School Library Journal The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Sun, 22 Jan 2017 05:01:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 SLJ 2017 Battle of the Kids’ Books Contenders Announced Fri, 20 Jan 2017 15:00:06 +0000 BOB-KidsLogo2017March may be synonymous with three-pointers to many people, but here in the children’s book world, we’re all about BOB. Now in its ninth year, School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books—affectionately known as BOB—brings together kid lit fans from classrooms, libraries, and publishing houses across the country to debate each of the contender’s literary merits, design, and overall appeal.

Sixteen of 2016’s best books for young people are being paired off in a series of one-on-one contests, March Madness style. This online elimination competition will pit the year’s most acclaimed titles for children and young adults against one another in matches. The panel of judges, consisting of some of the most esteemed authors in the field, will decide the contenders’ fates in this winner-take-all tournament. Each author (very closely) reads two books, and then decides which one advances to the next round. It ain’t easy. They must assess a range of works: nonfiction and fiction, children’s and teen novels, historical fiction and contemporary titles (and, for the first time, picture books). They ultimately have to designate one as the “best,” even from among books of different genres.

Among the picture books that will be vying for the title are Carole Boston Weatherford’s Freedom in Congo Square (little bee); Ashley Bryan’s Freedom over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks.); Sherman Alexie’s Thunderboy Jr. (Little, Brown); and Julie Fogliano’s When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons (Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks.).

But this year’s judges—to be revealed individually as the battle unfolds, starting on February 6—are up to the task. Past judges have included three National Ambassadors for Young People’s Literature: Jon Scieszka, Katherine Paterson, and Walter Dean Myers; Newbery Award winners Lois Lowry, Laura Amy Schlitz, and Clare Vanderpool; and New York Times best-sellers James Patterson and Jennifer L. Holm.

The battle officially launches Monday, March 13, with the 16 titles having been published on January 18. On Friday, March 31, the victor will be announced.

Fans can take part in the action by voting in the virtual Undead Poll. If a book is voted off early, it still can compete in the last round if it came out ahead during this Zombie Round. That voting opens March 2 and closes Sunday, March 12, the day before the first match. The “Closer,” or last judge, will choose the grand prize winner from among the Zombie Round winner and the last two books left standing.

The 2016 Closer, Ann M. Martin, had the daunting task of choosing among Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gone Crazy in Alabama (HarperCollins/Amistad), Brian Selznick’s The Marvels (Scholastic), and Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona (HarperCollins/Harper Teen), with The Marvels victorious when the dust settled.

BOB is the brainchild of Monica Edinger and Roxanne Feldman, educators at the Dalton School in New York City, and Jonathan Hunt, the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education (and SLJ’s “Heavy Medal” blogger). Inspired by The Morning News’s Tournament of Books, SLJ’s BOB launched in 2009 as an engaging way to celebrate children’s literature.

The process began months ago, with BOB’s Battle Commander winnowing the vast field to devise the list of contenders. Then, each of those worthy competitors was assigned a judge by SLJ editors. Adding to the fun is a series of whimsical illustrations created by SLJ’s own creative director, Mark Tuchman, which cleverly play on each title’s plotline.

From this stellar field of work, which book will emerge with the crown? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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“March: Book Three” Named Winner of the 2017 Walter Award Fri, 20 Jan 2017 14:14:17 +0000 March: Book Three as the winner of the Walter Dean Myers Award, along with three honorees.]]> WalterAward-300x300The conclusion to the three-volume graphic nonfiction title March by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with art by Nate Powell, has garnered another accolade. We Need Diverse Books has selected it as the winner of the second annual Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature – Young Adult Category. Three honorees were also chosen. An SLJ Best Book, March: Book Three also won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in November 2016.

In 2018, the Walter will expand to include middle grade works, in addition to the existing YA category. Plans to add picture books in the future are under way. For more information about the award and the winners, see complete press release below.

We Need Diverse Books™ Announces the 2017 Walter Dean Myers Award and Honorees for Outstanding Children’s Literature – Young Adult Category By We Need Diverse Books January 17, 2017 (New York) – The We Need Diverse Books™ Walter Award Judging Committee has confirmed selections for the second annual Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature – Young Adult Category. One Winner and three Honorees have been named.The Walter Dean Myers Award, also known as “The Walter” is named for prolific children’s and young adult author Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014). Myers was the third National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, appointed in 2012, as well as a champion of diversity in children’s and YA books. The Walter’s mission is to honor Myers’ memory and his literary heritage, as well as celebrate diversity in teen literature.

The winner of the 2017 Walter Award (2017) is March: Book Three by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with art by Nate Powell.

The three honorees, in alphabetical order by author, are Watched by Marina Budhos, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

The Judging Committee reviewed 68 submitted titles published during the 2016 calendar year by diverse authors whose work featured a diverse main character or addressed diversity in a meaningful way. In the case of author pairs (or author-illustrator pairs), at least one of the creators had to be from an underrepresented community. The books covered many genres and included both fiction and nonfiction work.

The 2017 Walter Award Judging Committee were: Co-chairs Kathie Weinberg and Terry Hong, Derek Ivie, Shannon Lake, Karen Lemmons, and Nayantara Mhatre.

“Our Committee was privileged to read and review so many exceptional YA titles representing diversity in authors, subject matter, and characters which were candidates for this award,” said CoChair Judge Kathie Weinberg. “We thank the publishers too, who worked with us for this second year to embrace the mission of the Walter Award.”

“In this time of profound change within our national leadership,” Hong noted, “we’re relieved to know that the right books can serve as ideal antidotes against xenophobia, prejudice, intolerance, hate, and every negative, hurtful, limiting -ism out there.”

In 2018, the Walter will be expanded to include Middle Grade titles, in addition to the existing Young Adult category. Plans to add a Picture Book category in the future are underway. The co-chairs for the 2018 Judging Committee are Terry Hong and Maria Salvadore. Kathie Weinberg and Terry Hong will assume Co-director roles for The Walter Award, effective immediately. In this capacity, they will oversee the Walter Judging Committee, coordinate with publishers, generate publicity for the Award, and present the annual Award event.

We Need Diverse Books™ is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 2014 to address the lack of diverse representation in the children’s publishing industry. The Walter Dean Myers Award is one of the many initiatives funded or supported by WNDB™.

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Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly | SLJ Review Fri, 20 Jan 2017 14:00:48 +0000 KELLY, Erin Entrada. Hello, Universe. illus. by Isabel Roxas. 320p. ­HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062414151.

Gr 3-7 –The universe comes together unexpectedly when a unique set of circumstances cause four tweens to cross paths. Central to the story is Virgil, an 11-year-old Filipino American whose grandmother, Lola, helps him to come out of his shell and face the world. When Virgil and his pet guinea pig, Gulliver, end up trapped in a well in the woods at [...]]]> redstarKELLY, Erin Entrada. Hello, Universe. illus. by Isabel Roxas. 320p. ­HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062414151.

MG-SL-Kelly-HelloUniverseGr 3-7 –The universe comes together unexpectedly when a unique set of circumstances cause four tweens to cross paths. Central to the story is Virgil, an 11-year-old Filipino American whose grandmother, Lola, helps him to come out of his shell and face the world. When Virgil and his pet guinea pig, Gulliver, end up trapped in a well in the woods at the hands of a bully, Chet, it is up to the stars to align before it’s too late. Coming together like spokes on a wheel, everyone converges in the woods—Valencia, a Deaf girl on whom Virgil has a crush; Kaori, an adolescent fortune-teller and free spirit; Kaori’s sister, Gen, her jump-roping apprentice; a feral dog Valencia has befriended; and a snake, which is the only thing Chet fears. Unlikely friendships are formed and heroism abounds as the group of young people try to find their way in the world. Plucky protagonists and a deftly woven story will appeal to anyone who has ever felt a bit lost in the universe. VERDICT Readers across the board will flock to this book that has something for nearly everyone—humor, bullying, self-acceptance, cross-generational relationships, and a smartly fateful ending.–Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2017 issue.

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All Ears, All Eyes by Richard Jackson | SLJ Review Fri, 20 Jan 2017 14:00:26 +0000 JACKSON, Richard. All Ears, All Eyes. illus. by Katherine Tillotson. 40p. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481415712; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481415729.

PreS-Gr 2 –A forest night setting created with watercolor and digital techniques at first connotes quiet and stillness, but from beginning to end, this story encourages readers to look closer and listen deeper to discover a symphony of sight and sound. As the day starts to fade, an owl sits practically camouflaged in a tree, [...]]]> redstarJACKSON, Richard. All Ears, All Eyes. illus. by Katherine Tillotson. 40p. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481415712; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481415729.

all ears all eyesPreS-Gr 2 –A forest night setting created with watercolor and digital techniques at first connotes quiet and stillness, but from beginning to end, this story encourages readers to look closer and listen deeper to discover a symphony of sight and sound. As the day starts to fade, an owl sits practically camouflaged in a tree, painted in the same blues and purples as the leaves. When night falls, the following pages repeat the technique, and many of the creatures cannot be seen until they, surprisingly and delightfully, become visible. This pairs well with the questions and cadence of the text (“What surprises? What sings? Crick-crick-crickets chirring in the thick-thick-thickets.”). There’s no need to fear the dark knowing that there’s such company stirring within it, and yet even with this noise and activity, the ending provides a gentle send-off to slumber. VERDICT This lovely, evocative selection is a guessing game and a soothing bedtime offering that’s perfect for reading aloud, especially to young animal and nature lovers.–Joanna K. Fabicon, Los Angeles Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2017 issue.

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Junior Library Guild to Sponsor Multicultural Children’s Book Day Thu, 19 Jan 2017 17:32:26 +0000 MCBookDay-white-1

Junior Library Guild (JLG) is sponsoring the 2017 Multicultural Children’s Book Day on January 27. See complete press release below.

