Books for tweens


Still, a precocious 12-year-old is not the same reader as a 15-year-old, and certainly different from a 17-year-old, though they all may read YA books. Meanwhile, middle school students go through enormous changes in a few short years. – Katy Hershberger for SLJ

There is a gap in books for tween readers. The MG and YA markets are thriving and great titles come out every year, but there are fewer books written just for ages 11 to 14. Writing for this age group is hard to pull off. There’s such a big range in maturity and reading levels. However, I think these authors did a great job! Continue reading

Older teens with heavy hearts


I am really glad that there is so much amazing YA out there. To me, it feels like authors are creating a new genre entirely. I didn’t feel that anything I read in high school resonated with me. Books like The Outsiders and The Catcher in the Rye are not only outdated, but they don’t relate to today’s teens at all.

I hope books like the ones I read here make it into the hands of teen readers, even if it’s a long way before schools start teaching these books. Continue reading

Different styles in MG novels!


I’ve been trying to branch out and read other types of books, aside from contemporary/realistic and fantasy. Middle grade is a universe and there is so much of it that I HAVEN’T even touched!!! There’s so many wonderful stories in the backlist and I think it’s worth going back to them to find how just how far kidlit has come in terms of diversity and the variety of stories available to kids now. Continue reading

Realistic and diverse YA

I am so thankful that these books exist. They tell specifict stories and break stereotypes not because the characters do the opposite of what we expect them to, but because they are nuanced and have so many aspects to themselves. I think we are starting to see that minority characters are here not to make a book diverse, but that they can have full range in their own right. The characters in each of these books is flawed, complex, privileged in some way, and most of all, they are fighting internal battles. All of the struggles compounded to make the stories here very powerful, heartbreaking, but also more realistic. Continue reading

YA fever

For the month of June, I decided to branch out and read what I normally don’t read. This includes romance, contemporary YA, and mysteries! I have always wanted to read those genres but as a creature of comfort, it was easy to pick out the realistic and fantasy books I normally read.

Trying something different is good!

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds – What a wonderful debut!!!! This is much more than a teen romance. I love the time loops and the concept of this book is hard to pull off, but Justin did it and we wanted to follow Jack King wherever time takes him. I love Kate, and Franny and Jillian. My favorite thing about this book is that it could’ve become so many tropes and other things, such as winding into a large cast or become gimmicky, but it didn’t. The author showed a lot of restraint and the plotting was A+.

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi -I did not finish this because although the cover and premise are very promising, and looks like a very fun, teen romance read, the writing was not my style. Teen speak is tricky to master and too much of it is usually not a good thing.

Just South of Home by Karen A. Strong – The cool thing about this is that I follow the author on Twitter for a while before I was able to read the book! It’s so cool to know authors as real people who have emotions and witness the work they put in in order to make a book come to life. This was a good MG ghost story! I think ghost stories and horror are going to be the next big thing in kidlit and YA. It’s a way to deal with mature themes, and it’s totally appropriate and respectful too. I loved responsible protagonist Sarah, city girl Janie, cute Elis and mature Jasper. Really nice reading a debut and I can’t wait for Karen’s sophomore novel. Hopefully it will be another ghost story!

Miraculous Miranda by Siobhan Parkinson – This is kid speak done right! I loved Miranda and her fantasies, and I’m always a fan of Harriet the Spy-esque characters. Kids who are cynical and kind of battling life in their own snarky way, with really spot-on observations. Miranda reminds me of Ray from Uptown Girls. You will never catch them being hurt or sad, but inside their steely and sharp wit is vulnerability and fierce hope. I love characters like Miranda.

The Jigsaw Jungle by Kristen Levine – I love books composed of letters, e-mails, other documents, and look like a scrapbook. I did not love Claudia’s dad because what he did was so irresponsible, but I loved Claudia and her friend’s determination to get to the bottom of it. The format of this book reminds me that I would really love books about local history, consisting of documents, yearbooks, photographs, and letters!

What stories catch your eye this summer?

YA fever pt. 1

If I had to pick a genre for everyone to read (because I’m a dictator), I would pick YA. Young Adult themes are universal because whose life isn’t in flux?? And who doesn’t relate to life being out of control, learning about yourself, and going on a journey? I think YA is all of those things and it appeals to kids, teenagers, young adults, and certainly adults.

It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy – This is a great book for teachers! It talks about the traditional consequences, such as detention, and looks at another way to deal with misbehavior, restorative justice. The kids thought that justice circles are touchy-feely and not going to work. I still have doubts about restorative justice but the most valuable part of it is that there are rarely just perpetrators and victims. Also, the victim is rarely the only one affected by the crime. When I was teaching and even now, I often think about what is the most effective way to handle misbehavior and injustice (whether perceived or real.) Because whether it happened, who did it, or who it happened to, is not really the question you want to be asking. You want to move forward and for people to feel right again. I love this book and I’m thankful that the author looked at a tricky problem that has no perfect solutions.

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas – I loved this book! It was so funny and really captures Newport Beach well. It’s relevant today because Islamophobia is still real, and a lot of racist still can’t find Iran on a map. I related to Cindy because she wants to feel American, but her life is not at ALL American. When you aren’t American, you don’t get “Dream big and make it happen.” It simply doesn’t work that way for you. (Even when you ARE American, it hardly works that way.) This book wasn’t just funny– it has a lot of heart and I highly enjoyed it. It’s great for fans of historical fiction, immigrant kids, and anyone who wants to laugh at the absurdities of living somewhere and belonging nowhere. Thank you Firoozeh Dumas for writing this very important book!

The Ugly One by Leanne Statland Ellis – I enjoyed this book because it reminded me of The Lighting Queen by Laura Resau. Both have to do with Central America and mythology. I love how Micay doubted herself and felt worthless, but she found her calling and pursued it. I want to read more books about non-western mythology like this one. Not to sound dramatic but society really does make women feel like if they aren’t pretty, they are worthless, from a young age. It is WORK to unlearn that kind of thinking. Micay went on that journey and found that she could heal people. It’s important to find your strength, but it’s also important to know that even if you haven’t found what makes you special, your life is still worth living. ❤

Things That Surprise You  by Jennifer Maschari – Middle school is the worst and it takes a middle school teacher-author to capture all the minor pains that go on at home and at school when you are 12. My favorite character has to be Hector! He is so wonderful and a friend you want, though not necessarily the coolest or at first. Middle school is subtly or outright painful!

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo – She is sooo good at writing YA! Despite the characters’ questionable choices, her books are always so much fun to read. I really love all the K-drama references and how Desi took the tropes literally. I will read Maurene’s books because they remind me of the first YA books I ever read, back in the early 2000s when they were “teen lit.” AKA The Princess Diaries! I love that YA hits serious themes and has become so sophisticated, but sometimes it’s really nice to read a book for fun.

What do you love about YA?

Graphic novels!

Graphic novels are so awesome! I wish they had been around back when I was a student. Graphic novels written just for kids. I love the CatStronauts series by Drew Brockington because it combines so many awesome things: cats, space/NASA, and our world. The author did an interview here about his process. It really is adorable and I’ve been loving the specific crossovers I’m seeing lately! Comics can really bring together people with different interests, and not the traditional reader. As a format, graphic novels are really powerful and I’m excited to see their applications in the classroom.

One such application is using non-fiction graphic novels for informational reading/writing! Drowned City is a GN about Hurricane Katrina, and it was definitely researched and a lot of facts went into the making. It really captures the short span during which the event happened, and I learned a lot about Hurricane Katrina. It would be so great to do a dual-text comparison of this and a news article, interview, or video on the same event. Kind of wish I was a teacher so I could design these kind of lessons!

Graphic novels can also be used for fantasy! Making Scents and Chasma Knights are both partly based in the real world with fantasy elements. Chasma is about a world where toys have power, and Making Scents is about a boy who has dog-like abilities. Graphic novels appeal to kids because a lot of us are visual learners, and as teachers, we are always pairing text with images to help clarify. It makes perfect sense that GNs would help all kinds of readers make sense of the story.

Lastly, I loved Cici’s Journal. It’s a two-part book about an aspiring writer/journalist. Cici discovers an abandoned zoo as well as a library book that has been checked out by the same patron for years. On her quests to uncover these mysteries, she alienates her best friends, her mom, and her mentor. The drawings and mementos are absolutely precious and really bring the story to life. I’ve always loved journal-type books like Amelia and other diary formats. They are so precious to read and to be honest, I’m still that kind of person.

Will you give graphic novels a try? If you are a teacher, might you incorporate GNs into your lessons?


Excellent books with female protagonists!

The really cool thing about these books is that they show change in women over time. They could all be classified as women’s fiction! 🙂

Convenience Store Woman is particularly wonderful. One reviewer described it like a stage play and it makes sense. It’s a hyper-detailed description of a convenience store worker who has been there for 18 years!!!!! She’s at the age where people are asking her why she’s not married and doesn’t have a career. I would have to say the most disappointing part of the book was when it looked like she would get settle and finally get a real career job, However! Spoiler Alert: She actually realizes that the Convenience Store is where she belongs, and chooses to embrace the life she HAS been living all this time. That definitely felt like a victory.

I loved What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper, for both the illustrations and the story. It’s about Gerta, a Holocaust survivor and the three years between the end of the war and the next chapter of her life. She meets Lev, a fellow survivor who wants to marry her to start a new life. However, Gerta refuses because 1) she is initially in love with this other survivor, Michah, who is a Zionist and kind of awful and 2) she doesn’t see the point in doing anything permanent. However (and nevertheless), they do get married. It seems that Gerta does find herself and can picture a new life unfolding, which may be the greatest victory of all.

I LOVE THE CILLA LEE-JENKINS series. I actually met the author Susan Tan, at Kweli19! I love how it’s semi-autobiographical. Cilla is just the coolest kid and I related to so many of her Struggles. The illustrations by Dana Wulfekotte are just adorbs and capture the story so well. I love everything about this series including:

  • How Cilla references writing and plot devices IN HER LIFE
  • The fact that Cilla wants to be an author extraordinaire
  • All 4 of her grandparents: Grandpa and Grandma Jenkins, Ye Ye and Nai Nai
  • Her little sisters Gwen and Essie
  • Her friends, Colleen, Melissa, and Ben. The supporting cast in this series is pretty solid! I also love the teachers she’s had all three years. It could be pretty hit or miss.
  • The book doesn’t shy away from some of the doubts and uncomfortable situations that Asian-American women face.

So so happy that these books exist. ❤