BY ROZANNA BARANETS, SPMS LIBRARIAN
Serving Up Some November Reads
I have a modest little book display set up at the library’s central round table. The table’s covered with an oatmeal colored tablecloth and has a couple of pumpkin themed runners criss-crossing over the top. If you squint your eyes and stand far away, it looks a little like a Thanksgiving table.
Like a Thanksgiving table, it’s covered in things that I love: books about cooking and books about families. It’s one of my favorite displays of the year and just so kids don’t think it’s only a decoration, I have my usual “Yes, you can check these books out!” sign taped to the bottom.
For some reason I’m going leave up to my therapist to decipher, I have zero memories of childhood Thanksgivings. Did we even have them? Did the divorce put an end to them early on? Are the ingrained food memories I have of the holiday thanks to the special school lunches we were served in the days before vacation? After college when I went to live abroad, my American friends and I would joke about our awesome built-in excuse for never having to return home to the hard slog that is an extended family dinner. “Yeah,” I’d say to fit in, “big family Thanksgivings are the worst, am I right?”
Even as I’m writing this, I wonder if that’s why I love the holiday so much. I got to completely invent it for myself when my daughters were born and surround myself with people I (actually) love. It’s the one holiday that if not properly celebrated, will genuinely make me a little sad. The rest of the year, everyone can do whatever the heck they want. I’m talking to you, Christmas.
So when the library “Thanksgiving” display was done I actually stood there for a second and sighed a little contented sigh. The table was set, now all I needed was for the students I love to come serve themselves a big heaping plate of books.
This month’s book suggestion list comes straight from our library table. They are all about family – some in obvious ways, some a little more subtle. Descriptions are taken from www.goodreads.com. Bon Appetit!
[Note: Only Proud of Me hasn’t been purchased yet, but can be found at the public library!]
What are the essential ingredients that make a family? Eleven-year-old Mo is making up her own recipe.
Nan was all the family Mo ever needed. But suddenly she’s gone, and Mo finds herself in foster care after her uncle decides she’s not worth sticking around for. Nan left her a notebook and advised her to get a hobby, like ferret racing or palm reading. But how could a hobby fix anything in her newly topsy-turvy life?
Then Mo finds a handmade cookbook filled with someone else’s family recipes. Even though Nan never cooked, Mo can’t tear her eyes away. Not so much from the recipes, but the stories attached to them. Though, when she makes herself a pot of soup, it is every bit as comforting as the recipe notes said.
Soon Mo finds herself asking everyone she meets for their family recipes. Teaching herself to make them. Collecting the stories behind them. Building a website to share them. And, okay, secretly hoping that a long-lost relative will find her and give her a family recipe all her own.
But when everything starts to unravel again, Mo realizes that if she wants a family recipe—or a real family—she’s going to have to make it up herself.
When 11-year-old Langston’s mother dies in 1946, he and his father leave rural Alabama for Chicago’s brown belt as a part of what came to be known as the Great Migration. It’s lonely in the small apartment with just the two of them, and at school Langston is bullied. But his new home has one fantastic thing. Unlike the whites-only library in Alabama, the local public library welcomes everyone. There, hiding out after school, Langston discovers another Langston, a poet whom he learns inspired his mother enough to name her only son after him.
Josh and Becky are both 13 years old, born just a few days apart, making them ‘almost-twins’. They live with their two mums and share the same anonymous donor. Despite their differences, they’ve always been close, sharing everything and supporting each other in a world which sometimes tells them that they are not ‘real’ siblings.
However, as Josh becomes increasingly obsessed with finding their donor, and Becky’s feelings for new girl, Carli, start to develop into something more, they drift apart, keeping secrets from their mums and from each other. But when the school’s LGBTQ+ Pride group comes under threat, Josh and Becky come together again, with their friends, to try and save it.
Based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s, a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed.
Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen, a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger. She comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.
Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.
Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.
Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.
Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?
It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?
Sydney Taylor Award-winning novel Berlin Boxing Club is loosely inspired by the true story of boxer Max Schmeling’s experiences following Kristallnacht.
Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew. But the bullies at his school in Nazi-era Berlin, don’t care that Karl has never been in a synagogue or that his family doesn’t practice religion. Demoralized by attacks on a heritage he doesn’t accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth.
So when Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German national hero, makes a deal with Karl’s father to give Karl boxing lessons, A skilled cartoonist, Karl has never had an interest in boxing, but now it seems like the perfect chance to reinvent himself.
But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: protector of his family. And as Max’s fame forces him to associate with Hitler and other Nazi elites, Karl begins to wonder where his hero’s sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his dream of boxing greatness with his obligation to keep his family out of harm’s way?
Includes an author’s note and sources page detailing the factual inspirations behind the novel.
Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.
But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck’s about to change. A “word collector,” Felicity sees words everywhere—shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog’s floppy ears—but Midnight Gulch is the first place she’s ever seen the word “home.” And then there’s Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity’s never seen before, words that make Felicity’s heart beat a little faster.
Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she’ll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that’s been cast over the town . . . and her mother’s broken heart.
Seeing Yourself in the Books You Read
I often wonder if our middle schoolers know how good they have it. If they did, it would be the first time in human history that one generation understood how much better their lives are (in many ways) than the generation before them. So actually, let’s just say they don’t know. That’s OK. It’ll be their turn to wonder the same thing about their children later on.
One way they definitely have it better is they can pick up any number of books from their very own school library and probably find someone who looks, acts, lives and talks just like them inside those pages. Today’s kids are represented in ways formerly unheard of. With just a little digging, you can find books featuring your unique ethnic and linguistic background, your religion, your gender identification, your family composition, and thankfully, your non-apparent disability.
October is ADHD Awareness Month and thanks to the increasing societal emphasis on representation in print and media, there are a great number of fictional titles that feature kids with this superpower. Some already live in the SPMS library, some will be added soon. Below you can find descriptions of these gems as highlighted in the School Library Journal and think about whether or not someone in your circle might enjoy them as well!
These are all middle school friendly and are intended for grades 5 – 8.
The U-nique Lou Fox by Jodi Carmichael
Fifth grader Louisa Elizabeth Fitzhenry-O’Shaughnessy is creative, innovative, warm, a fierce friend, and a loving daughter. Lou aspires to be a Broadway playwright and a Cirque du Soleil performer, and she practices her theater and gymnastics skills with her two best friends, Lexie and Nakessa, every chance she has. Lou is highly verbal and terrific in art class, but because she has dyslexia and ADHD, she finds schoolwork involving reading, writing, and memorization a frustrating slog. Lou’s imagination runs wild during class, and when her teacher Mrs. Snyder constantly clocks her daydreaming, Lou comes to believe that Mrs. Snyder just doesn’t like her. When Lou learns she is about to become a big sister, her anxiety at school extends to home. Lou mistakenly believes that she needs to prove her worth to the adults in her life: she needs to be perfect in her behavior and schoolwork, so her mother is proud, and she needs to direct and write a perfect play so Mrs. Snyder sees how much work she is putting in at school.
The very short chapters, often between two and six pages, will build confidence for emerging readers. The font was selected with readers with dyslexia in mind, with emphasized words bolded and back matter sharing information and resources about dyslexia and ADHD.
A Perfect Mistake by Melanie Conklin
Eleven-year-old Max was looking forward to starting middle school as one third of the “Three Broskateers” along with Joey and Will. On the first day of school, Max has to write a letter to his future self; but he’s stuck, acutely aware of the stares of the rest of his classmates as they wonder about his height. He had always been tall for his age, but he’s now 5’10 thanks to a recent growth spurt, leading to hurtful assumptions. He’s also hurt by Joey’s sudden distance. He’s not answering phone calls or texts ever since a night Max doesn’t like to think about. Will is in a medically induced coma and all the adults want to know what happened when the boys snuck out. Max has no answers, but carries tremendous guilt. He also has ADHD. Sometimes the new strategies he learned with his therapist work—though sometimes his coping mechanisms are misunderstood, like when his new classmate Sam assumes he is staring at her instead of just spacing out.
Max is immediately endearing with his careful, open, and thoughtful manner; readers will instantly relate to his pain.
Honestly Elliott by Gillian McDunn
A novel full of heart, humor, and honesty. Elliott is your typical kid dealing with his parents’ divorce, his best friend moving away, a baby brother being born, not fitting in at his new school, nearly failing sixth grade—and on top of it all, ADHD. His passion for cooking drives him to want to do better so he can go to an awesome cooking camp in the summer. When his big school project comes up, he sees it as an opportunity to pay for camp and prove to his dad that cooking is a worthwhile endeavor. But when Elliott’s so-called friends refuse to work with him, he ends up making an unexpected ally and convincing her that his cooking skills can get her an A.
Elliot is an instantly lovable character, and readers will be hooked from the very first chapter. McDunn provides an honest look into ADHD and normalizes male characters exploring their feelings through therapy, which is a refreshing take on navigating a complicated dad-son relationship. Middle graders will be able to see themselves as Elliot through his various interests and relationships. Those with ADHD may appreciate this reflective text as a glimpse inside the brain of a middle schooler with ADHD.
Button Pusher by Tyler Page
In this memoir, Page looks back on a childhood and adolescence marked by abuse and ADHD. Tyler is a good-hearted kid, but his attention wanders and he’s impulsive; he doesn’t understand why he does the things he does, causing problems in school. He explains, “My thoughts and actions don’t get through to my brain until it’s too late.” The family doctor prescribes Ritalin, which Tyler takes for the next eight years. As he grows, Tyler begins to see some of his own behaviors in his father, whose mood shifts quickly and who is verbally and sometimes physically abusive; Tyler vows not to be like him. Tyler’s parents’ marriage is volatile, and though his mom almost leaves his dad, they don’t divorce till many years later. Before his junior year of high school, Tyler stops taking Ritalin (without consulting his doctor), but as he heads off to college, there’s foreshadowing about the challenges he will face with adult ADHD.
Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya
There’s a lot going on in Emilia Torres’s life. On the day her mom leaves town for a job interview, her dad gets home from a long deployment and something isn’t quite right with him. Abuela is trying to run her life, Emilia has an unusual type of ADHD, and, worst of all, a class assignment splits students down the middle and creates a rift between kids who have been friends for years. As difficult as it is for her to focus, can Emilia figure out how to placate her grandmother and help her dad heal while standing up against injustice? Cartaya excels at showing realistic tween drama—no explosions, jumping off cliffs, or magic fairies here. However, there’s a lot going on, and it may be as hard for younger readers to keep track of everything as it is for Emilia.
Focused by Alyson Gerber
Seventh grader Clea doesn’t know why she can’t seem to get her homework done on time or why she gets distracted and fails tests. Saying things she doesn’t mean is her normal, even when she wishes it wasn’t. She blurts out answers at chess club, ruining a live-action game, and then exposes her best friend’s family problems to everyone at school. When her parents take her to be tested for ADHD, she is angry and anxious but also hopeful. She doesn’t want to have ADHD, but she does want to feel like she has control over her actions. Clea’s signs of ADHD are realistic: the little things that distract her, impulse control issues, and poor management skills. Readers with and without ADHD will relate to Clea’s struggles in her school and social life as she strives to achieve the balance she needs to be successful.
March 20 was the start of the Iranian New Year season! Nowruz has been celebrated in Iran and the Persian diaspora for more than 3,000 years. Our “haft-seen” table in the library teaches kids what it’s all about.
Nowruz is the Iranian (or Persian) New Year celebration that happens in the spring. According to the Iranian calendar, it is the year 1401. The display we have in the library is a representation of the decorative table every Iranian family puts out at the new year. Each item has symbolic significance, as explained in the cards. Tables very from family to family, but there are always the same basic 7 items which, in the Persian language, all start with the letter “s.” The haft-seen table literally means “seven s’s.”
Students also did a craft project where they made a goldfish out of yarn and cardboard. Goldfish at the haft-seen table are symbols of life.
March Book Picks & Recommendations
Recently I spent a dream afternoon purchasing a large number of manga and graphic novels with a SPEF Grant awarded to the library this year. While I was shopping, I came across a few graphic novel titles that I think are worth mentioning for this month’s book recommendations.
But first, I’m often asked about whether or not graphic novels should be considered “real books.” The short answer is, absolutely. This excerpt from a 2020 Washington Post article written by children and teen services coordinator Karen MacPherson sums it up nicely:
As librarians, we see how so many kids readily connect to comics and how this connection to books is helping to create lifelong readers….We know that [graphic novels] are especially beneficial to struggling or reluctant readers, as well as English-language learners. These books also offer all readers a way to practice important reading skills such as building vocabulary, understanding a sequence of events, discerning the plot of a story and making inferences. And [they] give young readers training in visual literacy — helping them read and interpret images — an essential skill in our highly visual world.
So when letting your student choose their own books to read, don’t make the mistake of telling them to stay away from comics. You may be doing them a disservice!
Here are some graphic novels worth checking out:
Frizzy written by Claribel A. Ortega; illustrated by Rose Bousamra
A middle grade graphic novel about Marlene, a young girl who stops straightening her hair and embraces her natural curls.
Swim Team illustrated and written by Johnnie Christmas
Bree can’t wait for her first day at her new middle school, Enith Brigitha, home to the Mighty Manatees–until she’s stuck with the only elective that fits her schedule, the dreaded Swim 101. The thought of swimming makes Bree more than a little queasy, yet she’s forced to dive headfirst into one of her greatest fears. Lucky for her, Etta, an elderly occupant of her apartment building and former swim team captain, is willing to help.
Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Novel adapted by Ari Folman, illustrated by David Polonsky
The only graphic novelization of Anne Frank’s diary that has been authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation and that uses text from the diary–it will introduce a new generation of young readers to this classic of Holocaust literature.
Muhammad Najem, War Reporter written by Muhammad Najem & Nora Neus. Illustrated by Julie Robine
A teenage boy risks his life to tell the truth in this gripping graphic memoir by youth activist Muhammad Najem and CNN producer Nora Neus.
Himawari House by Harmony Becker
Living in a new country is no walk in the park as three young “foreigners” move to Japan and find a way to live together while learning the language.
February Book Picks & Recommendations
Welcome to the first of what is hopefully many months of Book Picks and Recommendations lovingly selected by me, your SPMS librarian Ms. Baranets.
I say lovingly because this month’s suggestions are all about what we love most about February – love. My aides and I put out a selection of books about love and romance earlier this month. At first I was reluctant to do so, knowing full well that I’d be isolating about 50% of our student population. (Sorry, but boys really don’t come asking if I can suggest any good steamy romances.) Sadly, I was right. But! I did get a surprisingly large group of girls standing around the table like office staff at the water cooler telling their friends which ones they’d read and chatting about which ones looked good. Several were checked out, so – success!
My suggestions for this month come straight from the School Library Journal’s booklist of “Short and Sweet Love Stories.” School Library Journal is a deeply respected source of library news and information, and my favorite place to go see what’s what in the school library world.
Kids can come up to the library and see if any of these titles are in our catalog. If they’re not here, buying them at our favorite local bookstore Vromans, or on the PTA’s ongoing Amazon Smile fundraising page is the best way to go.