There are tons of books I can’t wait to see in 2019. Every year, I love the steps publishing, especially small and independent publishers, take towards being more reflective of the reality of the current world we live in. We are not making near enough strides fast enough but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate the victories and the new additions to the market. In fact, celebrating these books, talking about them, sharing them in our professional networks and basically building word of mouth buzz (and SALES) for them helps ensure there can be MORE of the kind of titles we want to see: titles from marginalized creators reflecting the truth of the world and the truth of their experiences.

That’s why this week I have been so excited to be part of the campaign to get people excited for When Aidan Became A Big Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita. It’s a 2019 title from Lee & Low and this week I’ve been revealing illustration spreads from the book along with thoughts from Kyle about writing the book and his thoughts on the illustrations. It’s been a real joy to share these images and hear Kyle’s thoughts AND watch people get to find out about Aidan and it it on their radars. This is an (all too rare) picture book about a trans boy written by a trans author. It is also a joyful celebration of families, new siblings, and finding your community. It fills a lot of collection gaps and because of Kyle’s tender, immediate, realistic writing and Kaylani’s wonderful illustrations it’s also just a genuine joy. I can’t wait for everyone to have a chance to share this book and I especially can’t wait for trans boys to see themselves reflected so lovingly and truthfully in these pages.

Today I am going to share the cover !! and some thoughts from Kyle and Kaylani. If you want to see the other amazing illustrations I shared throughout the week, you can see them in this Twitter thread (unrolled here for easier reading) AND I have an extra special giveaway on Twitter thanks to Lee & Low – if you head over to my Twitter and retweet the cover and follow Kyle you have a chance to win one of three copies of When Aidan Became A Big Brother (US addresses only)

The release date for When Aidan Became A Big Brother has moved from May to June – the new release is June 4th so put it on your calendars now and add it on GoodReads!

Kyle’s thoughts:

When I first considered writing a picture book about a trans boy, I mostly thought about what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to use that old trope of being “trapped in the wrong body.” I didn’t want to talk about his body at all; trans people are more than our bodies. I also didn’t want him to deal with bullying or transphobia–not from family members, not from other kids. Our lives are more than just the experiences we have to survive. I wanted to focus on the joy of self-expression, the unconditional love families can provide, and the possibilities for change that trans people create in the world. As a librarian, a writer, and a transgender man, I hope that you make room for WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER on your bookshelf, because I’m sure that kids like him already have a place in your heart.”

Kaylani’s thoughts:

“I was really excited to illustrate WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER because it’s a fresh perspective on an underrepresented topic within kids lit. Kyle did an amazing job writing— I wanted the illustrations to seem sweet and charming like the manuscript. As a queer artist, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to illustrate such a special story!”

WOW I love everything about this cover. Look at Aidan’s awesome shirt and amazing hairstyle – look at how his parents are so fully supporting him, holding him up, and embracing him with love. You can feel the warmth and strength literally radiating off this cover – it’s a book full of family love just waiting to be on shelves all over the world!

I hope you’re as excited about this book as I am – and I hope you’ll start sharing word about it with all your colleagues. Join me over on Twitter for a chance to win a copy from Lee & Low and let’s keep this conversation going and growing so we can see more books like Aidan out there.

If you want to know a little more about Kyle and Kaylani, please check out their bios and visit/add them on social:

KYLE LUKOFF is the author of A Storytelling of Ravens, which Kirkus Reviews called “not to be missed” in a starred review. After a decade as a bookseller he now works as a school librarian New York City, and has been involved in trans communities since 2004.” You can find him online at www.kylelukoff.com, @Shekels_Library, and facebook.com/kylelukoffwrites.


KAYLANI JUANITA describes her mission as an artist as “supporting the stories of the underrepresented, and creating new ways for people to imagine themselves.” Her work has appeared at the Society of Illustrators and on the BBC website, as well as in her first picture book, Ta-Da!, written by Kathy Ellen Davis. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Look for her online at kaylanijuanita.com and @kaylanijuanita on Twitter and Instagram.


Banned Books Week: an interview with Meg Medina and a GIVEAWAY!

