The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

I discovered that I missed this book when it came out last fall, and finally got around to it this year. 

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn MoriartyThe Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2018. 978-1338455843

Ten-year-old Bronte (who is shown as white) has been raised by her strict Aunt Isabelle and friendly Butler since her parents stepped out for a bit a few years ago and never returned.  Then, they receive a telegram saying that her parents have been killed by pirates. (Telegrams coexisting with pirates traveling by sailing ship are an early sign of the craziness of the book.) Then, Bronte is read the will.  It’s stitched around with fairy cross stitch – meaning that her village will be destroyed if she doesn’t follow the instructions exactly. Bronte must travel alone to visit each of her ten other aunts, with specified gifts, following detailed instructions that tell her exactly how to do it and how long to spend on it.  

Some aunts are kindly, some fun, and some decidedly unfriendly. In some places, Bronte saves the day, and in others she has just a visit.  Two of her aunts run a cruise ship (still powered by sail), and one is a rock star who’s been elected queen and runs magical concerts on the palace lawn every evening.  Bronte makes a few friends along the way, and come to think that there might be some meaning behind her travels, something to do with the extremely secretive Whispering Kingdom.  Like Moriarty’s Colors of Madeleine trilogy (which I re-listened to while reading this in print), this is full of weirdness and humor, at the same time as the characters are trying to prevent truly horrible things from happening.  It was really delightful, and I’m very much looking forward to the sequel, The Whispering Wars, which (thanks to Rockin’ Librarian!) I know just came out here in the US. 

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Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich SmithHearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Candlewick, 2018.
High school senior Lou Wolfe breaks up with her boyfriend Cam when he’s proven one time to often that he just won’t listen to what’s important to her, things like respecting her Muscogee heritage.  Then, in her journalism class, she meets transfer student Joey Kairouz, who’s determined to make “his” newspaper – meaning the school’s – the best. Lou’s little brother Hughie, a freshman, is cast as the Tin Man in the school’s production of The Wizard of Oz, alongside several talented and younger actors of color.  This leads to some resistance in the conservative, mostly white Kansas town – a whole  Parents Against Revisionist Theater springs up. 

Lou’s determined to help her brother out and strike a blow for equality by covering the issue in the school paper – bonus, extra time with cute Joey.  But all of this makes it hard to squeeze in time for her best friend, Shelby, who’s working a busy schedule on top of school to help pay bills. And just because Lou’s been treated badly by a boyfriend before – unfortunately doesn’t mean she’s gotten being a good girlfriend entirely figured out. 

So, obviously, Lou has a lot of learning to do, which I loved, even as I cringed at some of her choices.  Lou and her brother are trying to learn the Mvskoke language, and phrases are sprinkled throughout (defined in a glossary).  There is also some hobbit love, as evidenced by the miniature Hobbiton in Lou’s family’s front yard. The piles of unconscious hatred of Natives that our culture is steeped in is fully in evidence, but it’s balanced with so much love, from both Lou’s extended family and her circle of friends.  This is a great high school book in general, as well as being a excellent portrait of a contemporary Native girl.  

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith, like Lou, is a Muscogee (Creek).  She’s also the author of the picture book Jingle Dancer, among others. 

This book had many of the same appeal factors as To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, or you could pair it with The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline or #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale.

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Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Back in 2016, I made a list of the top 10 fantasy authors I’d never read.  – (I still need to get to three more of those authors!) Erin Bow was on that list, though I put the cover for Sorrow’s Knot.  Since then, I’ve been reading multiple Native people saying that they find the writing of fantasy books about indigenous people set in the mythic past to be harmful.  And also, Sarah Zettel told me she thought Plain Kate was an even better book.  So, I decided to read both Plain Kate and The Marrow Thieves, a Indigenous futuristic speculative fiction book. 

Plain Kate by Erin BowPlain Kate by Erin Bow. Arthur Levine Books/Scholastic, 2010. ISBN 978-0545166645
Plain Kate is set in a fantasy Russia, where Kate is the woodcarver’s daughter, and learning his trade.  When she’s orphaned and has to leave her house, she tries living out of his stall instead, but people are suspicious of a girl with her carving skills, especially because they need the power of the charms she can carve.  Finally, she is pushed into what she knows is a bad bargain – one wish for her shadow to a very unsavory man by the name of Linay. At least she gets something out of it – her cat, Taggle, is able to talk with her, so that she isn’t entirely alone, even as she has to leave her village and try never to let anyone see her increasing lack of shadow. 

