Diversity in MG Lit #31 Sept 2021

September and October are big months for new releases and there are quite a few diverse debuts to celebrate. Here are seven new books with diverse characters all out in the month of September.
9-11 Book ListYusef Azeem is not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi, is the story of sixth grader Yusef whose big ambition is to compete in the regional robotics competition. He encounters prejudice in his small Texas town but his Muslim community is a source of insight and courage as he learns to stand up for himself and all he believes. A particularly timely story and perfect for a generation of young readers born a decade after the events of 9/11/Book cover The Insiders
In this MG debut The Insiders by Mark Oshiro, a gay Mexican-American boy moves from his wealthy and tolerant San Francisco school to a school short on both resources and compassion. Héctor takes refuge in a magical janitors closet and finds many kindred spirits–outsiders of one kind or another. All who find exactly what they need behind the magic door: respite and friendship and adventure.
A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks is another tale of moving to a new town and finding a place of respite and navigating new friendships from the author of From the Desk of Zoe Washington.Book Cover A Soft Place to Land
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte was a critical sensation last year. In her follow up title Set Me Free , LaZotte again sets her story in Massachusetts in 1805. Fourteen year old Mary Lambert, a deaf girl from the Martha’s Vineyard deaf community, travels away from home to be the tutor of another deaf girl. Her pupil has been brutally treated and Mary shifts her role from teacher to liberator. It’s rare to find a children’s book with a deaf protagonist and I found a lot to like in both these titles, though I have yet to see any commentary on it from a deaf reviewer.
book cover Samosa RebellionThe Samosa Rebellion is a MG debut for Shanthi Sekaran. She crafts a richly imagined world where recent immigrants from India to the fictional Island of Mariposa are discriminated against openly with direct encouragement from political leaders. The rising tide of prejudice clears the way for immigrants to be imprisoned. When Muki Krishnan’s own grandmother is one of the victims he vows to free her and finds a secret rebellion. It’s a great conversation starter about systemic racism.
Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna Eleven year old Kiki uses a journal to cope with her anxiety; drawing the many characters she knows from Indian mythology is a solace. Until her notebooks bring an evil character to life and form a portal to another world. Kiki and her friends are launched into a grand adventure where they tackle demons interior and exterior with courage and resourcefulness.
The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities: new stories about mythic heroes edited by Rick Riorden I love an anthology for giving a young reader exposure to many authors so that they can find a new favorite. Ten stories. Ten magical worlds. Ten award-winning authors. This is top of my list for Christmas presents for the many MG readers in my cover The Cursed Carnival

STEM Tuesday — Reptiles — In the Classroom

I learned quite a bit about reptiles this month by reading the following books from the book list.

World’s Biggest Reptiles by Tom Jackson, illustrated by Vladimir Jevtic Support Independent Bookstores - Visit
Many different reptiles are represented in this book, representing the biggest of the species. It includes lots of information and fun facts, represented in fun, accessible ways. Each reptile featured has a graphic novel style page and a page with a large photograph and general information. Each also includes an infographic showing the animal’s size relative to an adult human. (One nitpick on the infographic is it’s not clear what size the human is.)

Sneed B Collard III’s Most Fun Book Ever About Lizards by Sneed B. Collard III Support Independent Bookstores - Visit
This book focuses on (surprise!) lizards. It highlights a few specific species, but is written to give more general information about lizards. It has chapters with titles like “Eating Like a Lizard” and “Lizard Troubles.” The tone is very conversational and fun to read, although some of the references may be a little dated.

Sea Turtles are Awesome by Mirella S. Miller Support Independent Bookstores - Visit
Since turtles are my favorite reptile, I had to read this book! Like all 12-Story Library books, this one has 12 chapters that can be read in any order. There are lots of great photos and fun facts about sea turtles throughout the book.


So what can you do with these books? Here are a few ideas I had…

Check Out the Locals

Research what reptiles you might see in your backyard or local park. Most states have websites with information about the reptiles (and other animals) that can be found there.

This can be a great exercise for entering search parameters into an internet search and evaluating the sources it recommends.

When I enter “New Jersey reptiles” into my search engine, the first four recommended sites are provided by the state of New Jersey, which includes the Division of Fish & Wildlife. Of these, one of my favorite sites is the “Online Field Guide for Reptiles and Amphibians.” Each NJ herp (reptile or amphibian) has a printable fact sheet.

To take this a step further, visit a local park where you might be able to view some of the local reptiles.

Bigger Than…

Each of the books I read talked about the size and speed of different reptiles. This could become a fun and informative activity.

