3 2022 Cybils MG Graphic Novel Finalists

I’m nearly done with reading all the excellent Cybils middle grade graphic novels the panelists picked as finalists! Here are the most recent three I’ve read.

Flamingo by Guojing. Random House Studio, 2022. ISBN 9780593127315. Read from a library copy. 

In this nearly wordless book, a little girl flies all on her own to visit her grandmother in what feels like Florida. At first, the story is nearly all in shades of gray, with only the little girl’s hat and backpack and her Lao Lao’s outfit in red.  Then, the little girl finds a pink feather displayed in the house.  After days of exploring beaches and forested swamps, Lao Lao tells her stories of another little girl – perhaps Lao Lao herself – finding and hatching a flamingo egg, and the friendship they shared.  All of these stories are shown in full color.  As the little girl sees a flamingo herself, she comes up with more imaginative adventures to share with her grandmother after she goes home.   I especially loved that the little girl’s story included her grandmother, where many of children’s imagined adventures (at least in books) leave adults out entirely.  

The story here is meant for the early chapter book audience, and it’s a great book for filling in narrative skills – being able to retell what happens in a story, whether the original has words or not, is an important element of literacy.  And the art here, a mix of watercolor, colored pencils, and digital, is just stunning. My 13-year-old felt it was young for her, but I think there is a large audience that would find it perfect.

Invisible by Christina Diaz Gonzalez & Gabriela Epstein. Graphix, 2022. ISBN 9781338194555  Read from a library copy. 

Over-achieving middle schooler George is shocked when he’s called in to the principal’s office – to be told he must find a place to volunteer to keep the school’s perfect 100% community service participation record.  When the principal tells him he should show up first thing in the morning to meet with other students like him, George assumes he means other honors students.  But no – he’s sent to meet up with four other Latine students, all with families from different countries and all in very different places in the school’s social hierarchy. They aren’t initially inclined to get along with each other either, especially as George speaks almost no Spanish, while some of the others speak almost no English.  But they start to bond as they’re assigned menial clean-up jobs in the cafeteria, where the cafeteria lady thinks they’re all illegal and juvenile delinquents to boot.  At the same time, they discover a single mother and her little girl living in a van by the park on the other side of the school fence.  Could they find a way to help them?  Like Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me, this is a story of kids getting to know each other and the reader getting to know them beyond their stereotypes.  The graphic novel format gives it a more cheerful, approachable vibe, though.  And the dialog is mostly in Spanish with translations, making it more approachable for Spanish-first kids while still being perfectly understandable for English speakers.  This is the book that won this year’s Cybil in the category, and it’s easy to see why.

Squire by Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh. Quill Tree, 2022. ISBN 978-0062945846. Read from a library copy. 

Aiza chafes at her life of selling fruit at the marketplace while enduring taunts and rejection from people who recognize her outsider status – tattoos on her forearm mark her as an Ornu, a minority ethnic group only grudgingly accepted into the Empire.  She dreams of joining the army and becoming a Squire, and perhaps even a Knight one day, winning fame, living a life of adventure, and getting to see the whole empire.  But getting her parents to agree, as hard as that is, is just the first step.  And once she’s there, will the reality of empire-building be what she dreamed it would be? 

This book has an appealing blend of action and adventure, friendship building, and beautiful Turkish-inspired landscapes, along with the looks at the draw and downsides of empires.  The recruits we see are diverse in ethnicity and gender, from a range of social standings.  Backmatter from the creators explain the cultural and historical context (though it is a fantasy world)  and the need for stories starring middle eastern girls with swords, as well as a stage-by-stage progression of how a scene is built from script to final version. I’ll note that my library has this in the teen zone, but there doesn’t seem to be more violence than many middle grade fantasy graphic novels. It does seem aimed more at middle schoolers than elementary-aged kids to me, though. Regardless, highly recommended.

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Honor Books: Yonder by Ali Standish and Iveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Arango

Here are two reflective books that won honors this year – Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Finalist for Yonder and a Newbery Honor for Iveliz Explains It All.

Cover of Yonder by Ali Standish

by Ali Standish

HarperCollins, 2022

ISBN 978-0062985682

Read from a library copy.

Ebook and audiobook available on Libby.

