Here? Now? THE SECRET BATTLE OF EVAN PAO starts at school! by Wendy Wan-Long Shang (MG book review)

book cover of The Secret Battle of Evan Pao / Wendy Wan-Long Shang.  Published by Scholastic Press | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Bad enough that they have to move across the country to get away from Dad’s financial scams, but in this little Virginia town stuck in its Civil War history, their Chinese family does stand out, even though their uncle has lived here a while.

Evan hopes that sixth grade will be okay, but the class bully lives across the street from their tiny rental house. Brady calls Covid-19 “the China virus” and asks if Evan will bring it to Battlefield Elementary School. Evan can sense that he really believes that – yikes!

Luckily, most kids in his class are nice, including Max who’s assigned as Evan’s buddy and explains Battlefield Day, Mrs. Norwood’s favorite activity, where everyone becomes a Civil War character in costume for an outside learning experience.

Each student in class brings in a family heirloom from the Civil War, except Evan, so Mrs. Norwood suggests that he choose a behind-the-scenes role, like scribe (boring). Evan’s sister says there were no Chinese in the American Civil War, but a little research shows that she’s wrong!

So while Brady can portray his noted sharpshooter ancestor, Evan can be a Chinese soldier in the Army of the Potomac – Mrs. Norwood’s final Battlefield Day before retiring should be quite memorable!

Other things in town are rumbling, like discussions on removing the Confederate soldier statue in front of the courthouse and the cute stray dog that Uncle and Evan find (maybe Mom will change her mind about ‘no dogs’!) and someone shooting at Evan’s house!

Evan tells most of the story, with chapters by his sister Celeste and friend Max, even Julia and Brady from his class providing additional viewpoints.

What’s something that’s “always been this way” about your town that you would change?
**kmm

Book info: The Secret Battle of Evan Pao / Wendy Wan-Long Shang. Scholastic Press, 2022. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

In breakdance or yo-yo, FREESTYLE is the coolest! by Gale Galligan (Graphic novel review)

book cover of Freestyle / words & art by Gale Galligan. Published by Scholastic/Graphix | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Team breakdance means cool moves,
perfect choreography,
everyone in sync… everyone!

Their final year of middle school means lots of pressure for Cory and his friends as they get ready for high school admission exams and the big Bronx Kids Battle dance competition.

As captain of Eight Bit breakdance team, Tess is committed to the breakdance choreography she wrote – no improvising, Cory!

In science, Cory gets partnered with loner Sunna instead of Eight Bit pal Asha, then gets grounded for bad grades – no fun, especially when his Filipino parents hire Sunna to tutor him!

Tess is mad that Eight Bit can’t practice every day after school now – this choreography will be her ticket to arts high school!

From a yelling match to using her yo-yo to explain angles in geometry, eventually Sunna and Cory get along, and he learns some yo-yo tricks, too.

Her grades are amazing, but the hijabi’s parents constantly compare her to big brother’s successes – she doesn’t even call Imran at college anymore.

Yo-yo competition – Cory is sure that Sunna will love it!
Getting un-grounded before the dance competition – Cory’s got to do it!
The rest of Eight Bit forgiving Cory’s flaky behavior – well, that’ll take work.

Days race past as the middle schoolers hone their dance moves, worry about the big exams and the Halloween dance, and count down to competition!

This fast-paced graphic novel comes from the same artist who drew the Baby Sitters’ Club graphic novel series – can’t wait to see what they draw next!

When did your friend group have to work through schedule issues?
**kmm

Book info: Freestyle / words & art by Gale Galligan. Scholastic/Graphix, 2022. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Celebration and rogue spirits? She needs A GIRL’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MAGIC, by Debbie Rigaud (YA book review)

Book cover of A Girl's Guide to Love & Magic, by Debbie Rigaud. Published by Scholastic Press | recommended on BooksYALove.com

This year, the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn falls on Cecile’s 15th birthday, and her vodouista aunt Tati Mimose promises it will be epic!

