Posts Tagged middle grade books

Author Spotlight: Will Taylor + a GIVEAWAY!

In today’s Author Spotlight, Melissa Roske chats with author Will Taylor about his latest middle-grade novel, The Language of Seabirds (Scholastic, July 19) as well as his inspiration behind writing it. (Spoiler alert: It’s the book of his heart.) Plus there’s a chance to win one of THREE copies of Will’s book–plus a signed bookplate–if you enter the giveaway. Scroll down for details! 👇👇👇

The Language of Seabirds

Jeremy is not excited about the prospect of spending the summer with his dad and his uncle in a seaside cabin in Oregon. It’s the first summer after his parents’ divorce, and he hasn’t exactly been seeking alone time with his dad. He doesn’t have a choice, though, so he goes… and on his first day takes a walk on the beach and finds himself intrigued by a boy his age running by.

Eventually, he and Runner Boy (Evan) meet—and what starts out as friendship blooms into something neither boy is expecting… and also something both boys have been secretly hoping for.

Interview with Will Taylor

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Will! Thanks for joining us today.

WT: Thank you so much for having me!

MR: First and foremost, I loved The Language of Seabirds and devoured it in two sittings, staying up past 2am both times. I was in tears by the end. What a powerful, gorgeously written book!

WT: Gah! Oh goodness, thank you, thank you, thank you! This book is an actual piece of my heart, and it means the world to hear you connected with it.

Personal Exploration and Gratitude

MR: As stated in the author’s note, the book is deeply personal to you. It’s the book that “changed [your] heart.”It’s also very vastly different from your other MG titles. What was the impetus for writing it?

WT: *big exhale; stares out the window* I think mostly I just needed to try. I adored writing the silly, bouncy MG of my first three books, but writing them didn’t require any change from me. When the opening image and title of Seabirds popped into my head one evening, I knew this would be different: a character-driven book that would require a huge amount of honesty and a willingness to go into all sorts of uncomfortable places. That frankly terrified me. Luckily my agent more or less demanded I write it, and after a few false starts I found my feet and the story began to grow.

By the time the first draft was done, I could tell that I was definitely growing along with it. I guess it was a story I needed to explore, even if I didn’t feel ready. It was scary, since I knew it wasn’t what my readership was used to and I didn’t even know if I had the skills to properly tell it, but I think sometimes the thing that scares you is a signpost of exactly where you should put your attention. I’m definitely grateful I did.

Heart of Glass

MR: As above, your novel addresses a difficult topic for many tweens: grappling with their sexual orientation. In fact, Jeremy, the 12-year-old protagonist, has built an “invisible pane of glass” that goes everywhere with him; a “secret shield and barrier.” Could you tell us more about that?

WT: The pane of glass is partly a literary device (readers will notice Jeremy and Evan swapping beach glass as they grow closer, and there’s a ton of broken glass at the climactic end of the book—symbolism!), but mostly it was a way for me to describe my own invisible wall I carried with me from my late elementary years right through college.

Before I came out, every decision I made was filtered through that barrier. I was constantly monitoring myself and others, assessing potential threats and checking my defenses, running a whole secondary operating system aimed solely at keeping the truth about who I was hidden. I gave Jeremy that exact feeling in order to investigate it on the page, and I hope, if I’ve done my job correctly, many LGBTQIA+ readers will see their own experiences reflected there as well.

Speaking in Code

MR: Additionally, the book’s dedication reads: “For every kid who’s had to speak in code.” Is this similar to the “glass wall” Jeremy has built for himself?

WT: The dedication is a nod to the innumerable queer codes that have arisen over the years as people who feel isolated behind their walls pull off the trick of carefully reaching out for community while still remaining hidden to the world at large. I will never forget the first time I saw through another closeted gay boy’s walls and realized he could see through mine. We both shifted just the tiniest bit, just enough to see and be seen, to confirm, and no one else around us knew it. I remember being giddy for the briefest moment, then doubling up my walls and leaving just to feel safe again. I was thirteen.

Looking back as an adult, I understand now just how stressful it was living with that constant sense of danger. I dedicated Seabirds to kids who’ve had to learn to speak in code as a way of acknowledging them and the extra weight they carry every hour of the day.

Birdish Books

MR: In addition to friendship and romance, birds factor heavily into your book— particularly the seabirds of the Oregon coast. What is it about seabirds that piques your interest and speaks to you as an author? Do you have any favorite bird-related books, fiction and/or nonfiction? (For more birdish book suggestions, click here.)

WT: Oh, I love seabirds! I really can’t explain why, they just feel magical. And they have so many options, from riding the wind to jumping off tall cliffs to walking along the beach to sitting down anytime they like right there on the ocean. Imagine how free we would feel if we could do all those things! (Ooo, hey, symbolism again!)

As for bird books, the list you linked to is great! I adored Celia C. Peréz’s Strange Birds and Kaela Noel’s Coo. I’m sure there are some awesome non-fiction bird books for younger readers out there, too, and hope folks check in with their indies and libraries for recommendations if they’re interested!

