Posts Tagged diversity

Not (Always) the Lonely: Books About Only Children

My friend Nicole—a fellow only child—recently sent me an article from The Atlantic entitled, “Why Are People Weird About Only Children?” Not surprisingly, the piece included the usual tropes associated with onlies: We’re spoiled, selfish, maladjusted weirdos who can’t get along with others or share our toys. We’re also bad at team sports, cooperative projects, and group-socialization in general. Why? Because it’s all about me, me, ME!

This got me thinking about my own only childhood, where I spent Saturday mornings alone in my room, watching TV and scarfing Pop Tarts while my parents slept in. I knew I was lucky to have my own TV, but the shows I watched—The Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch, Eight Is Enough, Good Times—all featured large, boisterous families whose lives seemed way more exciting than mine. The Partridge family had its own tour bus, for goodness’ sake! But as entertaining as those shows were, I couldn’t relate to them. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to books that featured only children.

Pippi, Fern, Mary, and Harriet…

I started with such classics as Pippi Longstocking, Charlotte’s Web, and The Secret Garden before graduating to Harriet the Spy—a book I’ve reread annually since the age of ten. Harriet resonated particularly deeply, because, like me, Harriet spent a lot of time alone in her room while her parents were busy. (Harriet didn’t have her own TV, though, which could explain why she felt the need to spy on people and write about them in her notebook.) Unlike me, Harriet was sassy, outspoken, and she didn’t always mind her manners. To say I found this thrilling was an understatement.

Are You There, Margaret?

My other favorite book, Judy Blume’s 1974 classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, was deeply relatable as well—and not just because the eponymous protagonist spent a lot of time alone in her room (although she spoke to God instead of watching TV). Like Harriet, Margaret had the ability to say what was on her mind, even when she thought no one was listening. The fact that she was flat-chested, had hard-to-manage hair, and yearned for her period was just icing on the cake.

Above all, these books offered me the “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” I craved as an only child. I felt seen, and less alone. Sure, reading books about fellow onlies wasn’t as exciting as crisscrossing the country in a rainbow-colored tour bus. But it came pretty darn close.

(For more on how Harriet the Spy shaped my identity, click here. And for my love for Judy Blume, the beloved author of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, click here.)

And now…

Books That Feature Only Children

J.R. Silver Writes Her World by Melissa Dassori

Sixth grade is off to a difficult start for Josephine Rose Silver. Her best friend, Violet, returns from camp with a new best friend; her parents refuse to grant her more independence; and her homeroom teacher, Ms. Kline, is full of secrets. When Ms. Kline unveils a collection of old Gothamite magazines and tells her students to build their writing skills by crafting short stories inspired by the iconic covers, J.R. discovers a peculiar power: The stories she writes come true. Soon J.R. is getting a cell phone, scoring game-winning goals, and triggering school cancellations. But it’s not long before she realizes that each new story creates as many conflicts as it does solutions.

Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson

All Amara wants for her birthday is to visit her father’s family in Harlem. She can’t wait to finally meet Grandpa Earl and her cousins, and to stay in the brownstone where her father grew up. But New York City is not what Amara thought it would be. It’s crowded, with confusing subways, suffocating sidewalks, and her father is too busy  to spend time with her and too angry to spend time with Grandpa Earl. As she explores, asks questions, and learns more about Harlem and her father’s family history, she realizes how she connects with her dad, her home, and her family.

Birdie’s Billions by Edith Cohn

For as long as eleven-year-old Birdie can remember, it’s always been just her and her mom—which means there’s not a lot of extra money to spend on things like new clothes and batons from the fancy gymnastics store. Still, they always find a way to make ends meet. Then Birdie makes one silly mistake that has a big consequence: Mom loses her job. Now things are more dire than ever, and Birdie knows it’s up to her to fix it.

One Kid’s Trash by Jamie Sumner

Hugo is not happy about being dragged halfway across the state of Colorado just because his dad had a midlife crisis and decided to become a ski instructor. But when his fellow students discover his remarkable talent for garbology, the science of studying trash, Hugo becomes the cool kid for the first time in his life. But what happens when it all goes to his head?

Genesis Begins Again by Alica D. Williams

Thirteen-year-old Genesis dislikes herself for ninety-six reasons. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list: Her family is always being put out of their house; her dad has a gambling problem—and maybe a drinking problem, too—and Genesis is convinced this is all her fault. She also knows she wasn’t born looking like Mama, and that she is too Black. Genesis is determined to fix her family, and she’s willing to try anything to do so—even if it means harming herself in the process. But when Genesis starts to find a thing or two she actually likes about herself, she discovers that changing her own attitude is the first step in helping to change others.

My Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties by Kellye Crocker

Dad hasn’t been dating his new girlfriend that long, so Ava is sure nothing has to change in her life. Until the day after sixth grade ends and Dad whisks her away to meet The Girlfriend and her daughter in terrifying Colorado, where even the squirrels can kill you. Managing her anxiety while avoiding altitude sickness might take all of Ava’s strength, but at least this trip will only last two weeks. If she survives…

How to Win a Slime War by Mae Respicio

Alex Manalo and his dad have just moved back to Sacramento to revive their extended family’s struggling Filipino market. While Alex likes helping at the store, his true passion is making slime. Encouraged by a new friend at school, Alex begins to sell his creations, leading to a sell-off battle with a girl who previously had a slime-opoly. But Alex’s dad thinks Alex should focus on “traditional” boy pastimes like sports, since Dad is the new soccer coach. Alex is battling on multiple fronts, and it will be a sticky race to the finish to see who oozes out on top.

Taking Up Space by Alison Gerber

Sarah loves basketball more than anything. It’s the only thing that helps her ignore how much it hurts when her mom forgets to feed her. But lately Sarah can’t even play basketball right. She’s slower now, and missing shots. Her body doesn’t feel like it’s her own anymore. She’s worried that changing herself back to how she used to be is the only way she can take control over what’s happening. Then, when Sarah’s crush asks her to be partners in a cooking competition, she feels pulled in a million directions. She’ll have to dig deep to stand up for what she needs at home, be honest with her best friends, and accept that she doesn’t need to change to feel good about herself.

The Comeback by E.L. Shen

Twelve-year-old Maxine Chen is trying to nail that perfect landing: on the ice, in middle school, and at home, where her parents worry that competitive skating is too much pressure for a budding tween. Maxine isn’t concerned, however―she’s determined to glide to victory. But then a bully at school starts teasing Maxine for her Chinese heritage, leaving her stunned and speechless. And at the rink, she finds herself up against a stellar new skater named Hollie, whose grace and skill threaten to edge Maxine out of the competition. Will Maxine crash under the pressure? Or can she power her way to a comeback?

Life in the Balance by Jen Petro-Roy

Veronica Conway has been looking forward to trying out for the All-Star softball team for years. But right before tryouts, Veronica’s mom announces that she’s entering rehab for alcoholism, and her dad tells her that they may not be able to afford the fees needed to be on the team. Veronica decides to enter the town talent show in an effort to make her own money, but along the way discovers a new hobby that leads her to doubt her feelings for the game she thought she loved so much.

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca

Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family’s traditions and strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma, who doesn’t understand how conflicted she feels. Although their names are linked—Reha means “star” and Punam means “moon”—they are a universe apart. And then Amma is diagnosed with leukemia. Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor one day despite her aversion to blood and guts, is determined to make her mother well again. She’ll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving Amma’s life.

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That and hanging out with his best friends and playing video games is what Wes wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year–not the protests his parents are always dragging him to. But when a powerful real-estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived in his whole life, everything changes. And Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known without a fight.

Many Points of Me by Caroline Gertler

Georgia Rosenbloom’s father was a famous artist. His most well-known paintings were a series of asterisms—patterns of stars. One represented a bird, one himself, and one Georgia’s mother. There was supposed to be a fourth asterism, but Georgia’s father died before he could paint it. Georgia’s mother and her best friend, Theo, are certain that the last asterism would’ve been of Georgia, but Georgia isn’t so sure. Then Georgia finds a sketch her father made of her. Could this finally be the proof that the last painting would have been of her?

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

For the past five years, Coyote and her dad have been crisscrossing the country in an old school bus. It’s also how long Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash. Coyote hasn’t been home in all that time, but when she learns that the park in her old neighborhood is being demolished―the very same park where she, her mom, and her sisters buried a treasured memory box―she devises an elaborate plan to get her dad to drive 3,600 miles back to Washington state in four days…without him realizing it.

Brave Like That by Lindsey Stoddard

Cyrus Olson’s dad is a hero—Northfield’s former football star and now one of their finest firefighters. Everyone expects Cyrus to follow in his dad’s record-breaking footsteps, and he wishes they were right—except he’s never been brave like that. But this year, with the help of a stray dog, a few new friends, a little bit of rhythm, and a lot of nerve, he may just discover that actually…he is.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

Middle-school baking enthusiast Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit? Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth, even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family.

