Swing by Kwame Alexander

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: A teen guy who loves his best female friend but can’t bring himself to tell her, so he makes her anonymous art collage love letters. And their other best friend, Swing.

What made me pick it up: I adore Kwame Alexander and read everything he puts out.

My favorite parts: My favorite thing is the thing I can’t tell you. It’s the thing that made me cry in the LAST TEN PAGES and which I never saw coming. But I guess, generally, I can say it was the friendship. This book is about an angsty, mixed up teen who needs the guidance of his bestie to help him get the girl. And his friend shows up every time for him. Giving him advice. Lending him money. Introducing him to older, wiser individuals and the all important jazz music that permeates the book. This book is sweet and then it’s unexpected and sad and hard. Alexander wrapped all his strings up so well at the end and right under my nose as a reader. In hind sight I should’ve added everything up and known what was coming, but I guess even readers get hopeful that maybe the world isn’t the way it ends up being. Or at least maybe books won’t reflect that sad world back to us.

Who it’s great for: Everyone middle grade and up.

Erica’s rating: five shells

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

girl who smiled beads

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The author’s refugee experience escaping the Rwandan genocide and the years she spent traveling from one camp to another before immigrating to the US.

What made me pick it up: It was really well reviewed.

My favorite parts: Wamariya escapes at such a young age she almost doesn’t understand death and war and why they are walking and not stopping. She yearns her whole life to go back to her family, as it was, even as she reconnects with them. It is heartbreaking, both reading of the little girl who does not comprehend and as the adult who cannot stop grieving all that is lost. I so admire her indomitable spirit and the unbreakable will of her older sister who helped her survive through multiple countries and camps. Wamariya examines the many ways to move past trauma, especially that caused by civil war and genocide, with no easy answers only her personal truth and what she sees others attempting as well. If you are American you will feel shame for the atrocities we ignored in 1994 and the ongoing ones we continue to ignore worldwide. You will also be immensely grateful for all you have lucked into based on the geography of your birth. Mostly, you will want to help refugees any way you can.

Who it’s great for: Readers who want to learn more about the unending trauma of war.

Erica’s rating: four and a half shells

Drawn Together by Minh Lê

drawntogether

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: A young boy is forced to spend time with his grandfather, who only speaks Vietnamese, so they cannot communicate and how they find a way around that to build a bond.

What made me pick it up: It was well reviewed.

My favorite parts: It has fantastic illustrations that blend a young child’s imaginative drawings with the work of more classically trained artist. They really show how even if you speak a different drawing “language” you can work together to make interesting worlds. I loved the message that you can always find common ground with someone who seems wildly different from you.

Who it’s great for: Littles who might have a disconnect from their older relatives for one reason or another.

Erica’s rating: four and a half shells

Give People Money by Annie Lowrey

givepeoplemoney

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: A look at the theoretical and literal outcomes of providing citizens with a universal basic income.

What made me pick it up: You’ve probably heard this come up repeatedly recently. If you’re curious about what it is or how it could work, like me, then pick up this book.

My favorite parts: Lowrey doesn’t shy away from the difficulties we would face implementing this or what caused us to get so  mired in intractable social safety net programs we currently have. She does provide plenty of examples of more functional social programs abroad and how and why we might implement ones like them. Mainly, there’s no way you don’t walk away from this book without seriously reconsidering how your life and the lives of many people would be totally different if no one had to toil for their livelihood. Maybe you have to work some, but you wouldn’t worry that not working would cost you your home, health, or life. It certainly seems worth trying.

Who it’s great for: The curious. The undecided. The staunchly against.

Erica’s rating: four shells

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

begin

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The struggle to accept yourself and your life when you don’t quite fit in as a kid.

What made me pick it up: I love everything Woodson writes and was excited to see this book announced.

My favorite parts: The illustrations are lovely and really add another layer of emotional depth to the story. I was not expecting the emotional gut punch this book has about not fitting in and all the self doubt that can bring up as a young person. If your lunch, clothes, or abilities are different, or your adventures are smaller, or you have no “good” stories school can be a really uncomfortable place to be. Learning to be confident with who you are and find kindred spirits who reflect that back to you is such a gift and this book is an excellent reminder that it is possible, even if it’s hard.

Who it’s great for: Unique young ones who may doubt themselves. Anyone who remembers wondering if they were enough as a child, and hopefully found out they were.

Erica’s rating: four and a half shells

Okay Fine Whatever by Courtenay Hameister

cover

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: How an awkward late bloomer overcomes her anxiety. Or at least tries to.

What made me pick it up: If there is one thing I love it’s other people’s late bloomer stories. As someone who feels like they got a late start on this blooming process I like to meet the other members of the club and see the ways in which they blossom.

My favorite parts: Her voice. She’s honest and funny at the same time, which is necessary given she’s talking about some big topics of mental and personal health. Also if you find yourself employing “defensive pessimism” to manage your anxiety you’ll find a kindred spirit in her tiny triumphs, big attempts, and catastrophic outcomes. Life is scary and hard. Let’s employ all our tools so our brains don’t hijack it and make it MUCHWORSE. To see a good example: pick up this book.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who wants to step outside their comfort zone, even vicariously. Anxious ones. Readers who feel like they aren’t yet at peak bloom when the world expects them to be.

Erica’s rating: four shells

 

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

mysideofthemountain
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Originally published in: 1959

What it’s about: A boy who leaves his cramped, chaotic life in NYC to survive in the Catskills.

What made me pick it up: I remember this being my brother’s favorite book when we were little. I was recently talking about it and Hatchet with someone and realized that while I knew the premise and a lot of details, I couldn’t remember reading it myself. So I did.

My favorite parts: Any book that can make me feel like I’m in the middle of the woods surrounded by nothing but nature is pure magic. This not only makes you feel that way but convinces you that you, too, could forage and hunt and trap and fish and live off the land. It will make you feel carefree and hopeful and want to go take a walk in the forest. The ending is bittersweet, but strikes a good balance between the importance of self reliance and the importance of human connection. Also, this takes place in my beloved home state of New York and any reminder of the extensive natural beauty there is welcome.

Who it’s great for: Nature lovers. Adventurers. New Yorkers spread far and wide.

Erica’s rating: four shells



Find this book in your local library or on Amazon.



 

Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber

bullshitjobs

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: How we could all be working a 20 hour week but instead we’re creating even more useless middle manager roles, and also the history of humans and work.

What made me pick it up: It had an intriguing title that seemed like it might be…. uh…. relatable.

My favorite parts: I actually really like the historical lens this book has about how humans have done work throughout history and how we got to this “standard” 40-hour week. Spoiler: it’s a ridiculous social construct we could all agree to change, and boy do I wish we would. I do not have a bullshit job, since mine actually helps people, but like most jobs mine does have bullshit aspects. The author is actually talking about jobs that straight up have no purpose, and sometimes no real tasks, yet we keep creating more of them because of progress and capitalism. Doing nothing is more torturous to humans than extreme manual labor – as he shows. He also examines the concept of being able to monetize time and “own” someone else’s hours per day. It’s a frustrating, pointless, slavery-esque notion that we should seriously re-examine. More than anything this book might make you finally take that leap to be your own boss so you can escape this societal entrapment. Unless you, too, have student loans. *sigh*

Who it’s great for: Working adults. Anyone who wonders if there is a better way.

Erica’s rating: four shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

hello universe

Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A boy who wants to be friends with a girl in his class but is too nervous to talk to her. And his friend, who is a psychic. And the class bully.

What made me pick it up: It beat Long Way Down for the Newbery and WHAT KIND OF BOOK CAN DO THAT? I had to find out.

My favorite parts: This book has four main characters and they are all wonderfully fleshed out. The bully is a cringingly accurate portrayal of fragile mscunlinity and bravado/posturing. The other three are excellent weirdos in their own way learning how to be brave enough to reach out to others in the morass that is middle school. OMG I love this book so much. I love the strength it takes for these characters to step outside their comfort zones and how they are such individuals. Middle school to me felt like the time to blend in and try to be as homogenous as possible. But not for these kids. They have special circumstances that make them unique and it’s wonderful. And I love the tiny fragment of hope the book ends on. You will want to know how the story continues after this heartwarming adventure.

Who it’s great for: Upper elementary and new middle school readers.

Erica’s rating: five shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Dear Girl by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Paris Rosenthal

 

deargirl

Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A story telling young girls it’s ok to be their authentic selves.

What made me pick it up: Rosenthal’s widow’s TED talk as recommended on Twitter by John Green.

My favorite parts: You be you. That’s the message. One I want to tell every young impressionable unsure girl. And also the ones who haven’t yet learned to be unsure. You’re the only you there is. Be that, whatever that looks like.

Who it’s great for: Girls of any age.

Erica’s rating: five shells


Find this book in your local library, or on Amazon (affiliate link).