Jennifer Bruer Kitchel

Debut author Chris Baron steps into the arena of children’s literature with a beautiful novel-in-verse, All of Me. Baron takes on a number of difficult forms for middle grade reading—first-person narration, a theme of self-discovery, free-verse poems—but he does so with grace.

Ari Rosensweig has just moved to California from New York. That would be hard enough to deal with, but Ari is also bullied for being overweight, and his parents’ marriage is tenuous at best. Through the course of one summer between seventh and eighth grade, Ari makes a number of changes, most of which stem from his self-loathing and issues with body image. When Ari’s mother attempts to set him on the path of controlling his diet, he finds that it can lead to internal discoveries about himself as well as external changes in his appearance, but it can’t solve all of his problems.

Baron’s free-verse poetry is immediate and lyrical, allowing us access to Ari’s thoughts and feelings in a way that prose would not. Baron’s first-person narration allows the reader to experience Ari’s pain and revelations, both of which are balanced with moments of grace and beauty. All of Me is highly recommended for readers of all ages.

Debut author Chris Baron steps into the arena of children’s literature with a beautiful novel-in-verse, All of Me.

Joan He’s debut young adult novel, Descendant of the Crane, defies YA fantasy expectations. The story unveils a world with echoes of ancient Chinese dynasties, a plot driven by mystery and intrigue, a healthy dose of fantasy and characters that are reminiscent of heroes and villains found in fairy tales. He’s ability to weave all these cultural touchstones and pieces of inspiration into a coherent and compelling story speaks volumes about her skills and future as an author.

Descendant of the Crane opens as 17-year-old Princess Hesina of  Yan embarks on a mission to find the assassin who recently murdered her father. As difficult as that task alone would be, she must also convince the rest of the realm that he did not die of natural causes but was murdered. As Hesina tries to collect the evidence she needs to make her case, she must overcome even more obstacles: a mother who despises her, a kingdom on the brink of war and revelations that make her question everything.

A highly recommended read for fantasy fans, Descendant of the Crane is thrilling, but not in a nonstop-action kind of way. He builds her fantastical world and characters by methodically weaving and layering details until the reader is completely enthralled by and entangled in the story.

Descendant of the Crane opens as 17-year-old Princess Hesina of  Yan embarks on a mission to find the assassin who recently murdered her father. As difficult as that task alone would be, she must also convince the rest of the realm that he did not die of natural causes but was murdered. As Hesina tries to collect the evidence she needs to make her case, she must overcome even more obstacles: a mother who despises her, a kingdom on the brink of war and revelations that make her question everything.

As usual, award-winning author Gordon Korman’s latest book is a satisfying glimpse into the world of middle schoolers. In The Unteachables, Korman gives us a sort of pre-teen version of To Sir, with Love—a class full of misfit kids that the education system has given up on and the teacher that fights through his own disillusionment to become the mentor the students need.

After 30 years as a teacher, Zachary Kermit is burned out and ready for retirement. But the superintendent, Dr. Thaddeus, wants him out before he can draw a full pension, so he assigns Mr. Kermit the class called SCS-8, or the Self-Contained Special 8th-grade class. Known as the “Unteachables,” Dr. Thaddeus hopes they drive Mr. Kermit to quit before the year’s end. Mr. Kermit knows it’s going to be rough, but he figures he’ll just keep his head down and coast until May.

He is not surprised by the students. There is the slow worker, Parker Elias, social dweeb Mateo Hendrickson, anger-management challenged Aldo Braff, ex-athlete “Barnstorm” Armstrong, potential bully Elaine Okafor, sleep-deprived Rahim Barclay, and new student Kiana Roubini. Through many hilarious and touching escapades, Mr. Kermit figures out that what he really has is a group that just needs help, patience and the recognition that, really, they may be the most teachable of any class.

Written in chapters that explore the viewpoint of each character, The Unteachables is a heartwarming story about not giving up on yourself or others. Another home run for Korman for which all of us, adults and children alike, can cheer.

Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through 8th level Catholic school.

As usual, award-winning author Gordon Korman’s latest book is a satisfying glimpse into the world of middle schoolers. In The Unteachables, Korman gives us a sort of pre-teen version of To Sir, with Love—a class full of misfit kids that the education system has given up on and the teacher that fights through his own […]

Award-winning cartoonist Tillie Walden’s latest book, On a Sunbeam, is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and the heart. Originally a web comic, Walden’s sci-fi graphic novel amazes and inspires.

Mia is a young woman who joins a crew on a spaceship in a universe we’ve yet to discover. Mia and her new friends travel from place to place repairing visually fantastic architecture, but Mia hopes for a stop in a very specific destination: the forbidden part of the universe called the Staircase, where she hopes to find her lost love, Grace.

A rich, complex and detailed story, On a Sunbeam has some extraordinary revelations. Even knowing ahead of time that the story is a lesbian romance, I was still surprised when I realized that Walden’s futuristic universe is filled entirely with female-identifying characters (and at least one nonbinary character). Everyone has two mothers, and all their siblings are sisters. There is no discussion or explanation about this in the story—it just is how it is. This world allows Walden to present a love between two women as the norm. Love, loss, adventure and discovery of new worlds are free to take center stage, not the tired girl-love-in-a-straight-world trope.

This remarkable and compelling book, filled with stunning ink and color art, will keep readers entranced for a long time.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Award-winning cartoonist Tillie Walden’s latest book, On a Sunbeam, is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and the heart. Originally a web comic, Walden’s sci-fi graphic novel amazes and inspires.

It’s not too hard to sell a kid on some fast-paced science fiction a la Star Wars—even in book form—but to get a kid hooked on a novel that involves hard math and science, well that’s a different thing altogether. Award-winning author Christopher Edge has a knack for blending the world of science and fiction into what feels like a whole new genre. The Jamie Drake Equation is his second foray into this field, and it does not disappoint.

Preteen Jamie Drake is proud of his astronaut father, but the time his dad spends away on training and space missions is starting to wear on Jamie and his family. His dad’s latest mission, while exciting, is his most dangerous as he will venture out of the space station to launch signals into faraway galaxies. Jamie isn’t sure there is intelligent life beyond our planet until he accidentally downloads a message from a distant alien race to his phone. As his family starts to drift apart and his dad faces an unforeseen danger, Jamie finds it is up to him to learn what he can from the aliens and help bring his dad home.

Thrilling, smart and surprisingly poignant, The Jamie Drake Equation will leave young readers with a hunger to know more about the universe and our planet’s place in it. Highly recommended for readers of all ages.

Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through 8th level Catholic school.

It’s not too hard to sell a kid on some fast-paced science fiction a la Star Wars—even in book form—but to get a kid hooked on a novel that involves hard math and science, well that’s a different thing altogether. Award-winning author Christopher Edge has a knack for blending the world of science and fiction into what feels like a whole new genre. The Jamie Drake Equation is his second foray into this field, and it does not disappoint.

Laila Piedra is a senior in high school, facing down the final weeks before graduation, when everything in her life goes sideways. For years, she has enjoyed the encouragement of her creative writing teacher, Mr. Madison, who is the only person with whom she shares her sci-fi stories. Writing and being with her three best friends is the entirety of Laila’s world. She doesn’t cause problems and she’s never been on a date, much less in love. But Laila is (mostly) happy.

When Mr. Madison gets in an accident and is replaced by a prize-winning novelist, Laila isn’t prepared for the avalanche of changes. Readers will think they already know the trajectory of Laila’s path: new teacher helps protagonist become a better writer. The reader would be correct, but only to a point, as author Riley Redgate (Noteworthy) surprises us with a heart-wrenching twist.

Final Draft may be filled with the high school angst and self-discovery that’s expected of young adult novels, but the story is deliciously elevated by its emotional depth and Redgate’s snarky prose. With the book’s explorations of sex and some adult language, the publisher’s age recommendation of 13 and up may not be true for all, but Final Draft should be a must-have for high school libraries.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Laila Piedra is a senior in high school, facing down the final weeks before graduation, when everything in her life goes sideways. For years, she has enjoyed the encouragement of her creative writing teacher, Mr. Madison, who is the only person with whom she shares her sci-fi stories. Writing and being with her three best friends is the entirety of Laila’s world. She doesn’t cause problems and she’s never been on a date, much less in love. But Laila is (mostly) happy.

Each of King Henry VIII’s six wives were very different from each other, so what better way to tell their stories than with six different authors? Award-winning and bestselling young adult writers M.T. Anderson, Jennifer Donnelly, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Deborah Hopkinson, Linda Sue Park and Lisa Ann Sandell have joined forces to give the wives a distinctive voice of their own in this unique novel.

As Donnelly points out in a preface to Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry III Tell All, much has been written about Henry VIII, but the wives have often been reduced to caricatures. We know their lineage, how they came to be noticed by the king and how they ended, and several of their letters are extant, but how they truly felt is left to speculation. These writers have taken on the task of telling the queen’s stories “in their own words.” Though each a work of fiction, the stories are still based on historical research—which is listed in the bibliographic afterword. Anderson weaves his imagined thoughts of the king between the women’s stories and adds a final look at his heir, Queen Elizabeth.

The varying personalities of Henry’s wives can be felt palpably and deeply in this novel. The first-person voice lends an immediacy that allows the reader to connect with each woman. This also means that each wife is a sympathetic character —for who would portray themselves otherwise?—which may or may not be an accurate representation. Still, Fatal Throne is a fun read and great introduction to a turning point in English history.

 

Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through 8th level Catholic school.

Each of King Henry VIII’s six wives were very different from each other, so what better way to tell their stories than with six different authors? Award-winning and best-selling young adult writers M.T. Anderson, Jennifer Donnelly, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Deborah Hopkinson, Linda Sue Park and Lisa Ann Sandell have joined forces to give the wives a distinctive voice of their own in this unique novel.

Author Jane Yolen has won so many awards in so many genres that it is impossible to list them all in a succinct way. Her latest book, Mapping the Bones, will probably be added to her list of award-winning titles because it is just that good. It is also her 365th book, which means you can read a Yolen book each day of the year, and if Mapping the Bones is your first brush with the prolific author, it likely won’t be your last.

Loosely framed around the folk tale “Hansel and Gretel,” Mapping the Bones follows the story of Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old Jewish twins living in Poland during the Nazi invasion. The twins and their parents are first moved from their comfortable life in Łódź to a five-room apartment in the Jewish ghetto, and then make an escape attempt when they are scheduled to be sent to the concentration camps. The two children almost make it to the Russian border before they are caught and sent to one of the many child labor camps run by the Nazis during the war.

While the majority of this story is told in third person from Chaim’s perspective, the chapters are interspersed with first person “Gittel Remembers” passages, allowing the reader to experience the events through each twin. As to be expected, Yolen’s prose easily draws you in and her character building is impeccable. Like her award-winning The Devil’s Arithmetic and her other blend of fairy tale and Holocaust history, Briar Rose, this latest of her great books will become an essential addition to the genre.

Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through 8th level Catholic school.

Loosely framed around the folk tale “Hansel and Gretel,” Mapping the Bones follows the story of Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old Jewish twins living in Poland during the Nazi invasion.

For most Americans today, it’s hard to imagine a world without a library, but there was a time when libraries were scarce. Before the Works Progress Administration sent packhorse librarians to reach rural Appalachia in the 1930s, there was the bookmobile. The first of these was created by a Maryland librarian in 1905. Part library history and part biography, Sharlee Glenn’s Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile is an interesting look at a forgotten piece of America’s past.

Glenn’s book begins by looking closely at the life of Mary Lemist Titcomb, who was born in a time when career paths for women were limited. After a failed nursing career (she would get queasy), Titcomb heard of a new field of work called librarianship. Glenn traces Titcomb’s path to becoming the head of the Washington County Free Library in Maryland and highlights the literacy programs she founded.

In language easily understood by capable readers, Library on Wheels is both entertaining and informative. With original photographs and color prints from the era, the book feels like a scrapbook, which makes it fun to read. Don’t skip the final pages, which include an interesting author’s addendum, endnotes, select bibliography and an index.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

For most Americans today, it’s hard to imagine a world without a library, but there was a time when libraries were scarce. Before the Works Progress Administration sent packhorse librarians to reach rural Appalachia in the 1930s, there was the bookmobile. The first of these was created by a Maryland librarian in 1905. Part library history and part biography, Sharlee Glenn’s Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile is an interesting look at a forgotten piece of America’s past.

Award-winning children’s author Tracy Barrett, known for her retelling of Greek mythology stories and fairy tales, takes a turn in the world of fantasy with her latest book, Marabel and the Book of Fate. As with her other endeavors, Barrett ably gives the genre a good tweak and skewers traditional expectations.

Marabel and her twin, Marco, are royalty in the kingdom of Magikos, a place where the king is guided by the Book of Fate. The book “predicts” any major event that will alter the course of the kingdom, but it can be a little vague on the details. Everyone assumes, for example, that Marco, firstborn of the twins, is the Chosen One who is prophesized to save Magikos. When he is kidnapped by an evil aunt at the twins’ 13th birthday party, Marabel isn’t content to wait and see if Marco rescues himself as the Book says the Chosen One will do. Teaming up with her best friend, Ellie, and a sassy-mouthed unicorn named Floriano, Marabel decides to brave the Impassable Forest and rescue her brother.

Barrett weaves in modern references (getting through the “magic detector” at the door to the party is much like getting through airline security) and generally turns the fantasy world on its head. There is enough mystery and adventure to keep middle schoolers interested, but like many books for this age, what Marabel will discover about herself won’t be too much of a surprise to the audience.

Funny and exciting, Marabel and the Book of Fate is a hit.

 

Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through eighth-level Catholic school.

Award-winning children’s author Tracy Barrett, known for her retelling of Greek mythology stories and fairy tales, takes a turn in the world of fantasy with her latest book, Marabel and the Book of Fate. As with her other endeavors, Barrett ably gives the genre a good tweak and skewers traditional expectations.

Liana Liu’s second novel, Shadow Girl, is a coming-of-age tale wrapped in a ghost story. Mei’s father left home a couple of years before the book begins, and since then, she and her Chinese mother have struggled to make ends meet and keep her brother out of trouble. Now that Mei has graduated from high school, she’s making plans to earn money during the summer before attending the local city college in the fall.

After many years as a camp counselor and academic tutor, Mei gets a job tutoring a young girl named Ella Morison at her wealthy family’s summer house on Arrow Island. With room and board included along with generous pay, Mei is sure this is a great plan. When she gets to the island and meets Ella, Mei discovers the job may be harder than she anticipated. There is something wrong with the house and Ella’s family. Does Mei really see a ghost? Does Ella? What does the ghost want? While Mei tries to answer these supernatural questions, she also unravels her own complicated feelings about Ella’s stepbrother, Henry, her goals in life and who she really is.

Liu’s writing style is compelling, making Shadow Girl difficult to put down. Readers may find it strange that the main character’s name is mentioned only once, in the penultimate chapter, in Chinese. Regardless of this irritation, Shadow Girl is a darn good read.

 

Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through 8th level Catholic school.

This article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Liana Liu’s second novel, Shadow Girl, is a coming-of-age tale wrapped in a ghost story. Mei’s father left home a couple of years before the book begins, and since then, she and her Chinese mother have struggled to make ends meet and keep her brother out of trouble. Now that Mei has graduated from high school, she’s making plans to earn money during the summer before attending the local city college in the fall.

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