YA – Miss Meteor

Mejia, Tehlor Kay, and Anna-Marie McLemore. Miss Meteor. Harper Teen, 2020. 978-0-062-86991-3. $17.99. 392 p. Grades 9 and up.

Meteor, New Mexico is a cheesy tourist town known for three things: the regional cornhole tournament, the Miss Meteor Pageant, and, of course, the huge meteor that landed there fifty years ago. Everyone knows that’s why the town is named “Meteor,” but they don’t know Lita landed there with it. Lita lives her human life now in Meteor with Bruja Lupe, her “mom,” who may or may not have come from the same space rock. Being of Mexican descent and the daughter of the town witch does nothing to help Lita in the popularity department. That doesn’t stop her from fantasizing over and pretending to enter and win the Miss Meteor Pageant as a kid, her best friend Chicky playing along as her manager. Things don’t get better for her over the years, though. Chicky ends their friendship abruptly in middle school, and since then it seems as though Lita is turning back into the stardust from which she came; tiny patches of it are visible under her skin. Also of Mexican descent, flannel-and-combat-boot-wearing Chicky has harbored a secret and has had to deal with bullying for most of her life, Miss Meteor pageant legacy Kendra Kendall being her harshest and most frequent bully. When Lita decides to go for her dream of Miss Meteor because she’s running out of time and has nothing to lose, Chicky decides to resume her role as Lita’s manager. Kendra Kendall losing the crown everyone expects her to win to the weirdest girl in town would be fitting, so it’s worth it to Chicky to rekindle her friendship with Lita to make it happen. How long can Chicky continue to keep her secret from her friend though, since that’s why she ended their friendship in the first place? Will Lita even make it to the pageant, or will she turn to stardust before it even starts? Find out in this beautifully written poignant story of friendship and self-love.

THOUGHTS: Miss Meteor is adorable and imaginative, and Tehlor Kay Mejia is quickly becoming a must-read YA author for me, personally. This book is co-written with Anna-Marie McLemore, and each author writes one of the main characters’ point of view in alternating chapter format. Lita is particularly quirky and innocent (which makes sense, given she’s made of stardust), and I found myself smiling a lot while reading this book… and laughing. And I may have shed a tear or two. While there are several instances of harsh bullying including homophobia and transphobia, this book is heartwarming overall with a cast of extremely lovable and diverse characters. Chicky’s sisters are hilarious, and the girls themselves as well as their friends/love interests are of various sexual orientations including a trans character. Highly recommended addition for all high school collections.

Fantasy (Magical Realism)          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

MG – What Lane?

Maldonado, Torrey. What Lane? Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020. 978-0-525-51843-3. $16.99. 125 p. Grades 3-6.

Biracial Stephen pals around with his white friend Dan in their gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood, but lately, Stephen is noticing he is viewed more negatively by the janitor or passers-by than his paler friend. Dan is sympathetic and though he is oblivious to the harsher treatment Stephen gets as they course around their city streets, he doesn’t deny his friend’s feelings and tries to understand. Dan’s cousin Chad who recently moved nearby and drops over frequently is the opposite. Author Torrey Maldonado depicts Chad’s parents as more into their phones and social lives than the well-being of their son and has them voice micro-aggressive remarks about Stephen. Chad challenges Stephen and his white friends to some dangerous pranks; and Stephen fears, rightfully, that if the group gets caught, he’ll get the blame. His African-American dad counsels him with “the talk” warning him how to behave if stopped by the police, though his white mother thinks eleven-year-old Stephen is too young to lose his innocence. Stephen’s Black friend Will shares the same cautions as Stephen and agrees that Chad is up to no good and questions Stephen’s closeness to his white friends. At a basketball game, Stephen purchases a bracelet that says, “What Lane?” to remind him of a basketball star that could play all the moves. A thoughtful person, Stephen struggles with the different groups and decisions around him. When Chad plays a hurtful trick on Stephen, Dan and his other white friends are allies and call out Chad’s bad behavior; Will and his friends come to Stephen’s rescue. In this coming-of- age novel for young middle school students, a likeable, relatable Stephen trusts he can enjoy the friendship of all different kinds of people and is able to fit into all types of worlds as long as he is true to himself.