Out on the road, she is befriended by Drina, a young Roamer girl, who teaches her their ways and speech – but as this goes wrong, Kate is left trying to undo the mess she has accidentally created on her own, amid spreading fog, damp, famine and sleeping sickness. Kate has to make some very hard choices amid growing fear, and the villain grows increasingly sympathetic as the story goes on.  I would like to hear from a Romany if the treatment of the Roamers here is fair – but I didn’t feel like Bow was painting them with either of the extremes of over romanticized or vilified. The publisher rates this as 12 and up – it seems to be that perfect upper middle grade to early teen book, dealing with some tough topics with big emotional stakes, but without the heavy romance of so many later teen books.  All in all, this was astoundingly good, and I’m glad I finally got to it.  

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Secrets and Journeys: Four Graphic Novels for Kids

piluofthewoodsPilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen. Oni Press, 2019. 9781620105511.
Willow’s tears turn into actual monsters, and she seems to want to cry all the time.  She tries to keep them bottled up, but that just leads to her lashing out – at the person teasing her at school, then at her older sister at home.  After a fight with her sister, Willow runs away, looking for the magnolia tree in the woods that she remembers her mother showing her before she died.  But in the woods, Pilu meets a young dryad, who has also run away from home. As they make friends, they are able to help each other talk through their difficulties.  The story itself felt a little trite, but the beautiful art – showing the tear monsters and the calming beauty of the forest – really elevates it.  

The Okay Witch by Emma SteinkellnerThe Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner. Aladdin, 2019. 9781534431461
Moth Hush has grown up with her single mom first helping to run and then taking over Keepers Secondhand Treasures, a little store in the small East Coast town of Founder’s Bluff.  Moth’s always had a fascination with witches, but now in middle school, she finds she can do magic – only she can’t really control it. Her mother unbends enough to tell her that it’s a family thing, but has sworn off magic and wants Moth to do so as well.  What’s a girl to do? With help from the former store owner, Mr. Lazlo, now inhabiting a black cat, Moth sets out to find the truth. She makes friends with a new boy at school and learns just how one-sided the town’s beloved story of Mayor Kramer kicking the evil witch family out of town was.  It’s an empowering story of a new generation both learning from the past and finding their own way, with action and humor and plenty of heart. The art helps to keep it lighthearted, while shifts in palette make the different places and times in the story clear. My daughter read it at least five times and gave to all of our guests to read.  

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing by Jen Wang. First Second, 2019. 9781250183873
Christine has always done her best to be the perfect daughter her parents want her to be – playing violin, going to church, getting good grades, and learning Chinese.  Then her parents rent a cottage on their property to a mother and her daughter, Moon, about Christine’s age. Moon is so different from Christine – crazier, louder, less concerned about grades, as well as being vegetarian and Buddhist. She’s drawn pictures in her sketchbook of the celestial beings she sees, who tell her that she’s not really party of this world.  Moon introduces Christine to K-pop and nail polish, while Christine introduces Moon to her friends at school. But can Christine really be a good friend to Moon when Moon needs her most? I had to laugh out loud in front of my daughter while reading this book before she would pick it up, but once she did, she read it straight through and started it over again right away several times.  There are so many really strong aspects of this story, from the personal history to the diversity of the Chinese-American community and the expressive art. I have read Jen Wang’s previous books Koko Be Good and The Prince and the Dressmaker, but this is my favorite so far.  

mightyjackandzitathespacegirlMighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. First Second, 2019. 9781250191731
And just briefly – if you are a fan of Zita and/or Mighty Jack, you will want to read their epic team-up!  I would probably have enjoyed this a little bit more if I’d read Zita especially a little more recently, to pick up on all the references.  But the story romps through fantasy worlds and space as the kids try to fend off an invasion of giants, with many favorite characters making appearances.  There’s a lot of fun, many near escapes, a little personal growth, and even solving problems with diplomacy rather than swords. Though there is some diversity – Jack’s sister Maddy is nonverbal, though still an active character, and their family clearly struggles with money, while Lilly is homeschooled – all the major characters are white, and this bothers me more now than it did when Zita first came out in 2011.  Still, they are brave kids doing their best, messing up, and trying again, and that’s worth a lot.  