(NOTE: JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)


Junior Library Guild launches Multicultural Literacy Resources for Librarians, Sponsors the Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 Campaign

(Plain City, OH—January 18, 2017) Junior Library Guild (JLG)—a Media Source Inc. company—promotes multicultural literacy through a series of initiatives for librarians, including sponsoring the Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCBD) 2017 campaign.
As part of JLG’s mission to “fuel excellence in libraries, literacy, and learning,” raising awareness about the need for culturally and ethnically diverse books is critical to supporting the literacy needs of young readers.
“We believe that every student should have access to terrific books that reflect the diversity of this nation,” says Andrew Thorne, JLG’s VP of Marketing. “Books by diverse authors have long been an important component of Junior Library Guild’s offerings, and our sponsorship with MCBD is a natural extension for us.”
JLG is the honorary sponsor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about diverse books. Through JLG’s donation of 200 diverse, award-winning, hardcover books to the MCBD Classroom Reading Challenge, teachers are able to sign up to receive a free diverse book for their classroom library. Learn more about MCBD here:

JLG has also developed a number of initiatives focusing on raising awareness about multicultural books in the library. Deborah Ford, JLG’s Director of Library Outreach, has written a white paper entitled “4 Ways to Strengthen Diversity in Your Library Program.” JLG has hundreds of books designated as diverse in multiple genres ranging from PreK to Adult Crossover across 74 book categories; which are available online at 2017 Multicultural Book List. In addition, JLG has launched a dedicated book category, named Multicultural Elementary, which librarians can choose to receive as part of a JLG membership. Deb Ford’s 10 minute video highlights six recently published multicultural books.
Pinners can also check out JLG’s Pinterest board, We Need Diversity, which includes strategies and program ideas to help librarians even further.

About Junior Library Guild—a Media Source, Inc. Company

Junior Library Guild (JLG) is a book review and collection development service helping thousands of school and public libraries acquire the best new-release children’s and young adult books. Founded in 1929, JLG is a privately held company based in Plain City, Ohio and owned by Media Source, Inc. whose mission is to partner with librarians, teachers, organizations, parents and others to fuel excellence in libraries, literacy, and learning.
Over 21,000 librarians across the U.S. trust JLG to help them develop their library collection. JLG’s editorial team knows the children’s and young-adult literature landscape like no one else. They read and review thousands of author manuscripts per year and select only the best to become a published JLG Selection. Over 95% of #JLGSelections go on to become award-winners and/or receive favorable reviews. This credibility gives JLG a unique advantage, which benefits our members and publishers who value the prestige knowing their books are on the #JLGSelection booklist. JLG is proud to offer these newly published titles soon after release to libraries across the nation for PreK-Adult Crossover reading levels. Learn more:

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ILA Report: Digital Literacy Is Hot; Access to Books and Content Is Not Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:00:50 +0000 ILA-affiliate-WEB_gray-The International Literacy Association (ILA) has released its annual What’s Hot in Literacy report. Based on responses from more than 1,500 literacy researchers, classroom teachers, librarians, and community leaders in 89 countries and territories, the findings show that what is trendy when talking about literacy is not always the same as what’s most important to discuss.

The differences in how topics were designated by respondents—getting a lot of buzz but not necessarily that important, and vice versa—is something Marcie Craig Post, ILA’s executive director, thinks deserves attention. She suggests that perhaps the timing of the survey near the presidential election, as well as the location of respondents and the amount of publicity a subject received, might have factored into how survey respondents rated various topics. The media and the influence of its reporting is, in itself, a hot topic right now, so that might have skewed what respondents perceived as important to focus on.

surprising results

The topic of digital literacy, for example, is viewed, relatively, as more “hot” than “important.” The report shows that while the subject was rated as either very or extremely important by 59 percent of respondents at the community level and by 63 percent at a national level, it was seen as less important than other topics, including teacher professional development and disciplinary literacy.

Craig Post suggested that a reason for this might be that there are different interpretations of digital literacy. “The findings for digital literacy are interesting, aren’t they?” she says, noting that digital literacy can be viewed as facile use of equipment, such as smartboards and iPads. But “the important side of it is not the tool, but how to utilize it. What aspects of language do kids need in order to search and write in the digital space? How do they check the validity of a source? These are things that we need to be putting more attention on,” she explains. Craig Post also pointed out that studies have indicated that students from middle and upper socioeconomic classes are more proficient in using search engines because they have a larger vocabulary, showing that literacy involves not just knowing how to read, but also understanding what you read in a way that allows you to do something with that information.

There were also other findings that Craig Post called surprising. Particularly unexpected was that only 39 percent of respondents said access to books and content was a very or extremely hot topic in their community, and only 36 percent said this about their country. But respondents ranked this the second most important topic in the report, behind only parent engagement.

“Neutral” topics that are anything but

Still, Craig Post would rather have it that way than the other way around. “I can say with some degree of comfort that we didn’t have anything in there that was hot, but unimportant,” she said. “There were some neglected areas that surprised us. [The responses regarding] multi-language learners and English learners concerned us because it was very neutral, neither hot nor important, and we’re talking about a global society.” She wondered if the lukewarm reaction to these subjects was due to the recent change in political rhetoric in this country, noting that in Europe, a culture of multilingualism is embedded in daily life.

Leadership was another “neutral” topic. “We view the important angle on that to be: What do literacy leaders need to know to be effective in that environment at the system level? How are these people fundamentally contributing to and informing how literacy is taught? It’s about what is important in teaching literacy in a systematic way,” says Craig Post. “I think there’s a need for literacy leaders who know what that looks like and how to see that in action.” Craig Post sees librarians as the front line of literacy leadership. “It’s important to raise awareness of what culture of literacy looks like in a school, and librarians are up there alongside principals as resources.”

Some things never change

In addition to those surprising differences in this latest report, Craig Post also noted consistencies over the years. Early literacy, parent engagement and teacher professional learning and development are subjects that are regularly specified as worthy of attention. “Those needles aren’t moving, so clearly we need to be doing more and putting out information, finding out how [these areas are] evolving,” she says

A reality check

Now that the ILA has these findings, the question becomes: what will the organization do with the information? “The beauty of this survey is that it allows us to look across data, and we feel a great responsibility to communicate what we found out and urge others to do the same,” said Craig Post. “We [as a field] still are not good at getting what we know, which is derived from research, into the classroom, nor are we [really] good at explicitly making that connection for our teachers. There’s a disparity between research and practice.” To that end, a subgroup in the ILA is conducting deeper research based on the survey results.

Ultimately, Craig Post thinks the survey can show where more research is needed and can spark discussions about literacy that are necessary, albeit nuanced and difficult. “It gives us a reality check,” she said.

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Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz | SLJ Review Thu, 19 Jan 2017 14:00:45 +0000 SCHLITZ, Laura Amy. Princess Cora and the Crocodile. illus. by Brian Floca. 80p. Candlewick. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763648220.

Gr 1-4 –Little Cora is an old-fashioned princess with a decidedly contemporary problem: her well-meaning parents have overscheduled her with improving experiences, and she just wants a day off. Failing at her less than assertive attempts to convince the adults of her castle to give her a break, she calls on her fairy godmother for assistance. The help comes [...]]]> redstarSCHLITZ, Laura Amy. Princess Cora and the Crocodile. illus. by Brian Floca. 80p. Candlewick. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763648220.

CB-Schlitz-PrincessCoraandtheCrocodileGr 1-4 –Little Cora is an old-fashioned princess with a decidedly contemporary problem: her well-meaning parents have overscheduled her with improving experiences, and she just wants a day off. Failing at her less than assertive attempts to convince the adults of her castle to give her a break, she calls on her fairy godmother for assistance. The help comes in the form of a gigantic crocodile who dons Cora’s frilly pink dress and takes her place in the princess’s daily routine of excessive bath taking, spreadsheet review, and calisthenics in the dungeon-turned-gym. Schlitz’s narrative is incredibly entertaining, with chapters that alternate between chaos at the castle and Cora’s meandering day in the woods and pastures. Featuring Floca’s hysterical full-color artwork, the book is laugh-out-loud funny. The crocodile’s expressive, snaggle-toothed face and extreme body language clearly convey his frustration with Cora’s required activities, and his eventual shutdown of each oblivious adult is a bored child’s dream come true. The fable is reminiscent of the finest adult-comeuppance collaborations of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, with the added bonus that the princess learns to speak up for herself and the grown-ups learn to listen. The book’s trim size and artwork will appeal to fans of Kate DiCamillo’s “Mercy Watson” series, and the elegant prose reads aloud beautifully. VERDICT This delightful illustrated chapter book is a first purchase for all elementary schools and public libraries.–Beth Wright Redford, Richmond Elementary School Library, VT

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2017 issue.

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The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz | SLJ Review Thu, 19 Jan 2017 14:00:21 +0000 SÁENZ, Benjamin Alire. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. 464p. ebook available. Clarion. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544586505. POP

Gr 9 Up –It is the first day of senior year, and Sal feels as if his life is exactly as it should be. He has always been certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and their loving Mexican American extended family. Sal’s best friend, Samantha, is almost like his sister. She really gets him, and more [...]]]> redstarSÁENZ, Benjamin Alire. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. 464p. ebook available. Clarion. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544586505. POP

YA-HS-Saenz-TheInexplicableLogicofMyLifeGr 9 Up –It is the first day of senior year, and Sal feels as if his life is exactly as it should be. He has always been certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and their loving Mexican American extended family. Sal’s best friend, Samantha, is almost like his sister. She really gets him, and more often than not, she finishes his sentences and knows exactly what he is thinking, even when he won’t admit it. Sal is an inward thinker who struggles with anger that has begun to boil just under the surface. After tragedy strikes Samantha’s life and leaves her reeling, Sal and his father take responsibility for her well-being and bring her into their family circle. At the same time, Sal befriends Fito, a streetwise teen trying to find his place in a world not of his own choosing. Sal and Samantha show Fito that his life has purpose, just as they discover the same about their own lives. Sal’s history unexpectedly haunts him, and life-changing events force him and Samantha to confront serious issues of faith, loss, and grief. The themes of love, social responsibility, death, and redemption are expertly intertwined with well-developed characters and a compelling story line. This complex, sensitive, and profoundly moving book is beautifully written and will stay with readers. VERDICT A must-purchase title, recommended for all school and public libraries.–Amy Caldera, Dripping Springs Middle School, TX

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2017 issue.

