THE LOST GIRL by Anne Ursu – Blog Tour (with a giveaway!)

What do you call a group of girls?

A giggle?
A gossip?
What about …

a force.

I was so excited to be asked to be part of the blog tour for the new Anne Ursu book The Lost Girl (which comes out this 
Tuesday, February 12th) I mean first of all, it’s a new Anne Ursu book AT LAST. But more than that, I read The Lost Girl in one long, delirious sitting, completely enthralled and swept away by it. I was expecting a lot from this book and it more than delivered. I am so happy to be hyping this book – a book that pushes boundaries, that takes readers on a real AND magical journey, that asks big questions about magic and friendship and girlhood. It is absolutely gonna be one of my favorite books of 2019 and I can’t wait for kids to fall in love with it. So yes! I am definitely glad to be part of this blog tour. AND Walden Pond is kindly going to give away a copy to one lucky person. (USA only)

The Lost Girl is about twin sisters Iris and Lark who are facing fifth grade being put in different classrooms for the very first time. And Iris and Lark are not sure who they are without each other. As fifth grade looms, odd things begin to happen around their town and in their lives as the girls are pushed into unexpected and untested waters that force them to reconsider who they are and who they can be.

One of the things I love the most about this book is how it takes bits and pieces of familiar situations – the twins facing their first time separated, the woes of fitting into a new classroom, the awkwardness at trying to make a new social group outside of school, the dawning awareness your parents might actually think they know better than you do – and wraps them up in the way the world can sometimes seem magical when you least expect it. Maybe it’s birds or weird thrift stores or or remembering what it means to be sisters or finding friends in places you didn’t think you’d ever fit in. Maybe those things can be magic. Maybe that’s what magic is.

Author Anne Ursu

But the thing I love the absolute most about The Lost Girl – the thing I think is so important and earth-shaking is how much it cares about girls and their power. All my life I have been surrounded and uplifted and supported by groups of women and girls. I have always had women and girls cheering me on and cheering for me. I have been close friends with two women for thirty years, I’ve vacationed with another group of women for a decade.

And yet.

And yet so often our society tells girls, especially girls in middle and high school, that they need to be enemies to each other. That, in fact, it’s natural if they don’t get along or inevitable that they’ll stab each other in the back or they WILL be envious of each other and competitive towards one another.

As we reject the detestable phrase “boys will be boys” we should also set aside the corollary: “well, you know how girls are.”

First: the gender binary is an arbitrary social construct, it is garbage and should be smashed. There are more than just two genders and no “right” way to perform gender.

And there is ABSOLUTELY nothing true about the idea that girls need be natural enemies. And guess what? The Lost Girl knows that. Rarely have I read a middle grade book that is so full of ebullient, overwhelming power at the bonds of friendship between girls. “You can have this,” Anne Ursu says with this book. “You can have a squad, a flock, a crew, a pod, a TEAM. And there’s no reason to believe you must sabotage each other or work against each other. You are more than that lie.” The Lost Girl says to readers: together, we can be a force. And that’s a message so many of our kids deserve to hear.

The Lost Girl is something rare and special. It is enchanting and empowering – my favorite of all combinations. It’s a love letter to finding the people who will stick up for you and come for you and care about you, even when you barf in front of your entire class, even when you’re so awkward you think you’re made up only of edges and too sharp for everyone around you. I want to give this book to every kid I know, especially the ones who are searching for magic and searching for themselves, even if they can’t quite put that into words. I think you’ll want to share it with your students and your patrons too because there’s so much to talk about (did I mention it also has a delightfully creepy villain, a mysterious shop of wonders, plenty of plot twists that keep you turning pages, and crows with secrets that deliver shiny gifts?) and so much to love in this book. It is, of course, recommended as a first purchase for libraries and classrooms.

And if you want to a chance to win your very own copy, leave a comment (including a way to contact you) on this post by 2/17 for a chance to win a copy of The Lost Girl or request a copy from your local library or purchase one at your local indie bookstore! And please stop by all the other blogs/posts on this tour:

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 1: Teach Mentor Texts
MONDAY FEBRUARY 4: Maria’s Melange
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 5: A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 6: Bluestocking Thinking
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 8: Unleashing Readers
MONDAY FEBRUARY 11: Word Spelunker
TUESDAY FEBRUARY 12: Nerdy Book Club


Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann: a review and a GIVEAWAY!

