The Message of Your All White Booklist

“Well, they’re my favorites, I can’t help if I like what I like.”

Back in July, Grace Lin shared a picture from her local public library on Twitter. When I saw it, my heart sank. I felt a shock of embarrassed sadness. And then I just felt fucking mad.

First, imagine Grace Lin is your library patron! Grace Lin! She has a Newbery Honor Medal! She is a National Book Award finalist! She’s literally one of the most passionate and smartest people in children’s literature. And she’s your library patron!  And when she comes into your library and sees one of those classic library displays of BOOKS YOUR LIBRARIAN (the curator, the decider, the person you trust) LOVES she sees … White people. As far as the eye can see: White people. This has nothing to do, by the way, about an author thinking “they should be featuring MY books!” Because now imagine that this patron is not Grace Lin, a famous children’s book author and adult, but a child. Maybe a White child, maybe a child of color. They see that same group of books dominated by White stories and White authors and White experiences (the sole exception being Simm Taback’s beautiful retelling of the Yiddish folk song about clever Joseph, who lives in a vibrant Jewish community) and they are told, explicitly: these are the stories your librarian (the curator, the decider, the person you trust) loves. These are the stories they see. These are the stories they value.

This message couldn’t be any clearer, it couldn’t be any louder, and it couldn’t be any more damaging.

Michelle Martin wrote this great piece in Kirkus – Be An Accomplice. In it, Dr. Martin asks a question I think should be posed to all librarians: “If you stay current, you know about the We Need Diverse Books movement. But has it changed what you do from day to day?”  

My fellow White librarians, I am asking you to think about your messages. I am asking you to imagine a child of color standing in front of a display filled with historical fiction that completely erases people of color. I am asking you to imagine the messages a White child gets standing in front of this display: “My story is THE story, see?”

I see this happen time and time again and I bet each of you do too.  I know it still happens in schools and public libraries all over the country. I bet you have all had a heart sinking moment of looking at a curated list compiled by a professional colleague (with the best of intentions, of course) and seeing how few books by Native creators and creators of color are on it.

For me, this sinking feeling came every year when they released the New Mexico Battle of the Books list. This is a state wide competition that encourages kids to read from a list of 20 titles, memorize details, and then compete in a quiz bowl like competition. It’s assembled by a small group of (almost entirely) school librarians and, without fail, it is a exceedingly White list. I have tried a variety of things to change this including made plenty of other nominations and specifically requested more diversity. But the White list – featuring the same small handful of Native creators and creators of color – returns every year.

On their 2016-2017 list out of 40 books, only one was by an African-American author yet two were by a white woman writing about African-American characters. The elementary list had only one book by an author of color and one book by a Native writer and the middle school list had three books by people of color – including the only book on either list by a Latinx author. Considering the population of New Mexico is 48% Latinx as of 2015 this felt like an especially glaring oversight. Similarly, we have 10% Native population and 22 federally registered tribe, yet there was only one book by a Native author on either list. All together out of 40 books, the lists featured only 5 books by Native authors and authors of color.

This is simply unacceptable in the year 2017. Honestly. I can’t think of any other way to say it. You, as a librarian, are charged with being a gatekeeper. When you make lists like this one, when you make displays like the one in Lin’s library, you are not opening the gates to everyone. You are status quo’ing and, to be frank, you’re being lazy.

“But they’re my favorites! I can’t help that they’re my favorites! I should be able to read what I want!” 

Imagine a patron comes up to you and tells you that they just finished the last Harry Hole book by Jo Nesbø and they really want some more dark Scandinavian mysteries.

“Oh sorry,” you say to them. “I really only like cozy mysteries. Ones with cats or in tea shops. I just can’t get into that dark stuff. But I just finished a great series about a quilter, let me show you.”

Can you imagine that? No, probably not. Because even if that was true, you’d understand that your reading tastes weren’t supposed to dictate their request. This moment is not about if you like Scandinavian noir. It’s about more than just YOUR taste in books.

And this exact thing is what I’m asking when I ask you to consider the lists, the displays, the booktalks you present to patrons. It’s about more than just YOUR taste in books.