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A Historic Meeting | Picture of the Week Wed, 18 Jan 2017 21:26:31 +0000 Caren Stelson, the author of Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story, recently traveled across the Pacific to visit with Sachiko Yasui, the Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor and subject of the work, at the latter’s nursing home in Nagasaki, Japan. During the same trip, Stelson paid a visit to the city’s mayor, Tomihisa Taue, to announce the publication of the book.

Caren and Sachiko in Nagasaki

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Citing “Bathroom Bill,” Riordan Passes on Texas Honor Wed, 18 Jan 2017 20:12:19 +0000 Rick RiordanRick Riordan, creator of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” and other series, has taken a stand against the proposed Texas “bathroom bill.” In protest, Riordan, who was born in San Antonio, has turned down an invitation to attend the Texas Legislature Celebration of Texas Authors on March 8, 2017. Riordan posted this tweet on January 6:

Just turned down an invite to be honored by TX state legislature as a Texas author. If they want to honor me, they could stop this nonsense.

The tweet came a day after Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick presented Senate Bill 6 that requires people to use the bathroom that matches their biological gender in schools and other public buildings, with each violation enforced through a civil fine of at least $1,000. The bill was introduced by State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). Since the tweet first appeared, it has received about 11,500 likes and more than 4,000 retweets.

The tweet prompted a response from Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas), who is the organizer of the event that Riordan declined to attend. “I don’t want to challenge [Riordan’s] belief system,” Villalba told the Texas Tribune. “I appreciate that this is his way of making his statement about what has occurred. My only disappointment is we can’t show him how much we appreciate his great work.”

Riordan’s tweet prompted other authors who were invited to the event to take a stand. Amanda Eyre Ward, whose latest book The Nearness of You (Ballantine) comes out in February, also declined via Twitter. Meanwhile, Sarah Bird, author of Love Letter to Texas Women (University of Texas, 2016) was disinvited to the event after she was openly critical of the Texas legislature.

pj-3-titans-curse-cover-LG-204x300Walter Betts, the president of the Texas Library Association, respects the decision of the authors. “I appreciate that Rick Riordan and other Texas authors boycotting the Texas state legislature’s Celebration of Authors event in support of transgender equality and dignity are following their convictions,” he says.

“The American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Round Table supports those who stand up against discriminatory laws that aim to stop full inclusion of transgender individuals,” says Deb Sica, chair of the round table. “We thank author Rick Riordan for bringing attention to this legislation and his work in coalition to stop discriminatory measures for all GLBTQIA people.”

Ty Burns, who represents the children’s round table on the Texas Library Association’s Council, regrets that Riordan has chosen not to be recognized for his respected contributions to children’s literature. He believes that the honor would “draw more recognition to the importance of children’s literature.”

However, Burns, who is also the chair of the 2017 Rainbow Book List for GLBTQ children’s literature and the retired library director of the Clear Creek (TX) ISD, “respects Riordan’s right and freedom to let our government leaders [know] that they are trying to legislate discrimination against a group that is already marginalized greatly without this new law,” he says.

In March 2016, similar legislation in North Carolina spurred 269 authors and illustrators of children’s literature to write an open letter to young readers in that state.






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Series for Every Type of Reluctant Reader | Nonfiction Notions Wed, 18 Jan 2017 15:48:35 +0000 There are, in my experience, three types of reluctant readers. First, there are the kids who struggle to read, know they are “poor readers,” and hate reading because of it. Then, there are kids who can read competently but prefer to do pretty much anything else, like sports, video games, hanging out with friends, watching movies, etc. Finally, there are the kids who are categorized as reluctant readers, but are actually highly selective readers, often wary of reading books adults want them to read. Naturally, nonfiction is the answer to all three of these problems! Below are specific series and publishers whose titles will tempt each type of reluctant reader.

The Struggling Reader

For struggling readers, I recommend Bearport publishers. This series nonfiction publisher specializes in high-interest nonfiction at a lower reading level. I don’t recommend them unreservedly; some of their Bearportmaterial, especially titles from the Ruby Tuesday imprint, can have errors and not all of them resonate with every type of reader. However, their science, sports, and animal series are all excellent. I specifically recommend “Science Slam.” This series includes 129 titles, with each one focusing on a different animal, plant, or scientific subject (such as recycling, dirt, rocks, and seasons.) Struggling readers who need to access research materials for class projects will find these titles both readable and engaging. Bearport’s unique sports series also stand out. “Football Heroes Making a Difference” and “Basketball Heroes Making a Difference” go beyond the usual fare of sports statistics by promoting sports figures who contribute to their communities and fans. Students who can’t read the higher-level titles their peers may be devouring will be thrilled to find new facts and stories in these books to share with their friends.

The Disinterested Reader

NGChaptersThe second category of reluctant readers, those who can read but have other interests they’d rather pursue, can often be enticed into reading with National Geographic’s titles. Many librarians are already familiar with the factoid and joke books produced by NatGeo, but if you dig a little deeper into their offerings, you’ll find a wider variety of enticing nonfiction. I specifically recommend their “Everything” series, which includes titles on subjects as varied as soccer, Vikings, money, birds of prey, sports, and robotics. When serving this type of reader, it’s essential to have a conversation (or several) in order to understand where their interests lie outside of the usual book genres. Once you know what they’re passionate about, you’ll be able to match them with a text that draws them into reading with bright photographs and interesting tidbits of knowledge. These kids are often reluctant to sit still for the length of time needed to read a full-length novel or narrative nonfiction title, so shorter, more browseable titles are usually successful and will show them that reading can be relevant to their lives.

The Highly Selective Reader

The third category of readers, those who can read well but aren’t interested in what the adults in their lives want them to read, are the most difficult to serve. Well-meaning teachers, parents, and librarians often push these kids to enjoy the classic novels they themselves read as children or “challenging” titles that will push their reading skills. Often, these kids stubbornly cling to a few favorite authors and refuse to try anything new, while their caregivers get increasingly frustrated at their refusal to expand their reading choices. For these readers and their adults, I recommend that most elusive of creatures: the nonfiction chapter book. These titles will satisfy parents who want their kids to read narrative books and teachers who assign titles that must be at least 100 pages long. Most importantly, kids who don’t want to read massive tomes and unbroken pages of words will be satisfied as well.

To get these selective readers started, I suggest two series; National Geographic’s “Kids Chapters” and little bee’s new nonfiction chapter book series, “Blast Back!” The titles in NatGeo’s series each contain three to five chapters, each chapter being a separate true story. They often feature true animal tales, but also include extreme sports and scientific research. The books are colorful and include photographs andBlast Back extra facts, but are primarily focused on the narratives. Kids who are introduced to this series will devour them and then get interested in reading longer, more complex titles like the books in HMH’s stellar “Scientists in the Field.” The “Blast Back!” series, part of little bee’s excursion into the world of chapter books, is a natural read-alike for fans of “Magic Tree House” and “I Survived!” and offers kids who prefer notebook novels a look at how fun history can be. Each book, at just over 100 pages, introduces a different historical event or culture. Current and forthcoming titles focus on ancient Egypt, the U.S. Civil War, the Great Wall of China, the Titanic, and the Salem witch trials. Each title is decorated throughout with cartoons and the text is simple and brisk, with a helping of snarky humor. Of course, kids are not going to jump straight from reading “Blast Back!” to Steve Sheinkin, but after they’ve devoured the whole series try them on Georgia Bragg, Sarah Albee, and Nancy Castaldo and you’ll soon find you’ve got a dedicated reader on your hands.

It can be discouraging and frustrating to work with struggling and reluctant readers, especially if you’re also dealing with a concerned or stubborn caregiver, but these publishers and series offer something for both students and adults and will hopefully inspire them to discover the joy of reading together.

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Nonfiction Graphic Novels: Give These to Fans of “March” Wed, 18 Jan 2017 15:30:16 +0000 march-book3-cover-713x1024This is the year of March: Book Three. The third volume in Congressman John Lewis’s graphic memoir of the civil rights movement, coauthored by Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, is the first graphic novel to win a National Book Award and is making all of the best-of-the-year lists. And deservedly so.

All three volumes in the “March” trilogy are great reads for teens. The titles show what life was like in the Jim Crow South and how a determined group of activists mobilized to change the world. While history can sometimes seem like a string of almost inevitable events, the “March” titles make clear that nothing was inevitable in the civil rights movement, and the authors vividly depict not just the passion of the organizers, but also their planning and preparation. In addition, March: Book Three is simply a dramatic story.