The Miscalculations of Lightnight Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Lucy Callahan’s life was changed forever when she was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but the zap gave her genius-level math skills, and she’s been homeschooled ever since. Now, at the age of twelve, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass one more test–middle school.

Violet and the Pie of Life by Debra Green

Twelve-year-old Violet has two great loves in her life: math and pie. And she loves her parents, even though her mom never stops nagging and her dad can be unreliable. Mom plus Dad doesn’t equal perfection. Still, Violet knows her parents could solve their problems if they just applied simple math.

WNDMG Wednesday: Author Interview with Maleeha Siddiqui


Wndmg logo

WNDMG Wednesday: Author Interview with Maleeha Siddiqui

I’m so excited to be able to introduce you to accomplished middle grade author Maleeha Siddiqui today. Maleeha’s newest book is ANY WAY YOU LOOK (Scholastic) and it launches on May 7, 2024.

This book is a must have and a wonderful read, as I had the pleasure of reading an ARC, and Maleeha’s other novels are also favorites. Maleeha has a beautiful way of writing that is full of emotion and heart and craft!

Everyone should buy a copy for themselves and their classrooms and libraries.

Cover creds:
Cover illustration: Sara Alfageeh
Cover designer: Omou Barry
Art director: Elizabeth Parisi


Description taken from online:

When boys from her community start harassing her, Ainy needs to figure out how to get them to stop—while still staying true to herself.

Dress Coded meets Amina’s Voice in this new middle grade novel by Maleeha Siddiqui.

Ainy is excited for summer! She plans on working at her mom’s clothing boutique, having adventures with her best friend, and maybe even starting to wear the hijab—just like her big sister. But when certain boys from Ainy’s Muslim community keep showing up at the store to give her unwanted attention, she goes from possibly wanting to wear the hijab someday to feeling like she needs to wear it to get the boys to leave her alone.

But wearing the hijab doesn’t do what she’d hoped: It doesn’t deflect the boys’ attention at all! If anything, they’ve found something new to harass her about. With the help of her best friend and her older sister, Ainy must channel her inner creative strength and find the confidence to stand her ground and get the respect she deserves.

This is a compulsively readable, feminist, and thought-provoking book about staying true to yourself by acclaimed author Maleeha Siddiqui.

Interview with Maleeha Siddiqui

I loved getting to talk to Maleeha about her new book and I think you will enjoy meeting her and Ainy as well.


SSS: What a compelling synopsis! I truthfully was so intrigued right away to read just based on the important topic alone.

What is the inspiration behind AWYL?

MS: First, thank you for having me! I’m thrilled to be bringing this important, thought-provoking story to readers. ANY WAY YOU LOOK is many things, but it’s primarily a story about sisterhood and finding the confidence to stand your ground and get the respect you deserve.

Unfortunately, the inspiration behind AWYL comes from many concerning stories that I’ve heard over the years from women and girls in my life – both Muslim and non-Muslim – about behaviors and comments they are subjected to that are too often ignored.

In 2020, I read Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes you. It was the first book I read that addressed the issue of sexual harassment for young kids and it made me realize that these themes can be in a book for young readers, and I had a lot to say on the topic. The day I started writing Ainy’s story, I had just come home from an event, and I was furious about a comment I had heard made to a young girl there. Female rage really drove this whole book for me.

SSS: That makes total sense and I know exactly what you mean!

As a Muslim American, reading this story resonated with me. It really feels authentic and honest, and yet very raw and hard to read as well! How was that experience for you writing it? Did you worry about the balance of marginalized representation with also the responsibility of calling out injustice, even in our own communities.

MS: I think I’m honest about how much I love the Muslim community, but I’m also not afraid to call out its flaws. Writing about certain topics in the book did make me nervous, and yes, balancing the marginalized representation with the responsibility of calling out injustice did stress me out at times. However, I constantly reminded myself who I was writing the book for and that no one’s experiences, or journey is one-size-fits-all. I try to show balanced opinions and characters in my books, because that’s the composition of the real world.

SSS: I love that!

How is Ainy as a character similar to you? How is she different?

MS: Ainy is not a lot like me, honestly. She’s a fashionista, and I’m not (at least, not anymore). She’s kind of messy, and I’m a neat freak. One thing Ainy and I do have in common is our passion for doing what we love. In my case, it’s writing and sharing my love for reading. For Ainy, it’s designing clothes and helping people feel beautiful.


SSS: The subject of hijab and dressing modestly is important in the book—can you talk more about how Ainy struggles to decide whether hijab is for her or not?


MS: Bodily autonomy is a big theme in AWYL. I will say this. If you’re the type of person that believes hijab, like the five daily prayers, should be done no matter how you feel or where you are in your spiritual journey, then this book is not for you. I always knew that I wanted to write a book about a young girl debating on whether she’s ready to observe hijab or not.

A large part of it stemmed from my frustration with global conversations surrounding hijab. How are enforcements and bans being imposed with little to no regard of the opinion of Muslim women who simply want their freedom? Don’t we get a say? Ainy’s struggle to decide whether hijab is for her or not closely mirrors my own from when I was young.

I don’t want to spoil the book, but I am the confident hijabi that I am today because I was given the time, space, and grace to explore my relationship with Allah (SWT) and connect with my faith on a deeper level before making the commitment. I wanted Ainy’s character arc to show all the different external and internal influences that can get in the way of that.

SSS: That definitely resonates!

Muslim books are so important (and a passion of mine!). How does having faith/deen play a role in your book?

MS: Having faith/deen plays a role in all my books, Alhumdulillah! Some more than others, but at the end of the day, my main characters are all Muslim and I like to show them existing on the page at different points in their spirituality. After all, I’ve been in all their shoes at one point or another!

The central Islamic message in AWYL is the importance of one’s relationship with their Creator and how, as Muslims, that – not the opinion of others – should be the driving force behind our choices. And Ainy’s got some big choices to make in this book!

SSS: Will there be more Ainy (or other middle grade) in the future?

MS: AWYL is it for Ainy, but I do have more middle grade books in the works for the future!

Stay tuned!

Link to preorder here.

Writing Process

 SSS: When did you start writing AWYL and was the process a long one?

MS: I conceived the initial idea for AWYL in 2020, but I started writing it–slowly–in May 2022. I finished 90% of the book from September 2022 – January 2023. Four months might sound like a long time to draft a 45K MG novel, but AWYL is by far the easiest book I have written so far.

It’s my most intentionally crafted book. I paid close attention to every plot beat, character arc, pacing, etc. I heard every character’s voice, especially Ainy’s, so clearly in my head. As a result, the story poured out of me effortlessly. I truly think it’s my best work to date, and I’m very proud of it.

SSS: As a fellow middle grade novel, I LOVE plotting, but I also feel like the characters have a mind of their own at times. Do you plot or pants your novels?

MS: I’m a hardcore plotter! I hate first drafts, so having a detailed synopsis makes it a little less painful. I do pants 5-10% of the story, though. Like you said, sometimes the characters have a mind of their own.

SSS: Any advice for fellow middle-grade authors?

MS: Read, read, read! Read middle grade books published in the last five years and explore different genres! I love reading horror and fantasy in addition to realistic fiction. And remember middle grade should be representative of today’s kids, not back when we were kids, though much of the pre-adolescent emotional experience remains universally the same!


SSS: Bonus question! Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share with us?

MS: ANY WAY YOU LOOK is my third MG cotemporary and a culmination of a lot of things I’ve learned about writing craft over the years. That’s not to say I am not proud of my previous two books, BARAKAH BEATS and BHAI FOR NOW. Both are very dear to me, and it warms my heart when readers tell me reading one led them to pick up the other. Now I hear from readers that they are excited for my next book. So, while this interview is about ANY WAY YOU LOOK, I’d like to give a shoutout to BARAKAH BEATS and BHAI FOR NOW. I hope readers love Ainy as much as they’ve come to love Nimra, Ashar, and Shaheer.


Thank you so much Maleeha for answering my questions! I hope everyone picks up a copy of your beautiful book.

For more Muslim Middle Grade, Check out this Walter Dean Myers Honor Book here!!!


About Maleeha Siddiqui:

MALEEHA SIDDIQUI is an American writer of Pakistani descent who loves to tell stories for all ages about the American Muslim experience. She can’t live without caffeine, rainy days, and books with a whole lot of heart. Her previous novels, Barakah Beats and Bhai for Now, were both Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selections. Barakah Beats was also an ABA Indies Introduce pick. By day, Maleeha works in the biotech industry. She grew up and continues to reside with her family in Virginia. Find her at and on Instagram at @malsidink.


Instagram: @malsidink

STEM Tuesday — Pests that Bug Us — Writing Tips and Resources

Bugs offer wonderful opportunities for creativity and science. This week’s blog discusses art activities and the connection to science. First a lesson plan on drawing bugs from an experienced art professor. Then a suggestion for a convenient portable sketch kit. And last, how origami and science connect. Drawing Bugs   Lisa Granata My good friend, Professor Lisa Granata, who has 30 years’ experience teaching all ages, has used bugs as models in her art classes. She said the young students were enthused much more than the adults. She kindly shared her lesson directions, which she has used for both kids and adults. 1.         Gather art supplies- pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener, heavy drawing paper or watercolor paper, extra fine sharpie, watercolors set (Jack Richeson 38010 Yarka Student Semi Moist Watercolor), a cup for water, paper towels, watercolor brushes (detail brush # 0 and a round tip brush size 12), masking tape and a magnifying insect box. (MagniPros Pack of 3 Magnifier Box Bug Viewer Magnifies up to 5X(500%) with Crystal Clear Image) 2.         Go to the windowsill in your home and look for insects. Find the bugs with the most interesting shapes, patterns, or colors. 3.         Carefully place insects into the box to study. Carefully observe the lines, shapes, colors, and patterns. 4.         Tape all four sides of the edges of your paper to your table. This will keep your paper flat and leave a border. 5.         Take your pencil and eraser and sketch one large insect on your paper or you might choose 3 different insects from your windowsill collection. Think about your composition. Draw large and fill the page. 6.         Back up and check your proportions. Are the shapes correct? If not, make small adjustments. (This is part of the creative process). 7.         Trace all pencil lines with your extra fine sharpie. 8.         Fill your cup with water, take out a paper towel, open your watercolor set and wet your brushes. 9.         Lightly dip your wet brush into the semi wet watercolors to add color to the insects. Carefully examine the insect’s details under the magnifying glass. 10.       Have fun painting! 11.       Peel off your tape the next day after the paper is dry. Several models of loups are available at low cost just for that purpose. In my part of the country, we have an abundance of stink bugs and lady bugs that get inside during the winter and die before we spot them. If your windows are so airtight, you can probably find other sources. According to the American Museum of Natural History: In terms of numbers of species, insects certainly represent the largest percentage of the world’s organisms. There are more than 1 million species of insects that have been documented and studied by scientists. The ways the bug drawings can be used in classroom or educational settings are nearly as numerous as bugs themselves. An insect journal is definitely at the top of the list, but there is much more – posters, story illustrations, animation, reports, fine arts. You can order loups here. Pack of 3 Magnifier Box Bug Viewer Magnifies up to 5X(500%)
Loupe photo
Bug Loupe
And here. Carson 4.5x BugLoupe Pre-Focused Stand Loupe Magnifier Here are some more reference books for bug drawing. A Sketching Kit One of my favorite sketching materials is Inktense pencils. They are useful for both the beginning and experienced artist. Because most people are familiar with the physical activity of using a pencil, there is no learning curve of skill in that aspect. Yet the pencils, which are brilliant of color more than regular colored pencils, can be used several ways. First, they can be used like regular colored pencils – dry with strokes and hatching. Second, they can be used like paint, applying either wet or with a brush. Or they can be used in combination. Derwent, the manufacturer, has information on their website They are much more portable than regular watercolors. You can carry a whole sketch kit in a pocket or small bag, making it a great option for field work.
Michael LaFosse author
Michael LaFosse author
Origami and Bugs Artist Michael Fosse, one of the world’s most accomplished origami artists, has a number of well-planned books available on origami insects. The papermaker and author was trained as a biologist. He says he finds his strongest inspiration in the natural world preferring to study his subjects in their natural habitats. He was a guest artist at my university, so I saw first-hand his amazing skill. ( Here are his books specifically about origami bugs.
And in the interest of the environment, I have included this book. While not dedicated to insects specifically, it is a reference for recycling and reusing materials that might otherwise end up in landfill.
Trash Origami
Trash Origami
Besides studying insects, scientists and engineers have used the art of paper folding for such practical matters as the most efficient airplane and air vehicle wings, how to fold an airbag, and origami even has practical applications for research on proteins. PBS has a documentary called “Between the Folds” that merges the art/science applications. You can also read about other origami applications in this article from National Geographic – “Origami is revolutionising technology, from medicine to space.” Additional resources. I hope you enjoy these insect activities and are inspired to do some creative work. You don’t need much by way of materials to start out, but all the activities provide good brain work and will enhance your knowledge of insects. Margo Lemieux, Professor Emerita Lasell University, spent part of the pandemic making origami boxes from failed etchings and prints. Creativity is not for the faint of heart.