Moreover: “I don’t really read books ‘like that’ so I don’t have any favorites to include or booktalk or display!” is a fundamentally racist thing to say. What do you even mean “like that”? Do you think Native creators and creators of color only write or create ONE kind of book? And what kind of book, exactly, would you imagine that is?

You really only love mysteries? Great! Do you know Attica Locke? Lamar Giles? Marcie Rendon? The Clubhouse Mysteries? You really only love romances? Super! Do you know Alisha Rai? When Dimple Met RishiWhen the Moon Was Ours? Farrah Rochon? You really only love historical fiction? Amazing! Do you know Stacey Lee? Homegoing? Margarita Engle? Tim Tingle? Shall I go on and on and on?

When you say “I don’t really read books ‘like that’ I stay in my favorite genre!” you should think carefully about what assumptions you’re making about work by Native creators and creators of color. It reveals that you think of “diverse books” as something remote, separate from “regular” books. And when you, as a librarian, as a gatekeeper, make these assumptions in your booklists, your displays, your selections – you’re passing them on to your patrons. You’re distancing and other’ing your Native patrons and patrons of color and you are sending the same message to your White patron.

I am not telling you what your “favorites” should be. I am not telling you YOU BETTER READ ____ OR ELSE! I am telling you that you owe it to your patrons to think bigger than just what you have always known, what you are most comfortable with, what you have always done.  Isn’t learning more and serving everyone a major part of what drew you to public librarianship as a career?  It certainly was for me. And I don’t take that lightly. I want to do the most for ALL my patrons and open their worlds up as much as I can. So for me, that means I’m going to make sure that my patrons are exposed to the widest range of authors and books – I am going to look BIGGER than the same White stories by the same White authors over and over. (the immediate family of an 11-13 year old White girl with a quirky name die in an accident, or maybe from cancer, and so she goes to live with her eccentric family, aunts or grandpas are best, and learns that this is her new home as she meets a loving cast of oddballs. They’re all mostly White, with a few people with “light brown” skin. I’ve read this book 10000 times. I’m so over this book.)

So, you’ve been there. You’ve looked at a booklist or a display that a colleague made – maybe that you made – and realized that you were leaving some voices and stories out, that it didn’t have the full range of experience and life that you wanted for your library and your patrons. You got that all White message.  What next?

Change it.  Change what you can, where you can.

My library stopped participating in the New Mexico Battle of the Books when my complaints (and suggestions) were met with a constant refusal to consider more and deeper diversity or to even address my concerns. Instead, I decided to create my own local program and get my school librarians on board.  It’s not perfect, heck it’s still an experiment in progress, but it’s a list that more accurately reflects the kids in our state, a list that isn’t the same tiny handful of Native creators/creators of color, a list that shows some of the best and most interesting writing in kidlit. I’m going to learn lessons as this goes. I am not going to have the same program I used to have. Some kids won’t be interested. But maybe some new ones will be. I am going to be OK with this new thing and know that at least it’s a step forward.

And I mean, come on. This is a pretty great list, right? 

Here’s a list I compiled for people signing up for our new 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program. I wanted to make them a list of books they might not have read 1000 times already (haha) or received ten copies of at their baby showers. I wanted to make a list for adults to share with kids that would allow them, together, to discover and explore the world through books. I chose high interest toddler topics (animals, trucks, counting, nature) and books about reading, writing, singing, playing, and talking. Some of these books could be considered my “favorites” but, really, they’re books I think a wide range of patrons can enjoy. Maybe even the books I don’t like as much, the books that aren’t my favorites can be someone else’s favorites.

Whenever I have a chance to share books with my patrons, with my fellow educators and librarians, I look with a critical eye at those lists, those displays, and those chances to be a gatekeeper, a trusted voice.  I think about who I am sharing mirrors and doors with and I think about all the chances I have to change a life, to help a patron feel seen, to open a new door, to help someone discover a new favorite. I am going to think about more than just me. Because that, too, is why I became a librarian.

My fellow White librarians: I challenge you to challenge yourselves. Take a hard look at your daily library service and think about what messages you’re sending – and which you are sending by virtue of omission.

We can change the message. Let’s do it.

Additional Reading

Performative Allyship and Storytime by Alec Chunn
Selecting While White: Breaking Out of the Vendor Box by Chelsea Couillard-Smith
Multicultural Children’s Literature: Where Are We? by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop

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10 Books You Can’t Miss in 2015

Where does the time go?  Can it possibly already be the twilight of 2014?  I have lots of posts planned – and even some started – but the chaos of December sneaked up on me while my back was turned.  BUT I promised myself I would try to post at least once a month no matter what and if I managed to keep that promise during SUMMER READING I sure couldn’t break it now.  Frantic for an interesting idea I could put together in not a ton of time, my lovely and dear friend Amy suggested a post of titles I’m looking forward to in 2015. Now, since I love talking about what I’m reading and lately I’m reading SO MANY upcoming titles I realized this was a perfect idea to get OTHERS reading them, talking about them, and getting them on their own radars. As Hans Landa would say: THAT’S A BINGO!

One (happy) disclaimer: you’ll notice there are no titles on the list that contain queer themes.  This is because in January, I will begin serving a 2 year term on the Stonewall Book Awards Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children & Young Adult’s Book Award Committee.  This has seriously been one of my life-long librarian goals and I am so excited to begin this work!  But it also means I can’t publicly discuss eligible material.

These will all (well, OK fine with one exception) be titles I have already read and loved.  Almost all of them I downloaded as digital galleys thanks to NetGalley or Edelweiss, which means YOU can go there and request them too!  Which you should!  Immediately! (thanks to all publishers who put electronic galleys up on these sites – it makes reading/reviewing so much easier.  Please continue to do this, especially making it available for us to read on an eReader device!) These aren’t full reviews, just a few sentences about why I think you should have this book on your TBR pile.  Mostly YA with a handful of other titles mixed in.  And, of course, I still have SO MUCH to read. (and I’m always up for suggestions, of course.)

So: with grateful, joyous thanks to anyone who read this blog during 2014 and a promise that I will keep sharing and writing in 2015 – onward to the list of titles you need to get on your 2015 radar NOW!

bonegap
Bone Gap
by Laura Ruby (out 3/15) I don’t even know where to begin with this one other than I have never read another YA book like this.  It is a dark, lyrical magical realism story about how women, in particular, learn that they are more than their faces.  It’s atmospheric, brilliantly structured, scary, romantic, and empowering.  I think teens are going to be drawn to everything different about this one. A tour de force.

rage

All the Rage by Courtney Summers (out 4/15) With no hyperbole: this book is going to become this generation’s Speak.  This is going to be the book that gets passed around from girl to girl, that gets pressed into hands with a whispered, “I know what this means.”  I’m not going to tell you this is an easy read, I’m not going to tell you it’s for everyone.  I am going to tell you that for some teens – this book will save their life.  And I mean it.

anna banana

Anna, Banana and the Friendship Split by Anica Mrose Rissi (out 5/15) Rissi begins a wonderful new early readers series in this story about two third grade best friends and their fight.  Transitional chapter book readers are one of the genres we get asked for the most at my library and everything about this book is going to be a hit with the kids: Anna’s warm, vulnerable, relatable voice, the small details that turn your third grade world, and even the sadness and anger that grown-ups often ignore in this age group.  And did I mention there’s a delightful multi-cultural cast?

cost

The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman (out 5/15) I HATE fictional worlds where there is no consequence to magic.  And that’s part of the reason I love this book so much: there are spells here, that will do big and huge things but they come at a very steep cost for everyone in involved.  How much would you exchange for the chance to forget pain?  To keep your friends close? What would you think about the person who could do this magic?  Fantastic world-building and amazing character voice make this one stand out.  One of the best read-alikes for The Curseworkers I’ve found – magic isn’t easy because life isn’t easy.

roller girl

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (out 3/15) It’s finally here!  The book you’ll give to your readers after they’ve read all your Raina Telgemeier books so many times they have them memorized and they NEED something new. A beautiful, funny, empowering middle grade look at finding your path and the inner strength to be your own weird self  with awesome, athletic girls and women everywhere … I mean, what’s not to love? This will NEVER be on the shelves. (PS: my boyfriend the roller derby ref read this in one sitting, laughing with the delight the whole way.  Two thumbs up from him!)

0714AR2The Whisper by Aaron Starmer (out 3/15) I promised myself I wasn’t going to include ANY sequels on this list because that’d be a whole other list. BUT Y’ALL.  This book is the sequel to The Riverman and if you haven’t read that you should immediately stop reading this and go get The Riverman, start reading, and let it give you wild dreams. These two books exemplify one of my favorite things: high middle grade. And, better still, they are the kind of books that feel just right for how weird and scary and ever-changing it is to be a kid … and then you read them as an adult and see they’re scary as HELL.  Seriously.  Go.  Get it now. (best read-alike I’ve ever found for Coraline.)

written

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (out 3/15) Another totally original voice and an experience unlike any I’ve ever had in YA.  THIS is what I’m talking about, people.  I loved that everyone in this book is a complicated character who doesn’t exist in shades of black and white, I love that another culture is given such breath, depth, and caring. I love that this is a book that will ask teens to look deeply into BIG questions. This book was wrenching and heart-fulling to read.  Nalia is the YA heroine we’ve been missing and I’m so glad the whole world will get to meet her soon.

twinkie

The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh (out 1/15) Such original, funny, sweet middle grade that the narrative complexity of the text and the emotional growth of the characters sort of sneaks up on you.  I LOVE this kind of writing, this kind of depth, and I think it’s the kind that really engages middle grade readers and starts getting them ready for YA.  Just wonderful.  And I LOVE the way Yeh handles and addresses class issues and non-traditional family structure, two more things we need to see LOTS more of.

painted sky

Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee (out 3/15) Everything I never knew I always wanted – that’s a lie, I always knew I wanted this.  I always knew that YA historical fiction was missing more complicated, exciting adventures for people of color and TA-DAH, Stacey Lee has given us just that.  This is another one that I think does a great job mixing readability (it’s a page turner) with literary merit. I yearned and dreamed and fought with these characters and I missed them when the book was over.  This is a fantastic debut that has SO MUCH going on – but it never feels like too much, Lee is THAT good.

And … the one I haven’t read yet but I am SO excited for that I think might actually pass out …

shadow

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (out 6/15) Magical powers in a city!  A female lead who makes art, fights evil, and wields ancient powers. EVIL GENTRIFYING ANTHROPOLOGISTS WHO CO-OPT CULTURES! Was this book made just for me?! I mean for the love of God, look at the cover.  Also, I love-love-love Older’s adult short fiction so I can’t wait to see what he has in store for YA.

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What fun!  I still had more books to talk about …. so you know that means I’ve just gotta do another one!  Now you tell me: which 2015 books should I put on my radar now?  Leave me a comment or talk to me on Twitter

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What To Read Next: Percy Jackson

If your patron base, ages 7-18, is anything like mine they are either on the giant reserve list for one of your library’s copies of The House of Hades or already dying to talk about every single detail with you.  If your patron base is like my patron base they are already fiend’ing for the next Rick Riordan book and their bleary-eyed parents are staring at you with wild-eyed desperation, asking, “Please.  Please something … anything … else.” (and this is a feeling I totally understand because, oh my, how I absolutely adore these amazing books.  Rick Riordan, thank you for making me feel 12 again and thank you for the wonder.)

And so, for every parent and librarian who has been asked that very thing, I bring you my What To Read Next guide for Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series.

This list is divided into a few categories for ease.  By and large, these recommendations are focused on Percy fans ages 8-15.  If you have older teens who love Percy there are even more read-alikes and, hey, maybe I’ll make an epic post of those too!  Meanwhile, some of these books may be a good fit, but I’ve matched my recommendations with the bulk of my Percy readers.  These are the titles I most frequently recommend and have the most success with.

Please feel free to share this list widely!  You can make displays, make brochures, and encourage all the “what next” fans in your life to give these books a shot. Let’s start with my favorites!

My Top Three Percy Jackson Read-Alikes

These are really great read-alikes that are also truly well-crafted, interesting, and engaging books that can gateway readers into whole new directions.  I’d love these four even *without* Percy and I bet most of your readers will too.

Savage Fortress

The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

Excuse me but did you say there is a slightly nerdy English-Indian boy who loves video games who turns out to be chosen to save the world from the rise of the Ravana, the demon king from Hindu mythology? YOU DID? And the HINDU GODDESS KALI IS ALSO THERE AND A BAD-ASS?  Really?  And there’s a sequel OUT TODAY that’s blurbed by Rick Riordan?! Can this be real life??!!  Love this series, love Ash, love the action, love the use of Indian mythology, love everything about this – a superb Percy read-alike featuring a POC lead.  Oh wow, true love.

shadow

The Cronus Chronicles: The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu

First in the The Cronus Chronicles this is the story of two cousins who save the world from a deranged demigod and discover that Greek gods are real.  There are adventures in the Underworld, angry Greek gods, and Prometheus too.  One thing great about this series is that the Olympians aren’t so kindly inclined to humankind – which changes the whole feel and pacing and gives our heroes new stakes and challenges. And, also, it’s written by the incomparable Anne Ursu so the prose and craft is beyond compare.

city fire

 City of Fire by Laurence Yep

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND RIGHT – BUY THIS SERIES! This series is criminally under-rated and it deserves a huge audience. First in the City Trilogy this is the book that proves if you’re as talented as Laurence Yep there is literally nothing you can’t do.  THIS is the book that shows the lie of “well, you can’t mix genres or mythologies and you probably shouldn’t write about other cultures if you’re not a member of that culture and god make sure it’s not historical, kids hate that and, and, and…” because this series does all that and it does it well and it’s wonderful and engaging and exciting and original and OMG IS PELE IN THIS?  AND THE SILK ROAD?  AND POLAR BEARS?  AND MAGICAL ARTIFACTS? AND A DRAGON IN DISGUISE WHO IS A PINKERTON AGENT?! (hyperventilates).  It’s an alternate-historical fantasy with magic and myths colliding and combining in all kinds of exciting and interesting ways.  There’s a ragtag crew who come together to discover their strengths and save the world.  These books are not just unbelievably well-crafted and radically creative but also reader-pleasing-whizz-bang page turners.  On so many levels, they are a perfect fit for your Percy fans and a great gateway for them to all kinds of other titles. Get these books for your library!  You’ll love them and, more importantly, your readers will love them!

OLDIES BUT GOODIES

The Chronicles of Pridyan and The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander

There is no writer who means more to me than Lloyd Alexander.  Many of his books are Percy read-alikes but surely the best fits are The Arkandians, his frothy Greek adventure involving the Oracle of Delphi and The Chronicles of Pyridan, which offer readers a glimpse at Welsh mythology.

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

I know,  you don’t want to think of this as an “oldie” but it came out seven years ago.  Set in 793 and using real historical events (Viking raids on Britain) these feature Jack, an 11 year old boy who discovers all the myths he’s grown up hearing are all true in this awesome trilogy featuring trolls, mermaids, elves, hobgoblins, dragons, and Norse gods and goddesses.

The Akhenaten Adventure by P.B. Kerr

A seven book series began in 2004, this  is about two twins who discover they’re actually descended from a long line of djinns with magical powers.  Throughout the series they learn about their powers and the responsibilities and tasks of djinns throughout history.  Their adventures take them through history and myth and everywhere from ancient Egypt to Bablyon.  This one is still popular at my library and Percy fans like the magical powers, the wacky adult mentors, and, of course, the myth and legend elements.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers

With their connection to Egypt and Ancient Egyptian mythology, the Theodosia series (four books) now has extra appeal for Riordan fans.  The first title was published five years ago (before author LaFevers broke into the YA world with the epic His Fair Assassin series) and this is a fun series set in 1906 and featuring Theodosia Throckmorton – who has a dry sense of humor to match Percy’s and his same sense of daring bravery.  There’s Egyptian curses and artifacts, dark magic and spells, and plenty of secret societies and big  battles between good and evil.

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff

For older, more sophisticated readers – Sutcliff is a treasure.  Of her many books, this is a standout.  It’s a evocative, powerful retelling of The Odyssey, perfect for readers who want a realistic look at Ancient Greece.  And baby, if you can get a reader hooked on Rosemary Sutcliff – they’re set!

SOURCE MATERIAL

Riordan’s next series will be a retelling of the Greek myths and that’s sure to be a hit but in the meantime, I’ve had plenty of kids ask me for the “real” myths and the “true” stories.  This is definitely a subject they don’t mind digging into it.  (Riordan’s incorporation of even obscure myths/mythological figures encourages this, really)  So, it’s always good to have some of these on hand, especially when they have cool new covers.

The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles by Padraic Colum

One of the very first Newbery Honor books, this one focuses mainly on Jason and the Argonauts and dovetails perfectly with Percy’s adventures. The prose is a little GRAND but it was originally written for children, so it’s not as dense and obscure as other mythology titles.  It uses Jason as a frame story for lots of action and stories, which helps.

Tales of the Greek Heroes by Roger Lancelyn Green

Green is one of the first scholars to retell these myths in accessible ways.  Here’s what you really need to know about this: buy the 2009 Puffin Classics edition of this.  It has an intro from Rick Riordan.  Tell the kids that these are some stories Rick Riordan loved/read when HE was a kid.  This book will circ.

The Goddess GirlsHeroes in Training by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams

The gods/goddesses/characters from myth all attend middle school together.  Yes, really.   The Goddess Girls has 11 titles so far – with a super special – and more forthcoming.  Heroes in Training is four with more forthcoming. Both series are rarely, if ever, on our shelves.  I know, this might make the purists among you clutch your pearls, but kids love them. And the simpler text and glossy covers make these perfect for younger readers of the Percy series.

Treasury of Greek Mythology by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Christina Balit

A real treat for your visual learners, this lushly illustrated, oversized volume is another good intro to even the details of Greek myth. There’s a commitment to artistic style here that’s really engaging and an awesome connection to astronomy as well.  It’s simply gorgeous and perfect for Percy fans to sink right into and pour over and over and over and …

The Olympians by George O’Connor

I honestly don’t know if this graphic novel series is EVER on my shelves. There are five volumes so far (Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon with Aphrodite coming in December) and each one traces the exploits of the titular God.  The illustrations are top-notch, the stories are tightly paced but still full of detail.  This is a surefire hit for your graphic novel fans and even older readers will be pulled in by O’Connor’s design.

The Mighty 12: Superheroes of Greek Myth by Charles R. Smith, illustrated by P. Craig Russell

Perfect for even the youngest fans, this book features energetic poems about 12 Greek god, each accompanied by exciting, full color illustrations.  A quick read, of course, but an interesting way to approach it and good for kids looking for more visual engagement.

ANCIENT ADVENTURES & RETOLD TALES

These are stories that have elements of the Percy Jackson canon – either retold Greek legends or stories with similar action, adventure, and mood set in ancient times.  Retold tales are, of course, a staple of YA and Greek myth is no exception – so a lot of these stories might skew a little older, but that’s not all bad.  I’ve avoided many of the more romance-y/contemporary ones in favor of titles that might have a little more direct appeal to Percy fans.  You can match some of these with older readers – maybe even some that are looking for a gateway into YA.

King of Ithaka by Tracy Barnett

One of my favorite retellings, period.  This is the story of what it would be like to grow up as Odysseus’s son.  The outsider POV really lets you into the story of The Odyssey while also giving you a chance to see it in a totally new way.  Odysseus’s son, Telemachos, is a great character who is figuring out who HE is while living with the burden of myth and prophecy – just like Percy.

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline Cooney

A teen girl comes along for the ride when Helen runs off with Paris in this book that looks at the Trojan War and, of course, contains elements of The Iliad.  Again, I liked it because of the POV: the outsider/teen POV really works in making the story accessible.