Secret Language

MR: As a follow-up, Jeremy and Evan create their own seabird-related secret language. For instance, “marbled murrelet” mean friends, and “Caspian tern” means high-five. What gave you the idea to create a secret language for Jeremy and Evan? Also, what is its significance in terms of the boys’ friendship and budding romance?

WT: The secret language idea goes back to the theme of queer coding, for sure, but fits specifically into this story because Jeremy starts off really not ready to talk about what he’s feeling. Just the idea of expressing these emotions he’s trained himself to keep hidden is unthinkable for the first entire half of the book. Still, he craves the spark of connection, just like I did, so the bird code becomes a way for Jeremy to safely tell Evan what he’s going through inside. To tell his truth, but tell it slant, as Emily Dickinson so perfectly put it.

Of course, in the simplest sense codes are also just plain fun. I loved codes as a kid! When so much of the world is out of your control, secret words make you feel powerful and special and part of some grand adventure, especially if they’re shared with friends. I think creating and using the language of seabirds plays a big role in helping Jeremy and Evan overcome the awkward stage any new friendship has more quickly than they might have done without it. As the book progresses and they grow closer, that secret language takes on deeper and deeper meaning, culminating with the addition of one final bittersweet word at the end.

The More Things Change

MR: Relocation is another important theme in your book, due to Jeremy’s possible move to another city following his parents’ divorce. How does this affect Jeremy in terms of the “glass wall” he’s built around himself?

 WT: Jeremy is very scared of change. He feels safe in familiar environments, places where he knows what potential threats are present and how he can defend himself against them. When he’s unable to predict that, he doubles down on his internal glass wall as the only thing he can count on to keep him safe. Readers can see this throughout the book as they spot Jeremy often looking out from behind a window, or from an overlooked corner, or from a few steps behind whoever he’s with. This is second nature to him, the urge to put something between him and the world, and his greatest fear is the exposure that would happen if anyone—particularly his parents or peers—were to look back and fully see him.

Rather than feeling like an opportunity for an upgrade, then, relocation becomes a risk—one that might feel too big to take. Whether he will base his final decision on hope or fear (the two sides of his glass wall) is something we definitely see him struggle with throughout the book.

Read, Read, Read… and Write, Write, Write!

MR: The Language of Seabirds is your fifth published book for middle-grade readers. Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from? Is there a secret sauce you can share with Mixed-Up Files readers?

WT: It is so, so wild to realize this is book five. I one-hundred percent still feel like a newbie! I’m not sure I can suggest any secret sauce apart from read, read, read, and write, write, write–but I absolutely recommend keeping notes on anything that catches your attention. I have stacks of notebooks full of story ideas, character sketches, potential titles, science facts, scribbled plot outlines, favorite TV episodes, dream fragments, etc., and I flip through them all a couple times a year. Different pieces jump out at me every time, all going into the big compost pile in my head, and every now and then enough pieces come together in the right way that I feel that “click” and the story unrolls like a carpet. You can feel it happen.

After that, it’s time for the long hard work of bringing the story into the world through the keyboard. (And after five published books and half a dozen shelved ones, I’ve finally accepted this part never gets any easier. It is, simply, the work.)

So that’s my tip, I guess! Gather the things you love and like. Wallow in your dork-level fascinations. Compile interesting fragments. Harvest notions and oddments and dreams. Futz and sort and tinker. Run a net along the riverbed of your life and see what sparkles in the sun. Watch what clumps together. Listen for the “click.”

Writing Routine and Rituals

MR: What does your writing routine look like, Will? Do you have any particular rituals?

WT: I lost my longtime day job at the start of the pandemic, so this system has only applied to my last couple books, but my routine is based on spending at least one full hour every weekday being there for my current WIP. (Important to note I live alone so have the privilege of doing this regularly.) Many days I wind up working for several hours, on others that single hour is all I can manage, but I try my best to always make sure that one core hour happens.

Being There

WT: I want to point to my use of the term “being there,” by the way. This took me a long time to understand, but writing isn’t always about putting words on the page. Sometimes the book needs you to just sit with it, mulling things over, listening to the burble of characters, massaging a handful of sentences or one tricky transition. And that counts. That’s time spent in company with the book. Of course, deadlines are real things, too, so words do need to happen. But I really believe getting into the mindset of spending time with my books rather than approaching them like a boss trying to extract labor has helped my work enormously.

Oh, and I have no idea why, but I write best with something over my head. A blanket, a hoodie, a towel, whatever’s comfy and available—for some reason it helps me tune out the world and deep dive into my imagination. It does make me look like a giant mushroom, however, so thank goodness I prefer writing alone!

Books on the Horizon

MR: What are you working on now? Enquiring minds want to know!

WT: Okay, so I have like half a dozen “post-click” projects in the “waiting to be written” pile, but I’ll just share about the two MGs I’m actively spending time with right now. One is a historical escape adventure set in 12th-century England full of swords and castles and haunted forests and ice, the project of my Susan Cooper- and Rosemary Sutcliff-loving heart. The other is another contemporary gay middle school romance, a comedy this time, centering around a ballet dancer boy having to hide his sexuality if he wants to make the big time and the overlooked, “couldn’t hide it if I tried” soft boy who helps him reconnect with his heart and art. Basically a gay version of Strictly Ballroom crossed with my second-favorite movie of all time, Center Stage. Neither of these are under contract yet, but I’m working hard so hopefully that will change soon!

Catch That Dog!

WT: I have to shout out my latest silly MG, Catch That Dog, which came out in June. It’s another book of my heart, specifically the part that sobbed and laughed all through Flora & Ulysses. I’m super proud of it and hope anyone into “overlooked girl and her remarkable pet overcome terrible grownups” stories will check it out.

Lightning Round!

MR: And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack?

Hmm, I don’t really eat while I write, but when I’m done writing, a grilled cheese sandwich is my favorite thing to bring me back to earth.

Coffee or tea?

Both! Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. With an English dad and Welsh stepdad I was raised with tea making up a solid third of my diet, but coffee took over the morning slot a long while back and is absolutely not going anywhere.

Favorite seabird?

People are gonna think I’m joking, but I am obsessed with regular old seagulls! There are tons of them around my part of downtown Seattle (my upstairs neighbor feeds them anchovies from his window so they like our building) and I am always so jealous of how they can soar and glide on the wind like hawks, and sit comfortably on deep, deep water, and explore the world so freely through the vertical axis. I totally want to be one someday.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay?

Hahah I don’t know if I get the question! Um, nay? Let’s . . . not have one?

Superpower?

Healing. No contest.

Favorite place on earth?

Gah! Okay, I have to cheat and give three answers: Death Valley, the Orkney Islands, and the hills around my uncle’s house in the tiny village of Taliesin, Wales.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be?

This has genuinely been the hardest question! My practical homebody survival brain says tent, water purifier, and hand-crank distress radio, but that’s neither funny nor interesting. . .

Okay, how’s this: If I had to live there alone for a while and could find enough resources not to promptly die, I would want the big, illustrated edition of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Books of Earthsea; a hand-crank record player equipped with Kate Bush’s entire discography; and a giant pallet of pens and paper so I could keep on writing kids’ books. Because it’s genuinely all I’ve ever wanted to do.

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Will—and congratulations on the publication of The Language of Seabirds. I truly loved it, and I know MUF readers will too!

WT: Thank youuu! It’s been an honor and an absolute pleasure!

And now…

A GIVEAWAY!

(THREE winners in all!)

For a chance to win a copy of THE LANGUAGE OF SEABIRDS–plus a signed bookplate–comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account, for an extra chance to win! (Giveaway ends 7/21/22 EST.) U.S. only, please. 

About the Author

Will Taylor is a reader, writer, and honeybee fan. He lives in the heart of downtown Seattle surrounded by all the seagulls and not quite too many teacups. When not writing he can be found searching for the perfect bakery, talking to trees in parks, and completely losing his cool when he meets longhaired dachshunds. His books include Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort; Maggie & Abby and the Shipwreck Treehouse; Slimed; Catch That Dog!; and The Language of Seabirds. Learn more about Will on his website and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

The F.A.R.T. Diaries #1: Top Secret! No Kids Allowed!~ An Interview with Peter Bakalian

Welcome to my interview with author Peter Bakalian and his hilariously clever middle grade book The F.A.R.T. Diaries #1: Top Secret! No Kids Allowed! I’m sure the title has you as curious as it did me. So let’s jump right in and see what this diary is all about.

The Book

The F.A.R.T. DIARIES #1: Top Secret! No Kids Allowed! by Peter Bakalian

Publisher: Aladdin

Released: May 3, 2022

When a young teen discovers a top-secret parenting manual, it’s kids versus grown-ups in this kooky, illustrated middle grade thriller with nonstop, seat-of-your-pants action that will delight fans of Jarrett Lerner and Stuart Gibbs.

When a tween boy [Codename: Furious Popcorn] picks up what he thinks is a cookbook and finds a diabolical parenting manual, his world turns upside down. The Ultimate Guide to Hacking Your Kids was written by an organization called F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens), a secret society of grizzled parents whose origins date back to antiquity.

FP is determined to get to the bottom of this, but when he begins investigating F.A.R.T., the manual goes missing, his parents deny knowing anything about any kind of book, and–maybe strangest of all–kids at school start listening to their parents and teachers. What kid would ever do that?

F.A.R.T. proves to be more than just some gassy acronym and parental rules and regulations when FP and the Only Onlys, his best friends since preschool, discover F.A.R.T.’s grand plan: a brain modem that can turn kids into well-behaved zombies!

This wacky crew has no choice but to find out who’s behind the nefarious organization and save young people the world over from total F.A.R.T. domination!

“A laugh out loud outrageous adventure with likeable characters and an engaging storyline. I loved the obstacles, the fast pace, and the unique skill set each character brought to the group.”   –  Meagan Marie, Goodreads 

Interview🎙️

Hi Peter! We are thrilled you’ve stopped by the Mixed-Up Files to share this fun middle grade book. Let’s start with the obvious – Humor. It’s a huge element throughout the story. And it’s not just humor, but some quirky and witty humor such as the characters having coded names. How did you come up with such an ingenious idea and title?

Thank you for the word “ingenious.” I’ve heard other adjectives!

Haha! I’m sure.

F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens) is about a secret organization of frustrated parents whose mission is to keep kids confused and obedient. It’s been around since ancient times. All parents know about it. F.A.R.T. publishes a parenting manual that’s chock full of dirty tricks, advertisements for insane products and services. No kid is ever supposed to see it, until one does.

The idea came about when I was young parent and I heard a commercial for a manual that promised a perfectly obedient child within 30 minutes or less. I was ready to empty my savings account for it until I realized that it would become useless once my son caught on to the 30 minute secret. Anyway, I realized that this 30 minute manual was hype, but it got me thinking – what if a manual like that really existed and a kid found it?.

Surely this will get MGers to think about it’s possibility.

As for the book title, I tried a lot of acronyms but F.A.R.T. was the silliest so it won. The original title of the book was HOW TO RAISE YOUR ROTTEN KIDS UNTIL THEY’RE READY FOR JAIL.  A little harsh, yes? Anyway, the folks at Aladdin suggested putting F.A.R.T. on the cover and I’m glad they did.

I loved the silly! I’m sure young readers will, too.

If a secretly coded description of F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens) was found on the back of a cereal box, what would a middle grade reader see? Same middle grader reader’s parents/guardians see?

Now, THAT’S ingenious.

😊 Aw . . . thank you.

Hmm, I think you could print anything you wanted under the words NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION. No kid would ever read it. Does anyone? If they did they’d probably never buy the cereal. I was going to suggest something diabolical with Alpha-Bits cereal, but they discontinued making it last year, which means that all our domestic cereals are illiterate.

Haha! Good point.

I’m afraid I’ll have to kick this problem over to the folks in F.A.R.T. RESEARCH. Incidentally, cereal plays a pivotal role in the second book of this trilogy.

Visuals👓

How did the illustrations influence the text? Did you change anything once the illustrations were added?

The illustrations and text were conceived simultaneously. Basically, I’d have an idea like a camera that prevented kids from pulling a photobomb – you know, making a weird face just as you took their picture. I wrote the copy quite seriously even though it was ridiculous (e.g.: The camera would shoot 40 gallons of compressed water at the kid if it sensed an incoming photobomb.).

See, that is genius and super funny!

At the same time, I’d Photoshop stock images to support this idea, as if it were an article from Consumer Reports.  I’ve spent a number of years producing and writing animation where text and images were conceived hand in hand, so I tend to think that way.

The book also contains interactive graphics on some pages. Were those after-thoughts or did you write scenes on purpose to include them?

At its heart, F.A.R.T. is a mystery story, so the graphics included clues and details that were essential. They were always meant to be there. Personally, I love when a book rewards me with seemingly hidden details. When I was a kid, Mad Magazine would include tiny sketches of guys having a fist fight or a duel in the page margins. I’d think I was the only one who saw it, but of course everyone did.

(PS: Readers – the graphics are very cool and interactive. I agree with Peter. They were essential.)

Excerpt📖

Let’s break in for a moment to share a teeny excerpt from F.A.R.T. (Families Against Rotten Teens).

Diary 1: Ride at Your Own Risk DIARY 1 RIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK
The guys who run amusement parks won’t tell you this, but all the really good rides have a secret exit just before you get on them. It’s true. They call it a “Chicken Hatch,” and it’s for people who lose their nerve at the last minute.

Me, I think it’s wrong to call people “chicken” because they don’t want to vompedo their lunch on some roller coaster. That’s why I’m offering you a chance to exit this diary right now.

I’m serious. I’ve kept this journal in case something should happen to me, but the detours and trapdoors that follow could easily scramble your eggs. But before you leave, consider this: F.A.R.T. wants you to take this exit.

Yes, you heard that right—F.A.R.T. They want you to laugh at their ridiculous name and go back to eating your cornflakes because you’re not supposed to know anything about them. Not you or your friends or any kids anywhere.

Now, if you’re still with me, ask yourself this question:
ARE YOUR PARENTS SUDDENLY SMARTER?
I mean a lot smarter. Do they always find your hiding places for junk food, like the Pringles can you disguised as a fire extinguisher or the cake frosting you use for toothpaste? Have they recently discovered that you’ve rigged the thermometer in the medicine chest to read 10,000 degrees when you want a sick day, or put Meow Mix on your veggies so your cat will eat them?

How about you? Has a change come over you at school? Do you high-five your teacher when she pulls a pop quiz, remind substitute teachers that homework is due, or tell fellow students, You only hurt yourself when you forge a bathroom pass? Sound familiar?

And riddle yourself this: When your parents go to a PTO meeting, where do they really go? IS there a PTO? Have you ever been to a meeting? Of course not.

Like you, I ignored these warning signs until I stumbled onto the truth. It was a bizarre truth that made sense of it all, but none of my so-called friends could believe it. If you must know, they laughed at me. The fools!