“What kids need and deserve is to feel respected – not just by their classmates, but also by teachers and school leaders who ought to have faith in young people’s ability to read, think, and decide.” – Meg Medina

Yesterday, I wrote a short review of Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and talked about a situation involving Meg  being uninvited from a middle school speaking engagement in Virginia because of the word ASS in the book’s title.  I wanted to know more about the situation, so I reached out to Meg.

I was so happy when Meg Medina agreed to answer a few questions about not only her work and her motivation, but her recent experience with being in the spotlight.

And then she sent back her incredible, thoughtful answers and I was beyond happy!

Below, you’ll find out a little bit more about Meg and her work, particularly the motivation for writing the wonderful Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.  There’s also more information about the situation in Virginia and some really insightful commentary.

Meg Medina

Meg Medina is a Cuban American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. Her work examines how cultures intersect through the eyes of young people, and she brings to audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and to the qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls. Her books are Milagros: Girl from Away; The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind; Tia Isa Wants a Car; and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. She is the 2012 winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award. When she is not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth and/or literacy. She lives with her extended family in Richmond, Virginia.















Where does it end? When we only allow kids to read books that offend absolutely no one and that offer up nothing that makes them reflect on the uncomfortable realities of their lives?  – Meg Medina

Tell us a little bit about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS.  What was the genesis of the book?

Meg Medina: YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is the story of 16-year-old Piddy Sanchez who finds herself the target of a school bully at her new high school. Bullying is the main event in the novel but we cross lots of terrain, like cultural identity, relationships between mothers and daughters, sexual relationships, relationships between students and teachers. I based the novel on a shard of truth from my experience with a school bully in junior high school. The impact of that experience was long lasting and awful. I lost my trust of others. My grades dropped, as I cut class and skipped school. And for a time, I experimented with risky people. It took years for me to feel better and get back on track.

At the National Coalition Against Censorship blog, they mentioned that you had been told that your book seemed to “address the inner city“.  I think many people can see this as a thinly veiled racist dog whistle.  What was your reaction to this element of the administration’s response?

MM: It was actually a quote to a reporter who covered the story. Neither the superintendent nor the principal spoke to me at all. http://www.richmondmagazine.com/blogs.php?blogID=3fa19738ea6e1cb340bfc8ee7b35d280

But, in any case, it was a stunner coming from a school superintendent.

Even if she were trying to point out that the novel was set in Queens, New York, it would be a silly reason to dismiss a book. The idea that a reader has nothing to learn from characters that are in different circumstances is ridiculous.

As for the alarming overtones: Kids aren’t bullies because they’re Latino or because they live in a city. Kids who dress in Northface jackets and drive nice cars — or who live in Cumberland County — can be just as awful.

Have there been any updates on the situation in Virginia?  What has happened since the story has become more widely known?  How has it impacted you?

MM: Well, my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with much-appreciated support. This included a post from Judy Blume who has been fighting censorship for decades now.

I’ve received invitations to places as far away as Alaska – and I’ll be part of an anti-bullying community event in Washington, DC next month where I will definitely say the title of my book. Also, I’m proud to say that Richmond City Library, Main Branch, is starting a teen book club this coming spring. YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is one of their first titles on the list.

The biggest impact, though, has been on my willingness to speak up. As a rule, I’m not a person who seeks out conflict. However, I’m now past just shaking my head and quietly “working around” people who feel justified in censoring books for young people – mine or anyone else’s. Where does it end? When we only allow kids to read books that offend absolutely no one and that offer up nothing that makes them reflect on the uncomfortable realities of their lives?

One of the things I love about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is how effectively you get across that bullying can start over seemingly nothing (Piddy doesn’t even know Yaqui) and then escalate into something that takes over the victim’s whole life.  Can you talk about the process of making the bullying feel so accurate intense? 

MM: Definitely, you can be bullied for the most ridiculous reason. In fact, bullying has very little to do with the victim. It’s mostly about power and about what the bully is trying to work out. The sad part, though, is that kids who get bullied often believe that there is something wrong with them, something that marks them as a loser. That’s where the hopelessness and shame begin.