THOUGHTS: A teacher himself, Maldonado has a great ear for middle school dialogue and a keen eye for capturing middle school dynamics. This book can be a relevant read aloud for all children but particularly relatable to children of color. It brings up some delicate but real situations that would encourage healthy discussion (for example, when Dan and Stephen are play fighting, an older white lady assumes Stephen is attacking Dan). I think it is a must buy.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – #MOVEMENTS (Series NF)

#MOVEMENTS. ABDO Publishing, 2020. $20.95 ea. $125.70 set of 6 (library bound). 32 p. Grades 5-9.

Borgert-Spaniol, Megan. #MeToo: Unveiling Abuse. 978-1-532-11931-6.
Felix, Rebecca. #Pride: Championing LGTBQ Rights. 978-1-532-11933-0.
—. #WomensMarch: Insisting on Equality. 978-1-532-11934-7.
Rusick, Jessica. #IAmAWitness: Confronting Bullying. 978-1-532-11930-9.
Thomas, Rachel L. #BlackLivesMatter: Protesting Racism. 978-1-532-11929-3.
—. #NeverAgain: Preventing Gun Violence. 978-1-532-11932-3.

This new series takes a look at the hottest topics of 2020. The #movements series takes hashtags that are trending on social media and brings awareness to social justice issues such as bullying, racism, and more. Each title provides an overview of the topic and introduces people who are champions for social justice. The books provide a look into how these movements came into being and provide information regarding the reasons why we fight for certain rights.

THOUGHTS: This series would be a great addition to a middle school library. These titles can help the younger generation be champions for the future. The simple text is easy to read and comprehend, which would make it a great series for struggling readers who have an interest in social justice.

306.76 Culture & Institutions          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

MG – Black Brother, Black Brother

Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Black Brother, Black Brother. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-49380-2. 239 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8.

Donte Ellison is a biracial 7th grader at the exclusive Middlefield Prep. Treated unjustly because of his skin color, he is suspended from school for something he did not do. His older brother Trey is beloved at the school, and many wish Donte could be more like his lighter skinned brother. Looking for a place to belong, Donte joins a local youth center where he meets a former Olympic fencer, Arden Jones, who runs the programs for the kids. Donte, who has never been an athlete, starts training with Jones, and soon finds his niche as a fencer. But when Donte and his team have to compete against his school’s team, and the racist captain of the team whose family is the school’s largest donor, Donte has to confront his emotions, his bully, and the racism that surrounds his sport.

THOUGHTS: This book addresses many tough issues in a way that is completely appropriate for middle grade readers.  At times I felt the book did not delve into the topics as much as I would have liked, but I think middle grade readers would not feel the same. Parker Rhodes is becoming a must purchase middle grade author!

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

Donte Ellison attends Middlefield Prep and when the book opens, Donte is getting in trouble for something he did not do. Donte is biracial (with one Black parent and one white parent), and he has a brother who is much lighter skinned compared to Donte. Trey has not had nearly as much trouble as Donte has, in dealing with classmates and teachers. Donte decides he wants to learn how to fence, so he can confront one of the bullies, the school’s fencing team captain.

THOUGHTS: This book weaves beautiful storytelling with lessons about racial justice as well as a commentary on the school to prison track that many young Black students face. A must own for every upper elementary through high school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – The Queen Bee and Me

McDunn, Gillian. The Queen Bee and Me. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-681-19751-7. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 5-7

Meg has always been joined at the hip of best friend Beatrix, except for the times when Beatrix freezes her out. Afraid of angering Beatrix and losing the benefits of being her friend, Meg decides to follow along while Beatrix plots to bully new student Hazel and her mom out of town. When Meg and Hazel get partnered up for a bee project in a science elective, Meg struggles between following her passion for science and doing whatever it takes to keep Beatrix from getting angry. It turns out Meg and Hazel have a lot in common, and they have fun together. Can Meg stand up to Beatrix even if it means risking years of friendship and the comfort of having a best friend? By the end of the story, Meg faces many of her fears, including a fear of bees, oral reports, and standing up to Beatrix which makes a sweet, but predictable, ending. 