The Stickman Odyssey by Christopher Ford

There are two volumes in this graphic novel series so far and I’ve already had to repurchase the first one because it was worn out from repeated use.  This is, as you might guess, a reinvented/retelling of The Odysessy using stickman figures.  Yes, it’s as silly as you imagine.  Yes, it doesn’t quite hew exactly to the original Homer.  But, boy, it is a hoot.  This one is sure to provoke giggles.

Snakehead by Ann Halam

A rip-roaring retelling of the myth of Perseus, Percy’s name sake and fellow demi-god, who is charged with cutting off Medusa’s head.  (and, as Riordan cleverly lets readers know, he’s the only hero to have a happy ending). Snakehead is quite good and I think it deserves a much a wider audience.  Perseus really develops/learns here as a character in the way he does in myth.  Andromeda is also a fully-realized character here, another big bonus.

Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver

First in a new series from the super talented Paver, this book is set during the Bronze Age and has lots of Percy hallmarks like magical animals, sea adventures, powerful magical artifacts, and a boy and girl duo who bicker/banter and find a way to work together.  Love this one and can’t wait to see where this series goes.

Quicksilver and Quiver by Stephanie Spinner

I am guessing there are only two of these because they didn’t sell, which is a shame because they’re both great. Quicksilver is about Hermes and Quiver is about Atalanta. What I like about these is that they aren’t just retellings – they’re also explorations of the myths/Gods in specific situations and from their own perspectives.

MYTHICAL ACTION IN THE HERE & NOW

And now the books with perhaps the most in common with the Percy series: mythical adventures from all kinds of cultures that crash into the life and destiny of contemporary kids.   This genre is certainly where we’ve seen the most expansion in publishing and they are often the easiest sells to your kids looking for read-alikes.

Loki’s Wolves by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr

From YA writers Kelly Armstrong and Melissa Marr, this is the first in a series about a group of kids wh0 all know they are descended from Norse gods (Norse mythology is where it’s at!) but are surprised to discover Ragnarok is coming and they’ve been chosen to stop it, this is a really great Percy read-alike for the group dynamics, the wisecracking, and the end-of-the-world action intensity.

The Secret of the the Sirens by Julia Golding

First in The Companions Quartet, this volume follows Connie as she discovers that not only do mythical creatures exist but that there’s a secret society dedicated to bonding with them and protecting them: Society for the Protection of Mythical Creatures.  Better still, Connie is the only universal companion and she has a great destiny.  This is a well-loved series at my library and I too LOVE it: true middle grade, wonderful, subtle messaging about the importance of protecting and enjoying the natural world around us, and tons of cool mythical creatures and adventures. YES.

The Colossus Rises by Peter Lerangis

A group of teens must save the world and their own lives by tracking down mystical artifacts contained in the seven wonders of the Ancient world.  This is not only from an already popular writer of The 39 Clues series but blurbed by Riordan, which makes it fly off my shelves with very little booktalking.  These circulate quite well at my library.

The Flame of Olympus by Kate O’Hearn

First in a trilogy, this British import is about a girl who discovers a Pegasus on the roof of her building and gets involved in the quest to return him to Olympus and save the the Gods. It’s blurbed by Rick Riordan, a surefire hit.

Middleworld by J&P Voelkel

In an adventure trilogy using Mayan and Central American myth and legend as the set-up, a teen boy must brave the Mayan world of the dead to save his parents and stop the Lords of the Dead from taking over our world.  This one has been popular with my Percy fans who want lots of action.

Now’s your turn! What Percy Jackson and Rick Riordan read-alikes have I missed?  What are some titles you recommend to your Percy fans?  What other types of titles in this (sub)genre would you like to see published?  How have you successfully interacted and booktalked with your Percy fans?

And if you liked this post/found it useful: what kind of read-alike or genre guides would you like to read next?

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“I Hadn’t Even Considered That!” or Why Librarians Matter

REJOICE, THE BLOG IS BACK FROM THE DEAD!!  (peeks around) I hope some people are actually still out there reading?  Hello?  Please forgive my absence, I hope some readers are still around!