What the Haitian-American teen really wants is for Tati Mimose and her devout Catholic mother to be friends again, but Grandma Rose’s death last year didn’t bring the sisters back together…

All of Caribbean culture is on display for the Parade – national flags on every car, food from every island, and music, music everywhere! Superstar singer Papash will perform, then be interviewed by Tati Mimose with Cecile as her guest!!

Her parents’ restaurant has a corner booth on the parade route, she’ll be running more food over, meeting Papash (!!), and enjoying her birthday with best friend Renee – best day ever, made better when she runs into her crush Kwame on her way to meet Mimose.

Ooh, something has gone very wrong at Mimose’s tarot card reading for a man in Kwame’s building, and a dread spirit has taken over her aunt’s body!

Cecile, Kwame, and Renee research how to eject the spirit, then dart through the Parade crowds, trying to keep Mimose in sight as they gather the ingredients needed.

Can Cecile do the Vodou spell correctly?
Can they keep the spirit from getting close to Papash?
Will Kwame like her at all after this wild day of chases and spirits?

It’ll take plenty of magic for Cecile to make everything right on this special day for her family and Caribbean community.

What annual cultural tradition is your favorite?
**kmm

Book info: A Girl’s Guide to Love & Magic / Debbie Rigaud. Scholastic Press, 2022. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Always leave THE FIRST BLADE OF SWEETGRASS, Grandmother says, by Suzanne Greenlaw, Gabriel Frey, Nancy Baker (Picturebook review)

book cover of The First Blade of Sweetgrass: a Native American Story / Suzanne Greenlaw & Gabriel Frey; illustrated by Nancy Baker.  Published by Tilbury House Publishers | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Musquon’s first trip to the salt marsh with Grandmother to gather sweetgrass!

But in an ocean of grasses, how will the young girl know which kind to pick?

Grandmother patiently shows her the emerald green grass with a purple bottom and reminds Musquon that her ancestors are here with them, where so many have carefully picked sweetgrass for basketmaking and spiritual medicine.

Musquon breathes the salty air, remembering that Grandmother learned as a small girl in this same marsh to pass over the first blade of sweetgrass she finds: “If we never pick the first blade, we will never pick the last one.”

Soon she will learn how to braid sweetgrass and help Grandmother make baskets as the Wakenabi people have done for countless generations.

The authors note the cultural significance of sweetgrass for First Nations’ peoples in their home state of Maine and beyond, as well as a glossary of Passamaquoddy-Maliseet words used in the story including Musquon (“blue sky”) who shares a name with one of their daughters. Watch an interview with the authors here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7weayTgxwgk

What gifts of the natural world are important to you?

**kmm

Book info: The First Blade of Sweetgrass: a Native American Story / Suzanne Greenlaw & Gabriel Frey; illustrated by Nancy Baker. Tilbury House Publishers, 2021. [author & illustrator interview] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Inspirations for A PATH TO THE WORLD: BECOMING YOU, edited by Lori Marie Carlson-Hijuelos (Nonfiction book review)

Book cover of A Path to the World: Becoming You / Lori Marie Carlson-Hijuelos, editor. Published by Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/ Simon & Schuster | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Why are you… you?
How do you become a better person?
What does it mean to be yourself?

These fundamental questions about being human are considered, argued, and partly answered in this collection of 30 essays by famous folks and new writers.

Trying and trying to replicate her mother’s dal recipe might help Geeta Kothari answer “If You Are What You Eat, Then What Am I?”

Valerie Gribben explains that “Practicing Medicine Can Be Grimm Work” as fairy tales gave her insight into the injuries and pains of her patients.

Retired businessman Freddy Schumann became the loudest person in Yankee Stadium and revitalized their fans in the late 1980s as “The Octogenarian Cheerleader” interviewed by Scott Pitoniak.

A 1790 letter from George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island notes that their new national government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” and sends his appreciation for their welcome and support. (p.72)

KellyNoel Waldorf’s university experience was much different from her peers – “I Came to Duke With an Empty Wallet” and the effects of growing up poor still inform all her decisions.