The “March” trilogy is truly one of a kind, but the graphic medium in general has great power to convey information, bring the reader into the center of the action, and breathe life into the dry facts of history. Here’s a roundup of recent and upcoming graphic novels that bring history and current events to life in a similar way, by telling important stories through the eyes of real people.

mamaBAGIEU, Pénélope. California Dreamin’: Cass Elliott Before the Mamas and the Papas. 272p. First Second. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626725461
Gr 10 Up
–Bagieu’s biography of singer Cass Elliott takes its title from her most iconic song. Elliott was the lead singer in the 1960s vocal group The Mamas and the Papas, but this story shows what led up to that stardom: Elliott’s childhood in a family of Jewish deli entrepreneurs in Baltimore, her irrepressible high school personality, and her early career as a musician. Elliott performed in an ever-changing series of bands before finally joining the group that would become The Mamas and the Papas, against the wishes of songwriter John Phillips. Woven throughout the story is the issue of Elliott’s weight: Bagieu portrays her as a skinny kid who started eating more to please her family, and an overweight teenager and adult who was comfortable with her body, even though she lost some opportunities because of it. Bagieu has a loose, curvy style that works well with the subject matter; as a child, Elliott has an impish quality reminiscent of Hilary Knight’s Eloise, and as a woman, she carries her body with grace. True to its period, the book includes many scenes of drug use (marijuana and LSD), and there is some talk of sexual situations but no explicit depictions.

BROWN, Box. Tetris: The Games People Play. 256p. First Second. Oct. 2016. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781626723153.

tetrisGr 9 Up–Brown’s history of the video game Tetris is also a history of games in general, as well as the complicated story of the pioneering video game itself. He shows the creation of Tetris as a side project, basically for fun, by Russian computer scientist Alexey Pajitnov. The addictive game spread via shareware throughout Moscow and then to Hungary, where it caught the eye of Robert Stein of Andromeda Software, who wanted to market it. The story gets more tangled from there, with several businessmen wrangling over the rights and Alexey sitting back in his office, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea, unaware of most of what was going on. Brown takes some interesting side trips into the psychology of games and the history of gaming, particularly the origins of Nintendo’s Game Boy and Donkey Kong. His simple, blocky style is appropriate to the subject matter, and he takes pains to make the story less confusing by introducing characters one at a time and occasionally using diagrams and flow charts to make his points.

rolling-blackoutsGLIDDEN, Sarah. Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. 304p. Drawn & Quarterly. Oct. 2016. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781770462557.

Gr 10 Up–Glidden’s story of traveling through Turkey, Syria, and Iraq with a team of freelance journalists is a fascinating piece of reporting on both the situation of refugees in those countries and on journalism itself. Glidden shows us the journalists conducting interviews, as well as finding contacts, setting up stories, and discussing how to frame and market their work. Also traveling with the team is Dan, a friend of the journalists who is a veteran of the Iraq War, and much of the story revolves around his reflections and the ethical problems that come with including a personal friend in news reporting. Glidden’s simple drawing style brings the different settings to life with just a few details, and her art is easy to follow. While the situation in the region has changed drastically since her 2010 trip, the team’s conversations with ordinary people there still shed unexpected light on both the Iraq War and the lives of refugees.

fukushimaKAZUTO, Tatsuta. Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. 576p. Kodansha Comics. Mar. 2017. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781632363558.

Gr 9 Up–The pseudonymous author of this manga was just an ordinary guy working cleanup at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant, which was severely damaged during the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. His duties there included plumbing, maintenance, and taking care of the robots that went into the plant to remove the melted fuel rods. Unlike the other workers, though, Kazuto was also a manga creator (although at that time, an unsuccessful one), and his account of his work at the reactor caused a sensation when it was published in Japan. Kodansha Comics is collecting all three of the original volumes in a thick omnibus to be published next spring.

MOORE, Anne Elizabeth, and The Ladydrawers.
Threadbare: Clothes, Sex, and Trafficking. 160p. Microcosm. May 2017. pap. $13.95. ISBN 9781621067399.

threadbareGr 10 Up–Created as a journalistic project by Moore and the artists of the Ladydrawers collective, Threadbare takes a hard look at the fashion industry from a number of different angles, including the rise of “fast fashion,” the secondhand clothing industry, free trade zones, the life of a model, and the internationalization of fashion. The stories include some frank talk about sexual harassment, and the sections on the connections between sex trafficking and the garment industry, which include critiques of anti-trafficking NGOs and an interview with an advocate for sex workers, may be challenging for some readers, although there are no explicit depictions. The book is written for an adult audience and includes some dry discussions of the business aspects of the industry. In addition, the drawings are uneven in quality, and the lettering is sometimes hard to read. Nonetheless, this is an extremely valuable overview for anyone interested in knowing what goes on behind the clothing racks, and the subject is inherently appealing to teenagers. The stories include many unusual points of view, and everything is copiously footnoted, making this a good starting point for further research.

colonial-comicsRODRIGUEZ, Jason, ed. Colonial Comics, Volume II: New England, 1750-1775. 216p. Fulcrum. Jan. 2017. ISBN 9781682750025.

Gr 7 Up–The Colonial Comics books (three volumes are planned in all) are anthologies of short stories by different authors, each focusing on a single event in pre-Revolutionary history. Some focus on lesser-known figures, such as smugglers and agitators, while others cast an iconic event in a new light, such as the story about how the tea that was thrown overboard in the Boston Tea Party got to Boston Harbor in the first place. The stories all stand alone but together, they add up to a well-rounded picture of life in New England in the middle of the 18th century.

aliTITEUX, Sybille. Muhammad Ali. illus. by Amazing Ameziane. 128p. Dark Horse. Nov. 2016. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781506703183.

Gr 9 Up–Two French creators capture the essence of a very American phenomenon, Muhammad Ali, following him from his childhood in Jim Crow Kentucky through his turbulent career as a boxer and fiery spokesman for civil rights, to his quiet final years when, his fists stilled by Parkinson’s disease, he met with presidents and accepted belated honors—including a new Olympic medal to replace the one he threw off a bridge in 1963. Titeux and Ameziane quickly put Ali’s story into context, explaining the political and cultural events that touch on his life, and they also do a great job of explaining the boxing piece, showing how each of his fights unfolded in the ring. The one flaw in this book is the decision to write it in the second person, addressing the subject directly, but the story itself is so engrossing that readers will likely overlook that narrative misstep.

brief-historiesWARNER, Andy. Brief Histories of Everyday Objects. 224 p. Picador. Oct. 2016. Tr $20. ISBN 9781250078650.

Gr 7 Up–This one is just for fun! In brief three- and four-page episodes, Warner tells the fascinating stories behind everything from toothbrushes to traffic lights. The stories are based on facts, but the characters speak in an anachronistically facetious tone that will go over well with teenagers. The entries are short and self-contained (although there are a few running jokes), so the book can be read in small bites, and each section includes a few extra facts.


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The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz | SLJ Audio Review Wed, 18 Jan 2017 14:00:51 +0000 GIDWITZ, Adam. The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. 8 CDs. 10:14 hrs. Listening Library. Sept. 2016. $40. ISBN 9780735287389. digital download.

Gr 5-8 –The year is 1242; the setting: a roadside inn on the outskirts of a small French town. Travelers from all corners of France share what they know about the country’s most notorious outlaws: a group of three children and their dog. Jeanne is a peasant girl able to see the [...]]]> redstarGIDWITZ, Adam. The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. 8 CDs. 10:14 hrs. Listening Library. Sept. 2016. $40. ISBN 9780735287389. digital download.

AU-Gidwitz-InquisitorsTaleGr 5-8 –The year is 1242; the setting: a roadside inn on the outskirts of a small French town. Travelers from all corners of France share what they know about the country’s most notorious outlaws: a group of three children and their dog. Jeanne is a peasant girl able to see the future. William is a young monk with unusual physical strength and intelligence. Jacob is a Jewish boy who possesses powerful healing abilities. The final member of the group is Gwenforte, the holy greyhound. These unlikely friends find themselves on the run from monks, demons, dragons, knights, and the king of France himself as they try to escape persecution and save religious books from being burned. Each traveler who is gathered at the inn recounts a different piece of the children’s story, creating a Canterbury Tales–like narrative structure. The audiobook is voiced by a cast of nine narrators, each telling a different character’s part of the tale. Gidwitz himself voices the character of the Inquisitor. Thirteenth-century music and vocals by a renowned medieval musician bring the troubadour’s part of the novel to life. An author’s note at the end of the production shares the background research Gidwitz did to create this story and includes details about what parts of the tale are based on actual medieval history and which parts are fiction. VERDICT Mixing history and adventure, religion and humor, Gidwitz breathes new life into the Middle Ages and makes this time period accessible and exciting for middle grade listeners.–Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary School, Glen Rock, PA

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2017 issue.

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The Champ is Here | SLJ Spotlight Wed, 18 Jan 2017 14:00:16 +0000 Sports stars are easy idols for kids and teens. The following titles are a mix of picture book and YA biographies that focus on well-known athletes who not only excelled in their respective leagues but also created lasting cultural change in the world of sports and beyond.

Barretta, Gene. Muhammad Ali: A Champion Is Born. illus. by Frank Morrison. 40p. bibliog. further reading. photos. websites. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062430168.

NF-SP-Barretta-MuhammadAliK-Gr 2 –A kid named Cassius Clay discovers boxing in this nonfiction picture book. Barretta sets the scene through Muhammad Ali’s three record-setting heavyweight championship titles. Oversize comic book–style action words (“POW!”) highlight Ali knocking out Sonny Liston, George Foreman, and Leon Spinks. Circling back to Ali’s childhood, Barretta recounts the oft-cited origin story of 12-year-old Cassius riding high on his brand-new bike. Unfortunately, the bike disappears, and when Cassius reports the theft to police officer and boxing coach Joe Martin, threatening to “whup” the thief, Martin suggests that he first learn how to fight. Regular sessions at the gym develop in Cassius a single-minded determination to be the greatest boxer in the world. As he becomes a more public figure, his self-confidence never wavers, effectively illustrated by a few choice quotes, bold and set apart from the mostly invented dialogue. Morrison’s dynamic oil paintings complement Barretta’s lively text, capturing a self-assured Ali in detailed spreads. Action scenes full of movement and intensity draw readers into the boxing ring and depict Ali’s growth from a gangly youth to a dominant athlete. Two pages of unfailingly positive biographical information fill in the rest of Ali’s career. A brief bibliography and suggestions for additional reading are also appended, but no source notes are included. VERDICT This is an attractive choice as an inspirational read-aloud, but report writers will want to seek more nuanced and thorough sources.–Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN

Bildner, Phil. Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports. illus. by Brett Helquist. 40p. bibliog. chron. websites. Candlewick. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763673086.