In June of 1943, 12-year-old Danny Timmons lives in a small Appalachian town, caring for his pregnant mother while his father is away at war.   His morning routine includes delivering the papers with his older friend Jack.  Through a story that alternates between present and past, we see how that friendship developed as Jack stayed with his family after a bad episode with his abusive father.  But how did Danny and his former best friend Lou, who shared all her Nancy Drews with him, stop talking to each other?  Why was his mother’s best friend and her family forced to leave town?  And most importantly, when Jack disappears – where did he go and why?  All of this is wrapped in a discussion of what makes a hero and whether or not all stories have them, as Jack slowly learns more about the atrocities both overseas and those that are quietly allowed to flourish right in his own kind-seeming hometown.  This shares themes of coming to recognize bullying with Jennifer Chan is Not Alone. For more adventurous stories of America during World War II, try Kate Hannigan’s League of Secret Heroes series

Iveliz Explains It All
by Andrea Beatriz Arango

Random House, 2022

ISBN 9780593563977

Read from a library copy. 

Ebook and audiobook available on Libby.

Cover of Iveliz Explains It All by Andrea Beatriz Arango.

In this novel in verse, Iveliz hopes to make seventh grade a fresh start, wiping away her past academic and behavioral challenges.  However, the grief and guilt over her father’s death three years ago are overwhelming, putting her constantly on edge, so that she explodes every time classmates (who already target her because she speaks Spanish) deliberately push her buttons.  She’s not able to talk to her mother or her counselor, and hopes that her grandmother moving in will be a comfort.  But though she’s used to having to explain things like how to pronounce her name over and over again, it still hurts when her grandmother forgets who she is and tells her that she’s weak to need medication for her mental health problems.  Even her relationship with her best friend, Amir, is strained, and she’s not sure if she’ll be able to make any other friends.  On top of all of this, she’s seeing and hearing her father, but knows that if she tells anyone, they will think she’s crazy.  Will Iveliz ever be able to reach out for help??

All of this is told in free verse on lined paper, with cute line drawings and moments of fun that help alleviate the weight of Iveliz’s many problems. I am torn about this book.  It is really effective, showing how Iveliz’s intertwining roles affect her and her mental health, all the different areas interacting messily.  I really cared about her, laughed a few times, and cried really, really hard as I read it in the bleachers while waiting for my son’s robotics tournament to start.  On the other hand, it was a lot of weight reading about a kid with severe depression when I am dealing with a lot of depression in my family already.  Ultimately, it was really good… and I had to go and read some heartwarming teen romance afterwards.  

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2022 in Review – the Books

Here is my annual list of books that I rated at 9 or above. I rate most books I really enjoy as 8, but since that list would be over 100 books, I feel the need to limit myself.

I always have dreams of getting this list out in early January, or at the very least closer to when I put out my By the Numbers list. That’s maybe a goal I should be more realistic about, as both lists are quite time-consuming to put together. With this list in particular, I always want to have reviewed all the books I’m telling you were my favorites. I did go back and review some more of them, so that now slightly less than half of my 40 favorite books have reviews linked to them. Perhaps another year! In the meantime, the book covers will give some idea of the books.

Here is my standard disclaimer about rating books:

“I have never liked doing a public scale rating of books – the librarian in me would rather describe what’s in the book and let you decide if it sounds good for you. But I do give books number ratings on my own private spreadsheet. I shamelessly borrowed the Book Smugglers’ 10-point rating system for this, where 0 is “I want my time and my money back”, 5 is “meh” and so on. For my purposes, 7 is a book I enjoyed, 8 is one I loved and 9 is one I really, really loved. 10 only gets given out retrospectively to books I find myself re-reading and thinking about a lot – a true personal classic.”

Middle Grade

  • Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality by Roshni Chokshi
  • Black Bird, Blue Road by Sofiya Pasternack
  • Button Box by Bridget Hodder and Fawzia Gilani-Williams. Illustrated by Harshad Marathe
  • Cece Rios and the King of Fears by Kaela Rivera
  • Friends Forever by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham
  • Kiki Kallira Conquers a Curse by Sandu Mandanna



  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
  • Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
  • Network Effect by Martha Wells
  • Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
  • Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library by Amanda Oliver
  • Spindle Splintered by Alix Harrow
  • This Long Thread by Jen Hewett
  • Touchstones by Stephanie Burgis


Middle Grade

  • Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horowitz. Read by Merissa Czyz (with my daughter)
  • Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge



  • True Pretenses by Rose Lerner

Congratulations on making it to the end of this list! Please let me know which of these books you also love, and if there are any I haven’t reviewed that you’d especially like a review of.

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No True Villains: Children of the Quicksands and Eden’s Everdark

Finally, my friends, I am bringing you my reviews of the last two of the finalists from my middle grade speculative fiction Cybils panel last year. And in case you missed it, the round 2 panel just announced the winners this past week – Mirrorwood was this year’s winner in my category, and Freewater in the realistic middle grade category.

Cover of Children of the Quicksands by Efua Tratore

Children of the Quicksands by Efua Tratore
Read by Tyla Collier

Scholastic Audio, 2022


Listened to audiobook on Hoopla. Ebook and audiobook available on Libby.

Simi has grown up in the busy city of Lagos, Nigeria.  Her mother has never even talked about her grandmother – but when her mother has to do training in London while her father is busy with his new wife, Simi is sent to stay with her grandmother in a remote and tiny village.  The culture shock is enormous – with no electricity, no running water, and no internet, Simi doesn’t know what to do with herself.  It’s also shocking to learn that her grandmother is a priestess of the goddess Oshun, following the old religion that her mother looked down on as nothing but harmful superstition.  She’s also thrown into the middle of the village story – children disappearing into the quicksands in the forest, never to be seen again.  As Simi learns how to survive and help her grandmother with the daily work, she is also drawn further into the magic.  Together with the son of a local chief – who lives both in Lagos and in his village – she investigates this mystery and determines to stop the disappearances. 

This is a fascinating look at two sides of Nigeria in both the real-life and the magical aspects. Simi grows in so many aspects- in her personal self-reliance, in joining the community in the village, and in strengthening the relationships between her mother and grandmother.  The magical part – with children trapped in childhood in a world through the quicksands – is also captivating.  It’s interwoven with goddesses like Oshun, whom I’ve read about before, as well as aspects that are new to me.  I especially appreciated that while mistakes were clearly made and very bad things have happened, there were no villains here.  I listened to this on audio, which I highly recommend for capturing the full feel of the transitions between worlds with the shifting accents.  For more fantasy set in Nigeria, try Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tọlá Okogwu and Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor.

Eden’s Everdark
by Karen Strong

Simon and Schuster, 2022

ISBN 978-1665904476

Read from a library copy. My library system doesn’t have it through Libby, but it is available for purchase there, so your library might have it. 

Cover of Eden's Everdark by Karen Strong

Eden and her father decide to visit the tightly-knit island community her mother grew up in only after her death. There, she meets the extended family and learns about the history of their island, where whole Black communities purchased the land they had worked while enslaved after emancipation.  In her mother’s childhood bedroom, Eden finds an old journal, with pictures of people in a place called Everdark.  

Though her mother must have found her way out of Everdark, Eden stumbles through a doorway and finds herself trapped in an Everdark that hasn’t changed in the intervening decades.  There, two other Black girls from different eras live in the plantation house, overseen by Mother Mary.  Though they dress in elaborate clothes and eat delicious food, they aren’t allowed to leave, and dangerous creatures stalk the ever-twilight woods outside. Eden can feel herself being more and more tightly bound to this shadow world as time passes, knowing that if she can’t find a way to escape, she’ll die in the real world.  This is an atmospheric story with multiple strong and memorable characters.  I loved that it covers Black history from multiple eras, and that while Mother Mary keeps the girls captive, she genuinely cares for them and believes she’s doing the right thing. It’s a powerful blend of history, horror, and personal growth that was one of my favorites of 2022.   If you haven’t read it yet, Strong’s 2019 book  Just South of Home is one I’ve been adding to my lists ever since I read it in 2020.

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Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies by Stacey Lee

Before I get started with the review – the Cybils Award winners were announced today! And while I really like reading through as many of the finalists as I can, going for just the winners can be a lot less overwhelming.

I really enjoy Stacey Lee’s books, and I try to read all of Rick Riordan Presents books I can, so I couldn’t resist reading this one – just out this month!

Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies
by Stacey Lee.
Read by Brian Kim McCormick

Rick Riordan Presents, 2023

Listened to the audiobook through Netgalley.

Ebook and audiobook available through Libby.