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Early Chapter Book Bonanza


Last week, my friend Nakenya and I presented at the Michigan Library Association’s annual conference.  We’ve done several presentations on diverse books for kids and teens at other conferences, but this time, Nakenya wanted to focus on early chapter books – a type of book so easy to do poorly, yet so important for getting kids really hooked on reading.  (Why, yes, we are also planning KidLitCon together… why do you ask?) 

As usual, we book talk each of the series here, though the slides just have the covers.  A .pdf handout with titles and authors is also available on request.

This post was originally posted on and is copyright 2019 by Katherine Kramp.  

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The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

I realized after I posted my review last week that it was Indigenous Peoples Day, too late to post a review of one of the three books by indigenous authors I have in my review queue.  But! We shall celebrate indigenous authors all year long, not just on Indigenous Peoples Day, starting with this multi-award winning book. This is from the teen section of my library.  

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie DimalineThe Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. Dancing Cat Books/Cormorant Books, 2017. 978-1770864863
In the not-too-distant, post-apocalyptic future, most people have stopped dreaming, and the lack of dreams makes them go absolutely crazy, to the point where society has fallen apart.  Only Natives retain their ability to dream, and whites have found a way to harvest this ability from their bone marrow in a gruesome and deadly process. The need to escape this has profoundly shaped young Frenchie’s life.  When the story opens, he is just remembering his brother giving himself up to save Frenchie, their parents having been lost long before.  

As Frenchie – by this point a young teen – struggles to make his way to safety, he finds a band of young Aboriginals being led by one adult man, Miig, who serves as a father figure to them all (and tells them eventually about his lost husband), as well as the respected elder Nokomis Minerva.  Together, the two adults teach the kids hunting and camping skills, as well as precious words of language. Gradually, we hear the difficult “coming-to” stories of all the members of the group, each character distinct and memorable from the young lovers to the adorable little girl. (Though I didn’t write them down, they are also from several different nations, even if they all share the same valuable ability to dream.) But even this precarious existence is under threat, as there are people who will do anything for the reward for finding more people whose marrow might be harvested.  

This story moved with an unrelenting pacing and extreme emotional moments that reminded me of The Hunger Games. But though there is painful loss, there is also a hopeful ending, with a welcomed pregnancy  and reunions. Try this original spin on post-apocalyptic survival and take your Native reading out of the historical with this compelling and thought-provoking book.  

Cherie Dimaline is Métis and the Aboriginal Writer in Residence at the Toronto Public Library. 

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Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Was there ever a better match for a romantic teen graphic novel than Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks?  This one is already nominated for the Cybils, but I am sure there are other great titles out there, which hopefully you’ve read and can nominate!

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin HicksPumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks. Color by Sarah Stern. First Second Books, 2019. ISBN 978-1250312853
Deja and Josiah (whom Deja calls Josie) have been working at the Succotash Hut at a big pumpkin patch all through high school.  Now it’s the last night of the season, and next year, they’ll be at different colleges too far away to work. All these years, Deja’s listened to Josiah talking about the cute girl who works at the fudge shop, though he’s never mustered up the courage to talk to her.  Deja is determined not to let him go off to college without at least trying to talk to her. She’s bribed them into a shift right near the object of his affections to give him a chance.

Only just as they switch places, the fudge shop girl has switched to a different spot, too.  Soon, Deja and Josiah are on a tour of every attraction at the pumpkin patch, trying them out one last time, eating lots of delicious fall foods – and, in Deja’s case, having them stolen by the same bratty boy.  They also run into lots of other pumpkin patch employees, many of whom (both male and female) Deja has dated over the years. In the background, other employees chase a runaway goat. 