NF-SP-Bildner-MartinaChrissieGr 2-5 –Nonfiction tennis books for kids are in general in short supply, and so are retellings of powerful true rivalries between star players of any sport. Bildner offers kids both in this picture book biography of Martina Navratilova and Chris “Chrissie” Evert. Each woman’s story begins in childhood, gently and with minimal text. The book becomes more interesting when the author notes that these two intense rivals were good friends from their first meeting and that each still fought hard to beat the other on the court. They both pushed to be the very best, and then they relaxed together—except for a few years when Navratilova had a coach who wouldn’t allow her to be friends with a rival. They met in the finals of the French Open twice, intense duels that Evert won; Navratilova decided then that friendship was more important—and to this day they remain close friends who support each other’s off-court charity work. Though Evert and Navratilova are long retired and largely unknown to most kids, their tale imparts a timely moral: friendship and kindness are what matter most. That said, this is likely a shelf-sitter despite a good narrative, strong illustrations, and great factual support that includes a bibliography for students doing reports. VERDICT Though a quality selection for students who need role models and for tennis players seeking idols to emulate, this title will require some handselling on the part of librarians. –Dorcas Hand, formerly at Annunciation Orthodox School, Houston, TX

Lloyd, Carli with Wayne Coffey. All Heart: My Dedication and Determination To Become One of Soccer’s Best. 304p. index. HMH. Dec. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544978690. POP

NF-SP-Lloyd-AllHeartGr 5-8 –This young readers edition of Lloyd’s adult title, When Nobody Was Watching, details her life as a professional soccer player. Beginning with her childhood experiences on community club teams, Lloyd provides a comprehensive chronicle of her athletic perseverance: using rejection to work harder, coping with disappointment, overcoming obstacles, and relishing the hard-earned professional and personal achievements that come with such dedication. This commitment is evident from Lloyd’s time in college through later years when she pursued Olympic and World Cup glory. With simple sentence structure and a straightforward narrative, this book is appropriately designed for its audience. It predominantly focuses on a play-by-play of the many tryouts, teams, practices, and games of Lloyd’s career, with brief glimpses of the politics behind the game and rare details of her personal life. The prose is replete with soccer terms and jargon, which may make the narrative more difficult for readers less familiar with the sport. Still, the central themes of hard work, diligence, ambition, and tenacity make Lloyd’s story an inspiration for all readers, especially tweens looking for strong role models. VERDICT Purchase where avid soccer fans seek motivational accounts of favorite players.–Paige Rowse, Needham High School, MA

Maraniss, Andrew. Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line. 272p. bibliog. ebook available. index. photos. Philomel. Dec. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399548345. POP

NF-SP-Maraniss-StrongInsideGr 7 Up –Vanderbilt University made a strong statement in 1966 when they recruited Perry Wallace, a local teen basketball star who was African American. Students may not be familiar with Wallace, but after reading this poignant biography, they will not forget him. Readers meet him as a child whose loving family provided him with the care and attention he needed to thrive academically, then follow him onto the court, where he yearned—and then learned—to dunk. Maraniss speeds through Wallace’s senior year at Pearl High, in Tennessee, where recruiters from schools across the country were eager to add him to their rosters. His years at Vanderbilt, where he broke the color barrier in the Southeastern Conference, receive the most attention, with great sports writing meeting heartfelt interludes of Wallace’s efforts to bring about change for his fellow black students. Maraniss does not shy away from the ultimate truth: Wallace experienced vicious racism and countless death threats as well as racial slurs, discrimination, and unfair treatment on and off the court. Wallace is quoted abundantly throughout the text, and the bibliography is packed with primary sources, offering ample research opportunities for those compelled to dig deeper into the civil rights struggle of Wallace and other black athletes. VERDICT This portrait of the fortitude of a young athlete will make a huge impact on teens and is guaranteed to spark serious discussion.–Abby Bussen, Muskego Public Library, WI

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Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf | SLJ Review Wed, 18 Jan 2017 14:00:05 +0000 WOLF, Allan. Who Killed Christopher Goodman? 288p. Candlewick. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763656133.

Gr 9 Up –Christopher Goodman wears ridiculous bell bottoms, and the way he shakes hands with people is a little strange. He’s also a genuinely nice guy, which is why everyone in Goldsburg, VA, is shocked when Chris is murdered during 1979’s Deadwood Days, a Western street festival that draws tourists to the town every summer. While on a cross-country run, classmates Doc Chestnut and [...]]]> redstarWOLF, Allan. Who Killed Christopher Goodman? 288p. Candlewick. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763656133.

who killed christopher goodmanGr 9 Up –Christopher Goodman wears ridiculous bell bottoms, and the way he shakes hands with people is a little strange. He’s also a genuinely nice guy, which is why everyone in Goldsburg, VA, is shocked when Chris is murdered during 1979’s Deadwood Days, a Western street festival that draws tourists to the town every summer. While on a cross-country run, classmates Doc Chestnut and Squib Kaplan find Chris’s body. Along with Hunger McCoy, Hazel Turner, and Mildred Penny, Doc and Squib carry the burden of knowing that they may have inadvertently played a part in the tragedy. As Wolf explains in his author’s note, this mystery is inspired by an actual murder that occurred when he was a teen. The book features six narrators, including Chris’s killer, and scenes that incorporate group dialogue are written in a screenplay format, which also extends to the book’s initial “cast”: David Oscar “Doc” Chestnut, the Sleepwalker; Leonard Pelf, the Runaway; Scott “Squib” Kaplan, the Genius; Hunger McCoy, the Good Ol’ Boy; Hazel Turner, the Farm Girl; and Mildred Penny, the Stamp Collector. Distinctive narrative styles help readers differentiate among characters, with long-winded sentences for Squib, who has Tourette’s syndrome, and verse passages for Leonard. Wolf uses these unique formats to excellent effect to create a gripping mystery as well as a thoughtful character study in which the six teens grapple with their actions on the night of the murder and their blame, if any, in Christopher Goodman’s death. VERDICT Recommended for most YA collections, this fast-paced novel will appeal to reluctant readers as well as fans of mystery and suspense.–Emma Carbone, Brooklyn Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal January 2017 issue.

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Dozers, Dumpers, and Drills | SLJ Spotlight Wed, 18 Jan 2017 14:00:00 +0000 Titles featuring construction equipment and other big machines are evergreen favorites with the preschool set, and these new offerings do not disappoint. Whether told in infectious rhyme, reinforcing concepts, or building vocabulary, these active, irresistible narratives filled with vibrant art and awesome sound effects address early literacy skills and get the job done in style.

Fleming, Meg. Ready, Set, Build! illus. by Jarvis. 32p. little bee. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781499801750. POP

PB-SP-FlemingPreS-K–A blue dog sets out for a day of construction work. He begins with a plan before getting to work and uses a variety of tools and construction vehicles, with a little green bird as a coworker. The dog and bird take a short break for lunch and then are back to work, until finally they have completed their project for the day, a big blue “Dog and Bird House” with a green roof. The dog and bird head home to get some rest so they can return to work the next day, which promises to be “twice as fun.” Fleming offers a sprightly picture book that will appeal to young readers, particularly those with an interest in construction. She writes in simple rhymes, and her text reflects the enthusiasm of the dog and the bird, both of whom truly enjoy their work. Jarvis’s use of bold, solid colors pairs well with the energy and exuberance of Fleming’s text. The blue dog is depicted with large, cartoonlike features, and the bird is drawn with simple circular shapes, and both are eye-catching. Fleming’s short, bouncy rhymes coupled with Jarvis’s big, bright illustrations make this an excellent choice for a read-aloud in a group setting. VERDICT A definite winner for construction-themed storytimes and for readers looking for a fun and vibrant picture book. Expect high circulation.–Laura J. Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY

Greene, Rhonda Growler. Push! Dig! Scoop!: A Construction Counting Rhyme. illus. by Daniel Kirk. 32p. Bloomsbury. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780802735065. POP

PB-SP-GreenePreS-K–A clever reimagining of “Over in the Meadow” featuring different families of construction trucks busy attending the daily shores by a dirt pile. Parent trucks must show the little ones the important tasks they all have at the construction site. Mama bulldozer shows her little dozer the ropes: “ ‘Push!’ says the mama. ‘I push!’ says the one./So they push oosh oosh in the sizzling summer sun.” Papa excavator shows his two little excavators how to dig. The assignments differ as papa wheel loader shows his three little loaders how to scoop, mama dump truck teaches her four little dumpers that they must spill, etc. It is a great learning experience for all the little trucks, who, after a long and arduous day of work, are ready for some lullabies and then to say good night. Greene is in tune with preschoolers and has created a sensitive rhyming and counting book with an asymmetrical composition that plays with the organization of the text’s layout and the illustrations. The text flows naturally, providing enough repetition for an interactive setting and abundant vocabulary to enrich preschoolers’ language skills. Additionally, the expressive, bright illustrations, made with a fusion of black ink drawings and digitally added colors, relate to the text and will inspire children’s imagination. VERDICT This appealing picture book will work well in classrooms and storytimes and as a bedtime read. Bound to circulate often.–Kathia Ibacache, Simi Valley Public Library, CA

Rinker, Sherri Duskey. Mighty, Mighty Construction Site. illus. by Tom Lichtenheld. 40p. ebook available. Chronicle. Feb. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452152165. POP

PB-SP-RinkerPreS-Gr 1–In this follow-up to the wildly popular Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, the trucks are back, working together to get the job done. This task is a bit too big for the old crew, though, and some new friends make an appearance, including a skid steer loader, a backhoe, a flatbed, a pumper truck, and a front-end loader. Fans of the first title, and vehicle lovers in general, will adore this story that’s perfect for reading anytime of day. Filled with vibrant illustrations and rich vocabulary, this rhyming tale is sure to make readers grin as brightly as the smiling vehicles in the book! VERDICT A solid addition for storytimes and one-on-one sharing. Expect high circulation.–Emily E. Lazio, The New York Public Library

Shoulders, Michael. D Is for Dump Truck: A Construction Alphabet. illus. by Kent Culotta. 32p. glossary. Sleeping Bear. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781585369751.