THOUGHTS: As an adult reader, I had trouble finishing the book due to the predictable storyline. I anticipate young readers enjoying and relating to this story once they have the book in their hands and time to read.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

MG – Birdie and Me

Nuanez, J.M.M. Birdie and Me. Kathy Dawson Books, 2020. 978-0-399-18677-6. 249 p. $14.81. Grades 5-8.

Jack and her little brother, Birdie, were perfectly happy living with Uncle Carl after their mother’s sudden death. Uncle Carl let them eat as many Honey Bunny Buns as they wanted, school was optional, and Birdie could wear his lip gloss and sparkly clothes.  But it turns out school is not optional, so Jack and Birdie are now going to live with Uncle Patrick. Life with Uncle Patrick is very different from their life with Uncle Carl or their life with their mom. He doesn’t talk much, and Jack and Birdie are sure he doesn’t like them. Living with Uncle Patrick means school every day, and Birdie will have to wear “normal” clothes if he wants to fit in with his classmates. But what about Jack? Can she find a way to fit in? And will Birdie’s bully back off if he wears the clothes Uncle Patrick buys for him? It won’t be easy, but if they all can confront the past, they may just find a way to become a family.

THOUGHTS: This is a beautiful debut about love and loss and how to make a family. An important addition to middle school libraries.

Realistic          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

MG – Can You See Me?

Scott, Libby, and Rebecca Westcott. Can You See Me? Scholastic.2020. 978-1-338-60891-5. 358 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Co-authored by Rebecca Westcott and Libby Scott, an eleven-year old neuro-diverse girl, Can You See Me? uniquely captures the inner feelings of Tally Adams, an autistic British sixth grader. Through Tally’s eyes, the reader learns of the frustrations and perceptions an autistic person experiences navigating teachers, friends, and family while transitioning to the more sophisticated world of middle school. Luke, a classmate suffering from his own trauma, bullies Tally because he unwittingly views her autism as weird. Tally receives the brunt of Luke’s anger and loses her few friends when she tells the teacher Luke stole the answers to an upcoming quiz. As Tally tries to fit in at school and adjust her behavior at home, she finds comfort and courage in wearing a tiger mask and companionship in the old, three-legged dog the family is taking care of for their elderly, sick neighbor. Tally is a treasured part of a loving and supportive family, but she sometimes tries the patience of her father and older sister, Nell. Westcott and Scott do a fine job creating a window into the world of autism as well as providing tips for how to cope best with the autistic personality (both Tally’s mother and a sympathetic drama teacher are pros). After selected chapters, Tally as narrator relates excerpts from her journal which gauge her anxiety level and note the pros and cons of autism. Though the ending is somewhat abruptly idealistic–Tally’s fair-weather, catty friends proclaim that they need her and one even confesses she told the entire class Tally is autistic. Tally’s response to both, though, is authentic. She tells the girl that the information was not hers to share and she refuses to offer the girls the cookies her mother suggests she share. Overall, this book gives a particular view of autism not seen in other novels that can lead to understanding and rich discussion.

THOUGHTS: Mockingjay, A Boy and a Bat, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Rain Reign. . . no shortage of books featuring a person with autism. In Can You See Me? however, the reader can relate not only to the behaviors associated with autism, but also with the times any of us have been called out for our quirks or feeling different or not fitting in. This book is ideal for character studies, even for comparing it with R. J. Palacio’s format of Wonder: How does Tally’s sister Nell feel always sacrificing her needs for Tally? Why is it difficult for Tally’s friend, Layla, to stay loyal to Tally?, etc. The title and cover refer to the tiger mask Tally sometimes dons when she needs to face hard situations. The cover art is so busy, the background obscures the title of the book; though that may be the goal, the artwork looks amateurish and the result makes the cover forgettable.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Brave Like That

Stoddard, Lindsey. Brave Like That. HarperCollins Publisher , 2020. 978-0-062-87811-3. 272 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Cyrus’ dad has always been a hero. As a kid he was a star football player, and as an adult he is a firefighter who is not afraid of running into burning buildings. Everyone thinks Cyrus is following in his father’s footsteps, but deep inside Cyrus loves music instead of football and longs to sneak away to the rescue to walk a dog that showed up at the fire station out of the blue, just like Cyrus did eleven years ago. Maybe worse than that, Cyrus wants to ditch his football star friends and befriend the new boy, Eduardo, who is bullied but doesn’t waiver from who he truly is inside. Can Cyrus be brave and find the courage to be his true self?  With the help of a stray dog, new friends, and his family, join Cyrus on his journey to be brave and become his authentic self.