There’s an ongoing debate between the pair as they go – Josiah saying that maybe fate never intended him to date the girl of his dreams, Deja saying there’s no such thing, and Josiah needs to figure out what he wants and go for it.  You can probably guess the end from the cover, but the journey there is a delightful one. Faith Erin Hicks’s drawings work perfectly to illustrate Rainbow Rowell’s characters, bringing the fun of the fall entertainment to life, while Sarah Stern’s beautiful gradient colors add yet more to the overall feel.  It’s a quick, light read, with some good thoughts packed in, from the debate I mentioned earlier to the lack of fuss made over Deja’s dating a wide range of people or her unabashed love for treats from carmel apples to chocolate dipped pumpkin pie on a stick. This book makes a delicious, guilt-free autumn treat. 

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Freedom Fire and Spark

Today I’m featuring a couple of middle grade speculative fiction books that are eligible but not yet nominated for the Cybils. (You can nominate books here.) Both feature kids flying on the backs of fantastic beasts!

Freedom Fire. Dactyl Hill Squad 2 by Daniel José OlderFreedom Fire. Dactyl Hill Squad 2 by Daniel José Older. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2019. 978-1338268843
Magdalys Roca’s story that began in Dactyl Hill Squad picks right up again here, as she and the other residents of the Colored Orphan Asylum are flying on the back of the giant pteranodon Stella to the Civil War battle lines to look for her brother, who has been injured in battle.  They run into fighting almost immediately, and the rebel army isn’t about to give a creature as large and dangerous as Stella a pass just because she’s carrying kids. When they find the Louisiana Native Guard, Magdalys is pressured into helping them before continuing the search for her brother, because it turns out that Magdalys’s skill of speaking to dinos is one that’s only been used in battle by the Confederates, leaving the Union army at a decided disadvantage.  

We get to know lots of interesting characters in the Louisiana Native Guard (though some of them did blur together), as well as getting a closer look at Magdalys’s friend and fellow orphan Mapper and his motivations. There is a lot of action and a fair amount of violence, but also a serious look at the trauma of gun violence, even if the kids would rather shoot than be shot themselves.  Once again, actual people and battles are referenced, though the timeline is compressed, with references for further exploration given in the afterward. This is another stellar entry in the series.  

Spark by Sarah Beth DurstSpark by Sarah Beth Durst. Clarion Books/HMH, 2019. 978-1328973429
“Mila was quiet” opens this story of a quiet girl in a loud family.  She’s been working for years to bond with a dragon egg, but when it hatches, it comes out a lightning beast – not the quieter dragons of sun, wind, and rain that help to regulate the climate of her country.  Lightning dragon riders are known for their boisterous temperaments, but Mila thinks her beast is perfect. She goes off to the lightning school over her parents’ objections and slowly begins to make a place for herself.  But when she and her dragon blow over the mountain border during a storm, she learns a horrifying secret. Can she find a way to way to spread the word while staying herself?  

Spark blends a sweet story of a girl’s bond with her dragon and a quiet girl learning to make friends with a strong environmental message. The message that even a quiet person can find a way to be heard and make a difference is also strong – in this case, by working with other people and making a space for the people truly affected to speak for themselves. 

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Nominate Me for the Cybils!

There is still another week in which to nominate books for the Cybils Award!  I started going through all the eligible books I’ve read this year (far from exhaustive) to see what I wanted to nominate.  I have nominated in some categories; in others, such as the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, I’m waiting to what other people nominate because I can’t nominate all the books I want to.  It’s taken me all week to put this post together, during which time, it’s gotten considerably shorter as other people have nominated the books.  I also have books at home waiting for me to read to see if I want to nominate them!

Early Chapter Books

  • Judy Moody and the Right Royal Tea Party by Megan McDonald
  • Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham
  • Sadiq and the Green Thumbs by Siman Nuurali and Anjan Sarkar
  • Sarai and the Around the World Fair by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown
  • Truman the Dog. My Furry Foster Family 1  by Debbi Michiko Florence

Graphic Novels, Elementary/Middle Grade

  • Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill
  • Pilu of the Woods  by Mai K. Nguyen
  • Catwad: It’s Me by Jim Benton 
  • Catwad: It’s Me, Two! by Jim Benton 
  • Hilo: Then Everything Went Wrong by Judd Winick

Graphic Novels, Young Adult

  • Sleepless vol. 2 by Sarah Vaughn, Leila Del Duca, Alissa Sallah, Deron Bennett
  • Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir and Sarah Andersen


Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

Most of these are sequels to books that were nominated in previous years; those with stars are stand-alones or the beginnings of new series.

  • Let Sleeping Dragons Lie by Garth Nix & Sean Williams
  • Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien
  • Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
  • Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits by Anna Meriano
  • *Straw into Gold: Fairy Tales Respun by Hilary McKay
  • *Riverland by Fran Wilde
  • Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi
  • York Book 2: The Clockwork Ghost by Laura Ruby
  • Freedom Fire by Daniel José Older
  • *Dragonfell by Sarah Prineas
  • *Spark by Sarah Beth Durst
  • Girl with a Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis
  • Wundersmith: the Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
  • Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson


Middle-Grade Fiction

  • A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée


Young Adult Speculative Fiction

  • Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers
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Early Chapter Book Trio: Juana & Lucas, Polly Diamond, Phoebe G. Green

Here’s a trio of fun early chapter books!  Because Cybils nominations will be opening up October 1, I’ve added notes on which books would be eligible to be nominated.  

Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana MedinaJuana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina. Candlewick, 2019. 978-1536201314
It’s been three long years since we first met Juana and her dog Lucas, growing up in Bogotá, Colombia. I was so happy to see her again!  In this book, we meet more of Juana’s neighbors and family members. Now, years after Juana’s father died in a fire, Juana’s mother is falling in love again.  This leads to the big problemas of the title: the horrible idea of her mother getting married and Juana not having her all to herself, moving to a new house, and having to wear a scratchy dress for the wedding.  In the end, of course, love and Juana’s big personality win. I still adore Juana, and wish that we had many more books about her. This came out this year and is eligible to be nominated for a Cybils award.  

pollydiamond1Polly Diamond and the Magic Book by Alice Kuipers. Illustrated by Diana Toledano. Chronicle Books, 2018. 978-1452152325
Polly Diamond has a baby brother on the way.  The problem with that is that when he arrives, she’ll have to share her room with her little sister – ugh! Then, a magic book arrives in the mail.  With the help of the book (and an inobservant babysitter) she’s able to remake the house into something a little (okay maybe a lot) bigger, and much, much more fun – except maybe for the part about turning her sister into a banana. Charming illustrations illuminate both the family and Polly’s wishes. 

Polly and her family appear to be African-American; the author is white and the illustrator is Spanish-American. It might be rainbow sprinkle diversity to show Polly and her family as Black when there’s nothing else linking them to African-American culture, but the story about her adjusting to her new family size is heartfelt, and the wishes are over-the-top silly in a way that feels enormously appealing to kids.  It’s also relatively rare to find kids books where the main characters wear glasses.

This book came out in May 2018, and is thus not eligible for the Cybils this year (though it’s now out in paperback for those looking to purchase!), but the sequel, Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair, is eligible.  Mia Mayhem is a Superhero! by Kara West and illustrated by Leeza Hernandez, which came out in December of 2018 and is therefore also eligible this year, looks like it would appeal to a similar audience.  

phoebeGgreen1Phoebe G. Green: Lunch Will Never Be the Same by Veera Hiranandani. Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin, 2014. 9780448466958
I looked into this older early chapter book series by Newbery Honor-winning author Hiranandani.  Phoebe, who is white, gets school lunches, and her parents “assemble” the same rotation of simple meals for dinner each week at home.  When a new girl from France, Camille, comes with very fancy lunches, which Phoebe describes in numbered lists, it’s a revelation to Phoebe.  She tries her best to get a dinner invitation from Camille, because if her lunches look amazing, the dinner must be truly spectacular. In the process, though, she ends up alienating her best friend, Sage (who is of East Indian origin), and Camille also isn’t sure that Phoebe really wants to be her friend.  There is lots of yummy food, some very believable friend issues, and it made me laugh out loud. The only thing that would have made it better would be if the POV character could have been East Indian, like the author. And if there were more than four books in the series, because four books is not enough to satisfy avid early chapter book readers.  

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