Be sure to read Anna Quindlen’s advice “Get a Life” which concludes “All of us want to do well. But if we do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough.” (p. 85)

What advice would you share on “becoming you”?
**kmm

Book info: A Path to the World: Becoming You / Lori Marie Carlson-Hijuelos, editor. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/ Simon & Schuster, 2022. [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

We are still HOPE NATION, our favorite YA authors remind us, edited by Rose Brock (nonfiction book review)

book cover of Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration / Rose Brock, editor. Published by Penguin Teen | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Us versus them or together we can succeed?
Time to give in or time to persevere?
Time to hold onto hope with our whole heart!

Written in the wake of the 2016 elections, the personal essays by these well-known YA authors call us to continue finding reasons to hope – and work – for a better future together:
Atia Abawi, Renee Ahdieh, Libba Bray, Howard Bryant, Ally Carter, Ally Condie, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Gayle Forman, Romina Garber, I. W. Gregorio, Kate Hart, Brendan Kiely, David Levithan, Alex London, Marie Lu, Julie Murphy, Jason Reynolds, Aisha Saeed, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Nicola Yoon, Jeff Zentner.

“What I really think is that hope is in the work. That it lives in the space between what’s been done and what could be accomplished,” counsels Kate Hart (pg. 119) reminding Hope Nation that our work is fighting for what’s right.

Angie Thomas recounts an event from her book tour for The Hate U Give, where a Black woman asked those present “Can we begin to listen to one another, and can we change things?” (pg. 65) following racist incidents at their New Jersey high school – this is Hope Nation.

When bigots try to ban books in your school or town, stand against them and remember Jeff Zentner’s words: “Nothing forces people to confront the humanity of others like engaging with their stories” (pg. 92) – Hope Nation doesn’t see everyone else as ‘other’ like the bigots prefer.

Where do you find your hope?
**kmm

Book info: Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration / Rose Brock, editor. Penguin Teen, 2018 [editor site] [publisher site] Personal collection; cover image courtesy of the publisher.

He wants to shine! CARLOS GOMEZ FREESTYLES…HEAVY ON THE STYLE, by Chuck Gonzales (Graphic novel review)

book cover of Carlos Gomez Freestyles...Heavy on the Style, written & illustrated by Chuck Gonzales. Published by Reycraft Books | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Take a chance?
Stay in the background?
Be himself?

Two years after moving to so-white South Dakota for Dad’s job, their Mexican-American family still faces racism at every turn, including the nosy ladies across the street.

For youngest kid Carlos, it’s been disastrous – his lisp got worse, he’s terrible at PE, and his classmates call him queer and tease him for loving art and fashion.

Luckily, RJ arrives in fifth grade and actually talks to Carlos (without spitballs). Her BMX bike team enters the town charity talent show and invites Carlos to ride with them – once he ditches the training wheels (his balance is just so bad….)

They have big competition – his big sister Marie dazzling with her interpretive dance, middle brother Juan’s astonishing magic act, and a chainsaw-wielding stump carver – plus the yummy biscochito cookies that Mom and the nosy ladies make for the bake sale.

Can Carlos’ bike skills catch up in time?
Will his flair for fashion and sparkles win over the judges?
Will that bully Scott ever quit pushing him down?

This graphic novel has its roots in the artist’s own childhood as a lisping, non-athletic Mexican-American gay kid who didn’t fit in with his South Dakota classmates and found his own happier future in another place.

What act would you perform for a talent show?
**kmm

Book info: Carlos Gomez Freestyles…Heavy on the Style / written & illustrated by Chuck Gonzales. Reycraft Books, 2022. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Which side of his family will LUMBERJACKULA follow? by Mat Heagarty & Sam Owen (Graphic Novel review)

book cover of graphic novel Lumberjackula / words by Mat Heagarty, art by Sam Owen. Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Chop, chop, chop!
Eerie, eerie, spooky!
What to do? What to do?

Choosing a secondary school is so important! Should young Lumberjackula go to Sorrow’s Gloom Vampire Academy like Dad and Grandpa or to Mighty Log Lumberjack Prep like Mom and her parents did?

The 11 and a half year old will try one day at each school so he can see where he fits best.

But Jack splashes out during the essential lumberjack skill of log-rolling, and he’s scared of heights, so the flying part of being a vampire is out.

Feeling out of place at both schools, Jack dances out his stress in the woods, where a fairy dancer sees him and invites him to try the dance school she attends in a nearby town.

Fibbing to his parents about another trial day at each of their schools, Jack treks to Tip Tap Twinkle Toes Dance Academy where he’s warmly welcomed and complimented on his technique.

This is where he belongs! But how will he convince his family that dancing is the better choice for him?

Some family drama, some friend misunderstanding, and a ManaTeen giving good advice – it’s your future to decide, Lumberjackula!

Enjoy this video interview with writer Mat and artist Sam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwhhJHbHEFg

What family tradition have you veered away from?
**kmm

Book info: Lumberjackula / words by Mat Heagarty, art by Sam Owen. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022. [author site] [artist info] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

In a world GONE DARK, the prepper skills she longs to forget may save them, by Amanda Panitch (YA book review)

book cover of Gone Dark, by Amanda Panitch. Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books /Simon & Schuster | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Forget how she got away,
just think of the future,
till it all goes dark.

Zara and her mom have a better life in southern California, five years gone since they escaped from her father’s survivalist compound back east.

Computer games instead of skinning squirrels? What teen girl wouldn’t leave behind such a hard life? But her father’s voice still echoes that the world is ending soon… no wonder Zara has panic attacks.

Then the sporadic power outages become a nationwide blackout, and civilized behavior vanishes, just like Dad predicted. When a huge stranger barges into their darkened house and calls for Zara by name, the 17 year old knows it’s time to leave.

Unable to get Mom to safety, Zara and her best friends head away from the coast, trying to outrun the threatening stranger and avoid danger on the road.

A Mormon fortress welcomes them, but can they ever leave?
More people join the group as they travel – can they stay safe together?
If they reach the hidden compound, can they survive its border traps?

This future where the electric grid fails large-scale could be tomorrow, just like the difficulties that Zara and friends endure in a world gone dark.

What’s your emergency plan for disasters?
**kmm

Book info: Gone Dark / Amanda Panitch. Margaret K. McElderry Books /Simon & Schuster, 2022. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

At the powwow, hear ANCESTOR APPROVED: INTERTRIBAL STORIES FOR KIDS, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith (YA book review)

book cover of Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids / Cynthia Leitich Smith, editor. Published by Heartdrum/Harper Collins | recommended on BooksYALove.com
Cover art by Nicole Neidhardt

“A powwow is
where our hearts beat as one
to the thump of the drum,
together
so strong
where we belong.”

  • Kim Rogers (pg. 3)

The great Dance for Mother Earth Powwow draws Native American families and friends from all over North America to visit, dance in competitions, sell their wares, and celebrate being together in Michigan.

Smell the frybread cooking, eat the best corn soup, admire the silver bracelets and intricate beadwork, hear the drums – it’s time for the Grand Entry of all the dancers!

Can Jess convince her grandpa to dance in the Veterans’ Dance or will they go back to Oklahoma sad again this year?

Back in New Mexico, Alan and Kevin definitely don’t get along, but at the Powwow the sixth graders need to help each other locate down a certain girl and a certain silver bracelet.

Oh, beaded regalia has gone missing at this powwow too? Shana asks Tokala to help find her floral-beaded Anishinaabe moccasins before the Jingle Dance begins!

Marino’s t-shirt business could use some clever advertising – good thing that “everybody’s dog” Ozzie hitched a ride all the way from the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh to the powwow!

This collection of intertwined stories brings us viewpoints from 16 Native authors from different places and tribes, as Elders, young people, and one very cool rez dog experience Powwow, some for the first time, others returning for their favorite weekend of the year together.

Enjoy these stories and poems during Native American Heritage Month and all year long!

What Native American dances have you seen?
**kmm

Book info: Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids / Cynthia Leitich Smith, editor. Heartdrum/Harper Collins, 2021. [editor site] [publisher site] Personal copy; cover image courtesy of the publisher.