THOUGHTS: This story is a must purchase for your middle grade collection. It deals with the topic of bullying in a gentle but firm way. Brave Like That also addresses the issue of ailing grandparents (Cyrus’ grandmother had a stroke and cannot speak as she used to) and acceptance.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

Tags: bullying, friendship, family, aging grandparents

MG – The Prettiest

Young, Brigit. The Prettiest. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-626-72923-0. 301 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Eve Hoffman writes poetry, wears her high-school aged brother’s oversized shirts to distract from her curves, and buries her head in a book so as to not be noticed. She is the most surprised of all her eighth grade classmates to find herself in the top slot on the Prettiest List at Ford Middle School in suburban Michigan. As the principal and teachers try to root out the list’s instigator, both girls on the list and off suffer backlash. Prettiest by Brigit Young is told through the perspectives of the main characters: Eve, a well-developed, shy girl from a conservative Jewish family; Nessa Flores-Brady, her best friend, a theater junkie and a large, Latinx girl; and Sophie Kane, a determined blonde-haired girl whose bossiness and make-up mask the shame she feels about her family’s economic situation. When the ringleader of the mean girls, Sophie, gets knocked off her pedestal and relegated to number two on the list, she realizes the pretense of her groupies and reluctantly joins forces with Nessa and Eve to take down the person who they believe compiled the list. Aided by Winston Byrd, a lone renegade from the popular boys, their chief suspect is Brody Dalton, a wealthy, handsome, and entitled young man who has verbally abused or offended many of his classmates with no remorse. The trio enlist other wronged girls calling themselves Shieldmaidens. They bond in genuine friendship and sisterhood as they plot to expose Dalton’s crime in a public way at the finale of the school play. What starts off as a 21st Century equivalent to a simple slam book story becomes a feminist’s rallying cry for girls to be judged on their merits, not their looks, and for all middle school students to resist fitting into a mold to gain acceptance. It also uncovers the nuances of each person’s story. For example, the arrogant Dalton is the sole student whose parent never attends school events. Young’s talent for echoing the authenticity and humor of preadolescent dialogue enables her to tackle important issues with a light touch. This highly readable work reveals the insecurities embedded in a middle school student’s life: not being cool enough, popular enough, and the pain caused by too much attention and not enough.

THOUGHTS: Though there is some show of diversity here (an African-American girl, a girl in a wheelchair), the emphasis is on the pressure middle school students—especially girls—feel to look and behave a certain way. Lots of discussion points in this book: from the insults the girls receive and their collective show of power to the students’ bandwagon attitude and the sympathetic– but mostly ineffectual– response of the teachers and principal. Prettiest may present as a “girl” book because of its feminine cover and title, but it is definitely a book for all genders to read. For more tales of positive girl power: read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu in high school.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – The Box Turtle

Roeder, Vanessa. The Box Turtle.  Dial Books, 2020. Unpaged. $17.99 978-07352-3050-7  Grades K-2.

When Terrance the turtle is born without a shell, his parents provide a shell and a name, “both of which fit just right.”  Terrance grows and finds his shell keeps him dry, safe, and able to share space with a friendly hermit crab. But one day, three turtles pronounce his shell “weird,” and Terrance begins a search for a substitute. He finds–and discards–a mailbox (it “showed to much cheek”), a hat box, a jack-in-the-box, a boom box, a lunch box, a flower box, a treasure chest, and a kitty litter box (which “stunk”). It is then that his unnamed crab friend offers his own shell, and Terrance realizes that the crab is “so much more than just a shell,” and a turtle is, too! He seeks out his original shell and after refurbishing it, walks proudly once more, this time easily dismissing the bully turtles’ “weird” claim.

THOUGHTS: This title works for social-emotional learning about the concepts of friendship and accepting oneself (and others) for who they are.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD