Going with just one Spotlight this week! I’m trying out something new in this week’s Spotlight. Instead of giving the publisher’s summary and listing the particulars for each book, I’m going to just write a blurb about why I included the book as the week’s “best of the best” and why I would buy it for my own library.
Please feel free to let me know what you honestly think of the new format. I’m hoping it sounds more personal, as though I am booktalking it rather than just listing the specifics. I’m getting a bit bored of writing these up (I’m going on Year #4 of the NRS), and I thought if I could be a bit more creative and conversational with it, it might help me enjoy doing them a little more.
I’m not planning to stop them (no way!), but I’m feeling the need to spice them up a bit. I welcome any suggestions you may have–this Spotlight is for YOU, so please speak up if there is something you specifically want from it.
If you buy only one YA book on this week’s list, let it be this one. Trust me, your students and teachers will be asking for it. Two professional reviewers (SLJ and Publishers Weekly) recommend Grades 7+, so it should be a safe choice for middle school libraries.
Slay is about 17-year old Kiera, a black girl who secretly invented a massive multiplayer online game called Slay. Dealing with racism in her everyday life, Kiera made Slay for black people only. Players have to enter a password to play, and one can only obtain the password from another black person. The game is wildly successful, and no one–not even Kiera’s family or boyfriend–knows Kiera was the one who created it.
But Kiera has a huge problem when a dispute in the game turns violent and leads to real-life murder. Suddenly, Slay is villainized as being violent, racist, and exclusionary.
I’m going to predict that this book will be huge and explosive, just as The Hate U Give was when it first came out in 2017 (and still is today). Professional and Goodreads reviews of Slay are overwhelmingly positive (including two starred professional reviews), and Entertainment Weekly named it one of the year’s most highly-anticipated debuts.
Seventeen-year old Morgan, a black teen struggling with depression, wrestles with identity and a community that seems to think her blackness is something to be ignored. Morgan’s neighborhood and school are predominantly white, and Morgan is told that she’s “not really black” far too often. Though Morgan attends a Christian school, she has serious doubts about her own faith and wishes her teachers better-understood black history.
Themes include bullying, racism, and identity. Recommended for ages 12+, it received three starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist. Considering how little Morgan’s teachers know about black history, I think this would be an excellent read to give white teachers some perspective on the needs of their students of color.
Once a year, a ghostly road appears. At the end of that road is Lucy Gallows, an aptly-named ghost playing a deadly game. Exactly one year ago, Sara’s sister Becca went missing, and Sara believes her Lucy-obsessed sister found the road and followed it. Now, Sara and her skeptical friends are going to find that road. Becca needs her, and Lucy is waiting.
How perfect is that for Halloween? The small New England town of Briar Glen has a Sleepy Hollow feel to it, and as part of a sister trio myself, I always love stories with strong sisterly bonds.
Like The Blair Witch Project this story unfolds as a series of text messages, interview transcripts, and video footage. I checked YouTube to see if the video footage might be included there as Skeleton Creek did years ago, but unfortunately, there is nothing at this time. Too bad–that would have been cool.
Rules for Vanishing is recommended for Grades 7+. I saw several reviews on Goodreads that said this was creepy, but I didn’t see anyone who said it was truly scary. The main criticism I see for this title is that it starts off slow and has a overly-large cast of characters.
I love seeing the number of new YA books that deal with mental health. So many of our middle and high school students deal with anxiety, depression, cutting, and all kinds of other mental health issues. Despite some people’s feeling that books about suicide make teens more likely to commit suicide, I think it’s good that through books like this one, teens can see they are not alone and that help is available.
This is about two teens–17-year old Naima and 15-year old Dew–who are both dealing with overwhelming grief. Naima just lost her father, a Marine who died in the line of duty. Dew now lives with adoptive parents after the deaths of both his parents. Mental health issues include: OCD, anxiety (GAD), depression, PTSD, and social anxiety disorder.
Professional reviews praise this book’s sensitive and hopeful portrayal of mental illness and grief, but Goodreads reviews are quite mixed. The main criticism I see is that the book is well-written but uneventful and dull. I’ve included it here because it includes both a male and a female dealing with mental health issues that many students will identify with. I also like that there is no romance to complicate an already fragile emotional situation–Naima and Dew are just friends. Professional reviews recommend Grades 7+.
Bone Houses are risen corpses, like zombies, and according to legend, they are the result of an ancient curse. With their mother missing and their father dead, Ryn and her siblings pay the bills by digging graves, which is kind of a tough job when the dead do not stay dead. But the dead seem particularly drawn to a new boy in town, a lost teen mapmaker (lost teen mapmaker?) named Ellis.
Dealing with chronic pain, Ellis pays Ryn to guide him through the monster-filled forbidden forest surrounding Ryn’s Welch town, and together, they search for a mythical cauldron said to end the curse–if they can find it.
The Bone Houses is a standalone YA fantasy/horror novel that received a starred review from Booklist. Two professional reviewers recommend Grades 7+, so it should be okay for most middle schools. I’m a sucker for horror novels, and I’ve already added this to my next Book Depository order.
In Queens, New York, three mixed-race girls are about to start seventh grade. But it’s 1971, and the girls’ school district has decided the three friends will be part of an experiment. The district will bus the girls to a new school, one that is desegregated. Francesca’s parents say no way; their daughter is not an experiment. They send Francesca to a private school, leaving Josie and Jamila to face the long bus ride and integrated school together.
This autobiographical novel pairs well with Levine’s The Lions of Little Rock and Toalson’s The Colors of the Rain. It’s recommended for Grades 4-8 and received a starred review from Kirkus.
Does this one really need an introduction? In case you are new to middle or high school libraries, The Crossover is an enormously popular free verse novel that won the Newbery Award in 2016. It’s funny, action-packed, and heartbreaking. If you are in a secondary school library, The Crossover and now, its graphic novel, are a MUST. Get multiple copies if you are able–this will be a hit.
If my opinion on it isn’t enough, know that Kirkus and SLJ starred the graphic novel, so it clearly earns a spot next to its free verse counterpart. Recommended for Grades 5-8.
Born to Fly: The First Women’s Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin (Author), Bijou Karman (Illustrator)
The 1929 Women’s Air Derby featured 20 of the greatest female pilots of that time. Together, these twenty women defied their male-dominated society to show that women could also perform great feats in the air. This collected biography includes: Amelia Earhart, Ruth Elder, Louise Thaden, Marvel Crosson, Elinor Smith, and others.
I absolutely adore Steve Sheinkin’s nonfiction, particularly the way he makes the people and events feel so real to readers. This title received two starred reviews (Booklist and SLJ) and is recommended for Grades 5-8.
In this companion to Raymie Nightingale and Louisiana’s Way Home, we finally get to hear Beverly’s story. Beverly is a chronic runaway, and for good reason. Now 14, Beverly has decided that she’s going to run away one last time…this time, she isn’t coming back. She manages to find herself a place to live and even a job, but despite her tough exterior, Beverly is tender and sensitive inside. She doesn’t want to care about other people, but others have a way of becoming a part of her life anyway.
It’s Kate DiCamillo, so of course it received multiple starred reviews. It’s both expected and well-deserved. This one is recommended for Grades 5-8 and a must where Raymie Nightingale and Louisiana’s Way Home are popular.
Did you love Inkheart? I did! And this story sounds very similar: An 11-year old girl discovers that she can “wander” inside the pages of books, so she enters a book in order to find her missing mother. It appears to be a family gift because she saw her grandmother having a conversation with Lizzie Bennett. Sound familiar? Does it even matter? Like many librarians and teachers, I also love any book that brings literature–especially classic literature–alive for our students. So despite its summary’s similarities to Inkheart, I know I’ll be reading this one anyway. And I bet many of you will, too.
Recommended for grades 3-7. Professional reviews are all positive, but none are starred.
Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung (Author) and Chris Sasaki (Illustrator)
If you’ve seen Disney’s Bambi, you are familiar with the work of Tyrus Wong. Born in China, Tyrus Wong directed the art and created the background scenes for the movie Bambi. Before that, Tyrus had been a young boy in China. He and his father immigrated to the USA when he was nine years old, when Tyrus became a “paper son” who took the identity of another child to gain entry to the US. He was also stranded alone on Angel Island, a detention center off the California coast for Chinese immigrants.
Recommend this picture book biography for lessons on immigration and more specifically, the Chinese Exclusion Act. Booklist starred and recommended for ages 4-12.
16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Rogers (Author) and Chuck Groenink (Illustrator)
This poem came up numerous times throughout my grade school and even university education, but I still do not see why it’s such a hugely popular poem to teach. I also remember that it appears in Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, which I adored. Maybe this picture book biography of William Carlos Williams can explain why it’s so popular? In the story, we at least learn more about that unassuming red wheelbarrow and who it belonged to.
Starred by Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, this book would be a great addition to elementary and middle school poetry units.
This wordless picture book tells the story of a young boy visiting a museum with his family. Outside the museum, the boy buys an origami bird from a street vendor (who appears to be homeless). Inside the museum, the boy makes the origami bird fly around, causing him to lose both the bird and his family. When he finds the bird in the hand of a Muslim boy, he rudely rips it out of the boy’s hand. His family scolds him for his poor behavior, and the two boys (and their families) become friends.
Though it received several positive reviews and a starred review from Booklist, it’s the Kirkus review that interests me most. Many reviews praise the book’s messages and “magic,” but the Kirkus review looks at the improbability of the boy running around a museum throwing things (true, the guards would stop him for sure) and the undercurrent of racism in the way the boy treats the Muslim family. It’s an interesting take that makes me want to see this one for myself.
…and the band played on. This story is a tribute to Wallace Hartley, who bravely played music on the deck of the Titanic to calm the passengers as the ship went down.Students are fascinated with the Titanic, and this picture book from Patricia Polacco will be popular for units on the famous maritime disaster.