PB-SP-ShouldersPreS-Gr 1–D is for “dump truck” and T is for “tape measure” in this A–Z journey to build a backyard tree house. Each letter of the alphabet describes a different part of the construction process with a rhyming verse and full-color illustrations. This is not your typical alphabet picture book, as Q is for “quad-axle truck,” and the text is detailed and includes vocabulary that may be unfamiliar to young children. A glossary of potentially unfamiliar terms is appended. This book will appeal to children who have an interest in learning factual information about the construction process. A few of the selections are less than inspiring. For example, A is for “alarm”: “Alarm goes off. Hip-hip-hooray!/The wait is over. Today’s the day.” And G is for “grab”: “ ‘Grab a hard hat,’ the foreman says./‘We need protection for our heads.’ ” VERDICT Recommended for additional purchase, this book is suitable for young vehicle and construction enthusiasts.–Kristen Todd-Wurm, Middle Country Public Library, NY

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Just a Touch of Magic | SLJ Spotlight Tue, 17 Jan 2017 20:00:04 +0000 Looking for something to entice readers who like their flights of fancy grounded in reality? These creative and inspired offerings deal with realistic themes—bullying, health issues, family troubles—but incorporate a hint of the fantastical: magic, fairies, folktales, and more. Deftly balancing the real and the spectacular, these novels are sure to appeal to a wide range of middle graders.

redstarCarroll, Emma. In Darkling Wood. 240p. ebook available. Delacorte. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399556012; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780399556029.

MG-SL-Carroll-InDarklingWoodGr 5-8 –When Alice’s younger brother is summoned for heart transplant surgery, her mother sends her to stay with her paternal grandmother, Nell, a curmudgeonly woman she has never met. Learning to deal with prickly Nell is one more stress for Alice, added to her worries about her brother and her frustration with her father, who seems to be avoiding his family, including his estranged mother. Soon Alice discovers that her grandmother is a local pariah for planning to cut down three acres of trees on her property, the Darkling Wood. Wandering in the woods one day, she meets Flo, a young girl near her own age. Flo attempts to convince an unbelieving Alice that she must stop her grandmother from cutting down the woods or the resident fairies will take revenge. Interspersed throughout the narrative are letters from an unnamed young girl to her brother, who is serving in World War I, confiding that she has seen fairies in the woods behind their home. As Alice begins to feel the magic of the wood, she tries to unravel the past events that led to her father’s alienation from his family. From the very first sentence, readers are caught up in the tapestry Carroll weaves, though the full picture is not revealed until the very last pages. This is a tale brimming with emotion and atmosphere. The pacing is deliberate—each thread of the tale is woven with care. VERDICT Absorbing and well written. Hand this to readers who enjoy fantasy, fairy tales, and magical realism.–Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District, Lancaster, PA

Ephron, Amy. The Castle in the Mist. 192p. ebook available. Philomel. Feb. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399546983.

MG-SL-Ephron-CastleintheMistGr 3-6 –It’s been a topsy-turvy year for Tess and her brother Max. Sent away from their New York home to a boarding school abroad, they are now spending the summer in the English countryside with their aunt Evie. Isolated and bored, Tess stumbles upon a mysterious gate atop a hill beyond her aunt’s home. She unlocks the gate and discovers beautiful castle grounds and a boy her age named William. Tess is quickly charmed by William’s earnestness, and the two develop a fast friendship, despite the curious circumstances surrounding the castle’s sudden appearance and William’s cryptic warning to avoid hawthorn trees. Strange happenings occur at the castle, and events become subsequently stranger each visit, culminating in Max’s disappearance. Though the story is set in the present day, the use of old-fashioned, sentimental prose works well. References to the lack of Wi-Fi and Tess’s father reporting from war-torn Afghanistan help ground the book as a contemporary tale. There is also an undercurrent of danger that adds a layer of depth and suspense to the storytelling. Readers new to the fantasy genre will appreciate the conflict Tess feels: she is torn between doubting the fanciful episodes and embracing the existence of magic and other worlds. VERDICT A slightly darker, updated take on magical realism classics such as Edward Eager’s Half Magic and E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle.–Sophie Kenney, Vernon Area Public Library District, IL

redstarKelly, Erin Entrada. Hello, Universe. illus. by Isabel Roxas. 320p. ­HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062414151.

MG-SL-Kelly-HelloUniverseGr 3-7 –The universe comes together unexpectedly when a unique set of circumstances cause four tweens to cross paths. Central to the story is Virgil, an 11-year-old Filipino American whose grandmother, Lola, helps him to come out of his shell and face the world. When Virgil and his pet guinea pig, Gulliver, end up trapped in a well in the woods at the hands of a bully, Chet, it is up to the stars to align before it’s too late. Coming together like spokes on a wheel, everyone converges in the woods—Valencia, a Deaf girl on whom Virgil has a crush; Kaori, an adolescent fortune-teller and free spirit; Kaori’s sister, Gen, her jump-roping apprentice; a feral dog Valencia has befriended; and a snake, which is the only thing Chet fears. Unlikely friendships are formed and heroism abounds as the group of young people try to find their way in the world. Plucky protagonists and a deftly woven story will appeal to anyone who has ever felt a bit lost in the universe. VERDICT Readers across the board will flock to this book that has something for nearly everyone—humor, bullying, self-acceptance, cross-generational relationships, and a smartly fateful ending.–Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA

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The Problem with Student Privacy, and How To Protect It Tue, 17 Jan 2017 17:51:54 +0000 Illustrations By Miguel Porlan

Illustrations By Miguel Porlan

At Alabama’s Mountain Brook High School (MBHS), lists of overdue books used to be sent to students’ classroom teachers, who spoke to the kids directly about them—and knew what they were reading. Now, MBHS librarian Annalisa Keuler emails overdue notices directly to individual students. It’s one step she takes to make sure that information about her students—in this case, their choice of reading—is confidential.

Respecting patron privacy is a fundamental aspect of librarianship, including service to children and youth. “If you go back to the ethics of our profession, you want to keep as much of that information private as you can,” says Keuler. Only the student who checked the materials out should see that information, she adds. Some teachers still ask Keuler for the list, but she does not provide it.

“Students should have two expectations of privacy,” says Helen Adams, author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library (ABC-CLIO, 2013). “They should be able to come in and use the library’s resources and have no one looking over their shoulder. Whatever information they seek on that topic should remain private.”

Those principles face new challenges in the digital age. A recent survey from the Future of Privacy Forum found that while parents support school tech and data, they also want privacy assurances from schools. Electronic student data, including library records and much more, is often stored in the cloud and handled by third parties, and can exist forever. For instance, when a student checks out a book, a file marked online can potentially be read by a parent and emailed to others. When an elementary school child reads on an app, the title, reading level, and other details are often digitally stored. High school e-records of student homework, classes, and grades—often also including behavioral issues and health data—may be attached to a students’ name, age, and student ID number. In addition, students may not know, for example, that when they download a library ebook onto a Kindle device, the Kindle—and Amazon—saves their borrowing history.

By educating themselves about how student data storage works, librarians can take precautions to lock down these records—and take more basic steps to help students, such as showing them how to guard their browsing history and control their digital footprints.

Student privacy laws

Student confidentiality concerns predate the digital era. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which underscores the protection of student records, was signed into law in 1974, under President Ford. That law states that educational institutions must ensure that privacy measures are in place to safeguard details about their students. Today, legislators and others are trying to further protect student data. One legislation effort, the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015, has been stalled in Congress since May 2015, but would prevent targeted advertising from reaching students online based on their online behavior. Meanwhile, organizations including EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) Students Privacy Project, a nonprofit venture, seek to inform students, parents, educators and the public about changes to FERPA along with challenges and shifts in law that affect student data and privacy.

That’s Confidential

Informing educators and students about how to protect nondigital personal information is also critical. In 2015–16, parents at West Allegheny Middle School in Pittsburgh, PA, reportedly considered a lawsuit after their children, who participated in an anti-bullying program, were asked to move into different groups based on how they answered certain questions—including whether they had been affected by drugs or alcohol, and whether they, or someone close to them, had been in prison. Where students moved could effectively reveal private details that, as one person told CBS Pittsburgh, “gave the bullies ammunition.”

Such personal information made public by the school or its staff can quickly spread throughout a school and beyond. In Canada, a school was reportedly found guilty of violating a transgender student’s privacy by calling her by her male birth name during attendance and sharing information about her private life that could have made her subject to bullying or abuse.

The American Civil Liberties Union page on Student Speech and Privacy outlines information about students’ rights at school.