When I drew Piddy as a character, I drew a normal kid with brains and average looks and people who loved her. She could be anybody. There’s nothing about Piddy that’s “wrong.”

Yaqui was tricky; you could write an entire novel about a girl like that, couldn’t you? But I wanted to tell Piddy’s story, not Yaqui’s. So, as I fleshed out Yaqui, I worked on revealing her only through Piddy’s experience and perceptions. Yaqui started out as a sentence, something that didn’t worry Piddy very much at all. But as each chapter unfolded and as Piddy’s self-confidence eroded, the idea of Yaqui seeped into every part of Piddy’s being until it was all consuming. That overpowering dread felt the most realistic to me.

What lessons about bullying do YOU want young readers, be they bullied, bullies, or bystanders, to take from this YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS? What about the messages for adults who work with or are involved with teenagers?

MM: Researchers will tell you that the reasons for bullying are varied and complicated, and they may be right. But at the core, I think kids savage each other mostly because they want to ease their own insecurities, rage and despair – and because no one has stopped them from doing so.

I don’t know that I have lessons in mind, and I certainly don’t offer easy solutions. What I do have is a story that might help a reader feel less lonely and one that might open honest dialogue in a classroom, a library or at a kitchen table.

I wish adults would stop wringing their hands about the wrong things – like whether it’s okay to say, “ass” in front of 14 year olds. Conversations like that miss the point and cement adults’ reputation as being out of touch. What kids need and deserve is to feel respected – not just by their classmates, but also by teachers and school leaders who ought to have faith in young people’s ability to read, think, and decide.

I love your GIRLS OF SUMMER project as well as how all of your work apologetically concentrates strong female characters!  Why do you think this is so important in books for children and young adults? 

MM: Thanks. I love that project, too. Gigi Amateau and I pick 18 books for strong girls every year and then we spend the summer chatting with the authors of those books on our blog.  We include picture book all the way to YA to reflect the long and challenging journey of growing up a strong girl.

There are other fantastic lists (the Amelia Bloomer Prize, for one), but Girls of Summer reflects our personal favorites, the books we recommended to our own daughters and the newer titles we mention to the wonderful girls we meet every day. We’re picky about finding books about unconventional girls who choose their own path, girls who reflect on themselves and who learn to take charge of their fate.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on next?

MM: I have a picture book due out in 2015 called LORO MANGO (Candlewick Press).  And I’m just lifting off on a Young Adult manuscript for Candlewick Press. It’s also set in Queens, but this time we travel to 1977.  Oh, and heads up. I’m pretty sure someone will say “ass” in that one, too.

Thanks so much to Meg!  Not only did she agree to this interview, but Meg is giving away a signed paperback copy of her last YA novel The Girl Who Could Silence the Winda lovely, ethereal story about (you guessed it!) a strong girl finding her place in the world to one lucky reader.  And since I want to keep my pledge to stand up for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by getting it in as many hands as possible, I’m giving away a copy of that!  

Want to be entered to win these awesome books?  Leave a comment on this blog and I’ll choose a random winner! And since the point of  these blogs is to share this story and Meg’s experience as widely as possible?  You can earn an extra entry by sharing this on Twitter or Facebook.  Just link to your share in your comment and you’ll be entered twice

Let’s honor the battles of Banned Books Week by STILL talking about this; by saying it was wrong and, as Meg points out, symptomatic of a larger problem teens face.  Let’s have faith.  And let’s fight for it.


Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE: a review, an interview, a GIVEAWAY!


If I had to pick just one word to describe Laini Taylor’s startlingly original new novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone that word would be:  lush.

Lush in every definition of the word – full of sensory detail, a world that you can sink right into and be totally immersed.

If you follow YA lit, you’ve probably heard the buzz around Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  Besides the rapturous professional reviews (four starred reviews and counting) it currently has a perfect 5 star  “average customer review” on Amazon and 63% perfect 5 star review rate on GoodReads.  So, basically, what you’ve been hearing has probably been pretty damn positive.

But I’m here to tell you that whatever you’ve heard about Daughter of Smoke and Bone,  which was released here in the USA this Tuesday, no matter how glowing and positive it might have been, it just doesn’t do justice to the lush surreality, the almost painful beauty of this book.  I’ve never read anything like it, YA fiction or not, and it’s exciting that something this challenging, this haunting, this complicated is being published for young adults.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the story of Karou, a beautiful, mysterious art student who lives in Prague.  Karou has a secret, a secret even she doesn’t fully understand.  While she lives in our world, she also has a life in “elsewhere”, a world beyond our sight full of magic Karou doesn’t quite understand.  She runs errands, dangerous errands that span the globe, for a chimaera named Brimstone, a creature who raised her and just might know the secrets that Karou longs for, namely who she is. When Karou and Akvia, a beautiful creature with wings, meet and engage in a bloody fight in Marrakesh, it’s the beginning of Karou’s story unfolding and changing in a way she couldn’t predict.  Karou is about to discover the truth about the world she thinks she’s always understood and find out who she really is.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a violent, passionate, complicated novel.  When I gave to 16 year old Xian, one of my most avid readers and reviewers,  I told her, “This one is unlike anything you’ve read before.”  She rolled her eyes and smiled.  The next day, already in the middle of the book, she came back to tell me, wonder in her voice, “This is like nothing I’ve read before.”

What works best about this book is that sense of wonder, the way Karou and her world spring off the page: full of sensory detail and an ominous, precarious sense of something wrong – something hidden lurking just around the corner.  When Taylor unravels the plot of just what’s hidden (and why!) you can’t help but marvel at the brutal perfection of it, to gasp at everything you haven’t known about the story.  It’s stunning and shocking and terribly perfect and unfair and wonderful, all at once.  It’s the kind of plot reveal that makes you go back and read the whole book over again, so you can revel in the details and spot even more the second time around.

So, yeah, you’re reading another YA book about demons and angels and star-crossed lovers … but with Taylor’s masterful use of form and craft, with all the twists that squeeze your heart until you think it might burst, with every complicated moral question that sends your head spinning, with every passage you want to read out-loud just so you can savor the way the words feel on your tongue: you’ve never read anything like this before.

Since this post is part of the official blog tour for Daughter of Smoke and Bone, now YOU have a chance to win your very own copy!  Little & Brown is giving away one finished copy to a US resident.  (Thanks, LBYR, you’re the best!) All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog no later than Friday October 7 and I’ll choose one random winner.

If you want more info about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Little & Brown and Laini have an amazing online presence for the book, from book trailers to excerpts and more.  Check it out at the following places (the official website is pretty much the best ever):

If you want other chances to win a copy or to just read more of Laini’s awesome Q&A (there’s great questions and, OMFG, sketches of Karou!) please visit the other blogs that are part of the tour: Presenting Lenore, The Story Siren, Books Complete Me, and (as of Friday) The Compulsive Reader.
Being part of the official tour also means I got to ask Laini some questions about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which was really the most exciting part of all.  She gave awesome, intriguing answers.  You must, must, must read her responses!

Laini Taylor Interview

ME: From the beginning, I was struck with what a great feminist text this is!  There are such strongly realized the female characters in this book.  Karou and Zuzana have a great friendship full of support for each other and Karou, herself, is fully-formed, assertive, curious, and determined.  It’s sometimes hard to find such fully realized female friendships and characters in fantasies or paranormal titles.  Did you specifically approach writing this relationship and writing Karou with this in mind?

LT: Well, I knew I wanted to have a strong character and that she would be a girl. Before any considerations of theme or ideas, I’m always thinking of story first, and relatability, and wish-fulfillment. I want to write stories that readers will want to climb inside of and live in, characters that people will want to inhabit for a time. I have spent some time trying to figure out what it is that does that, what creates that magic, but I’m not sure I could articulate it. Mainly, I am targeting myself as a reader and hoping that if I write the book that *I* want to live in, that others will too.

Karou has a lot of fantastical qualities. In so many ways, she’s who I wish I could have been as a teenager: talented, resourceful, quirky, unique, mysterious, tough, and oh yeah, beautiful. But she’s also nice, and she’s a little dark, a little sad. She has the same longing to be loved that any girl has, the conflicting impulses: to be strong and independent, but also to seek love and acceptance from possibly undeserving boys. I hope that in spite of her fantasy elements, she has a true emotional core.

Where Zuzana comes into things is, on the one hand, a practical matter. A main character must have someone to talk to, someone to reveal to. Dialogue and interaction are the lifeblood of a book. Zuzana stands in for the reader in discovering Karou’s secrets. But she’s more than a device, of course. She’s a lifeline for Karou.

Having just one good friend can get a person through a terrible time, and Zuzana is Karou’s one good friend. She was so much fun to write. Some characters immediately take over, and she was one of them. And when I go back to her, even to write a tweet for her (@rabidfairy; Karou is @bluekarou) she comes back instantly. It makes me love her, she feels so real and immediate to me.

ME: You and your husband Jim Di Bartolo are both artists and your last title Lips Touch, Three Times had illustrations by Jim.  In this book, Karou herself is an art student who is constantly sketching the world around her.  Did you consider including some of her fantastical illustrations or did you want to leave that more to your reader’s imagination?  Did you make character sketches to help you with the design and, in my perfect dreamworld, is there a chance we might get to see them someday?

LT: Ha ha! I did originally imagine this book looking like Karou’s sketchbook, embellished with some of the art that’s mentioned in the text. I think that would be amazing, but I do also think there’s a lot to be said for leaving the visualizing entirely up to the reader. I’m always so bummed when a cover image depicts a character in a way I don’t agree with. It can affect the reading experience profoundly. So I was happy that the cover is obscure. As for interior art, it would be so fun to work with Jim to create some of Karou’s sketchbook some day, in some capacity.

ME: Without giving away too many spoilers, it’s safe to say chimaeras are a big part of this story!  I was struck with what a resonant metaphor this is for adolescence, which not only makes the plot stronger but really makes this story especially relevant and interesting to teen readers.  Did you think about those connections while you were writing?  Was there something in particular that drew you to writing about chimaeras?

LT: Hm. I think you’d have to tell me what you mean about the adolescence metaphor. It wasn’t conscious. I don’t tend to think of those things consciously while writing, but I am always fascinated to find them “in the lint trap” after the fact! I learn a lot about myself by what sorts of themes recur in my writing.

Why chimaera?

They’re visually intriguing, they’re not vampires or werewolves (not that I don’t love vampires or werewolves), and they stand in well for “devils.” I have a fascination for world folklore, and I love playing with the notion that it could be based on real sightings. This has cropped up in my other books too. In my Dreamdark books, djinn feature prominently, but they aren’t what humans think they are. The idea is that humans see just enough to get the story all wrong. In the case of chimaera, sightings throughout history could conceivably account for all devil and monster lore—even gods and goddesses. Issa’s tribe, the Naja, could have been the inspiration for serpent goddesses that are fairly prevalent in mythology.

And because they defy our standards of beauty, chimaera would naturally be classed as evil, while beautiful angels would be presumed good and godly.

But really, everything in the book is an outgrowth of one freewrite. Giving myself permission to write anything at all just for fun, what emerged was a scene in which a blue-haired teenage girl argued with her monstrous father figure. Brimstone came into being that day, ram horns and all, and all the chimaera grew from him.

Thank you, Laini for such amazing answers! (and yes, the chimaera are a great metaphor for adolescence: Who am I?  How can I feel like so many things at once?  Why do I sometimes feel monstrous and sometimes feel beautiful, why am I a little bit of both all at the same time?  Good stuff!)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is highly recommended as a first purchase for all public and school libraries – it has HUGE appeal for a wide swath of readers: those looking for a new fantasy series to fall in love with, those who want something different than the same book they’ve read a hundred times, those who want to challenge themselves, and those who just love a good, old-fashioned, heart-stopping, star-crossed lovers love story.  This book will fly off your shelves and start discussion with your teens.  And, of course, it will leave you in agony for the next volume in the series.  As for me, I’m already counting down and, believe me, the minute you turn the last page … you will be too.