What YA Needs

Back in July, the #YANeedsMore hashtag turned my Twitter feed into a wish list of what librarians, readers, and book people wanted to see published for teens.  I’ve been thinking about it, and I want to add my own. YA needs more congenital disabilities.

Let me put it another way. YA does not need any more stories about tragic accidents or illnesses that affect the protagonists’ ability to do what they love most.  A few examples:

  • A runner loses a leg in The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.
  • A dancer loses a leg in A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatramen.
  • An artist loses her drawing arm in Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham.

I like all of these books and recommend them often, but I want to tell future YA writers: this story has been told.  Let’s tell a new story.  Some people have had physical differences our whole lives.  Perhaps that could be a story, and I can tell you from experience that story isn’t a tragic one.

Monday Morning Music with Dolly Parton

dumplin“All the best things in my life have started with a Dolly Parton song.”

So begins Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, which is easily one of the best teen novels this year, in my opinion.  Willowdean Dickson is a girl whose story is well worth being read.  Even if you (like me) don’t have any interest in beauty pageants, give this book a chance.

In honor of Dumplin’ now being available for purchase (and I do recommend you do purchase it), here is some Dolly.

If you like… Anne of Green Gables

anaofcaliforniaFirst of all, let me admit something: I didn’t read Anne of Green Gables until I was an adult, and I’ve never seen the beloved mini-series.  So I don’t have the connection to the story (or the crush on Gilbert Blythe) that many women of my generation do.  That said, I liked the book, and when I saw Ana of California by Andi Teran, which is being marketed as a modern retelling of Anne of Green Gables, I was intrigued.

I reviewed Ana of California for Margins Magazine. My review, in part:

“Look at the shelf of beloved books that mothers and daughters read together.  Anne of Green Gables. Betsy-Tacy. Ballet Shoes. The Secret Garden. Matilda. Harriet the Spy. Surely you notice what’s missing.

What would you change, if you could, about one of these books to make it more representative of your experience? What would you keep?

Andi Teran asked herself those questions about one of her childhood favorites, Anne of Green Gables.  There is a lot to love about the book.  Anne is a bold and spunky girl who makes things happen.  She has inspired many young girls to do the same over the years.  The book’s themes of family and belonging are still relevant today.  But it is all so gentle and sweet in a way that modern readers might find fantastic.  And the all-white world of the book doesn’t represent Teran’s Mexican-American heritage.”

So Teran created a new story that felt more true to her.  She kept pieces of the original material, and fans of Anne of Green Gables will have fun finding them and making the connections.  Will those long-time fans of Anne fall in love with Ana’s story in the same way as they did with the original?  Probably not.  But I expect they’ll find it fun and interesting, nonetheless.

Check out more of my reader’s advisory posts here.

This is not a love story

thisisnotalovestoryI’m not sure what I expected when I started reading Judy Brown‘s memoir, This is Not a Love Story.  Probably an expose on the level of her novel, Hush, which was about sexual abuse in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community.  Certainly I figured it would be some kind of tell-all since Brown has now left the ultra-orthodox community. What I found in the book was not either of those things.

It was a family story.  A sibling story. An autism story.  It was perhaps a love story after all, even if the title claims otherwise.  It certainly explores the love between mother and child as seen through the eyes of eight-year-old Judy.  Her mother refused to send Nachum away, no matter how difficult he was.  Even if that’s what ultra-Orthodox families usually did with special needs children.  She would not give up on one of her children.

The ultra-Orthodox community is always in the background of Brown’s story with Nachum’s autism diagnosis taking the leading role.  Young Judy worries that her brother’s issues will ruin her marriage prospects. She makes deals with God to make her brother normal.  The background details might be different for her, but the story is one that many families can relate to.  She said in an interview with Salon:

“When it came to autism, there were superstitions and things that God knows how many other mothers had to deal with. There are universal things that just go through it. What may be surprising to readers is to see so much of what they empathize with, the parts [in which] you can see a little bit of a reflection of yourself. You don’t expect that in this weird place. That’s the way it is.”

I think that’s the strength of the book. It brings you into the ultra-Orthodox world so completely that you stop thinking about the religious details, and you see the real story, the real people who live that life. For whom that life is normal.  The empathy you feel for each person in this book may surprise you, and that’s exactly why I am recommending this book to you.

I look forward to what Judy Brown writes next, no matter what it is about. I have a feeling she can make it real.

Read excerpts of This is Not a Love Story here and here.

You can also read more about Judy Brown’s experiences inside and outside the ultra-Orthodox world in this series of essays for the Forward.

