book that you would kill for the opportunity to go back and read for the first time.

Harry Potter enriched so many lives and continues with each generation of kids. With translations closing in on one hundred languages, the series won’t go out of style. Many would argue that it belongs in the top five for best children’s literature of all time, maybe even #1.

Now, let’s see if I can squeeze in the Harry Potter movie marathon before summer’s end. It’s entirely likely based on all this rain we’ve been having…


#RiotGrams challenge complete

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A few times a year, I participate in Book Riot’s RiotGrams challenge via Instagram (and occasionally using Twitter), in which book lovers unit to bookstagram based on prompts they put together. My challenge is always sharing them outside my group of friends because my Instagram account is private, which is why the good ones end up on Twitter hoping to be scooped up by Book Riot to feature on their Instagram page. Alas, none made it, but I do know a local book lover who did!

So of course, I’ll share my favorites along with the book recommendation!


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The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart

This book was “read in one sitting” while spending a day in airports traveling to New Orleans, both because it was riveting and I couldn’t go or do anything else. Stewart’s voice is entertaining, humorous, and knowledgeable. I highlighted plenty of pages to go back and read as well as several drinks to try and plants to appreciate for their inclusion in alcoholic beverages. It’s a phenomenal purchase for your fellow drink lover, for sure.

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

The summer title for appropriate as it was the solstice so I couldn’t help but capturing a book with summer in the title and a perfect beach read featuring summer employment, fashion, burgers, and a budding romance.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

A contemporary classic (don’t even try to argue with me), I have pages photocopied for easy re-reading and have re-read over the years. It’s an endearing story of a girl in the afterlife watching as pieces fall apart for her living family. Couple it with Sebold’s own biography Lucky and it’s a win-win.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

A middle grade that speaks to the immigrant experience, Mia has pluck and perseveres managing the front desk of the motel that her parents are employed at. This was my cheat #RiotGrams for taking my book on a date because I was sitting in the backyard, by a fire, and eating a s’more the night before. Shhhhh, don’t tell! 

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

I will be forever grateful to Madigan for bringing this debut into the world and have mentioned before that I’m sad that she passed away after only having published one follow up. I used it for a book that should have more readers (this and North of Beautiful by Chen are brother and sister books in this respect) as it features lyrical contemporary storytelling through motif (photography in the former, cartography in the latter).


Five for Friday

Five for Friday

Last night was the last book group meeting of the year that I facilitate through a local cooperative. With the size of the group and timing, we can usually share 1-3 books each, but I realized I’ve read so many fantastic books lately that I had a hard time choosing. So, it’s perfect for a five for Friday (and the last Friday of the school year with only one more school day left)!


Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Shamblers aka zombies are being made out of the Civil War dead in an alternative history where African Americans are still oppressed. Jane is at a combat school for African American girls where she will learn to use the tools of combat to keep people safe from shamblers. But her cheeky attitude to “remaining in her place” gets her into trouble with the powerful leaders and she’s sent away to a town out west that is off. It’s her job, along with a band of others, to discover the truth and take down these leaders while searching for answers about her mother and Red Jack. It’s an adventurous, action-oriented, imaginative story that is as intense as it is funny, ambitious, and unique.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer with Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano (illustrator)

The graphic novel format does justice to the story of a fictional boy, Ebo, who along with his brother leave their homeland to cross the desert and eventually the Mediterranean to find their sister and peace. Colfer and Donkin’s storytelling and Rigano’s artwork create an emotional platform for sharing an immigrant’s journey with several scenes eliciting the same response I had to several scenes in Don Brown’s Drowned City about Hurricane Katrina. Multiple copies on order for it’s future release.

Be Prepared by Vera Brogsol

So, quick story: I’m currently doing the Book Riot Riotgrams challenge for June and Thursday’s post needed to be “ice cream/sweet treat”. Literally the day before, I read and adored Brogsol’s new graphic memoir, Be Prepared, in which she includes the Stewart’s Shops sign as she’s driving to summer camp. Stewart’s is a community-minded convenience store in our area that has amazing ice cream. So, what was a librarian to do?

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Go to Stewart’s, get a seasonal flavor (Mounds of Coconut) ice cream cone, and ask a Stewart’s employee to take a picture of me with the ice cream, Brogsol’s book, and the Stewart’s logo in the background. Mission accomplished (and the ice cream was delicious). But the book itself is everything that is right with sharing the universal experiences of tweendom. The awkwardness of making friends. The prospect of not having them and how we earn them, and who is worth our time, all while sharing pieces of her Russian culture as a Russian summer camp. The olive-toned colors bring out the story in a way that makes the expressive characters pop and readers enjoy the beauty of nature.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka

Hearing him speak this past week about the experience of writing his life’s story and turning it into a graphic novel was powerful. And while I have yet to watch the TED talk that inspired the graphic novel, it details his upbringing with his grandparents after they took him from his heroin-addicted mother (he never knew his father until later) and how he became an artist with their often tumultuous support. Yet, my favorite scene is when he pays homage to Jack Gantos (who I adore and we had the pleasure of hosting in our schools) as an impetus for his own craft. It’s raw and really real.

Teen Trailblazers: 30 Fearless Girls Who Changed the World Before They Were 20 by Jennifer Calvert and Vesna Asanovic (illustrator)

Add this to the stack of new informational nonfiction that highlight the stories of women who have accomplished something great in their lives in order to recognize the value of women throughout history. While some of them are starting to blend together, Calvert’s focuses on women who accomplished this even before they turned twenty years old is themed. The easy-to-read format features little-known and well-known women that inspire the next generation of kids to take charge in changing the culture when and where it’s needed. And it’s currency cannot be neglected since one of the women featured is Emma Gonzalez from Parkland High School in the aftermath of the school shooting in her school just several months ago.

Which one are you picking up first?



Over the moon for To the Moon!


IMG_0349While I absolutely enjoy my adult fiction and nonfiction as an adult reader, my teen audience is what I think about most when reading. And after enjoying the Memorial Day holiday with plenty of books and outdoor reading (an indoor reading due to the rain), I find myself appreciative of publishers who adapt adult novels for teen audiences who will eventually grow into readers of the adult novels too.

Though, I daresay that these young reader adaptations are done so phenomenally well that a reader may never need to read the adult version. This is true of Malala Yousafzai’s story, The Boys in the Boat, and Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. I’ll add one more to the list: To the Moon!: The True Story of the American Heroes on the Apollo 8 Spaceship by Jeffrey Kluger and Ruby Shamir whose adult novel by Jeffrey Kluger is Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon.

Favorite characters: Of course, they need to be the real-life astronauts who took the mission when preparing for a later mission that left them in space during Christmas 1968. Each astronaut: Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman all shined with their personalities through Kluger’s adept writing and research with a particularly telling scene at the end when Kluger describes an epilogue of sorts after Apollo 8 and what the men went on to do: Borman smacked the pod they had just returned to Earth in and walked away, never looking back while the two other men went on to continue in the space program.

Favorite scenes: Each scene where Kluger skillfully describes the mission control station or training facility. I was particularly struck when he explains how you can tell the success of the mission based on the smell, look, and temperature of the food sitting alongside the NASA employees during the missions. In contrast or relationship to their faces and conversation when things go right and when things go wrong. It is thrilling to feel like a reader is working on the mission too.

Earthrise_Anders_ToTheMoonRefFavorite quote image: I had to look it up because I knew that it wasn’t the “blue marble” image, but when Kluger explains Anders’ shot of Earthrise, I had to bring up the image to get the full scale of some of the captivating images that they would have seen and excitingly, captured for us earthlings to see. It demonstrates the importance of not only space travel but the undying power of an image to put us in our place– in history, geographically, emotionally.

So while I can’t put my finger on one thing that made this story great, it was a confluence of all of the pieces of great storytelling. Narrative nonfiction chronicling the space race, astronauts and the sacrifices they and their families make, the inherent danger, the dreams we all have to be bigger than ourselves, but told in a way that the everyday person can understand it and be along for the ride. Who wouldn’t want (as Marilyn Lovell knows) to be gifted with a Christmas Day present from “the man in the moon”?

And in closing, back to my appreciation for young readers editions, here are a few others I’d like to see adapted for a younger audience: Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man, Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, Bill Schutt’s Cannibalism, and Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus.


Sandwiches! Part I

Sandwiches Part I

About two weeks ago, I sat down to my snack-based lunch at work where I use this time less to “have lunch” but more to read and unplug for a brief time from the hundred  interactions per hour as a high school librarian.

Usually I focus this reading time on nonfiction, manga, or graphic novels, so I had pulled Sandwiches!: More Than You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Making and Eating America’s Favorite Food by Alison Deering and illustrated by Bob Lentz. I’ll admit that the title was intriguing but the cover was absolutely magical. It’s bright colors, big sandwich, and cool font is the epitome of great advertising through cover design. As I hunkered down for the next thirty minutes, I was giggling, huh!-ing, and flipping through the pages like mad learning about the first known reference to a club sandwich to why the rise in supermarkets post-WWII led to the popularity of the BLT because tomatoes and lettuce became produce available all year round (58). I also ick-ed my way through some of the recommendations for customizing some of them. I shouted over to our technology guy to ask if he had heard of a name associated with a classic Italian submarine sandwich hero/hoagie/grinder that is apparently used by upstate New Yorkers (sadly he nor I have heard of that term EVER– so if you live in upstate New York and have used the term wedge, I want you to contact me!).

But herein lies the reason this book got a triple-five star rating from me. I learned stuff. It was about food. It was graphic. It was entertaining. It had a vivid pictorial style that grounded the book while keeping readers engaged. Readers can tell the author and illustrator had fun working on this project if from nothing else than their bios at the end where they add their favorite sandwich and how to make it. I resolved then and there to make every sandwich in the book and document it on my Instagram. Luckily, Deering and Lentz really did their research because I have sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, dinner, AND dessert (umm, the ice cream SANDWICH people!)  So thank you.

I’ll share just a few of the pictures and sandwiches so far, including my first post committing to making every sandwich. I received quite a few comments about friends wanting to come over after that! And it was apropos that the first sandwich was made when a friend who appreciates good food (and good books) was visiting. You’ll see several posts throughout the next few months sharing my culinary journey paying homage to “America’s favorite food”.

Have you ever been inspired to do, create, or build something after reading a book? Please share in the comments!

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