Winston Chu has just baked his father’s favorite shoofly pie in his cooking class, in honor of the anniversary of his death – “Dadiversary”.  He’s confident in his skateboarding skills, but somehow as he and his best friend, Mac, are heading home, he trips, flipping the pie onto a pair of truly scary-looking men.  As they also drive the men away from the store they’re outside, the owner of Mr. Pang’s Whimsies gives Winston an ancient broom and dustpan as a reward.  But when things start going missing at home – his soccer jersey, his older sister’s favorite stuffie – even his baby sister – Winston knows he needs to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.  

I had mixed feelings about this book.  I loved the mixture of humor, his family’s working through the pain of losing his father, and his four best friends from the soccer team, and the blend of Chinese mythology with modern-day San Francisco.  The narrator had a great basic voice for most of the story, but voiced a couple of Winston’s friends in voices that felt just too cartoony for me to really get behind.  Stacey Lee writes mostly teen books with strong romance plots, and this had a small romance plotline as well.  I was never quite sure why Winston likes the girl he does, but I liked that the relationship developed from pretty epic awkward adoration to a real friendship.  Despite all these positive elements, the story never quite came together enough for me to love it in a way I haven’t been quite able to put my finger on.  Still, if you’re a fan of the Rick Riordan type, especially the ones with higher silliness quotients like Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, this is an excellent choice. 

If you want more Stacey Lee books, I’ve reviewed Under a Painted Sky, Secret of a Heart Note, and Outrun the Moon.

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3 2022 MG Fic Finalists: Attack of the Black Rectangles, Freewater, and Thirst

The Cybils winners will be announced next week – I’ve read all but one of the middle grade fiction finalists and am excited to see which one wins.

Attack of the Black Rectangles by Amy Sarig King. Scholastic, 2022. ISBN 978-1338680522. Read from a library copy. Ebook and audiobook available through Libby.

Mac and his two best friends, Denis and Marci, are most worried about their new 6th grade teacher’s reputation for enforcing good posture and no sweets. Both of these are true, as well as a strict dress code, only enforced for girls.  Things really come to a head when they’re assigned to read The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen in a small group, and find that key phrases have been blacked out with Sharpie.  All the kids are outraged – but the adults just smile indulgently and tell them that not all boys are as mature as they are.  

At the same time as Mac is figuring out how far he trusts himself to take this fight, his always odd father starts to act even weirder.  Though the dad doesn’t live with Mac and his mother and grandfather, he starts showing up in the middle of the night to take Mac for drives in Mac’s grandfather’s vintage convertible, which he tells Mac is his spaceship, all while saying increasingly dismissive things about Mac’s mother.  

Interspersed with the chapters are letters from the comment section of the local newspaper (lucky Mac to live in a town that still has a locally operated print newspaper!) where people argue about the town’s restrictive regulations. My daughter found this book on my library shelf and read it through before I did.  The regulation she was most incensed about was one requiring all houses to be painted white, because of white being the best and most historically accurate color.  This is a solid look at censorship from a middle school perspective, with Mac also learning to deal with a bummer of a dad and a first crush.  And it’s a rare one that my daughter pulled off the shelf and read straight through before I got to it at all. While looking the author up, I discovered that she just recently had a stroke – I’m sure she could use the support of you going to buy one of her books!

Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson. Little, Brown, 2022. ISBN 978-0316056618. Read from a library copy. Ebook and audiobook available through Libby.

Twelve-year-old Homer and his seven-year-old sister Ada flee their plantation in the night, planning to go north with their mother.  Unfortunately, their mother is captured and they get lost – but find a guide who takes them to the hidden swamp community of Freewater, where escaped formerly enslaved people and some freeborn children make their home, living off of the swamp and raiding plantations.  Meanwhile, we follow several other characters.  One of the children of Freewater, Sanzi, chafes at not being able to leave Freewater and longs to help with the work of raiding that Homer and Ada’s guide provided.  And at the same time, Homer’s best friend Anna, long ago sold away from her mother, plots to make her own escape, while the Master’s youngest daughter feels more at home in the kitchen with Homer and Ada’s mother than with her own family, and only slowly comes to realize how much separates them.  Even as Homer plans to rescue his mother and Anna, he learns of danger to Freewater itself. All of these strands wind tightly together into a climax at Nora’s older sister’s wedding, an event that will be as memorable as her mother hoped, though definitely not in the way she planned.  This is a gripping look at a resistance too long forgotten.  It deserves the notice it’s been getting – I just felt so lucky that I already had it checked out because it was a Cybils finalist before it won the Newbery.