Title Trends in Teen Fiction

One of the perks of the particular type of librarianing that I do is that I have access to lots and lots of advance reader copies (ARCs) at my office.  Recently I was scanning the titles of the teen fiction ARCs I had and noticing some trends.  Just for fun, here are some of my findings:

 Everything is big.

 It’s all about forever.

 Action words are hot.

 Secrets and lies are still in.


The truth is that I have been reading a lot of teen fiction lately, but I can’t blog, tweet, or anything about it because it is for an award committee which requires confidentiality.  So this is what blog readers get when it comes to teen fiction.  At least for a while. ;)

The Great Good Summer

greatgoodsummerThe Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon begins with God and ends with wonder, which may or may not be the same thing, I suppose, depending on how you decide to read this story.  In the middle, though, is a story of family, faith, and questions that will pull you in no matter where you stand on the God/not-God continuum.  At least it did for me.

For some people, religion means having answers and Truth with a capital T.  For others, that’s what science is for.  Most, I’d venture to say, are somewhere in the middle of those two poles.  I have long held that it’s the questions that are the interesting part, but everyone is different. For Ivy and the rest of her community in Loomer, Texas, church is a way of life.  Ivy has never thought of it any differently or questioned her faith at all until this summer.  Her mother has left with a preacher named Hallelujah Dave.

Her mother was as constant in Ivy’s life as God was, and her absence calls everything into question.  As Ivy starts looking at the world with questions rather than answers, she finds that not everything is as she thought.  Her favorite teacher, Mrs. Murray, has statues of Buddha in her home.  Ivy wonders as she looks at the statue, “Is there something holy or magic here that might help me find my mama, or even help me know if what I’m about to do is right or wrong?”  And she makes a new friend.  Paul Dobbs is the local “science kid,” and he makes it clear that he doesn’t believe in God.  At first he and Ivy butt heads over their differences, but he turns out to be one of the few people who will really listen to Ivy and try to help her.

One thing leads to another, and Ivy and Paul are off to find her mom and bring her back.  They are on the same side through thick and thin (despite some squabbles along the way).  When they set their sights on what was ahead, it didn’t seem to matter that they believed different things.  It wasn’t about that.

You might think that a book that begins with God and spends so much time talking about faith would be preachy, and with most books, I would say you’d be right.  But there’s something about Ivy that keeps the preachiness at bay in this story.  Maybe it’s her questions.  Or maybe it’s her sincerity.  I don’t really know.  Whatever the case, the story didn’t feel, to me, like it was trying to change my mind, and I appreciated that.

This story is not about changing minds.  It’s more about considering why people believe the things they do, why they sometimes question long-held beliefs, and what it means to listen to yourself.

In the end, Ivy seems to find a place where it’s okay if truth doesn’t have a capital T.  At one point she says, “My fingers find the little cross I wear on a chain around my neck.  It was Mama’s when she was a little girl, and it’s been mine since Daddy got her a new one.  I love it, even though the gold has worn off in places and you can see a sort of unshiny silver underneath.  Which I guess means it’s fake, but that doesn’t really matter much to me.”

I spent most of my life with a capital T Truth, so I related to a lot of Ivy’s experience of faith and questioning.  These days I identify as a Unitarian-Universalist, a religion in which truth is never capitalized and sometimes it’s in quotation marks.  So I appreciated Ivy’s feeling that it was what you do with ideas that mattered more so than what one believes or doesn’t.  That resonated with me a lot.

I could quibble with parts of the the story that I didn’t agree with, but I will leave those things be.  We won’t always agree with everyone or everything around us, and that’s okay.

When Ivy finally finds her mom and speaks her piece about feeling like her mother abandoned her, they are in a car.  Ivy listened to her mother’s explanation and apology. “I still don’t turn to look at her, but I listen.  I think Paul’s listening too.  I mean, really, what choice do we have?”

We’re all in this together.  If I can teach my daughter any one value, it is that.  We are all in this together.  We have to learn to listen to one another, to connect, and to move past our differences.  What choice do we have?


Punky Brewster was my hero


Here are five reasons that the eight year-old me loved Punky Brewster:

  • She could take care of herself. When the show began, she was living in an empty apartment on her own. She got what she needed, and she was making it.  On her own terms. She was living the dream.
  • Punky didn’t let anything get her down or anyone tell her what to do.  She never seemed afraid of anything. When you’re eight years-old, it doesn’t get better than that.
  • She dreamed big.  Punky’s dreams of being an astronaut were eye-opening to me.  The eight year-old me didn’t even know that was an option.
  • She made up her own name.  As eight, I hadn’t yet discovered a reason to be dissatisfied with my given name–I didn’t decide that Mindy was too juvenile for me until I was ten–but it was still beyond awesome to see a kid create her own name with pride.
  • punkyFor all Punky’s wild fashion choices, big dreams, and unusual family situation, she still lived a life I could imagine.  I grew up in a world where people lived in apartments and worried about rents going up just like Punky and her neighbors. I didn’t often see that world on television, and while I didn’t think too much about that back then, I definitely noticed it.