In addition, on the state level, in November, California recently passed the Early Learning Personal Information Privacy Act, expanding protections of an earlier act and updating some points from FERPA. Simultaneously, California Attorney General and U.S. Senator-elect Kamala D. Harris also posted recommendations for how ed tech companies can keep student data private.

On the ground, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN;, whose members include technology leaders in K–12 school districts around the country, awards a Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) Seal to school districts that take recommended steps to make sure their students’ data is guarded and kept private to the extent of the law. The organization’s larger mission is to bring effective learning technology and tools to students in schools.

Kathleen Styles, chief privacy officer for the U.S. Department of Education, says that schools often need help figuring out how to protect and handle electronic records correctly, and how to make sure that whomever the information is trusted with takes the same level of care to keep data secure.

“Schools and districts need to take the lead in setting appropriate policies and in investigating educational technology products,” Styles said via email. “As data stewards, [they] are responsible for selecting third-party vendors that provide safe, appropriate, and effective education technology.”

Despite parental concerns that third parties may be selling their children’s data, Styles says that she hasn’t seen this happen. “I have heard concerns about this, but thus far I have not run across a district that actually does it,” she said.

Schools often view third-party systems as essential for data management and maintaining student records, from grades to attendance. Because of this, “we’ve had a lot of questions from schools around cloud service providers,” says Linnette Attai, project director for CoSN’s TLE Program, which administers the TLE Seal and a broader privacy initiative established last year.

But in using these outside companies, schools must understand how the firms are maintaining records, according to FERPA. The law protects, among other things, the rights of parents to access their children’s educational records until the student is 18, when the right transfers to the child. Parents can request records be corrected, and demand a hearing if they are not amended.

FERPA also allows schools to release details about a student’s records—without a parent or child’s permission—to certain groups, including schools where a student is transferring, state and local authorities, officials if there is a health and safety emergency, among others, and financial aid groups and organizations.

How secure is that app?

Doug Johnson, director of technology for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District in Minnesota and a former school librarian, notes that protecting student data doesn’t begin or end at library records. He is more concerned about apps that educators may adopt for school use without checking how they collect, store, and disseminate student details.

In his district and across the country, tech-loving teachers and media specialists often introduce digital tools to classrooms without supervisors’ knowledge. In Johnson’s school system, technology directors like himself have two options. They can limit all apps and require them to undergo a formal vetting process—or help teachers to understand how apps work, along with the potential ramifications when app producers collect, share, or even sell a child’s personal information.

“We tend to educate teachers and let them be experimental,” he says. “But I come from a library background, and I believe in intellectual freedom and giving them the right to choose.”

Adams has a quick way of explaining to her online students if an app is likely safe or not. The online instructor at Antioch University-Seattle, who teaches about legal and ethical issues in school libraries, asks if the app is free.

If so, “It’s being paid for in some way,” she says. “Data [collection] is likely the answer.”

That’s a key reason why two Colorado parents, Leonie Haimson and Rachael Stickland, cofounders of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, believe that teachers should never sign up for a classroom app without approval from their school and district.

Haimson and Stickland took up arms against the student data aggregator inBloom, reportedly putting political and parental pressure on the nonprofit, which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. InBloom would have enabled schools to upload student names, test scores, grades, health and attendance records, family information, and other identifiable details, and sell that information to third parties. InBloom shut its doors in 2014.

“Your child is basically seen as a tremendous profit potential for companies whether you sign up [for an app] in school or out of school,” Haimson says.

Resources to help educators understand privacy issues include CoSN checklists for K–12 school districts, with suggestions for how to proactively protect student details. “There is so much fear and so many questions that parents have around student data privacy,” says Attai, who is also president of the New York-based privacy consultancy Playwell LLC. “We wanted to find a way for school systems to measure their work and assess how they’re doing.”

Student Protection Checklist

1701-Privacy-student-backpack-ColorResources and tools 

CoSN’s Trusted Learning Environment Seal  is a rigorous program offering recommendations to districts for protecting students’ privacy rights.

FERPA Sherpa is an online site with multiple links to resources for schools and parents, and questions to ensure they’re making good decisions.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation offers suggestions around the adoption of cloud education services and devices at schools.

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, which led the fight against online data aggregator inBloom, is primarily aimed at parents, but its recommendations also apply to educators.

American Library Association Library Privacy Guidelines for K–12 Students Recommendations for K–12 school libraries.

Electronic tracking blockers

uBlock Origin; Privacy Badger from the Electronic Freedom Foundation; and Ghostery are browser extensions that protect privacy.

BrowserSpy allows students to see what their browser discloses about them.

The CoSN checklist includes professional development for teachers to ensure that students use technology in a way that safeguards their information. Districts that follow CoSN’s guidelines can then apply for the TLE Seal, which honored its first seven winners this year, including Butler County (AL) Schools , Cambridge (MA) Public Schools, and Denver (CO) Public Schools. The seven districts added specific policies and took action to make sure they are protecting student data.

Digital footprints

Students can take simple steps to safeguard their digital footprints, experts emphasize. Even young children can learn how to wipe the history of their browsers after a search at the school library or on a school computer. Simply logging out of a Chromebook prevents access to their online details.

In addition, beyond browsing privately—with Google’s Incognito mode or by using the Private Browsing function on an iPhone or iPad, for instance—students can also use add-on tools that can block tracking technology. Some of these include uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger from the Electronic Freedom Foundation, and Ghostery. BrowserSpy allows students to see what their browser discloses about them.

Young people frequently don’t distinguish between expressing their thoughts online and out loud, Attai notes. They may not grasp the idea that data can live online forever. Educators can help them understand what is at stake.

The conversation should be framed in ways that will resonate with students at the moment, Attai says. “As opposed to asking them if this could impact them getting a job in 10 years, you could ask, ‘Is this something you would want your football coach to see?’” she says. “It’s a challenging conversation.”

In the bigger picture, the best way to protect students is to educate teachers and stakeholders at the district and state level. Johnson notes that providing teachers with guidelines, through professional development, leads to the best outcome.

The goal, experts say, is to find a way to safeguard information—not shut down access. If educators and students can’t adopt new tech, it puts teachers at a disadvantage and also hobbles students who must learn how to navigate the online world safely.

“We can’t forget that having this data and technology allows us to support students in the most amazing ways,” says Attai. “We want to just make sure we’re really responsible, but not let fear stifle innovation and the benefits of a technology-enabled classroom.”

Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology.

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“Playing Puzzle Master”: Adam Silvera on Complex Narratives, Diversity, and More Tue, 17 Jan 2017 17:00:28 +0000 Photo by Margot Wood

Photo by Margot Wood

Adam Silvera is intimately familiar with the complicated emotions associated with the end of a relationship: his 2015 novel, More Happy Than Not, melded sci-fi and realistic fiction for a compelling, poignant debut. His latest, History Is All You Left Me (Soho Teen, Jan. 2017; Gr 10 Up), explores similar themes, with a narrative that switches between past and present: after the death of his best friend and ex-boyfriend, Theo, Griffin looks back on the relationship as he reaches out to Jackson, whom Theo was dating before he died. Silvera spoke with SLJ about his influences, the need for diversity in YA literature, and the challenges of penning a novel that so successfully incorporates utter joy and emotional devastation.

The idea of looking back on a relationship and seeing how it went wrong is a common theme in literature and in film. Did you draw inspiration from other books and movies as you shaped the narrative?

I didn’t intentionally draw from any other books and movies, but I wouldn’t doubt the possibility that I subconsciously drew from my favorite movies (500) Days of Summer and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Both films capture that “Where did we go wrong?” element. The structure itself came from my best friend reading early chapters of the “Today” narrative and telling me how much he loved it but how he also found Griffin’s grief super depressing.

And I remember so much feedback from More Happy Than Not where reviewers said it was dark but the narrator, Aaron, was so funny that he was essentially a light in the darkness. It didn’t feel genuine for Griffin to laugh and crack jokes while grieving the love of his life. He’s not a light in the darkness; he’s gone pitch-black. So I created the “History” section as a way to give readers some recess from Griffin’s darkness, to see him when he was happiest. But it was also an obvious portal to dig deeper into Griffin’s history with Theo. So happy with the way it came out.

askGriffin’s obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) plays a role in the book. Can you talk about the process of creating a fully developed character with mental illness?

Griffin’s OCD was the easiest thing I’ve ever written because Griffin has my exact compulsions. We both walk on everyone’s left; we’re ruled by even numbers with exceptions to one, seven, 11, and any number ending in seven; and we even have the same tics brought on by anxiety. My compulsions even affect my writing process to the point where I was hoping to make sure every paragraph had an even amount of sentences, and every sentence an even amount of words, and an even amount of apostrophes in those words. If you’re exhausted reading that, welcome to my mind. And incorporating those compulsions into Griffin was so easy because even though I can be ruled by my compulsions, I know I am more than them. OCD isn’t the heart of the story; grief is. Griffin’s compulsions just happen to be with him the same way his shadow is.

I’d love to hear more about how you wrote the scenes when Griffin’s father tries to talk to his son about dating and same-sex relationships (“I know you don’t need some birds-and-bees talk. Birds and birds? Maybe it’s bees and bees?”).  Typically in YA literature, these conversations have been predominately heteronormative.

Because those father-son, mother-daughter, parent-child talks are predominately heteronormative is exactly why I wanted to write this scene. I was 21 when I came out to my mother, so I wrote what I hope my talk would have looked like if I had come out as a teen. Zero antagonizing, zero shame, total acceptance in who I am, total understanding I will run off and have sex and should be safe about it. 

Your novels have represented diverse voices. How do you think YA literature has expanded its inclusion of diverse voices in general? Where could we improve?