Pick a reptile to do some comparisons on. How long is it? How heavy? How fast does it move? This could come from the books on this month’s list or from research done on local (or other) reptiles.

Once you have the information on your reptile, you need to find things for comparison. Here are some to try:

Bigger than a _____________________.

Smaller than a ____________________.

Faster than a _____________________.

Slower than a _____________________.

These will be based on a number that came from somewhere. That means it should include a source citation. Explore what makes a source credible and see if you can find multiple sources for each fact. You can also practice how to create a bibliography and/or source notes. 

Lots of zoos and aquariums have great resources for researching the animals they have there. Another great resource for animal information is the Animal Diversity Web, produced by the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

To explore representing information, create infographics that show the relative size and speed of the all the things used in the comparisons.

Participate in the Tour de Turtles

Since 2008, the Sea Turtle Conservancy has been running the Tour de Turtles. Through it, they hope to educate people about sea turtles, how they migrate, and what dangers they face. There is a page dedicated to Teacher Resources, and another for Activities. I love exploring the different turtles and where their travels have been taking them.

In addition to exploring the resources on this web site, you could hold your own Tour de Turtles or Tour de Reptiles. Organize a charity walk/run to raise money for a sea turtle organization like the Sea Turtle Conservancy or other organization that supports turtles and/or reptiles. (This could include organizations that protect lots of different wildlife, like the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ.) To add more education into this exercise, have each participant pick a type of turtle or reptile to research and represent.

Explore Turtle Symbolism

Years ago, we met Native American artist Eli Thomas and bought a print about Turtle Island. It still hangs on our wall, and I still think about the symbolism embedded in it. (You can see the print and read about the symbolism here:

Explore how indigenous people view turtles. Here are a few interesting resources.

The Native American Box Turtle Connection –

From Voices of Indian Country:

Read and explore Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back by Joseph Buchac and Jonathan London, illustrated by Thomas Locker Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Then check out these additional resources:



I hope these ideas have inspired you to incorporate these books (and the subject of reptiles) into your plans.

Author Janet Slingerland on the London Eye.Janet Slingerland has written more than 20 nonfiction books for children. She even got to write about sea turtles in 12 Epic Animal Adventures. When she’s not writing, Janet can often be found exploring the world in her own backyard (which sometimes includes turtles!). For more information about Janet, check out her website at

Attack of the Killer Komodos: Author Interview + Giveaway

Teachers and librarians: I am excited to interview Summer Rachel Short, the author of Attack of the Killer Komodos, which will be coming out September 14! It is a great book for students who love adventure, mystery, and STEM. Be sure to read to the end on what to do for a chance to win a copy.

About the Book

Hi Summer! Thank you for sharing Attack of the Killer Komodos with me. Can you give us a short summary about the book?

Of course! Here’s the official blurb: This is the second book in the Maggie and Nate Mystery series and follows the friends to Yellowstone National Park where they must track down a deadly creature amidst a series of natural disasters. While Maggie comes up with scientific solutions as they battle earthquakes, landslides, wolves, and other unusual creatures, Nate focuses on conspiracy theories and getting stellar footage for his YouTube channel. But only by combining their skills will they have any hope of saving Yellowstone or each other.


Tell us who would especially enjoy this book?

Kids who enjoy survival stories and like surprises will have a great time with Attack of the Killer Komodos. It also has plenty of action, humor, and mystery to keep the pages turning. Any kids who like reading about strange creatures will also have fun with the book.


About the Author

Photo by Bryan Cole

Tell us about you—what other jobs did you have that were or were not related to writing?

I majored in Journalism in college, so most of my professional life has been spent at jobs related to writing or editing. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, a public information officer for the department of transportation, and a corporate communications specialist at a staffing company. Before that, I had a number of part time jobs like waiting tables and driving the beverage cart at a golf course.


How did you end up becoming an author?

I wrote short stories here and there when I was younger, but it wasn’t until college that I thought writing might be something I’d want to do professionally. In addition to journalism classes, I took a number of creative writing classes that I really enjoyed. There was one in particular that operated sort of like a critique group. It was small, maybe 10-12 people, and we’d all bring our stories to class, read them aloud, and then get feedback from the room. I loved it. I loved hearing the other students’ stories and at the same time finding out what other people thought about my work. I think that was the first time I really thought seriously about wanting to be a writer. That class lit the spark, but it wasn’t until years later that I got serious about the pursuit. Every now and then, I’d toy with a story idea and write a few pages before abandoning the whole thing. Then, about five or six years ago, it was like a switch flipped and all of a sudden, I got very passionate about wanting to see a novel-length project through. That first manuscript sits in a proverbial drawer where it will stay, but finishing it was an important step in my journey to becoming an author.