Unfortunately the show doesn’t quite stand the test of time.  Upon recent viewing of a few episodes, I have to agree with this article that Punky wasn’t the feminist ideal I thought I remembered.  There is an option, though, for those of us who loved the idea of Punky and want to introduce that nostalgic version of Punky to our kids. Joelle Sellner has turned Punky into a graphic novel with a few updates and changes that are enough to turn Punky and her story into one of empowerment.

I’m glad Punky’s back, and I’m really glad she’s better than ever.

How to take a road trip

arewethereyetiWe have just returned from our second road trip of the summer, and I offer you these bits of experience for any future car travel you might undertake, especially with a child.

  • The right music is key to a good road trip.  You want crowd pleasers and sing alongs for the ultimate road trip soundtrack.  The day we left happened to be a beautiful, sunny day.  Naturally, we listened to The Cure and Depeche Mode for the sing-along portion of the trip.  Later we threw in some Schoolhouse Rock for our daughter–well, maybe for us too. ;)
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to include an educational activity.  This is pretty much my motto in life for both myself and my daughter, and in this case I made a Road Trip Scavenger hunt that my daughter mostly just doodled all over.  Hey, I tried.
  • Stop to appreciate your current location when you can.  We were in a bit of a time crunch on this trip, so there were minimal stops.  We did, however, have lunch in Champaign-Urbana on our way home, which was really cool.  I hadn’t been back to my alma mater in years, and it was a neat, nostalgic side adventure.
  • If anyone in your party is prone to car sickness, stick with audio books.  On this trip, we listened to the first Harry Potter book.  My husband and daughter hadn’t read it yet or seen the movie, and it was fun to see them experience the beginning of the story for the first time.
  • For those little travelers who can read in the car, share Are We There, Yeti? by Ashlyn Anstee for a comical school bus trip that will charm readers and maybe make them forget they are stuck in a car for hours at a time.  It publishes later this month, but here is a preview:


Thursday 3: Dads in Picture Books

“Dads are so in,” Elissa Cedarleaf Dahl said in the latest episode of Pratfalls of Parenting.  I laughed when I heard that, but I think it’s true.  At least when it comes to picture books. Prove it, you say?  Here are a few new picture books that come to mind:



Dad’s First Day by Mike Wohnoutka is about a little boy’s first day of school.  The little boy is completely ready for school, but the dad isn’t quite there yet.  This is exactly how I felt when my daughter started preschool.  Very cute story for parents, especially dads.

Ask Me by Bernard Waber follows a father and daughter as they walk and talk on a fall day.  The little girl’s loquacious inquisitiveness will be familiar to many parents, and the lovely art by one of my favorite illustrators adds to the sweet father-daughter story.

Tad and Dad by David Ezra Stein is a bedtime book about a little tadpole and his very patient dad who just wants to sleep.  We’ve all been there, right?

Want more? Try these links:


Start with a book

I have been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be an ally to people of color or other marginalized groups.  I’ve been seeking out commentary about what someone like me can do to make the world a better place for everyone.  I don’t have all the answers, but I would like to amplify the words of children’s author/poet Nikki Grimes.  She writes:

“Instead of looking the other way while hatred takes root in young hearts and minds, why not try this: Plant the seeds of empathy. Teach the young to feel the heartbeats of races and cultures other than their own. Replace any possible fear of the unknown, with knowledge of the knowable. Teach them the ways in which we humans are more alike than we are different. Teach them that the most important common denominator is the human heart. Start with a book.

Give young readers books by and about peoples labeled ‘other.’ I’m not talking about one or two books, here and there. I’m talking about spreading diverse books throughout the curriculum, beginning in elementary grades, and continuing through to high school. Why? Because racism is systemic and teaching empathy, teaching diversity, needs to be systemic, too.”

I agree wholeheartedly.  Perhaps one of these books will be a good place for you to start:

marketstreet_bg onefamily iamtheworld

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, One Family by George Shannon, and I am the World by Charles R. Smith.

But don’t stop there.  Keep reading diverse stories and talking about them with kids.  We will change the world one story at a time.

Read More: