Stephanie Appell

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Breathtaking picture books, heartwarming chapter books and enthralling middle grade books await young readers—or anyone who enjoys a good story—in our list of most anticipated children’s books this fall.

Sam’s Super Seats by Keah Brown, illustrated by Sharee Miller
Kokila | August 23

Author Keah Brown created the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute to challenge widespread misperceptions and representations of disabled people, themes she also explored in The Pretty One, her essay collection for adult readers. In Sam’s Super Seats, her first picture book, Brown introduces Sam, a girl who has cerebral palsy, which means that sometimes she needs to sit down and rest. Engaging illustrations by Sharee Miller capture a fun shopping trip to the mall that Sam shares with her friends before the first day of school. Cheerful and conversational, Sam’s Super Seats is an intersectional addition to the back-to-school picture book canon.

Patchwork by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Putnam | August 30

In recent decades, the Newbery Medal has typically honored longer works of children’s literature, so author Matt de la Peña defied both convention and expectation by winning the 2016 Newbery for Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book that also earned illustrator Christian Robinson a Caldecott Honor. De la Peña has been on a hot streak ever since, publishing two more books with Robinson (Carmela Full of Wishes and Milo Imagines the World) as well as Love, which features art by Loren Long. 

In the meantime, illustrator Corinna Luyken has established a name for herself via thoughtful picture books, including the bestsellers My Heart and The Book of Mistakes, her 2017 debut, as well as through her work with writers such as Kate Hoefler (Nothing in Common) and Marcy Campbell (Something Good). Luyken and de la Peña’s first picture book together, Patchwork is a poetic ode to possibility that’s perfect for readers who love de la Peña’s lyricism and Luyken’s effortlessly impressionistic art.

A Taste of Magic by J. Elle
Bloomsbury | August 30

We don’t like to pat ourselves on the back too much, but we did highlight author J. Elle’s debut novel, a YA fantasy called Wings of Ebony, as one of our most anticipated books of 2021, and the book went on to become an instant bestseller and establish Elle as one of the most exciting new voices in YA. So we were thrilled when Elle’s first book for younger readers, A Taste of Magic, was announced. The story of a young witch named Kyana who enters a baking contest in the hopes of using the prize money to save her magical school, A Taste of Magic looks enchantingly scrumptious.

Magnolia Flower by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Loveis Wise
HarperCollins | September 6

Earlier this year, HarperCollins announced an ambitious new project: National Book Award-winning author and scholar Ibram X. Kendi would adapt six works by Zora Neale Hurston for young readers. Hurston is best known today as a novelist, but she also wrote short stories and collected folk tales as an anthropologist throughout the South. In this first volume, Kendi’s adaptation of one such short story is paired with vibrant illustrations by Loveis Wise, a rising star who has recently illustrated picture books by Ibi Zoboi (The People Remember) and Jeanne Walker Harvey (Ablaze With Color). We can’t think of two people more perfectly suited to bring Hurston’s work to a new generation of readers.

Spy School: Project X by Stuart Gibbs
Simon & Schuster | September 6

In the decade since middle grade author Stuart Gibbs published Spy School, a mystery novel about a boy named Ben who attends the CIA’s top secret Academy of Espionage, Gibbs has written nine more books in his Spy School series. What’s more, he’s also released books in four additional blockbuster series, publishing 14 titles across them. This year, Gibbs publishes his 10th Spy School novel, the opaquely titled Spy School: Project X, in which Ben will go head to head with his longtime nemesis. How is it possible, we ask, to create such consistently thrilling, entertaining reads at such a rapid pace while also getting the recommended eight hours of sleep every night? Our current working theory involves clones, but if Gibbs wants to enlighten us, he knows how to find us.

Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall
Little, Brown | September 13

In the 84-year history of the Caldecott Medal, only a handful of illustrators, including Barbara Cooney, David Wiesner, Leo and Diane Dillon and Robert McCloskey, have won multiple medals. Author-illustrator Sophie Blackall joined their rarified ranks in 2019 when she won her second medal for Hello Lighthouse. (She won her first in 2016 for Finding Winnie.) To create Farmhouse, Blackall incorporates mixed media into her illustrations as she tells a remarkably personal story about a family and their home. 

Odder by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Charles Santoso
Feiwel & Friends | September 20

Author Katherine Applegate has been turning kids into readers with fantastical stories filled with heart for more than two decades, and we’re fortunate that the 2013 Newbery Medalist shows no sign of slowing down. In order to know whether you’ll love this novel in verse about a young sea otter whose life is changed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, you really only need to look at the cover. Seriously, we dare you to attempt to resist its charms.

The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander
Little, Brown | September 27

Poet Kwame Alexander took the world of children’s literature by storm when he won the 2015 Newbery Medal for The Crossover, a novel in verse. Not content to rest on his laurels, Alexander won a Newbery Honor in 2020 for The Undefeated, a picture book for which illustrator Kadir Nelson also won the Caldecott Medal. The Door of No Return sees Alexander take another exciting, ambitious step forward, this time into historical fiction. The novel opens in West Africa in 1860 and follows a boy named Kofi who is swept up into the unstoppable current of history.

Meanwhile Back on Earth . . . by Oliver Jeffers
Philomel | October 4

Author-illustrator Oliver Jeffers is one of the most successful picture book creators working today. He’s sold more than 12 million copies of titles that include Stuck, The Heart and the Bottle and, of course, The Day the Crayons Quit, which features text by author Drew Daywalt paired with Jeffers’ unmistakable artwork. Meanwhile Back on Earth continues a theme Jeffers has been exploring since his 2017 book, Here We Are, portraying a parent introducing their children to some aspect of human existence. In this case, Jeffers addresses the long history of conflict among people.