We’re definitely nowhere near where we should be, but we’re moving in the right direction. I’ve been very fortunate to have Soho Teen give both of my books lead title treatment, and I would love to see other publishers pushing great stories narrated by marginalized voices, too. We saw this in 2016 with Nicola Yoon’s fantastic The Sun Is Also a Star. We’ve seen the buildup for Angie Thomas’s much-needed The Hate U Give. But we need more. If you love The Hate U Give, go back and read Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys. Look out for Nic Stone’s Dear Martin in October.

If publishers can push multiple dystopian novels and readers can read every vampire novel out there, I hope everyone will welcome the varying perspectives of similar realistic topics authors are bravely tackling.

I also desperately want to see more marginalized voices in genre fiction. Gay wizards, please!

In many YA novels, grown-up characters often feel thin compared with the characterizations of the teens, but your adult characters are well-developed, with their own perspectives and opinions (and awkward moments!). Was this a conscious choice? And have you noticed that we’re seeing more of this in YA?

I worked really hard on making the adults feel real and not ancillary. In my first book every teen came from a single-parent household, and in History, there are more parents, which obviously means more characters to write. Every parent is reacting to Theo’s death, too. Griffin’s parents have known Theo since fifth grade and loved how much their son loved him. They’re wrecked for Griffin. Theo’s parents are obviously devastated but have to keep moving for their daughter. Jackson’s mother is in the same place as Griffin’s parents, but she doesn’t have quite as deep a relationship with Theo.

Your book jumps back and forth between past and present. How did you approach the structure of the novel as you wrote? Did you write one time line and then another, or did you move between narratives?

I’ve been calling the way I approached this book the Jandy Nelson method. When she wrote I’ll Give You The Sun, she wrote one character’s narrative in its entirety, locked it away, and wrote the other character’s narrative. I wasn’t intending to write a nonlinear novel from the start; it was always just going to be a story about Griffin grieving the love of his life and what comes next. So I finished that arc and then went back and wrote the History section, where we see Griffin and Theo falling in love, their breakup, Theo moving on, and beyond. Then I played puzzle master and pieced everything together.

Can you talk about the challenges of conveying joy and grief—often within pages of each other, as you do often in the book?

That was one of the hardest parts about the book. I was happy to provide that recess from the grief for the reader—and myself—but if we didn’t feel the weight of the grief more, all the sympathy for Griffin falls apart. But also, if we don’t see Griffin at his best, it’s hard to like him at his worst. I think the narratives coming together the way they did saved the story.

Can you discuss what you’re planning next?

I have another book releasing this year! They Both Die at the End is set in a world where Death-Cast calls you on the day you’re going to die, and it centers on two boys who meet through The Last Friend app and must live a lifetime in a single day. Like More Happy Than Not, it’s a speculative novel and it comes out on September 5. I’m also hard at work on two novels. One is fantasy, and the other is contemporary. More books, yay!



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“A Flame in Water”: Jason Reynolds on Writing for Middle Grade Readers Tue, 17 Jan 2017 14:51:41 +0000 Jason Reynolds has not one but two critically acclaimed middle grade novels that are currently topping many mock Newbery lists: As Brave as You and Ghost. Stepping onto the YA scene with 2014’s When I Was the Greatest, Reynolds was awarded the prestigious Coretta Scott King–John Steptoe Award for New Talent. Since then, he’s found an eager and growing fan base of readers with The Boy in the Black Suit and All-American Boys (coauthored with Brendan Kiely). In 2016, Reynolds expanded his talents into fiction for a slightly younger audience: middle graders. If multiple starred reviews and plenty of buzz are any indication, Reynolds’s ability to craft authentic and compelling characters, weave original stories, and connect with readers will see him taking home many more future honors and awards.

What kind of reader were you in middle school? What sort of books did you read?Jason-Reynolds

In middle school, I don’t really remember reading anything. At least not all the way through. One of my teachers assigned The Martian Chronicles, but that didn’t interest me, so I read just enough (and…probably cheated a bit) to pass the quiz. I also remember people telling me to read “Goosebumps,” but I don’t think I ever finished one. But what I loved to read were rap lyrics. So I spent most of my middle school years saving my money to buy cassette tapes so that I could read lyrics (and thank yous) printed in the liner notes. This was the true beginning of my love affair with language.

As Brave as You tackles realistic middle grade problems such as parental squabbling and aging grandparents. What motivated you to switch from young adult characters to middle grade ones?

Ah. The ages that fall into the middle grade category are so complicated. On one hand, you’re still very much a child. But on the other, you feel like you shouldn’t be treated as one—that you have some kind of handle on the world. And this dichotomy causes a bit of dissonance. Snow on a hot day. A flame in water. That’s middle grade. And because of this dissonance, there are an almost unlimited amount of questions to be asked, though the protagonists have to struggle with asking them because they feel like they should already know the answers. To everything. To life. And that’s the recipe for a funny, heartbreaking, complicated story in my eyes. One where emotional and physical unknowns, coupled with the awkward and innocent maturation process of a preteen, drives the narrative.

as-brave-as-you-9781481415903_lgYou deal with issues such as grief and blindness in a matter-of-fact way. Genie has the luxury of asking questions about these things, which not every child has. Did you think of your story as something that would add to the knowledge of your readers, or were these issues something that just arose as part of your story?

You know, I don’t think I was trying to add to the knowledge of my readers as much as I was trying to create a framework for the story. Now the collateral upside is that readers, perhaps, are made aware of some things when it comes to blindness, grief, etc. But my goal was to simply set readers up so that they knew what kind of terrain they were going to be navigating with Genie. Also, there are lots of Genies in the world, and I wanted them all to know that their curiosity is a gift that should be cared for and protected.

In The Boy in the Black Suit, you tackle clothing as part of identity. Clothing is an enormous issue for many middle grade readers and young adult readers because it shows the world who they are, yet few books address it. Why did you?

You nailed it! It totally shows the world who they are, in a way. I mean, the way you describe a young person’s shoes allows you to build personality characteristics implicitly. For instance, clean white Nikes say something about a teen. Dirty Converses say something else. I think if done right, it can lift the characters from the page, adding a depth to them by using a descriptor that most people find shallow, though it’s an inescapable part of who we are.

Middle grade readers are just starting to be allowed out into the communities on their own. You said that you were “taught” how to act, yet still had bad experiences. What do you think is the best way to prepare middle grade readers to face the unpleasantness of the world without making them fearful?

Tough question. I think one thing I’ve always tried to do in everything I write is to make sure all the characters are developed, not just the protagonist. Because if everyone has their own story, their own struggle, then it gives the protagonist—in this case, an 11-year-old boy—the opportunity to see that obstacles aren’t singular. That trouble and pressure don’t only land on his back alone. My hope is to show that though there are bad experiences, perspective given by various people of various age groups provide a courage and confirmation that things will be fine. To be afraid of the world is to let it win. But to be made unafraid through the triumphs of others (until you have your own) is a power. A freedom, even.

There seems to be a cultural dichotomy in the African American experience—many people are raised in Northern cities but have family roots in the South. How did this issue inform Genie’s character and experience, as well as your own?

This dichotomy was the cornerstone of his experience. Going from the North to the South, and vice versa, is like traveling to another country, and, for some, another planet. There are different rules. Different foods. Different belief systems. I remember going down south as a kid. It was always an adventure—an expansion of my comfort zone. To put my hands in the dirt, to roam the fields with my grandfather as he tended to his crops, to hear my cousins’ accents were all part of my development as a child. And as I got older I valued it even more, because it seemed that though I didn’t have a home there, it somehow had a home in me.

In your young adult books, you cover topics that are currently in the news. Now that you’ve ghostentered the middle grade market, will you continue to address hot-button issues, and if so, how? 

I’m honestly not sure, but I can’t imagine writing something that doesn’t involve that which is real. I don’t necessarily always approach my books in order to tackle anything. Instead, I just want to write real characters living real life, and in real life, things happen. That won’t change. Also, it does us no good to dance around the hard stuff. In a time where information is at the fingertips of every human, big or small, young or old, it seems a bit silly to assume they don’t already know what’s going on. So if I can help them synthesize the information so that it makes more sense, and I can do that through an entertaining story, well…why not!

While there are lots of stories about slavery or civil rights, there is a distinct lack of middle grade novels on other areas of black history. That said, have you ever considered delving into historical works?

Hmmmm. Honestly, I haven’t. I’m not against it, obviously, as history tends to find its way into my contemporary stories. But my charge is to make sure I can show young people who they are today. Right now. By the time they get to me, there’s a good chance they’ve read the historical books for young readers and the picture books, and after middle grade, there are a plethora of historical books waiting for them. But during this weird, murky, middle grade age, which many people see as “the crossroad,” I just want them to feel acknowledged and empowered through representation.

Tell us about Ghost, which is part of a four-part series. What’s different about this book/this series than your previous books? How did the concept come together?

Ghost and the whole “Track” series will delve into the lives of four young people, all of whom are the new kids on an elite track team. Ghost is the first of the four, about a hardscrabble young man who has been through a traumatic experience and who, while taking the long way home, finds himself watching a track practice. After a bold decision to bogart the practice to prove that he was faster than their fastest man, Ghost suddenly finds himself, for the first time, a member of a team. With a coach. And it’s on this team that Ghost will have to figure out why he’s running, who he’s running from, and where he’s running to. All of the books explore running in different ways, weaving each character’s lives in and out of track practice, where they are together, and their individual homes and schools, where they’re dealing with life separately. I’m super excited about it.

It’s different than the other books in that I have to tell a whole story each time (so that’s the same), but then the series itself has to be a whole story, cumulatively. So it’s tricky to make sure I’m not answering every question so that I can create touchstones in other books that will illuminate other characters’ stories and create ah-ha moments. Tricky tricky, but so much fun!

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