Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014. Currently available.
Age Level & Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Face Value: Gorgeous. Even without knowing that this story was a mystery (which I can’t resist), I would have snatched this off the shelf eagerly. The cover illustrations hint at the many layers to this adventure.
Does it break the slate? So much! Theo and Bodhi are fiercely curious and rarely rely on adults to help them get to the next level of the mystery. In fact, the premise of this story is that the adults in their lives don’t have much to offer for support. They are too busy, too ill, or too judgmental of young people to give Theo and Bodhi what they need. So the two girls band together and find their own agency to get things done. It is so impressive.
Who would we give it to? Mystery lovers, inquisitive girls, and those with an interest in history will love this book. It is set during the summer in NYC, and that specific setting will also connect with certain readers. This book has wide appeal. Continue reading
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana. Chronicle Books, 2014. Currently available.
Age Level & Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Face Value: The simple cover is almost whimsical. Looking at the muddy boots made me think this was a story about playing outside, getting a little messy, and having a good time. But it goes so much further than that. Once you have read the book, you will see just how heartbreaking this cover image is. In a way, it reflects the trajectory of the story. Everything seems so normal, and then it all shatters.
Does it break the slate? Armani takes on responsibility in a time of extreme duress. Just days ago she was a happy-go-lucky nine year old, and then she suddenly becomes the head of her family unit. Armani is a Slatebreaker because she becomes fearless when she has to be and faces down anything that threatens the safety of her family. The book is full of strong women who endure unbelievable loss with grace.
Who would we give it to? Readers like Jewell Parker Rhodes’ books or enjoy stories based in New Orleans will appreciate the sense of place that Lamana weaves into this story. This isn’t exactly a feel-good book, but it does have moments of beauty among all of the loss. Continue reading
Chiggers by Hope Larson. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008.
Age Level & Genre: Middle grade realistic fiction graphic novel
Face Value: This is a solid graphic novel cover. Larson’s artwork is cheerful and conveys the summery camp setting. There is a slight disconnect between the girls on the cover, Shasta and Abby, which hints at the drama that will come from their interactions at camp.
Does it break the slate? No, it doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good book – it is still worth sharing and discussing with girl readers. Abby doesn’t stand up for herself or Shasta in the way that she could, but that’s part of her learning process. By the end of camp she knows herself better and has the potential to navigate conflicts better in the future.
Who would we give it to? The summer is coming and girls are preparing to head off to camp. Experienced campers and first time campers would enjoy this book. Although the characters are heading into high school, the book seems to skew younger than that, so I would recommend this for middle school readers. Continue reading
Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge. Amulet Books, 2013.
Age Level & Genre: Young Adult realistic fiction graphic novel
Face Value: It’s a pretty cover that showcases Gulledge’s graphic talents. But it’s kind of misleading! Based on the title and the silhouette of two snuggling people, I went into this book thinking that it would be a romance. It’s definitely not. There is plenty of affection and warmth woven into the story, but it isn’t a love story. I bet some people have been drawn to this book because of the cover expecting one kind of story and getting another. That’s ok – if it got them to read Gulledge’s excellent work, then that is a good thing.
Does it break the slate? It’s not really slatebreaking, but it is a great book featuring male and female characters who challenge stereotypes with their everyday behaviors. Will, the delightful protagonist, faces some shadows from her past and proves herself to be a gifted artist. Her family and friends are all forward-thinking and dynamic characters. There’s not a single flat character in this story. Everyone surprised me in some way.
Who would we give it to? This is an end-of-summer story, so I would hand this book to a young reader who is trying to savor the last few days of summer before school starts up again. Continue reading
The F*ck It List by Julie Halpern. Feiwel and Friends, 2013. Currently available.
Age Level & Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Face Value: I love this cover. It has that Instagram filter coloring that looks very contemporary (but will probably look very dated in two years). The cover of this book is more about the title than about anything relating to the story or characters. The title is has a shock value that grabs attention, and the cover capitalizes on that shock value to draw in potential readers. It’s a gimmick, but it worked on me and I know it will work on others. I freely admit that I picked up this book because the title made me laugh.
Does it break the slate? It certainly does. Alex and Becca are best friends who have done some not-so-nice things to one another throughout the years, but they rise above that mean girl stereotype to support each other through some tough times. They are smart and self-possessed girls. Although there is a fair amount of drama in their relationship, I still think that their friendship is admirable because they have enough resilience to bounce back from bad situations.
Who would we recommend it to? This would be a fun book for a pair of besties to read together. Alex and Becca have such a unique friendship, and it would be great to read this book along with a friend and talk about it along the way. Continue reading
Now I’ll Tell You Everything by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. Currently Available.
Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Face Value: There have been so many incarnations of Alice McKinley in covers over the past couple decades. And I’ll just say this: I have never read these books because I love the covers. On the spectrum of Alice covers over the years – this one is not too bad.
Does it Break the Slate? Oh, of course it does. I have loved this series, and this character, for way too long to think otherwise. And while Alice (and the series) might have frustrating moments, the overall feel is so incredibly, outstandingly, resoundingly Slatebreaking. More on this later.
Who would we give it to? Don’t read this final book if you haven’t read earlier books in the series. But you can totally still read it and love it if you’ve missed the last handful and loved the early Alice McKinley books. If you have any sort of nostalgic love for those books, you should definitely read the last one. You should also read this great Washington Post feature on Naylor and her series. Did you know that Lois Lowry and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor once talked about doing an Alice/Anastasia crossover!?!?!? I can’t even imagine how amazing that might have been. Continue reading
Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill. Henry Holt and Company, 2013. Currently available.
Age Level & Genre: Middle grade historical fiction
Face Value: LeUyen Pham created phenomenal illustrations for the whole book, and the cover is the crown jewel. I love the way it captures both the unique setting and the cheerful tone of the story. Every moment of Ballard Creek life is captured from a child’s point of view, and the cover appropriately highlights the children who live in the settlement.
Does it break the slate? Bo is quite young to be a Slatebreaker, but she shows promising tendencies by always questioning why things are the way they are. I did appreciate the way Hill featured a family with two fathers and adopted children at the core of the story – this book challenges the notion of the traditional nuclear family in a gentle but firm way.
Who would we give it to? Budding arm chair travellers will enjoy the way that the Alaskan setting plays a role in the story. This story would also appeal to young readers who got hooked on pioneer-style historical fiction and need to branch out a bit beyond the typical stories of covered wagons in the American West. Continue reading