A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
Balzer + Bray | October 4

If you loved Wall-E and Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot, or if looking at the recently released photographs from the James Webb Space Telescope filled you with awe and wonder, you won’t want to miss Jasmine Warga’s middle grade novel A Rover’s Story. Warga has a knack for plumbing the emotional depths of a story, so imbuing a Mars rover with humanity and heart seems like exactly the sort of new challenge we love to see authors take on.  

The Real Dada Mother Goose by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Julia Rothman
Candlewick | October 11

Author Jon Scieszka began his kidlit career with three postmodern picture books: The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!, illustrated by Lane Smith; The Frog Prince, Continued, illustrated by Steven Johnson; and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, another collaboration with Smith that earned a Caldecott Honor. In the three decades since, Scieszka has brought his signature humor to chapter books, middle grade novels and a memoir. He even served as the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. He comes full circle with The Real Dada Mother Goose, partnering with illustrator Julia Rothman to offer a new take on another beloved work of children’s literature, Blanche Fisher Wright’s The Real Mother Goose. We can practically hear the storytime giggles now.

I Don’t Care by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal
Neal Porter | October 11

Picture books illustrated by multiple illustrators aren’t unheard of, though in such cases, each illustrator typically works individually, creating separate images and giving each page a different look and feel. It’s much less common for illustrators to truly collaborate and create artwork together, as Caldecott Medalists Molly Idle and Juana Martinez-Neal did with I Don’t Care, a quirky ode to friendship with text by bestselling author Julie Fogliano. We hope their work inspires more collaborative picture books in the future.

Our Friend Hedgehog: A Place to Call Home by Lauren Castillo
Knopf | October 18

Caldecott Honor recipient Lauren Castillo published Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us in May 2020—little more than two years ago, and yet it feels like centuries have passed since then. Castillo completed our Meet the Author questionnaire in February of that year. “What message would you like to send to young readers?” we asked her. “Be brave,” she wrote, with no way of knowing how much bravery we were all about to need. In Our Friend Hedgehog: A Place to Call Home, Castillo returns at long last to the woodsy world of Hedgehog and her friends for more stories of adventure and friendship, and we can’t wait to join her there.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Orchard | October 18

Author Mac Barnett and illustrator Jon Klassen first collaborated in 2012. The result of that collaboration, Extra Yarn, won a Caldecott Honor. They’ve since created five more picture books together, including Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, which won another Caldecott Honor, and the Shapes trilogy (Triangle, Square and Circle), all featuring Barnett’s dry wit and Klassen’s deceptively simple art. The duo will enter ambitious new territory this fall as they launch a planned series of reenvisioned fairy tales, beginning with the Norwegian story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  

The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Joanna Cacao
Graphix | November 1

In 2021, Christina Soontornvat joined an exclusive club, becoming one of only a few authors to receive Newbery recognition for two different books in the same year. What’s more, Soontornvat’s two Newbery Honors were for two very different books, a fantasy novel (A Wish in the Dark) and a work of narrative nonfiction (All Thirteen). But Soontornvat has always had range, publishing fiction and nonfiction picture books and a chapter book series in addition to her middle grade titles. With The Tryout, Soontornvat takes on two more new categories in one book: graphic novels and memoir. Accompanied by illustrations from webcomic artist Joanna Cacao, Soontornvat tells a story drawn from her own middle school experiences that fans of Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Shannon Hale’s Real Friends will enjoy.

Discover all our most anticipated books of fall 2022.

Forget homework and after-school activities. Instead, make time to enjoy these upcoming children’s books.
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Blockbuster series conclude, while series openers launch gripping new stories. Classic tales are remixed and revisited, and original stories open our eyes to new possibilities. If there’s one thing we can say with certainty about fall’s most anticipated new YA books, it’s this: We guarantee you’ll never get bored.

Nothing More to Tell by Karen M. McManus
Delacorte | August 30

As of this writing, Karen M. McManus’ debut YA mystery, One of Us Is Lying, has spent 233 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s been adapted into a television series on Peacock (season two drops on October 22!) and firmly reawakened YA readers’ love for mysteries with loads of jaw-dropping twists and reveals. Nothing More to Tell sees McManus turn to a cold-case mystery, the death of a prep-school teacher whose body is discovered in the woods by three students—all of whom are hiding something.

The Final Gambit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Little, Brown | August 30

If a more clever mystery series than Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ Inheritance Games trilogy has hit shelves in the past five years, we’ll turn in our magnifying glasses and fake mustaches now. In addition to incredible writing chops, Barnes has a PhD from Yale and has studied psychology and cognitive science as a Fulbright Scholar at Cambridge University, and it shows on every page of these delicious novels. The Final Gambit finds series protagonist Avery facing one last puzzle before inheriting a fortune that will make her the wealthiest teenager on Earth.

Dead Flip by Sara Farizan
Algonquin | August 30

Did you inhale the fourth season of “Stranger Things” and still want more of its unique blend of horror, nostalgia and ride-or-die friendship? Then you won’t want to miss Lambda Literary Award-winning Sara Farizan’s fourth novel, Dead Flip. Farizan fast-forwards to the late 1980s to tell the story of three BFFs whose lives are changed forever when one of them disappears—then reappears, five years later in 1992, and doesn’t seem to have aged a day.

The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas
Feiwel & Friends | September 6

In the fall of 2020, YA author Aiden Thomas made history when his debut novel, Cemetery Boys, became the first work of fiction by a transgender author about a transgender protagonist to hit a New York Times bestseller list. Since then, Thomas’ star has only continued to rise, and this September, they’ll launch their first duology with The Sunbearer Trials. If you’ve been searching for a fantasy novel that combines a competition-based plot with Mexican mythology-inspired magic, look no further.

Self-Made Boys | Anna-Marie McLemore
Feiwel & Friends | September 6

Calling all lovers of retellings and remixes! We’re going to assume you already know about the Remixed Classics series, in which some of today’s best and brightest YA authors put their spin on English-class standards including Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. But you might not know that acclaimed YA author Anna-Marie McLemore is joining the series to tackle F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In McLemore’s vision, Nick Carraway becomes Nicolás Caraveo, a Latinx transgender boy whose cousin, Daisy Fabrega, has been passing as white among the wealthy residents of East Egg, New York. We can’t wait to see how McLemore will transform Fitzgerald’s dazzling Jazz Age tale.

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson
Katherine Tegen | September 6

Tiffany D. Jackson won the 2019 Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for New Talent for her second novel, Monday’s Not Coming, and she’s been delivering on its promise ever since. If there’s one thing Jackson fans have learned, it’s that Jackson has range. Take, for example, the three books she released in 2021: Blackout, created in collaboration with five other amazing writers, was an incomparable ode to summer love in New York City; White Smoke was a terrifying haunted-house horror novel; and Santa in the City was one of the sweetest additions to the Christmas picture book canon we’ve seen in years. With The Weight of Blood, Jackson returns to the horror genre to offer an updated take on Carrie set at a Georgia high school’s first racially integrated prom.

The Epic Story of Every Living Thing by Deb Caletti
Labyrinth Road | September 13

If you wear glasses, you might recall how, in the moments after you first put them on, everything suddenly became sharper and more in focus. That’s sort of what it’s like to pick up a Deb Caletti novel. Since her debut, The Queen of Everything (which will be 20 years old this year!), Caletti has steadily been publishing some of the best and most incisive contemporary YA fiction around and garnering plenty of acclaim, too, including a Michael L. Printz Honor and a National Book Award finalist. The Epic Story of Every Living Thing follows social media-obsessed Harper, who decides to track down the man whose sperm donation her mom used to conceive her—and learns that she has more than 40 half siblings.

The Ballad of Never After by Stephanie Garber
Flatiron | September 13

It’s hard to think of a bigger recent breakout success in YA fantasy than Stephanie Garber, who burst onto the scene in 2017 with her blockbuster novel, Caraval. After finishing her first trilogy, Garber showed no sign of slowing down, launching a companion series with 2021’s Once Upon a Broken Heart, another instant bestseller. Garber is now a proven expert at blending enchanting fantasy, swoonworthy romance and plots filled with intrigue and surprises, so we recommend blocking off a day or two when The Ballad of Never After releases, as we suspect reading it in one sitting will not be optional.

I’m the Girl by Courtney Summers
Wednesday | September 13

Are you still emotionally recovering from Courtney Summers’ 2018 breakout YA novel, Sadie, and its portrayal of the power of sisterhood in the face of the darkest aspects of patriarchy and misogyny? Then you may want to begin preparing now for I’m the Girl, a standalone thriller that sees Summers return to similar themes but turns the emotional turmoil up to 13. And yes, we know the emotional turmoil dial only goes to 10.

Bone Weaver by Aden Polydoros
Inkyard | September 20

Aden Polydoros’ 2021 traditional publishing debut, The City Beautiful, was one of the most rewarding surprises of last year. BookPage praised the novel, a supernatural murder mystery set against the backdrop of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, as “a gorgeous, disturbing, visceral and mystical experience.” In Bone Weaver, Polydoros shifts settings to a fantasy world inspired by early 20th century Russia to tell the story of three teens thrown together on the tides of history. We can’t wait to see where Polydoros’ imagination will take him next.

A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo
Dutton | October 4

Until 2021, YA author Malinda Lo was best known for genre fiction, especially Ash, her groundbreaking Sapphic reimagining of “Cinderella.” Then came Last Night at the Telegraph Club, which received so many awards (including the National Book Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature and a Michael L. Printz Honor) that their circular badges almost don’t fit on the book’s cover. A deeply researched work of historical fiction, Last Night at the Telegraph Club was the work of a writer who’d been honing her craft for more than a decade. Lo returns to shelves with A Scatter of Light, a companion novel set 60 years later, during the summer in which the Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage by overturning California’s Proposition Eight. 

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman
Scholastic | October 18

Netflix’s adaptation of “Heartstopper,” based on Alice Oseman’s web comic-turned-graphic novel series of the same name, received nearly universal acclaim and became a bona fide hit when it was released this spring. The feel-good series’ incredible success means that legions of new Oseman fans are eagerly awaiting the author’s next YA novel (and any “Heartstopper” Easter eggs it might contain). I Was Born for This follows Angel, a megafan of a popular new boy band, and Jimmy, the band’s leader, as their lives unexpectedly intersect.  

The Luminaries by Susan Dennard
Tor Teen | November 1

A new novel from beloved YA fantasy author Susan Dennard would be cause for celebration under any circumstances, but a new novel that will open a brand-new contemporary fantasy series that looks as unputdownable as The Luminaries? Let’s just say that we’ll be counting the days until the book’s November 1 publication date. Featuring one of the most memorable book covers of the fall, The Luminaries follows Winnie Wednesday, who is determined to restore her family’s place among the mysterious group that protects her hometown of Hemlock Falls from the monstrous creatures that dwell in the forest that surrounds the town.

Seasparrow by Kristin Cashore
Dutton | November 1

Nine years elapsed between the publication of Bitterblue, the third novel in Kristin Cashore’s bestselling Graceling Realm series, and Winterkeep, the series’ fourth book, so you’ll understand why Cashore fans’ joy might seem unusually effusive at the news that a fifth book, Seasparrow, will hit shelves after just a short 21-month wait. Of course, Cashore is a fantasy writer like no other, and we’d wait a lot longer than 21 months for a chance to return to the magical worlds and intricate stories that have become her hallmark. We don’t want to give too much away, so we’ll just say that Seasparrow picks up where Winterkeep left off and centers around a new character introduced in a previous novel. 

Whiteout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon
Quill Tree | November 8

Last summer, six powerhouse YA authors joined forces to create Blackout, a once-in-a-lifetime literary event that followed six interconnected love stories that all unfolded during a midsummer blackout in New York City. All six authors will return for Whiteout, which shifts the setting to Atlanta and the season to winter, with an unexpected blizzard serving as the plot engine. Readers whose ideal romance involves twinkling snowflakes and steaming mugs of cocoa will want to be sure to cozy up with Whiteout this winter. Just don’t forget your mittens!

Discover all our most anticipated books of fall 2022.

Fall’s biggest YA releases promise twists and turns, thrills and swoons.
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When Orthodox Jewish teen Hoodie Rosen sees a girl dancing on the sidewalk outside the window of his yeshiva classroom, he has no idea that the connection they’ll form will lead them to question everything they believe and change both of their lives forever.

Debut novelist Isaac Blum’s The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen might be the funniest YA book of the year, thanks to Hoodie’s often hilarious, deeply authentic narration. It’s also an unflinching portrait of how hate can take root in a community—with tragic results.

Blum spoke with BookPage about balancing humor with heartbreak and horror, and why his novel’s intense emotions will ring true for teen readers.

Tell us about Hoodie and Anna-Marie when we first meet them.
Yehuda “Hoodie” Rosen is goofy and sarcastic. He attends yeshiva, where he studies Jewish stuff plus “regular” school stuff. He doesn’t take much seriously. He hates zucchini.

Anna-Marie Diaz-O’Leary is a more “typical” teenager. She goes to the local public school and spends a lot of time thinking about boys. She practices different dances and makes TikTok videos with her friends. Compared to Hoodie, she’s serious, thoughtful and confident in her place in the world.

When the book starts, Hoodie has just moved to a new town, where his father is helping their Orthodox community build a high-rise apartment building to house more Orthodox families. Anna-Marie is mourning her father, who has recently passed away. She’s lived in Tregaron, Pennsylvania, all her life, and her mother is the mayor and hellbent on preventing the Orthodox community from growing in their town.

You do a great job of representing how neither Hoodie nor Anna-Marie see each other clearly, and yet they form what turns out to be a life-changing connection. What was challenging and what was fun about writing their relationship?
The difficult part was making their respective confusion feel true. I needed them to have very different understandings of their relationship, but for both of their perspectives to feel valid to the reader. That was challenging, and I asked myself over and over, “Will the reader buy what Hoodie’s thinking here? Will the reader understand why Anna-Marie thinks about this so differently?” I relied heavily on early readers to help me get that right.

“You’re going to deeply trust somebody who works hard to know you.”

The fun part was that once I got that balance where I wanted it, I could use Hoodie’s and Anna-Marie’s inability to read each other for some funny and surprising moments. I also think their initially crossed signals make the relationship they do create more meaningful, because they had to work to get there. It’s hard-earned. You’re going to deeply trust somebody who works hard to know you.

My list of favorite supporting characters in this book is not short. (The list is topped by Hoodie’s sisters Chana and Zippy and his friend Moshe Tzvi.) Who was your favorite supporting character to write?
You and I have the same top three. I’d probably even put them in that order, so that makes Chana my favorite. She was definitely the most fun to write.

The thing about Zippy and Moshe Tzvi is that they both have some heavy lifting to do in the book. Zippy has to help Hoodie come of age, show him that she’ll love him unconditionally and then cede the eldest sibling position to him. Moshe Tzvi has to be the studious foil to Hoodie’s slacker, and then he has to have his own coming-of-age arc, in which he grows into a place where he can disagree with his father about Hoodie’s place in the community.

Chana has no such responsibilities. She just stands up on the roof and throws soup at people. Writing her was just me sitting around thinking of silly pranks for her to pull.

Hoodie narrates from some unknown point in the future. It’s right there in the opening line: “Later, I tried to explain to Rabbi Moritz why it was ironic that my horrible crime was the thing that saved the whole community.” Was this perspective always part of the novel? Why did you employ it?
That perspective is there because of the opening line, or at least the first couple paragraphs. Before I’d outlined the novel at all, those first lines came into my head, and I wrote them like that, and I never changed them. But I like this narrative tool for a couple reasons:

It establishes tension and a bit of suspense right off the bat. Hoodie tells the reader that the events of the novel “humiliated him on a global scale,” “put him in the ICU” and “ruined his life.” Hopefully the reader wonders how all that went down and looks forward to reading about it.

That narrative device also lets the reader know that Hoodie makes it to the end of the novel alive and on good enough terms with Rabbi Moritz that Hoodie can try to explain the story’s ironies to him. I’m not categorically against having horrible things happen to my protagonist, but there’s enough grave stuff going on already in this book, and I didn’t see the need for the reader to worry about Hoodie’s fate.

“I think that being a high school teacher is a great job if you’re going to write YA.”

You’ve taught English at Orthodox schools. How did those experiences come into play as you worked on the novel? 
I think that being a high school teacher is a great job if you’re going to write YA. Whether you want to or not, as a teacher you learn a ton about your students’ worlds. And if you forget what it’s actually like to be a teenager, you’re reminded every day. In this case, if you happen to be writing a book from the point of view of an Orthodox yeshiva student, it certainly helps if you spend your days surrounded by Orthodox yeshiva students.

While the novel is not based on my students—I don’t think that would be fair to them—it’s certainly influenced by them: their struggles to balance modernity with tradition, their fears of antisemitism and the way the rest of the world sees them, and their humanity and sense of humor.

The novel itself was inspired by a real-life event, too. Can you tell us about that?
On December 10, 2019, there was a shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey. Two shooters opened fire on shoppers in a targeted antisemitic attack. It was one of a number of violent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions around that time, but this one in particular moved me. Within a week of the shooting, I started outlining the story of an Orthodox Jewish teen who finds himself caught in the middle of violent antisemitism—plus all of the normal things teens are caught in the middle of, like crises of identity, first love, etc.

The shooting at the market followed months of growing tension—in Jersey City and elsewhere—between long-established communities and a new influx of Orthodox Jews. I created my own long-established community, the fictional town of Tregaron, Pennsylvania, and put Hoodie at the center of his community’s move into the town.

What do you hope readers take away from Hoodie’s deep connections to his family and his community?
I have two answers to this question, one specific, one general:

In many mainstream depictions of Orthodox Judaism, the protagonist is depicted as oppressed by their own community. There are lots of “leaving narratives,” stories where the main character is fleeing the religion, leaving their family behind. And while any orthodoxy won’t be for everybody—Hoodie isn’t sure if it’s for him—a close-knit community like Hoodie’s has so much warmth and love to offer. I wanted to make sure readers saw the positive, supportive qualities of Hoodie’s community alongside the flaws.

“It’s totally cool to be furious with the people you love. While that’s a painful feeling, it can be a starting point for growth.”

The more general point is that all families and communities are like that: flawed. With the caveat that some family relationships aren’t reconcilable, I hope readers see Hoodie’s story as an argument that it’s worth finding ways to maintain connections to your family or community, even when you’re angry at them, even when they’ve wronged you. It’s totally cool to be furious with the people you love. While that’s a painful feeling, it can be a starting point for growth.

The novel swings very quickly between humor, contemplation and heartbreak. Why was this important to you? What was the key to getting these shifts right?
I think that’s the adolescent experience. Teens feel stuff really strongly. We all cycle through our moods and feelings, from humor to contemplation to heartbreak and back again. But I think teens cycle quicker, and they feel each one more intensely. And I think it’s important to show that those seemingly contradictory feelings are going to exist next to each other, that you can experience heartbreak with a sense of humor, or that you can ask yourself important life questions without being overwhelmed by the gravity of them.

The key to the shifts for me, honestly, was self-restraint. It’s my instinct, like it’s Hoodie’s, to turn everything into a quip or a joke, to deflect from the serious back to the humorous. So when I thought Hoodie should take a step back and ask a big question, or when I knew I had to write a heavy scene, I tried to rein in that side of me and let those moments breathe.

How did you make sure the humorous moments were actually funny?
I still have no idea if the humorous moments are actually funny. When you write a novel, you spend a lot of time with it, so it has to be something you want to read. I had fun writing goofy scenes. I enjoyed reading them later. I was amused by them. But it’s often hard to judge your own work, and of course you don’t know if the reader will share your sense of humor.

To that end, I have a critique partner—let’s call him Rob, because that’s his name—who functions as a kind of snark police. When I’m too self-indulgent with the goofiness, especially to the point where it distracts from the narrative, he berates me and forces me to trim the excess stuff that’s not funny, and I’m very grateful.

“Sometimes in the most horrific moments, levity really does help. You can take the world seriously, confront its horrors and still find time to laugh.”

This novel has some awful events. I’d like the humor to show that while existence contains innumerable ills, such as bigotry, hate crime and zucchini, it’s worth keeping your sense of humor. Sometimes in the most horrific moments, levity really does help. You can take the world seriously, confront its horrors and still find time to laugh.

Hoodie asks himself big questions about whether the life he thought he was supposed to want is the life he actually wants. What advice would you give teens asking themselves similar questions?
Oh man. I’m certain that I’m not qualified to give this advice. But here are two thoughts:

First, you can only be you. So once you figure out who that person is, just be that person. Hoodie finds a way to be himself and still be part of his community, but that’s not possible for everybody. And if you figure out who you are, and the people around you won’t accept that person, then the flaw is with them, not with you.

Second, lean on people you trust, people who will support you unconditionally. Find those people and let them help you.

Hoodie memorably waxes poetic about his love for Starburst, so I have to ask: What is your favorite Starburst flavor? What is your least favorite? What do you hope never becomes a Starburst flavor?
Most flavors should not be Starburst flavors. Starburst flavors should be limited to fruit. I tend to think of them in terms of color. Pink is my favorite. I assume pink is everyone’s favorite. I don’t understand why they make nonpink flavors. Yellow and orange are bad. Those are the ones you give away to your friends when you pretend to be a good sharer.

Read our review of ‘The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen.’

Author photo of Isaac Blum courtesy of Milton Lindsay.

The debut novelist explores faith, friendship and family in The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen.

Fifteen-year-old Yehuda “Hoodie” Rosen and his Orthodox Jewish family, along with many members of their community, have recently moved to Tregaron, Pennsylvania, because the cost of living in their previous town became too expensive. When Hoodie meets Anna-Marie Diaz-O’Leary, the daughter of Tregaron’s mayor, he’s instantly smitten. Yet after he and Anna-Marie are spotted cleaning some up antisemitic graffiti together, both Hoodie’s father and rabbi forbid him from seeing her again because she isn’t Jewish.

As Hoodie and Anna-Marie continue to secretly grow closer, tensions rise in Tregaron. Many residents oppose the high-rise that Hoodie’s father, a developer, wants to build in order to house more Orthodox families, and they express their opinions through verbal and physical antisemitic attacks. With so much at stake, Hoodie questions why his relationship with Anna-Marie is being so heavily scrutinized—and whether he even wants to be part of his Orthodox community anymore. 

The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen, Isaac Blum’s first book, is an earnest story about belonging, faith and the sometimes tragic consequences of failing to see other people as fully human. As Hoodie vacillates between embracing and doubting his faith, his narration is deeply, even startlingly hilarious, filled with irreverent observations that ring with teenage-boy authenticity. Blum also offers many slice-of-life scenes guaranteed to leave readers breathless with laughter, such as a yeshiva classroom discussion led by Rabbi Moritz about how to know whether the day has begun (the answer: “when there is enough light to distinguish between an ass and a wild ass”). The lesson devolves as Hoodie’s best friend ponders aloud whether the distinction is made by “a small but proud group, the ass rabbinate,” then asks the rabbi for his blessing to become “an ass student,” which Rabbi Moritz does not grant. 

Discover how Isaac Blum created the funniest YA narrator of the year.

Blum surrounds Hoodie with a cast of well-crafted characters, including his sisters, his yeshiva friends and Anna-Marie herself. Readers concerned that Anna-Marie initially feels shallowly drawn—and that Hoodie’s dreams of an everlasting romance with her are perhaps too idealistic—will be pleased by the transformation Blum successfully pulls off by the novel’s conclusion. 

Some readers may not find all of the novel’s rapid shifts between humor and seriousness to be flawless, though Hoodie’s recounting of a scene of brutal antisemitic violence near the novel’s end is word perfect. Overall, The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen marks Blum as an exciting new talent in realistic YA fiction.

Read our Q&A with ‘The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen’ author Isaac Blum.

Isaac Blum’s debut novel is an earnest and often deeply hilarious story about belonging, faith and the sometimes tragic consequences of failing to see other people as fully human.
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Sometimes our hearts can be so clueless. Neil Kearney finds this out the hard way when his friend-with-benefits catches feelings. Neil doesn’t reciprocate, so now he’s lost not only a steady hookup but also a date to his brother’s wedding.

The solution? Neil ropes his obnoxiously earnest, annoyingly hardworking, aggravatingly kind boarding school roommate, Wyatt Fowler, into pretending to be boyfriends for the weeklong nuptial festivities. Sure, Neil and Wyatt can hardly stand each other (Wyatt wears Crocs, for goodness sake!), but what’s the worst that can happen in a week?

Acclaimed author Mason Deaver’s third YA novel, The Feeling of Falling in Love, is a rom-com romp about finding love and yourself when you least expect it.

In the novel’s acknowledgments, you mention that it took years to crack this story. What turned out to be the key to unlocking it?
The book has been through so many iterations. It was originally a road trip novel in which Neil enlisted Wyatt to help him get revenge on a boy who cheated on him, and along the way, Neil and Wyatt would fall in love but deny their feelings. So, different, but not that different. Neil and Wyatt largely stayed the same since those original drafts, but I could never really figure out how to connect myself to that plot. And if I can’t do that, then I can’t write something; that’s just how my brain is. 

Then I watched My Best Friend’s Wedding at the suggestion of another writer-friend, and everything that I wasn’t getting clicked in an instant: a wedding instead of a road trip, fake dating while also actually falling in love slowly over the week, family drama. 

How would you describe Neil and Wyatt when we first meet them?
Neil and Wyatt start the book in very opposite places. Neil begins the book in (what I think he’d believe is) a time of contentment. He has friends, he has his thing with Josh, he’s away from his family. Wyatt really is the only thing that concerns him, simply because Wyatt is Wyatt. 

Wyatt, however, is frustrated, a fish out of water in a school full of people who make them feel unwelcome, away from their family when they’d love to be back home, doing double the work just to make sure they can maintain their place at a prestigious school they’d probably rather not be at. 

But as we move along to the wedding, Neil feels more unwelcome because of who his family is and how they treat him, and while Wyatt might not feel at home around Neil’s family, they’re able to handle the situation better than Neil. It’s a chance for Wyatt to understand where Neil is coming from and what he’s gone through, while Neil comes to understand how his actions have made Wyatt feel. 

I think that’s what makes them both perfect for each other: They’re missing what the other has, and they’re never afraid to challenge each other. 

“It’s a scary thing, asking someone to love you, and it’s never just once. Love is a risk you take every single day.”

The Feeling of Falling in Love has such great tropes, including a time-constrained plot, fake dating, a wedding and an enemies-to-lovers romance. What do you love about these tropes? 
This book has some of my favorite tropes, even ones you didn’t mention, like a grumpy/sunshine dynamic and a height difference. But enemies-to-lovers (or enemies-to-friends-to-lovers, rather) is an absolute favorite of mine. I love exploring just why these characters dislike each other—sometimes for valid reasons, other times for something shallow and silly—and watching as they slowly find common ground, a connection. 

What elements of the tropes did you want to preserve in this book versus what elements did you want to upend or subvert?
I wanted to subvert something you might not think of as a trope—but sometimes tropes can be a bad thing—which is the idea of a trans/cis romance. It’s so common in stories about a transgender person falling in love for them to find a relationship with a cisgender person. Even my own work includes it. Wyatt’s character was trying to tell me something about themselves I hadn’t cracked yet. And now the book gets to be a sweet romance between two trans teens, something even more rare than the trans rom-com.  

Neil’s reflection on his relationship to his body after gender-confirmation surgery is so powerful and complex. Why was it important to you to include these moments in the story?
Neil’s relationship to his body is a story that mirrors mine and many other trans people’s stories. There’s this idea that surgery is a magical fix for trans people, or that it’s this necessary party of transitioning, and that once you’ve gotten it, all your dysphoria vanishes—when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some trans people want surgery, and nothing can be more affirming. Others are fine with just having one surgery over the other. Some might not want surgery at all or even to undergo hormone replacement therapy. There’s no one singular way to be trans, and so long as you’re comfortable with where you are in your journey, nothing else has to matter. 

I very much wanted to explore how different trans experiences can be. Neil is at a place in his journey where he wanted top surgery but not bottom surgery, where he was offered the chance to cover his scars but decided they’re a point of pride for him. He’s very proud of his trans body, and he likes who he is, for the most part. 

“Neil and Wyatt rhyme with each other. They have what the other doesn’t, both literally and metaphorically.”

I also really love that you explore how deeply class differences impact how Neil and Wyatt have been perceiving each other. How did you craft this aspect of the novel, and what do you hope readers take from it?
On the surface, it was such an easy way to make Neil unlikable. He’s a spoiled rich kid with no regard for anyone but himself. He dresses in expensive brands, throws money at his problems and doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. I love characters like that, the irredeemable jerks you aren’t meant to like. 

But beyond the surface of Neil’s character, I wanted to explore this idea that money hasn’t really gotten him anywhere. He afforded the surgeries and his expensive school, but at the cost of any real connections in his life, both to his friends and to his family. 

Neil and Wyatt rhyme with each other. They have what the other doesn’t, both literally and metaphorically. Neil’s money would solve so many of Wyatt’s issues at home, allow their parents to take a break and pay off loans or buy new clothing. But Wyatt’s family have these rich connections with one another, and they’re an actual family who love and care for one another. So Neil has something Wyatt wants, and Wyatt has something that Neil wants. The two of them go together in that sense.  

There are two incredibly rich scenes in this book that both involve suits. What kinds of research did you do to create these scenes? Why are these scenes so meaningful for Neil and for Wyatt, and how did you create that richness of meaning?
Just as reaffirming as surgery can be, fashion for trans people is instrumental in our ability to represent ourselves. Sure, clothing has no gender and anyone should be able to wear whatever they want, but for trans people, that euphoria of searching through the men’s or women’s section can mean so much as we find cuts and styles that make us feel welcome in our bodies. 

I spent way too much time researching the brands in the book, even the ones that aren’t named, scoping their websites and using their catalogs to give Neil his knowledge and love of fashion. Neil loves the feeling of a suit and that euphoria it gives him to dress exactly how he feels, while Wyatt has never had access to these kinds of clothes before. Wyatt becomes uncomfortable when presented with clothes that could put groceries on his family’s dinner table, whereas Neil doesn’t bat an eye as he swipes his mother’s credit card without even asking Wyatt how he feels. 

The novel includes a number of what I’d call near kisses—moments when it seems like Neil and Wyatt are definitely going to kiss, but don’t. Be honest: Did you ever laugh an evil laugh while writing these?
Absolutely I evil laugh. I love these fake-out moments, these just misses. It adds so much to the characters, gives them so much to reflect on, these fleeting moments when something could’ve happened, but didn’t. 

“There’s still such a lack of romance stories centered on trans characters, on trans joy, trans happiness and trans characters finding love in both themselves and each other. It makes me sad that we don’t have more.”

Toward the end of the novel, a few different characters offer Neil some pretty similar pieces of advice. My favorite is when Neil’s cousin tells him, “Love is a risk, okay? Every single person in love takes a risk every single day of their lives.” What advice would you give someone who, like Neil, finds love absolutely terrifying?
That entire ending is a conversation with myself, I think. Being trans and wanting love are two things that always seem at odds with each other. Wanting a relationship with someone means outing myself and having that conversation, something that could potentially go very badly and end things. Or, possibly worse, they just don’t understand your identity. 

It’s a scary thing, asking someone to love you, and it’s never just once. Love is a risk you take every single day, and it’s never one of those things that gets less scary, you just learn how to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. 

That’s what Neil is struggling with: letting someone in who could possibly hurt him, letting someone see the uglier side of him, working on himself to keep this relationship alive. It’s the lesson he learns in the book, that love is a risk worth taking. 

I’m ending at the beginning: This book is dedicated to “every trans person who ever believed they were too complicated for a love story.” Why are stories of trans love and trans joy so important? 
I grew up never seeing stories about queer love. The first time I ever read a book where a queer character got a happy ending, got the boy and the kiss, was Becky Albertalli‘s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Steadily, year by year, we’ve been opening ourselves up to so many different stories by so many different kinds of writers, and it’s amazing to see. 

But there’s still such a lack of romance stories centered on trans characters, on trans joy, trans happiness and trans characters finding love in both themselves and each other. It makes me sad that we don’t have more. But that just means that we need to foster trans writers, uplift their work and convince them that their stories are worth being told and worth being put on shelves.

Read our starred review of ‘The Feeling of Falling in Love.’

Author photo of Mason Deaver courtesy of Mason Deaver.

Acclaimed author Mason Deaver's third YA novel, The Feeling of Falling in Love, is a rom-com romp about finding love and yourself when you least expect it.

In Allison Saft’s enchanting fantasy novel, A Far Wilder Magic, two young people are drawn together in pursuit of a mythical fox purported to hold alchemical power.

In Allison Saft’s enchanting fantasy novel, A Far Wilder Magic, two young people are drawn together in pursuit of a mythical fox purported to hold alchemical power.

Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes quartet is one of the most influential YA fantasy series of the past decade. In All My Rage, Tahir proves she’s just as skilled at contemporary realistic fiction.

All My Rage alternates between the perspectives of former best friends Salahudin and Noor. As the novel opens, both teens feel stuck in their small town of Juniper, which is surrounded by the Mojave Desert. Earlier in their senior year, Noor told Sal about the romantic feelings she’d been harboring for him, but Sal rejected her, and they haven’t spoken since.

Sal’s parents, Misbah and Toufiq, run a roadside motel that has seen better days. Misbah has been skipping treatments for her kidney disease, and Toufiq is drunk more than he’s sober. Noor’s uncle adopted her when she was 6, but he resents that raising her has meant deferring his own dream of becoming an engineer and wants her to take over running his liquor store when she graduates.

Noor’s been secretly applying to colleges and ignoring the texts from Sal’s mom asking when she’s going to visit so they can watch their favorite soap opera together again. Yet when Misbah’s health takes a turn for the worse, it’s Noor who’s in her hospital room to hear her last word: “Forgive.” Noor reconciles with Sal and the two grow closer while continuing to keep secrets from each other. As the truth comes to light, Sal and Noor must each decide what can—and should—be forgiven.

All My Rage takes the often cliched all-American trope of two young people who long to leave their small town behind and fills it with moral complexity and emotional heft. The book’s six sections each open with a stanza from “One Art,” Elizabeth Bishop’s villanelle about grief and “the art of losing,” which Noor struggles to write a paper about for English class. Sal and Noor experience numerous losses, and Tahir excels at conveying how trauma and tragedy ripple outward, shaping even the lives of those who seem untouched by darkness.

Tahir explores weighty questions, such as how we can forgive someone for hurting us when they should have been protecting us, but she includes frequent moments of wry levity and solace, especially the comfort Noor finds in music and the Muslim faith she shared with Sal’s mother. All My Rage will likely make you cry, but it will definitely make you smile, too.

