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.
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.
What it’s about: A young boy who wishes to be a mermaid like the performers he sees at the pool.
What made me pick it up: I’d seen it well reviewed online.
My favorite parts: Obviously the entirely accepting and incredibly sweet abuela is my favorite. Instead of yelling at the child for taking the curtains down to make a tail and using the fern as a headdress while she’s in the bath, she gets him a necklace to compliment his outfit. Then she takes him to a parade to see other mermaids like him. The acceptance is almost too beautiful to read without tearing up.
Who it’s great for: Everyone. Littles who do their own thing.
Originally published in: 2015 (here in the States)
What it’s about: A man who has been grieving (or not so much) his lost love for 20 years by shutting down part of himself and trying to forget, and his path back to life.
What made me pick it up: I had tried to read it once before but was expecting a bit of fluff centered around a female protagonist (for no particular reason) and when I encountered a male one I set it back down. Just couldn’t get into it. Then I got it as a gift for Christmas and gave myself a six-month deadline. Five months in, when I finally picked it up and gave it a try I was quite engaged and it went very quickly.
My favorite things: I absolutely didn’t expect this to fall near my category of grumpy old man books, but it really wasn’t far from it. In that sense it fit my bill. We follow Paris’s Literary Apothecary as he prescribes books for all of life’s ailments, except his own. But once he is force to confront his past loss he…. well, he runs away. Expect to fall wildly in love with the lush description of France’s cities and countryside. You’ll want to throw everything away and rush across the pond to also amble through. Along the way he meets fellow travelers hiding from their own lives and it becomes a tale of becoming, and friendship, and healing. Grief isn’t neat and tidy and its timeline is fluid. I adored how the author presented characters who were decades into their half lives and still solidly grieving. And of course, there are love stories, and tiny surprises, and a lot of forgiveness and compassion and new beginnings. This story will give you hope and do so with stories of the gentlest absurdity that is life. You’ll be thinking of this story long after you finish it.
Who it’s great for: Adults, especially those who feel like they got off track somewhere and are struggling to find the way back.
What it’s about: A group of kids have to prove their library benefactor, Luigi Lemoncello, hasn’t stolen intellectual property in a high-stakes trivia scavenger hunt.
What made me pick it up: It was recommended to me by a young reader from the library.
My favorite parts: This book is incredibly fun! Not only does Grabenstein weave in details from other children’s books but he makes his characters continuously profess their admiration for libraries and librarians. I’ll read any book that is essentially a love letter to my profession. But more than that, this book is wildly entertaining. Outlandish? Sure, but we’re dealing with a fictional bazillionaire here. I really liked how even though I expected things to turn out ok in the end, I wasn’t really sure they would and remained on the edge of my seat down to the final pages. It also has a nicely done information literacy storyline that emphasizes over and over to the characters the need to search for reliable sources and consider alternative explanations before jumping to conclusions. Since this is book #3, I’ll head back to the beginning and work my way through the other two books.
Who it’s great for: Upper elementary readers on up.
What it’s about: Being kind in the face of bullying.
What made me pick it up: I can’t quite remember. I think I saw it on Twitter. Wherever it was, the person was raving about it.
My favorite parts: This sweet and brief picture book contains no words. And it doesn’t need to. The story is told perfectly through the illustrations. When a young child is antagonized by a bully she finds an ally in another child who witnessed the bullying. And they walk to school together. Then another child joins, until everyone chooses to support the bullied child. It’s powerful and lovely and all kids and adults alike should read it.
What it’s about: The last living dinosaur and the little girl who lives next door and is trying to prove he exists.
What made me pick it up: A coworker gave this five stars on Goodreads so I had to see what all the fuss was about.
My favorite parts: No one has ever really noticed a dinosaur living nearby. Why not? Because they are too busy! It was a gentle reminder to look up once in a while and really notice what’s going on around you. You might see a dinosaur! I also like the tenacity of the little girl. No one believes the dinosaur she keeps talking about exists but she doesn’t give up. Parts of this are hysterical and I won’t ruin the dinosaur’s best joke for you. It’s more illustration heavy than text heavy, which is perfect for beginning or struggling readers. And for avid or older readers, it goes very quickly. I finished it in like 20 minutes tops. Then I immediately checked it out to Abby. It’s so good it must be shared.
Who it’s great for: All ages, but especially curious, imaginative, and/or literacy-challenged young readers.
What it’s about: A novel in verse about a teen boy coping with the sudden loss of his father.
What made me pick it up: I’m a huge fan of Alexander’s and read whatever he puts out. It helped that it was National Poetry Month and I was looking for books in verse.
My favorite parts: I really like the depiction of how sincerely mixed up this boy is since his dad’s death. He’s trying to be good but also he is having trouble coping and expressing his grief especially when everyone around him is afraid to bring up the subject or show their grief, even his mother and friends. Part of his grief is having panic attacks when sirens sound, and I appreciated the description of them and the understanding of the situation by supporting characters. You will really cheer for him to find his way forward with help from good friends and love of family. There is also a positive portrayal of using a journal to express your thoughts and feelings. You might cry — especially if you’ve read The Crossover.
What it’s about: A little girl has to draw a picture of where she is from but she left her homeland when she was only a baby so she can’t remember. She turns to neighbors and family members to help her create her picture.
What made me pick it up: I’m a huge fan of Díaz and was delighted when I found out he was turning his talents to picture books.
My favorite parts: I loved the beautiful descriptions of her place of birth, and the way the illustrations show how a young child might literally interpret them. I also like the use of a general “monster” to simplify the explanation of conflicts that caused many people to flee their nation. The colors are lively and it will make you want to book a trip to hear the music, and revel in the pardisio. (I also listened to this on audio, which is read by the author so it is excellent for that reason and includes vibrant music which only adds to the story.)
Who it’s great for: Díaz fans. Littles who can’t quite remember their birthplace. Anyone missing the island where they used to live. Readers looking for diverse books.
What it’s about: The author’s weirdness being her career super power, and how you can too.
What made me pick it up: I’m… a little weird and this seemed like something that applied.
My favorite parts: This book truly lives up to its title. It’s about a weirdo telling other weirdos how to best fly their freak flag in the world of normals. Aside from that I appreciated her insight into careers and how best to go about one. Be nice. Work hard. Understand that you are unique and your career will also be. But most importantly, you and your experience are just right for whatever is to come.
Who it’s great for: Anyone looking to make a change. Readers wondering if their brand of offbeat is too different. (It’s not.)