What authors and/or books would you say influenced your writing style?

I really enjoy books that have a bit of humor, a quick pace, and characters who feel like friends. A few authors whose style I particularly admire are: Kate DiCamillo, Sheila Turnage, Jennifer L. Holm, and Suzanne Collins.



I have read both this and The Mutant Mushroom Takeover (also a great book!). Was it hard to write a sequel? Any tricks you have for writers as to how to tie the two books together?

In some ways writing a sequel was a challenge but in other ways it was perhaps easier than writing something brand new. With the sequel, I already knew my characters, how they spoke, and how they’d react to different situations. So, in that regard it was a little easier. But it also presented the challenge of coming up with new ways for the characters to grow. In The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, Maggie and her family go through some pretty big challenges and Maggie has to decide how she’s going to respond. In Attack of the Killer Komodos, I had to figure out a way to let the characters continue to grow without going over the same ground. I’m not sure I have any advice that will make drafting easier. First drafts are hard and messy. So, maybe my best advice is just to keep slogging through even when you can’t see the end in sight. You can fix things in revision. Also, get other pairs of eyes on your work. When you’ve read your story too many times to see it clearly, it’s time to get feedback from some trusted critique partners. I’ve got some great CP friends who I can count on to help me see my stories with fresh eyes and that’s always incredibly helpful.

Summer’s last visit to Yellowstone National Park

What’s your connection with the topics you choose to write about?

I love books that surprise me. I think I’m a little like my character Nate, Maggie’s YouTuber best friend, in that I’m intrigued by the weird and unexpected. I might not be on the hunt for Bigfoot like Nate, but strange happenings in nature definitely fascinate me. Anything that sparks my sense of curiosity is likely to grab my attention. I wanted my readers to experience that same sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. That’s where some of the strange but true science comes in.


What was your original spark for the book?

A number of years ago, my husband and I did some backwoods camping in Yellowstone. At that time, a park ranger told us that we had a seventy-five percent chance of a run-in with a grizzly bear as one had recently killed a moose on the trail we’d be taking. For some reason, we decided to trek on anyway. I remember clapping my hands and calling “no bears!” all the while terrified that something menacing was lurking in the woods. I think that experience was simmering at the back of my mind as I worked on Attack of the Killer Komodos. Yellowstone’s beautiful but it can be dangerous, too. That backdrop seemed like the perfect setting to drop my characters into for an action-packed survival story.


What research did you need to do?

I did a lot of research on Yellowstone’s thermal features, the park’s native species, and backcountry maps. I studied extremophiles (species that can live in conditions that would kill other creatures) and their habitats.  I also read up about gene editing technology and bio-hackers.


You do a seamless job of tying real (but unusual) science with fantasy (or possibly science fiction!) (be sure to read the Author’s Note—so fascinating!). I’d love to know more about your process for this. Did the real science shape the fiction, or did the fiction sometimes cause you to do research for the facts and find that it all fit together?

I think they influenced one another. Sometimes, there was a real world element I wanted to include, like CRISPR––the real-life gene editing technology. In that case, I had to think about how the technology could come into the story in a fun way. Other times, there was something I needed to have happen and I had to go looking for a possible solution. Some of my research about the thermal pools and how different creatures might react to their pH levels fell into that category. But, my first goal was simply to tell a fun story and I always tried to keep that in mind and not get bogged down with the nitty gritty of too many details. The author’s note gave me a great opportunity to include more information for those who are interested in separating scientific fact from fiction.


For Teachers

There is so much potential for using this book in the classroom, teachers! My suggestion: have students research the interesting facts: tardigrades, CRISPR technology, geysers, Bigfoot, and, of course, Komodo dragons. Summer, any suggestions you have for ways to use Attack of the Killer Komodos in the classroom?

Those are all great ideas! Studying Yellowstone National Park and its thermal features would be another great tie in with the book. Also, wilderness exploration and survival, as well as conservation efforts and protecting our national parks. For my first book, The Mutant Mushroom Takeover, teachers could easily tie in lessons on botany, the scientific method, and mycology.


Are you doing school visits related to this book? Tell us more!

Yes, I am doing school visits, both in-person and virtual. The presentation would be great for grades 4th-7th and touches on both the writing process as well as some of the real-life science in the books. Educators who’d like to book a visit can find out more on my website.


How can we learn more about you?

You can find me online here:






Thanks for your time, Summer.

Thanks so much for having me!


Summer Rachel Short will be giving a copy of Attack of the Killer Komodos to a lucky reader. Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy. (U.S. addresses only)

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