Thirst by Varsha Bajaj. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022. ISBN 9780593354391. Read from a library copy. Ebook and audiobook available through Libby.

12-year-old Minni and her older brother Sanjay live with their parents in a shack in the slums of Mumbai.  The ocean views are beautiful, but fresh water comes from a slow and unreliable communal tap.  Then her brother and his friend run into some water mafia in the city, while Minni and her best friend watch from a car.  Soon Minni’s life has changed dramatically: Sanjay and his friend must go to the country to hide from the mafia, while Minni’s mother gets sick and goes to her mother’s house to rest.  Minni has to fetch and boil the family’s water and take over her mother’s job cleaning for a wealthy family, all while trying to keep up with her studies so she can pass her exams to go on to the next grade.  As Minni contrasts her life with that of the 12-year-old daughter of her employer, she has more and more questions about the inequality she and her community experience and is determined to do what she can to change it.  

This is a brief book that manages to paint Minni’s relationships with her family and friends, the struggles for water and phone connection, and her school’s rigid focus on punctuality and memorization in vivid colors.  Her community’s needs are many and deep, but while Minni starts to fight as she learns more, she wants to bring positive change to the community she loves, not leave it.  Short poems at the ends of chapters reflect her changing feelings. I felt while reading this that it would make a great read-aloud, and found when I looked the author up on Twitter that it is also a Global Read Aloud Selection.

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Fast & Funny with Cookies & Cakes: Ben Yokoyama and Winnie Zeng

Here are two very funny and fast-moving books – one more realistic and the other fantasy – certain to draw young readers in.  I read Ben Yokoyama based on a recommendation from Alison L. Morris on the Book Friends Forever podcast (a year or two ago *cough*), while Winnie Zeng was a Cybils nominee.

Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Doom
by Matthew Swanson
and Robbi Behr

Knopf, 2021

ISBN 978-0593302750

Read from a library copy.

Cover of Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Doom by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr

8-year-old Ben, whose father is Japanese-American and whose mother is white, is having dinner at a Chinese restaurant with his aunt when he is stunned by the fortune in his fortune cookie: “Live each day as if it were your last.”  He takes this very literally and makes a list of goals for his potential last day on earth, and then gets his best friend Janet involved.  Soon they are racing around the neighborhood trying to accomplish their goals, including eating forbidden cake from the freezer and racing to finish a complex latch hook project.  Behind the humor, though, is some serious heart as Janet deals with the loss of her dad and their entering into a scary backyard leads to befriending an elderly neighbor. The book is filled with copious notebook-style drawings, some of the actual happenings and some metaphorical, like one of an aardvark eating noodles when Ben is described as eating noodles like an aardvark.  I promptly went out and bought this for my nephew, as the over-the-top humor and fun illustrations make it perfect for elementary kids who are bridging between early chapter books and middle grade fiction. This is the first of five books in the Cookie Chronicles series.

Cover of Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Katie Zhao

Winnie Zeng
Unleashes a Legend
by Katie Zhao

Random House, 2022

ISBN 978-0593426579

Read from a library copy.

11-year-old Winnie is as prepared for middle school as she can get: she’s studied anime and manga and her older sister.  Though her dance moves are polished, she wasn’t prepared to be in school with her long-time Chinese school rival, David Zuo.  When she tries to find a recipe to beat his class in a bake-off, she opens her family cookbook – which turns out to be magical.  Before she knows quite what’s happening, the spirit of her grandmother has taken over her pet rabbit as she’s trying to figure out how to bake mooncakes.  When a demon invades her house, the only way she has to defend herself is by using the mooncakes as weapons.  And as more and more demons start appearing, she has to work with her grandmother – and very unfortunately, David as well – to learn how to be a shaman to send the evil spirits back where they belong.

This is a funny and fast-paced contemporary fantasy adventure that deals with Winnie trying to find a balance between fitting in and being herself both in middle school and in her family.  Bonus points for magical mooncakes, and some sneaky Michigan references. 

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A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys

Now that I’ve put together my statistics, it’s time to get back to reviewing some of my favorite books of last year that weren’t lucky enough to be in the few I managed to write up right away. I was excited enough about the reviews for this book to buy it with one of our audiobook credits rather than waiting months for a hold to come through, and I don’t buy books from previously unknown-to-me authors often. 

A Half-Built Garden
by Ruthanna Emrys
Read by Kate Handford

Macmillan Audio/Tor, 2022

ISBN 9781250210982

Listened to purchased audiobook.
Ebook and audiobook available on Libby.

As the story opens in 2083, Judy Wallach-Stevens is disturbed from a night of not sleeping well by an alarm announcing pollution in the bay near her.  As Judy’s a water specialist for the local Chesapeake Watershed of the Dandelion Network – working to restore the Earth to health –  she and her wife Carol, along with their nursing baby Dorrie call a van to take them to the site.  But what awaits them is not a faulty sensor, but a spaceship with members of two symbiotic species.  Their captain, Cytosine, introduces her babies Chlorophyll and Diamond to Dorrie, and says they’ve come to rescue humans from Earth, as they can tell that it will soon become uninhabitable. 

From here, more and more strands are introduced into the braid of the story.  There’s the part where Cytosine only wants to talk to Judy rather than the Chesapeake’s diplomatic expert because only mothers with babies are important enough to talk to.  NASA quickly finds an expert on maternity leave to send in to represent them, while the corporations, exiled to man-made islands off Australia, send in their own representatives. There are of course many different attitudes to conservation and space travel, but also a strong thread of looking at different possibilities around gender expression, as each culture in the book has their own very different customs.  Relationships are built, strained, examined.  All of this considering the possibility of leaving Earth is grounded – literally – in the rhythms of Judy and Carol’s household’s garden and the Jewish year, as well as the realities of life with babies. Even though the circumstances are dire, it’s filled with love and hope. I couldn’t stop talking about it for at least a month afterwards (which is saying something as Cybils season started immediately afterwards), and it was so rich that I’m sure I’ll go back to it again. 

This could pair well with The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers and the 2016 movie Arrival.

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2022 In Review – by the Numbers

Every year since 2014, I’ve tried to do an audit of my reading, as well as a list of my favorite books of the year. It’s my way of keeping myself accountable,

2021 Overview

I read 209 books in 2022, finishing 204 of them. I reviewed just 55 of them –
my worst reviewing year on record – and rated 43 o them at 9 or above.
For the second time, I split out the print library books from the library ebooks. Total library usage was 79.8%, up 3% from 2021. Review copies totaled 9.7%, just slightly more than books I purchased for myself.
Audiobooks and graphic novels are both holding relatively steady from 2021. My ebook reading edged up a couple of percentage points this year – I was unable to drive for the last two months of the year.
2022 reading by format - 55% print, 9% graphic novels, 24% audiobooks, and 12% ebooks.
Audiobooks and graphic novels are both holding relatively steady from 2021. My ebook reading edged up a couple of percentage points this year – I was unable to drive for the last two months of the year.

What I Read

Fantasy still far in the lead, as usual, with jumps in Romance and Sci-Fi. 2022 needed lots of escapist reading!
2022 Age/Audience pie chart: 66% Middle Grade, 1% Picture Book, .5% Early Chapter Boks, 14.8% Teen, and 18% Adult.
Nearly unchanged from last year, but books for younger readers sinking ever lower.

The Authors

Graph of my 2022 author ethnicity - 55% white, 8% Latinx, 4% South Asian, 1.4% Indigenous, 14% Asian, 2-3 author teams of varying ethnicities.
I’m trying not to be hard on myself for only a 1% increase in my reading by authors of color over last year.
I got curious about what I’m sharing here vs. what I’m reading for myself. I’m much happier with these percentages.
A map of my authors' home countries - 80% from the US, with representation from Canada, the UK, Ireland, the Phillipines, Ghana, Nigeria, Germany, Australia and Brazil.
I haven’t made any effort to read authors outside of the US. It’s just fun to see the map! Other countries represented here are Canada, the UK, Ireland, the Phillipines, Ghana, Nigeria, Germany, Australia and Brazil.
Percentage of authors I read in 2022 by gneder - 75% Female, 22% Male, and 2% Nonbinary.
This is about the same as last year. The tiny unlabeled slices are multi-gender author partnerships.

The Characters

2022 Character Ethnicity pie chart - 43% white, 8% Latinx, 7% South Asian, 2% Indigenous, 15% Asian, 11% Black, 5% animal.
In 2019, my percentage of white characters was 39%, in 2020 34%, and in 2021 40%. I’m not doing great here, though I would say I have fewer books by white people about authors of color than I once did.
Graph of the different religions my book characters had in 2022 - 9 Jewish, 3 Hindu, 10 Muslim, 1 with mixed Jewish and Muslim, 4 traditional religions, and 1 Shinto.
Changing things up a bit, I split my one column for other diversity types into four. Here’s my total book count of non-Christian religions. Native American, Chinese, and Korean traditional religious practices are all shown in one category.
Bar chart tracking other character diversity in my reading - 22% showing economic diversity/low income, 14% ability diversity, and 17% LGBTQ+
Here’s the other diversity stats besides ethnicity and religion, mirroring the diversity aspects we’re now tracking in my library’s book orders. In actual book numbers, this translates to 46, 30, and 36 respectively.

I’ve been doing these graphs for several years now – here they are from 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 20162015, and 2014. As always, if you know of any middle grade or teen books, especially fantasy books, that would help me round out the diversity of my reading, please let me know! And if you have thoughts on these stats or other things you’d like to see, let me know in the comments.

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2 2022 Cybils MG Fic Finalists: Air and Jennifer Chan is Not Alone

It’s always fascinating to read the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction finalists, which include both contemporary and historical middle grade fiction. I’m not quite sure why I hadn’t gotten around to reading Tae Keller’s latest, which was definitely on my radar. I have also written a review of Yonder by Ali Standish, but since it’s published by HarperCollins, I looked into their union strike more deeply than I had, and am now withholding that review until they reach a settlement.

Air by Monica Roe

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022

ISBN 978-0374388652

Read the ebook on Libby. 

“What other people think I can or can’t do doesn’t matter. These are the things that matter. I’m Emelyn Ethrige. I’m twelve and a half years old. Alejandra Che is my best friend. 

I like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

And I love speed.”

Air by Monica Roe, 2022

Emmy’s skateboarding father taught her to do tricks with her own wheels. Since her mother died, though, he’s gotten a lot more cautious about her using the skating setup he built in their yard, and too busy with work and night classes to spend time with her.  Emmy is undeterred.  She and her best friend Ale have made their own online business, selling both natural things like pinecones and Spanish moss from the surrounding woods, but also Emmy’s custom wheelchair bags.  They’re almost halfway to their goals: a custom sports wheelchair for Emmy and new, fancy beekeeping equipment for Ale. Then, a mishap at school brings Emmy to the new principal’s attention, and suddenly he wants the school to raise the money for her wheelchair – and for Emmy to have a personal aide at school instead of doing things on her own, as her mother had worked so hard for her to do. Even though her friends at school are excited to help, something just doesn’t feel right.  Emmy’s journey includes relationships with family, friends, a developing crush, lots of wheelchair tricks, and tons of Emmy’s firecracker personality.  Pair this with 2019 Cybils Finalist Roll with It by Jamie Sumner and Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly for other stories of kids more limited by others’ perceptions of their disabilities than by the disabilities themselves. As I was writing this review, on a snow day, my daughter picked up my e-reader and finished the whole book before I got it posted.

Jennifer Chan is Not Alone
by Tae Keller

Random House, 2022

ISBN 978-0593310526

Read from a library copy. 

Before Mallory met Reagen, she was filled with anxiety, capable of fainting at the most embarrassing moment.  Now that she, Reagen and Tess are best friends, Mallory feels like she has a place and a handle on the rules to follow to stay popular rather than being a middle school target.  But right before eighth grade, a new girl moves in across the street.  Jennife Chan believes in aliens so wholeheartedly that Mallory is drawn in, even as she believes that going to school talking like that and wearing t-shirts about aliens rather than trying to look cute would be social suicide both for Jennifer and for Mallory, if she’s seen with her.  So when Jennifer Chan goes missing – at the very beginning of the book – Mallory is forced to reckon with the role she might have played in Jennifer’s disappearance, and work with both her current best friends and the ones she left behind when she became popular to figure out what might have happened.  

Middle grade books where the MC must overcome bullies are tediously common.  This story flips that narrative around, with a rare sympathetic portrait of a girl who never meant to be a bully and who only realizes in retrospect that that’s what she’s become and sets out to fix it.  It’s as impressive as I’d expect from Tae Keller, whose How to Trap a Tiger was a personal favorite as well as a Newbery winner. 

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