What I needed were people who could grasp the incredible. People I could trust. And I needed them now.

That was when I called THE ONLY ONLYS.

I loved the ONLY ONLYS!

Story Charm✨

All humor aside, this story challenges the relationship between parent and child. What collective message and/or lesson do you hope readers of all ages will take away after reading F.A.R.T.? (Is it too obvious that I like typing your title?)

I used to think: Raising a kid will be easy because I was a kid, once.  Then, this kid enters your life and you realize that all the stuff that worked on you as kid doesn’t work because YOUR KID ISN’T YOU.  Naturally, you look for answers from other parents and manuals and a boatload of experts – it’s a whole industry – and again you discover that nothing works quite the way you thought it would. The F.A.R.T. Manual is a parody of all it. The message, I guess, is that you’re raising an individual, not a Mini-Me.

BTW, I like typing F.A.R.T., too. I have it on speed type so it pops up whenever I type an “f” followed by a period. Unfortunately, I forget to turn this feature off and it has sneaked into some of my business correspondence with troubling consequences.

Too, funny! *Note: to clarify, while writing up the interview I shared with Peter how much I liked writing F.A.R.T.

Why will MG readers relate to the group of young characters you’ve created?

Well, I hope they do. Our four characters’ initial bond was that they are all only children – hence they call themselves the Only Onlys – but that becomes less important.  I think what makes them relatable is that they fuss and fight among themselves, but they like each other very much. That was important to me. We all have relationships like that. I’ve also noticed that comedy ensembles – even those that beat each other up for most of the story – are always loyal to each other in the end, and that seems essential to the genre.

Author Insights👀

What was the most challenging part of writing this story? Easiest?

I’m not confident enough to start writing and see where it takes me. I believe Stephen King does that but – surprise! – I’m not Stephen King. Or Burger King. I began as a television writer.  No producer wants to hear that you wrote yourself into a corner when the show starts shooting tomorrow, so I outline and outline. The easiest part – or the more enjoyable part – is the dialogue I get to write for my characters.

And IMHO – because I’ve read the book – the dialog is fantastic! I really enjoyed that part.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for middle grade literature today?

More people are fighting for the real estate between kids’ ears than ever before, so an author must be a willing marketer and understand new information channels.  The challenge is to do this responsibly.  I’m climbing that learning curve right now and it’s fascinating.

Writer’s Corner📑

Fun fact: What does your creative/writing space look like?

I love being surrounded by everything I could possibly need, like a surgeon. You can see it at Peterbakalian.com for free! My desk fits perfectly in an alcove because I purchased a beautiful dining room table at an estate sale and sawed off the ends to make it fit. Ah, the things we do for art.

From your vast experience, what are the three top traits an aspiring writer should focus on honing?

I’m a first time novelist, so “vast” may not apply. In any case, it reminds me of the joke: There are four ingredients to writing a successful novel, but nobody knows what they are.  But since you asked, people often say “Write what you know,” but I’d suggest writing what you like. You’ll research it for pleasure and your enthusiasm may rub off on the reader.  Second, protect your writing time from interruptions. You’ll win no popularity contests, but it’s essential. Lastly, there are A LOT of books on how to write by some very successful writers. I enjoyed them all, especially learning that they wrestle with the same doubts that we all do. They tend to say the same things about conflict, action, etc, but they may save you from rookie mistakes that will cost you time, which is the most precious thing you have.

What next creative adventure might be on the horizon for you?

There are two more books in the F.A.R.T. trilogy, so that’s my horizon for now. I am truly grateful for the opportunity.

That’s great! I’m sure readers will be anxiously waiting for those books.

About the Author

Peter Bakalian

After starting as an intern at Walt Disney Studios, Peter Bakalian joined the production team for Rankin/Bass’s ThunderCats and later earned Emmy recognition for his writing on Curious George. He was also nominated along with Suzanne Collins for Best Animated Screenplay by the Writers Guild of America for the Fox musical special Santa, Baby! which he also produced. His work has also appeared on the BBC series Big & Small and Scholastic’s Clifford’s Puppy Days. F.A.R.T. is his first novel. He lives in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. You can find Peter on his Website & on LinkedIn.

 

Thank you for sharing yourself and your work with our readers and writers. All the best to you!

Feel free to share your thoughts with Peter about his book. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you! And if you’d like to check out another illustrated middle grade book, hop over to this Link!

June New Releases

June is here and so is a treasure trove of new middle grade to fill those long summer days.
There’s something for every reader in this month’s list – so get ready for some reading.

 

The Lost Ryu by Emi Watanabe Cohen

Kohei Fujiwara has never seen a big ryū in real life. Those dragons all disappeared from Japan after World War II, and twenty years later, they’ve become the stuff of legend. Their smaller cousins, who can fit in your palm, are all that remain. And Kohei loves his ryū, Yuharu, but.

.Kohei has a memory of the big ryū. He knows that’s impossible, but still, it’s there, in his mind. In it, he can see his grandpa – Ojiisan – gazing up at the big ryū with what looks to Kohei like total and absolute wonder. When Kohei was little, he dreamed he’d go on a grand quest to bring the big ryū back, to get Ojiisan to smile again.