Quick: how many books have you read where the main character has autism or autism spectrum disorder?

Now: how many of those books were written by an author who openly speaks about their own autism spectrum disorder?

For me, I realized that while I could come up with a few titles answering the former question, I couldn’t think of one answering the latter.  Then I was lucky enough to read the essay Lyn Miller-Lachmann wrote for Young Adult Review Network (YARN) talking about the origins of her book Rogue and her own experiences having Asperger’s Syndrome.  This is an amazing piece that helps really personalize what it feels like to have Asperger’s and looks at Miller-Lachmann’s decision to write a book featuring a character that also has this disorder.

rogueThat character is the unforgettable Kiara Thorton-Delgado, an eighth grader with Asperger’s who yearns for people to understand her and genuinely tries to connect with them. Rogue opens with Kiara determined that her new next door neighbor Chad, unlike all the other new kids who quickly reject her, will become and remain her friend.  But Chad is from a seriously troubled home, so her focus on becoming part of his world leads to more complicated situations that she originally bet on.  But Kiara is convinced this is her chance to have a friend and to belong.  Now, however, she’ll have to figure out what “being a friend” actually means and if she really is prepared for it.

This sounds like a trite premise, I know, but Miller-Lachmann takes the story to a thousand interesting and new places because of her deep understanding of Kiara.  Here’s the thing: I have just described to you a universal premise, a familiar story.  But when the character in this familiar story has Asperger’s, suddenly we are hearing a voice we have never heard before and seeing things we have not seen before.  It does not make this story less universal; instead, it turns Kiara’s struggles, complete with her Asperger’s, into something universal.  There’s something both epic and accessible about this, something that can’t be discounted.  This is why good writing about disability matters, this is why diversity in our characters counts – when the writing is as good as Miller-Lachmann’s is here it reminds us (and helps younger readers see) that characters with disability are part of universal stories too.

Kiara’s universal story is the heart and soul of Rogue.  Rogue wasn’t just a book I genuinely loved and enthusiastically recommend for advanced middle grade readers it was also a book I felt like (and this part is really important to me) I’d never read before.  It felt new, fresh, and challenging.

I adore the way Kiara learns to shine using her own set of strengths and abilities.  Kiara is often toting around a camera and filming things: she uses this as a way to cope with her Asperger’s but also discovers it can be a way to share her vision with people.  Rogue is the story of how Kiara tries to fit in and, more than that, it’s the story of how she figures out what “fitting in” really means and is really worth.  I love this.  I love that this is a story about finding “your people” by finding yourself and I love that this is also a story about accepting that “fitting in” might not be possible for everyone, not just because of disability, but because of their own personalities and beliefs.  This is BIG THOUGHT stuff for middle grade, which as most of you know, is the exact thing I think middle grade should be tackling.

Now for a bit about the title: Rogue, of course, has multiple meanings.  One of the main ones, however, is Kiara’s love for the superhero Rogue, a member of the X-Men.  Rogue, of course, is the mutant who cannot touch people because she saps their powers with contact.  Kiara finds real resonance in Rogue’s literal inability to connect and another thing I love about this book is that Miller-Lachmann takes this seriously.  I LOVE books that treat fandom as an important and maybe even life-saving element of people’s existence.  Yes – that’s what it can be like.  Not nerds, not haha how socially inept, but the joy of finding connection and recognition in a fictional world … Miller-Lachmann completely nails how that’s special, how that can mean so much.  Kiara knows it, knows the way she feels about Rogue, knows what it means to see herself in her.

Though Kiara is an eighth grader, Rogue is definitely on the higher end of middle-grade and actually acts as a good bridge read to young adult fiction.  I highly recommend it for grades 6-9  and particularly for readers who are drawn to stories of outsiders.  There are some really intense topics covered in the book (Kiara’s fractured family and, especially, Chad’s familial situation) and Miller-Lachmann is honest and frank about Kiara’s anger and her struggles, complete with setbacks and outbursts.  Kiara isn’t always the most likable character and yet you, as a reader, are still drawn to her.  You want to know more about her story and, well, you’re rooting for her.  You feel the universality in Kiara’s story and yet you know her personally.  That’s what makes her story fly and that’s what makes her story stick.

Thanks to Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s awesome kindness, you have a chance to win an autographed copy of Rogue! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post by Tuesday, July 2 and I’ll choose a random winner.  If you don’t win, Rogue is on sale now. If you can’t buy a copy, check one out from your local library.  If they don’t have it, request they add it to their collection.

(NOTE: I reviewed this title from an ARC Lyn sent me and I volunteered to host this giveaway on my site because I loved it so much.  A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Lyn at ALA at a super-cool YALSA event for small publishers.  She was there promoting her amazing book Gringolandia, which is STILL on my Best Books for High School Readers list.  Talk about an original, daring, and insightful young adult titles – Gringolandia is all that and more. If you haven’t read it, go get it right now!)


The Center of Everything by Linda Urban Tween Tuesday

center of everything“The hole is what lets it change.”

What a moment it is – the moment of recognition, the moment when you feel like someone has seen you.  For me, this moment of connection sends an almost physical jolt through me.  One of the things I loved the most about Linda Urban’s artfully crafted, painfully beautiful book The Center of Everything is how accurately it captures that moment of recognition and belonging. There is a moment when our main character, the unforgettable Ruby Pepperdine, is surrounded on both sides both physically and mentally by the love and support of two friends and you, as the reader, feel as embraced as Ruby.  You are able to stop and listen even as you are reading.  I felt that jolt of recognition in this text in this wonderful moment and, maybe even better, I felt a jolt of pleasure too.

Why I Love This Book

Craft.  Craft.  Craft.  Craft.  This is, without a doubt, one of the most well-crafted children’s novels I’ve ever read.  Yes, but what does that mean?  For me, that means that everything in The Center of Everything is deliberate; that great thought and careful work has gone into weaving the story together so that it forms a unified, powerful  narrative, a story where all the threads come together in a way that is subtle and moving on several levels at once.  Craft, to me, means that this is a story that moves you without pushing you.  Craft is the way this story uses circles, math, and physics as a narrative device about learning and healing and the way the story simultaneously uses the simple, physical shape of a doughnut – the shape of, you guessed it, a circle – to represent connection and unity.  Craft is the way none of this SHOUTS at the reader, the way, instead, it just all fits together, works together, and makes each other element richer and more resonant.  Craft is the structure of sentences, the use of point of view, both of which are stylistically advanced.  And craft is the very artful way Urban chooses to make the chapters short and move the action in them between the present and recent past, thus making the reader feel the sting of pain and the breathless yet hopeful confusion that Ruby herself feels.   This is a well-crafted story and it shows on every page.  Young readers might not pick up on every one of these subtleties but that’s part of the  beauty of this craft – young readers don’t have to analyze it, they’ll just enjoy it and be completely enchanted by it.

The Center of Everything is very much Ruby Pepperdine’s story: the story of how she is dealing with grief in the wake of her grandmother’s death, the story of how she is navigating new and old friendships, and the story of how she’s trying to figure out what she believes in and why.  BUT The Center of Everything is *also* the story of a place, a very specific place, a small-town in New Hampshire called Bunning.  Bunning is a place where everyone knows your name, where there are acapella groups, amateur stargazing groups, and yearly essay contests about the town’s founder for schoolchildren.  Bunning is the type of town where you can have friends for your whole life and things like parades are whole-town-wide shebangs. Because of all this, Bunning is as much as character in this story as Ruby and the lessons she learns about loving and understanding your place are essential to her healing AND her sense of identity.  I live in a place like Bunning, so this was ESPECIALLY special to me (“That’s my town,” I wanted to shout over and over,) but I think you could live anywhere and still connect to Bunning and recognize it as as a fundamental element of this story’s success.

The Center of Everything is on sale now.  If you can’t buy a copy, check one out from your local library.  If they don’t have it, request they buy a copy.  I think The Center of Everything skews a little bit younger than some middle-grade books (Ruby has just turned 12) but I think it still has lots of appeal to more sophisticated readers because it is so well-written.  It reminded me of Gary Schmidt’s work: thoughtful and really emotionally moving.  I highly recommend this for readers aged 9-12 and, particularly, the readers you have (oh, you know the ones) who hunger for books that are more – the readers who want books that will jolt them with moments of recognition.

The Center of Everything made me cry.  It also made my heart flutter with happiness as I saw all the pieces of it come together with such deliberate plotting and, yes, such love.  The Center of Everything is a lovely piece of art for many reasons but perhaps most of all because it’s a book about how the hole, the thing you think is missing, can be the thing that not just turns your life inside out but also shows you everything strong, good, and kind in your world.

And in you.


Middle Grade Fiction – my plots and schemes

Welcome to anyone reading this who attended the New Mexico Library Association’s pre-conference on middle grade literature and library services this past Wednesday as presented by me and Ellie Simons!  I hope you enjoyed yourself and learned at least a few new things to try in your library. Let me apologize for the technical difficulties during my presentation.  Thanks for sticking it out with me through that bump!

If you’re looking for the entire Powerpoint presentation I did (I had to skip a few slides!) You can find it on my Programs/Presentation page or use this direct link.  Ellie will be uploading her presentation to Slideshare when she returns to work on Monday and I’ll add it to the  entry on the Programs/Presentation page, so please check back.  Or, of course, you can email either of us to have us send you something directly!

I realize the technical glitches might have hindered note-taking, boo, so if you have any immediate questions about any titles I talked about (i.e. you remember the description but didn’t get to write the title/author down) please leave a comment on this post or send me and email and I’ll give you the title/author you had in mind.

Now here’s the exciting update for those of you that DIDN’T make it to the pre-conference but just happen to be reading my blog!

In my time preparing for this pre-conference (I did the literature review) I read or reviewed close to 100 middle grade titles.  Most importantly, at least to me, I categorized them as well.  From “Scary Stuff” to “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Readalikes” to “Magic Realism” (and many others!) I worked hard to make these reader’s advisory lists sorted by genre and theme because, in my experience, that’s the most reliable and common kind of reader’s advisory. (do you have funny books…do you have mysteries…do you have sad books?)

And I loved sharing this work with the pre-conference attendees!  But I want to do MORE with it.  So …

Starting this Monday (4/22) I am going to turn these reader’s advisory lists into entries on my blog as part of my Middle Grade Mondays.

I know there’s already an awesome round-up called Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays and I definitely plan to link up with them most times, but this is also just something I want to do for my own sake. Every Monday (well, OK, I’m going to shoot for every Monday!) I’ll post a new themed list of middle grade titles.  There won’t be full reviews of every book, but I’ll post a blurb and short review of every one, including a note about why I’ve made it part of  this particular list.  And, like I did at the pre-conference, I’ll also occasionally include some reflections about trends and themes in middle grade as a whole.  Now, the lists won’t be every single thing I presented at the pre-conference – there might be more and there might be a few less – but I want to use that work as a launching point for this project.

I fell in love with middle grade over the course of researching this pre-conference – I think it has amazing diversity, a wide breath of genre and talent, and so many new and exciting voices.  I want to celebrate, promote, and share that here.  I’m excited to get the fun started.  I hope you’ll read along, make suggestions and share your own middle grade favorites, and maybe even start posting on your blogs about middle grade!


Oh, Canada! Great Canadian Reads

As most of you know, I LOVE CANADA.  Oh, how I love Canada.  (Canadian publishers and libraries looking for employees: hit me up.)   The past two years I have spent my annual long vacation in Toronto, attending the Toronto International Film Festival and wishing I lived there.  I spend a lot of time waiting in line, which is great reading time, and lots of time in-between movie screenings (I saw 34 movies in 9 days last year…hoping I can get to 40 in 10 days this year!) hanging around Canadian bookstores.  In this way, I’ve found some real treasures.

So, in this first YAY, CANADA! blog, I wanted to share some of the amazing middle grade titles I’ve found and really enjoyed, titles that I think will circulate like crazy with American patrons.  Upcoming YAY, CANADA blogs will look at young adult titles and take a look at one of the coolest initiatives I’ve ever seen: Indigo Books’ Teen Read Awards. (there are lessons, MANY LESSONS, I think YALSA’s Teen’s Top Ten could learn from Indigo’s initiative, though it’s been sadly suspended this year …)

I hope to regularly review and spotlight Canadian titles and authors (for all ages) and I eagerly solicit suggestions from my Canadian librarian friends and readers!  (two blogs and resources worth checking out: the fantastic librarians at CLASY: Canadian Libraries Are Serving Youth and Erin Walker, a Canadian YA librarian who blogs at Erin Explores YA)

I want to start with Prinny.  OH, PRINNY.  Where to begin with this almost perfect middle grade novel?  OK, I’ll just go with the part I liked the best.  It’s a novel where a character discovers strength and kinship in literature and, better still, that literature is a contemporary YA novel.  Yes, really.  I know there’s been some discussion about why don’t more characters in YA books read YA books?  It bothers me too.  That’s why this story, wherein a YA book helps Prinny find her voice and see herself, felt so true to me.  I’ve seen teenagers find themselves in books, the way Prinny does here, cling to them like lifelines, and I know that so has author Jill MacLean.  BETTER STILL is the novel that Prinny, a girl from a rural area in Newfoundland, connects to is Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade, a book that is about teenagers struggling with poverty in an urban inner-city.  But MacLean knows that when you see yourself in a work of  literature the way Prinny sees herself in Wolff’s text, you go beyond things as basic as setting and look and feel deeper.  This is great, great stuff!  In the course of the narrative, Prinny finds her voice through many avenues, but hearing LaVaughn’s voice is key.  This book covers several underrepresented in MG experiences: Prinny and her family are very much part of the working class poor.  Prinny is surprised by the existence of (you can buy books and have them mailed to you?) not because she’s stupid but because the concept of buying books for pleasure is completely foreign to her.  There’s also the believable friendship between Prinny and Travis (Travis is the main character in MacLean’s fine novel The Nine Lives of Travis Keating) which is a totally platonic friendship, based on the things they have in common (a love of nature and an interest in animals) and the way they are outsiders at their school.  AND there’s Prinny’s strained relationship with her mother, who is well-known in their small town as the town drunk.  Yet another outstanding (and utterly believable) element of the story is the way Prinny deals with this, painfully and awkwardly, filled with love and frustration.  The way Prinny and her father deal with the situation with her mother, the way their whole family learns to be honest with each other and try – it’s all very true.  I think by now it might sound like there’s too much happening in the narrative and it’s busy – but the opposite happens.  Everything ties together, everything works together to tell the story of a very real character coming into her own.  This is truly splendid book and, along with The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, it’s highly recommended for public and school libraries.  Give your patrons a chance to hear Prinny’s voice – I think that she’ll speak to them the way LaVaughn spoke to her.

Next are the two titles I think are probably best known in the USA, Susin Nielsen’s Word Nerd and Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom.  These are two of the best middle-grade/tween novels I have EVER read.  If you were looking for an example of what a middle grade/tween novel should read like, as a genre example, you couldn’t do better than these two books.   If you’re looking for more MG books?  Get these.  Right now!

Word Nerd is the story of a bullied 12 year old named Ambrose Bukowski.  Ambrose’s mother has begun to homeschool him after one incident of bullying too many.  Ambrose, in all his awkward glory, befriends the 25 year old son of his landlords, Cosmo.  Cosmo, like Ambrose, loves words and loves Scrabble.  The two form a Scrabble Club and a friendship … except Cosmo is an ex-con and Ambrose’s mother doesn’t approve.  I know, this sounds simplistic.  But Cosmo and Ambrose have such a great friendship.  Cosmo is a rarity in MG/teen fiction – a young-adult who has made mistakes but is trying to change his life.  Ambrose sees that and so do we.  It’s a funny, original book with a great protagonist.  (in my dreams, this is adapted into a movie with Jesse Eisenberg as Cosmo.  I need you to make this happen, Hollywood.) George Clooney is about Violet, whose father has left her, her little sister, and her mother in Vancouver while he heads off to LA with a new wife and kids.  Violet is tired of the losers her mom is dating and decides, obviously, the answer is to get George Clooney to marry her mother, so she no longer has to date guys like Dudley Weiner.  Like Word Nerd what works here is the mix of very specific humor (both these books are very funny and about kids who are, well, quirky) and an achingly accurate depiction of the struggles of being 12.

Nielsen is also particularly good at writing believable parental figures.  This is not to say they are beyond compare or perfect, but they are parents that are trying and sometimes, well, failing.  They keep trying though!  Ambrose and Violet’s mothers want what’s best for them, but Nielsen understands that figuring out what that is isn’t always easy.  I think the parent/kid relationship is even more important in middle grade than YA fic.  That’s not to say parents don’t need to be present in the YA narrative, but they take a different role in the middle grade novel.  I think the best middle grade novels are the ones that reflect this and manage to write believable parents who are believable adults too.  Nielsen does that not just with the parents but with the other adults, like Cosmo in Word Nerd. That adds to the authenticity of tween life, which is the overall hallmark of both of Nielsen’s books.  These are great, funny, special middle grade novels.  I can’t recommend them enough.

There you have it: four great middle grade novels from Canada … go out and get them, or request your library buy copies, today.  More Canadian goodness soon!