ZOMG, has it really been over a month!?? I can’t believe it’s been this long between posts!  Getting back in the habit of regularly blogging has been harder than I expected!  (I kept a personal blog for years.) Part of me is still holding on to the idea that unless I have something really significant to say or to discuss in depth, I shouldn’t post.  I am working to overcome that though and trying to remember that saying something is the most important part!

Besides that, I was on blissful vacation from September 8th to September 21st, spending 11 glorious days in Toronto at the Toronto International Film Festival.  I saw 33 movies in 9 days and didn’t have a lot of energy or focus for blogging!

But! I’m going to make a post about some of the Canadian books I picked up and about the amazing promotional initiative Indigo, the Canadian version of Barnes & Noble/Borders, ran: The Teen Read Awards, where Canadian teenagers were invited to vote on their bookish favorites, like Best Hottie, Best All Time Favorite, and Best New Writer.  Just by voting, teenagers could win all sorts of prizes,  from movie tickets to eReaders and a trip to Toronto!  The voting promotion was everywhere in their bookstores and it all culminated in an awards ceremony/big party with live music, author appearances, and more prizes.  HOW AWESOME IS THIS?

In the meantime, this is something that has been in the back of my mind for a while . . .

Do you ever get not-at-work requests from your friends/family for reader’s advisory?  I get so many requests on Facebook from friends.  “I was wondering if you could make a list for me of books for my 12 year old niece/reluctant reader I tutor/9 year old niece/13 year old friend of my family who loves to read?”  I love these requests, of course, compiling these lists and is such a delight.

Of course, you start out any reader’s advisory by making sure you completely understand what the person wants.  As my newest round of this started, I asked my friend a question that I think should be standard in any reader’s advisory interview, particularly one where you can’t actually see the person you’re recommending books for.  The question?  “Should I be looking for books that feature characters of color?”

My friend’s delighted response?  “I hadn’t even considered that!  A Hispanic main character would be fantastic!” (my friend ended up buying Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez and Twelve by Lauren Myracle.  Do you know about the amazing Confetti Girl?  You should!)

I hadn’t even considered that!

But librarians have.  (Librarians should.)

Shortly after that, a teacher came into the library and asked me for books about Native Americans to read to her 3rd grade class.  “I’ve done the same books over and over,” she said wearily “can you recommend something new?”

Looking at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Jingle Dancer (illustrations by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu) and Joe Medicine Crow’s Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird (illustrations by Linda Martin) I could see her eyes light up.  “These are … different.” She said.

I had the chance to explain why it’s important to use books created by Native authors and illustrators and why they’re so different from the same books she’s always used.  She nodded the whole time, as if I was telling her something both new and that sounded familiar and right to her.  When she was checking the books out she told me, smiling, “I knew coming to ask you was the right idea!”

At the time, I just basked in the glow of a satisfying reference interview, that feeling you get when you know you’ve answered a patron’s question in the exact right way.  Later, though, I had time to consider the impact of these recommendations.  It started when I tweeted Cynthia Leitich Smith (you should follow her on Twitter already!) about this interaction.  She thanked me for recommending Jingle Dancer and then said “Expertise in an area like Native American #kidlit is yet another reason why librarians are so necessary to schools/communities!” which sent a thousand thoughts clicking in my brain.

Expertise.  I guess I wouldn’t have used that word, maybe not right away, but there it was and it suddenly made so much sense.

I started to think about all the students who would now be exposed to these titles through this teacher, the students who had maybe never heard a Native voice in their classrooms before.  I thought, too, of my friend buying a book for a young girl who would now see Spanish words, a culture of her own, reflected back in a book.

It’s our jobs to consider this, it’s our job to think about this impact.

It’s our job to be experts.

Or to at least try as hard as we fucking can.

To work at it, to be diligent about it, to consider it, to know that it matters.  It’s important to know books that feature characters of color, to think about the audiences that will read the books we recommend, to make sure our collections, services, and knowledge base are diverse wide-ranging and that we, as professionals, are prepared to use all of this to fulfill those oldest of library science laws: every reader his or her book and every book its reader.

None of this is lip service, because all of this matters.  We matter.

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