But now, Ojiisan is really, really sick. And Kohei is running out of time.

Kohei needs to find the big ryū now, before it’s too late. With the help of Isolde, his new half-Jewish, half-Japanese neighbor; and Isolde’s Yiddish-speaking dragon, Cheshire; he thinks he can do it. Maybe. He doesn’t have a choice.

 

 

Alice Austen Lived Here by Alex Gino

Sam is very in touch with their own queer identity. They’re nonbinary, and their best friend, TJ, is nonbinary as well. Sam’s family is very cool with it… as long as Sam remembers that nonbinary kids are also required to clean their rooms, do their homework, and try not to antagonize their teachers too much.

The teacher-respect thing is hard when it comes to Sam’s history class, because their teacher seems to believe that only Dead Straight Cis White Men are responsible for history. When Sam’s home borough of Staten Island opens up a contest for a new statue, Sam finds the perfect non-DSCWM subject: photographer Alice Austen, whose house has been turned into a museum, and who lived with a female partner for decades.

Soon, Sam’s project isn’t just about winning the contest. It’s about discovering a rich queer history that Sam’s a part of — a queer history that no longer needs to be quiet, as long as there are kids like Sam and TJ to stand up for it.

 

 

Super Troop by Bruce Hale

Cooper just wants to spend the summer before 7th grade drawing and having adventures with his best friend, Nacho. Anything to keep his mind off the fact that his dad’s new girlfriend and his mom’s announcement that she’s going to start dating.

But when one of his adventures with Nacho goes too far, Cooper’s parents freak out. Either he joins the Boy Rangers, a dorky club that’s all about discipline and rules, or that dream cartooning camp at the end of his summer? Will get erased.

At first it’s not so bad–the troop is a disorganized mess. But then a new scoutmaster starts. Mr. Pierce is a gruff ex-Marine who’s never worked with kids before, especially not a ragtag team of misfits like Troop 19. As he tries turning them into a lean, mean, badge-earning machine, Cooper longs for freedom. He doesn’t want to break the rules, but the rules are going to break him!

 

 

The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

A fresh start. That’s all Evan Pao wants as he, along with his mother and sister, flee from California to Haddington, Virginia, hoping to keep his father’s notoriety a secret.

But Haddington is a southern town steeped in tradition, and moving to a town immersed in the past has its own price. Although Evan quickly makes friends, one boy, Brady Griggs, seems determined to make sure that as a Chinese American, Evan feels that he does not belong. When Evan finds a unique way to make himself part of the school’s annual Civil War celebration, the reaction is swift and violent. As all of his choices at home and at school collide, Evan must decide whether he will react with the same cruelty shown to him, or choose a different path.

 

 

 

Smaller Sister by Maggie Edkins Willis

Lucy’s always looked up to her big sister, Olivia, even though the two are polar opposites. But then, Lucy notices Olivia start to change. She doesn’t want to play with Lucy anymore, she’s unhappy with the way she looks, and she’s refusing to eat her dinner. Finally, Lucy discovers that her sister is not just growing up: Olivia is struggling with an eating disorder.

While her family is focused on her sister’s recovery, Lucy is left alone to navigate school and friendships. And just like her big sister, she begins to shrink.

But with time, work, and a dose of self-love, both sisters begin to heal and let themselves grow. Soon enough, Olivia and Lucy find their way back to each other–because sisters are the one friend you can never ditch.

 

 

 

Lies I Tell Myself by Beth Vrabel

Raymond has always preferred to keep life simple and leave adventuring to other people. But then he’s sent across the country, against his will, to spend the summer before fifth grade with grandparents who think he’s “troubled” and needs to have playdates set up for him. Determined to show everyone how brave, confident, and untroubled he can be, Raymond hatches a three-step plan:

1) Learn to ride a bike. His mom never got around to teaching him before she left.
2) Learn how to swim.
3) Make friends. On his own.

But can Raymond really change, or is this whole plan just a bunch of lies he’s telling himself? With the help of his great-grandfather’s old journal, a feral chicken, and a possibly imaginary new friend, Raymond might just overcome his fears and figure out who he really wants to be.

 

 

 

Not Starring Zadie Louise by Joy McCullough

Zadie loves Tae Kwon Do, comic books, and outer space. She also loves visiting the community theater that her mom runs, especially the lighting grid over the stage and the stage manager’s booth, which is filled with levers and buttons like a spaceship control panel. So when the family’s finances suffer a blow and Zadie has to give up her usual activities to spend the summer at the theater, she doesn’t mind too much. After all, she’s always wanted to tech a show.

She knows she’d be great at it, but her mom and the new stage manager are totally opposed to the idea of having a kid do tech. Instead, Zadie’s stuck handing out snacks and folding flyers. But the future of the theater rides on this show, and Zadie is determined to help. She’s going to make Spinderella the hit of the season–unless she accidentally turns it into a disaster

 

 

 

Can’t Be Tamed (Horse Country #1) by Yamile Saied Méndez

Carolina Aguasvivas grew up on Paradise Ranch, which she knows down to every last pony. But things are sure to change when the new owner’s daughter, Chelsie Sánchez, sweeps in with an attitude and a feisty Thoroughbred named Velvet. The mare is skittish, headstrong, and hurt — and Carolina is determined to ride her.

Chelsie, who considers herself too good to clean stalls, certainly doesn’t seem like a real horse girl. Caro knows she’s the only one who can help Velvet recover, and she’s ready to prove it — no matter what it takes.

The girls may discover they have more in common than they think… including a passion for bringing the healing power of horses to every kid.

 

 

 

The Kaya Girl by Mamle Wolo

When Faiza, a Muslim migrant girl from northern Ghana, and Abena, a wealthy doctor’s daughter from the south, meet by chance in Accra’s largest market, where Faiza works as a porter or kaya girl, they strike up an unlikely and powerful friendship that transcends their social inequities and opens up new worlds to them both.

Set against a backdrop of class disparity in Ghana, The Kaya Girl has shades of The Kite Runner in its unlikely friendship, and of Slumdog Millionaire as Faiza’s life takes unlikely turns that propel her thrillingly forward. As, over the course of the novel, Abena awakens to the world outside her sheltered, privileged life, the novel explores a multitude of awakenings and the opportunities that lie beyond the breaking down of barriers. This is a gorgeously transporting work, offering vivid insight into two strikingly diverse young lives in Ghana.

 

 

 

Repairing the World by Linda Epstein

Twelve-year-old Daisy and Ruby are totally inseparable. They’ve grown up together, and Daisy has always counted on having Ruby there to pave the way, encourage her to try new things, and to see the magic in the world. Then Ruby is killed in a tragic accident while on vacation, and Daisy’s life is shattered.

Now Daisy finds herself having to face the big things in her life–like starting middle school and becoming a big sister–without her best friend. It’s hard when you feel sad all the time. But thanks to new friends, new insights, and supportive family members, Daisy is able to see what life after Ruby can look like. And as she reaches beyond that to help repair the world around her, she is reminded that friendship is eternal, and that magic can be found in the presence of anyone who chooses to embrace it.

 

 

 

 

Out of Range by Heidi Lang

Sisters Abby, Emma, and Ollie have gone from being best friends forever to mortal enemies.

Thanks to their months-long feud, they are sent to Camp Unplugged, a girls’ camp deep in the heart of the Idaho mountains where they will go “back to nature”–which means no cell phones, no internet, and no communicating with the outside world. For two whole weeks. During that time, they had better learn to get along again, their parents tell them. Or else.

The sisters don’t see any way they can ever forgive each other for what they’ve done, no matter how many hikes and campfire songs they’re forced to participate in. But then disaster strikes, and they find themselves lost and alone in the wilderness. They will have to outrun a raging wildfire, make it through a turbulent river, escape bears and mountain lions and ticks. They don’t have training, or food, or enough supplies. All they have is each other.

And maybe, just maybe, it will be enough to survive.

 

The Boy Who Failed Dodgeball by Jordan Sonnenblick

Funny, outrageous things didn’t stop for Jordan Sonnenblick after he left fourth grade. No, in many ways the events detailed to hilarious effect in The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell were but a prelude to sixth grade, a time when Jordan would have to deal with…

— A rival named Jiminy (his real name is Jimmy — but, hey, he looks like a cricket)

— A stickler English teacher who doesn’t care that all the old, worn copies of Great Expectations smell like puke

— An Evel Knievel obsession

— A first crush on a girl from band

— An assistant principal who brands Jordan a repeat offender… on his first day (If you want to know why, you have to read the book. A tooth is involved.)

— A continued reckoning with both anxiety and asthma

— And more!

 

The Do-Over by Jennifer Torres

The Mendoza sisters need a do-over!

Raquel and Lucinda used to be inseparable. But ever since their parents split, Raquel has been acting like editor-in-chief of their lives. To avoid her overbearing sister, Lucinda spends most of her time with her headphones on, practicing her skating routine.

Then a pandemic hits, and the sisters are forced to spend the lockdown at their dad’s ranch house. Suddenly Raquel sees a chance to get back everything they’ve lost. If they can convince their mom to come along, maybe they can get their parents to fall in love again and give their family a second chance, a do-over.

But at the ranch, they get a not-so-welcome surprise: their dad’s new girlfriend and her daughter are already living there! Lucinda finds she actually likes them, which only makes Raquel more desperate to get rid of them. And as her Raquel’s schemes get more and more out of hand, Lucinda starts to wonder what they are really fighting for. Is trying to bring the Mendoza family back together really just tearing them further apart?

 

Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation by  Sylvia Liu

Hana Hsu can’t wait to be meshed.

If she can beat out half her classmates at Start-Up, a tech school for the city’s most talented twelve-year-olds, she’ll be meshed to the multiweb through a neural implant like her mom and sister. But the competition is fierce, and when her passion for tinkering with bots gets her mixed up with dangerous junkyard rebels, she knows her future in the program is at risk.

Even scarier, she starts to notice that something’s not right at Start-Up–some of her friends are getting sick, and no matter what she does, her tech never seems to work right. With an ominous warning from her grandmother about being meshed, Hana begins to wonder if getting the implant early is really a good idea.

Desperate to figure out what’s going on, Hana and her friends find themselves spying on one of the most powerful corporations in the country–and the answers about the mystery at Start-Up could be closer to home than Hana’s willing to accept. Will she be able to save her friends–and herself– from a conspiracy that threatens everything she knows?

 

High Score by Destiny Howell

Darius James–DJ to his friends–has a head for cons and a heart of gold. He pulled his last con months ago at his old school. Now safely enrolled in the Fitz (Ella Fitzgerald Middle School) he’s determined to keep his head down. But when Conor, his best friend from his old school, suddenly shows up, DJ knows his anonymous days are numbered.

Sure enough, within a week of arriving at the Fitz, Conor runs afoul of Lucky, the seventh-grade bully who runs a complicated contest based on tickets from Starcade, the games-and-pizza joint across the street from the school. Lucky has the power to ruin any kid’s life, including Conor’s, unless DJ agrees to come up with 100,000 Starcade tickets within two weeks.

It’s impossible! Or is it? If anyone can stay on the straight and narrow–and pull off the biggest ticket heist of all time, it’s DJ. In the process, he just might save his friend–and maybe even the whole school–from Lucky.

 

 

 

Coming Up Short by Laurie Morrison 

Bea’s parents think she can accomplish absolutely anything–and she’s determined to prove them right. But at the end of seventh grade, on the same day she makes a gutsy play to send her softball team to the league championships and Xander, the boy she likes, makes it clear that he likes her too, a scandal shakes up her world. Bea’s dad made a big mistake, taking money that belonged to a client. He’s now suspended from practicing law, and another lawyer spread the news online. To make matters worse, that other lawyer is Xander’s dad.

Bea doesn’t want to be angry with her dad, especially since he feels terrible and is trying to make things right. But she can’t face the looks of pity from all her friends, and then she starts missing throws in softball because she’s stuck in her own head. The thing she was best at seems to be slipping out of her fingers along with her formerly happy family. She’s not sure what’s going to be harder–learning to throw again, or forgiving her dad. How can she be the best version of herself when everything she loves is falling apart?

 

 

Valentina Salazar Is Not a Monster Hunter by Zoraida Córdova

It takes a special person to end up in detention on the last day of school.

It takes a REALLY special person to accidentally burn down the school yard while chasing a fire-breathing chipmunk.

But nothing about Valentina Salazar has ever been “normal.” The Salazars are protectors, tasked with rescuing the magical creatures who sometimes wander into our world, from grumpy unicorns to chupacabras . . . to the occasional fire-breathing chipmunk.

When Val’s father is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong, her mother decides it’s time to retire from their life on the road. She moves the family to a boring little town in upstate New York and enrolls Val and her siblings in real school for the first time.

But Val is a protector at heart and she can’t give up her calling. So when a mythical egg surfaces in a viral video, Val convinces her reluctant siblings to help her find the egg before it hatches and wreaks havoc. But she has some competition: the dreaded monster hunters who’ll stop at nothing to destroy the creature . . . and the Salazar family.

 

 

Lia Park and the Missing Jewel: Volume 1 by Jenna Yoon

Twelve-year old Lia Park just wants to fit in. Her parents work with a mysterious organization that makes them ridiculously overprotective. Lia’s every move has been scrutinized since she was born, and she’d love to have the option of doing something exciting for once. So when she gets invited to the biggest birthday party of the year–and her parents say she can’t go–Lia sneaks out.

But her first act of rebellion not only breaks her parents’ rules, but also an ancient protection spell, allowing an evil diviner spirit to kidnap and ransom her parents for a powerful jewel that her family has guarded for years. With just the clothes on her back and some very rusty magical skills, Lia finds herself chasing mysterious clues that take her to her grandmother’s home in Korea.

From there, she has to make their way to the undersea kingdom of the Dragon King, the only person who knows where the powerful jewel might be. Along with her friend, Joon, Lia must dig deep and find courage to stand up for those who are weak–and become the hero her parents need.

 

 

Catch That Dog! by Will Taylor

When Joanie first encounters Masterpiece, he’s curled up in an alley and she mistakes him for (of all things!) a cat. Soon, though, she cleans him up and shows him home and discovers he is, in fact, a poodle.

What Joanie doesn’t know is that Masterpiece isn’t any ordinary poodle. No, Masterpiece is a world-famous poodle, who has been in movies and advertisements and has been seen hobnobbing with celebrities. So how did Masterpiece go from a palatial apartment in New York City to an alley in a small town in New Jersey? He was dognapped! And now not only does the dognapper want him back, but his former owner is offering a big reward.

Masterpiece knows he should want to go home to the luxury of his old life. But nobody’s ever loved him the way Joanie loves him.

What’s a dog to do?

 

There’s so many great books, I’m not sure where to start. Let me know which ones you’re looking forward to in the comments below.