“If we are lost, God is like water, finding the unknowable path when we cannot,” Misbah tells Noor. Tahir’s invitation to join Sal and Noor on their search for such a path feels like a gift every step of the way.

In All My Rage, a novel about two teens desperate to leave their small town, Sabaa Tahir proves she’s just as skilled at contemporary fiction as she is at epic fantasy.
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The People Remember is an exquisite book that every member of the family will appreciate. In powerful, moving verse, National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi (American Street) weaves together the history of African Americans with the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The book is illustrated by acclaimed artist Loveis Wise, whose stunning, vibrant images perfectly complement Zoboi’s text. Zoboi and Wise discuss the creation of the book and how they each hope readers will connect with it.

Ibi, The People Remember is both a journey through the seven principles of Kwanzaa and a timeline of African American history. By braiding together the principles and history, did you come to see aspects of either in a new way?

Author Ibi Zoboi: Absolutely! There were specific moments in Black history that highlight each of the principles. It just so happens that I got to Ujamaa (cooperative economics) during Black Wall Street and the Harlem Renaissance. Kuumba (creativity) landed right in the middle of the hip-hop movement. There are highs and lows throughout Black history, and the Kwanzaa principles demonstrate how we’ve survived and thrived through it all.

The People Remember is your first picture book. What did you enjoy about this new form?

Zoboi: Since The People Remember is written in free verse, it is simply a very long poem. I’ve always written poetry, so it came naturally to me. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to get 400 years of Black history into 2,000 words or so. 

Loveis, you’re one of the first people in the world to have read Ibi’s words in this book. How did you feel after that very first read?

Illustrator Loveis Wise: I remember feeling excited, and I intuitively felt the importance and warmth of what this book would bring. At the time, I really wanted to create a body of work that focused on ancestral connections, and The People Remember was the perfect way for me to explore more.

What’s your favorite illustration from the book? 

Wise: My favorite is the spread focusing on Mami Wata and the children that she’s protecting underwater. This piece felt very kindred to me because of its stillness, but it also feels very powerfully divine.

Zoboi: My favorite illustration is the one where two ancestors are hugging one tree, but from opposite spaces in place and time. When I first saw it, it took my breath away. This spread perfectly captures what this book is all about.

Which principle of Kwanzaa do you feel an especially strong personal connection to?

Zoboi: Ujamaa, which means cooperative economics. I hope all Black people all over the world can get to a place where we are self-sufficient. 

Wise: Kuumba, because it highlights the creativity and the magic we create through transformation and resiliency!

What place do you hope this book finds in the homes and hearts of young readers and their families?

Wise: I hope this book inspires, answers questions and encourages readers to celebrate the beauty of Kwanzaa’s principles with their community.

Zoboi: The People Remember belongs in every home with every type of family. There are lots of opinions out there about Kwanzaa, but I wanted to contextualize why it’s a much-needed cultural celebration. I want educators and caretakers to ask young readers what they would do if they forgot how to play a favorite game or words to a favorite song. They would make up new ones, right? This is exactly how Kwanzaa came to be, and why it is still celebrated decades after its inception. It is a testament to how not all is ever lost. We always remember.

This beautiful picture book casts the principles of Kwanzaa in a new light and can be enjoyed by the whole family.
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Educator Tiffany Jewell’s book for teen readers, This Book Is Anti-Racist, became a #1 New York Times and indie bestseller in 2020. In her next book, The Antiracist Kid, Jewell brings her expertise as an antiracism and anti-bias facilitator to middle grade readers eager to discover how they can learn about and take action against racism. The book also includes illustrations by Eisner Award-nominated artist Nicole Miles.

Here’s the official description from Versify, Jewell’s publisher:

What is racism? What is antiracism? Why are both important to learn about? In this book, systemic racism and the antiracist tools to fight it are easily accessible to the youngest readers.

In three sections, this must-have guide explains:

  • Identity: What it is and how it applies to you
  • Justice: What it is, what racism has to do with it and how to address injustice
  • Activism: A how-to with resources to be the best antiracist kid you can be

This book teaches younger children the words, language and methods to recognize racism and injustice—and what to do when they encounter it at home, at school and in the media they watch, play and read. 

The Antiracist Kid hits shelves at libraries and bookstores everywhere on August 16, 2022, and BookPage is thrilled to reveal its amazing cover below! The cover was illustrated by Nicole Miles and designed by Samira Iravani. Be sure to check out our Q&A with Jewell after the reveal. Just scroll down!

How did you feel the first time you saw the finished cover for The Antiracist Kid?
I was totally excited to see this beautiful and fun cover! I immediately showed my children, who were equally as excited. Nicole Miles is brilliant and I’m so excited she’s illustrating the book! I can’t wait for everyone to see it!

After the success of This Book Is Anti-Racist, what drew you to create a book for younger readers? What excited you about the idea and was rewarding as you worked on it?
I’ve been wanting to write a book for younger readers since I first started working on This Book Is Anti-Racist! I love working with young learners and honestly, it’s the group I feel most comfortable teaching, working and collaborating with.

One of the things I love most about this new book is that it’s a series of questions that kids have asked me, their caregivers, teachers, librarians, other adults in their lives and each other. Questions like: Why do people have different skin colors? Where did race come from? Is it OK to talk about differences? Why do some people have more power than others? And so, so, so many more! This book is like a conversation between me and the reader where we get to do some big work around understanding what racism is and how to actively work toward a just community and world! I’m so excited there will be a book like this for younger kids, because you are never too young to learn about racism and to start the lifelong work of antiracism!

One of the things you bring to both of these books is years of experience in the classroom, working with young people. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and how it shaped The Antiracist Kid?
The Antiracist Kid grew out of the work I’ve done with kids for over almost two decades. Young children are curious. They want to know who they are, who the people around them are, what is happening in their lives (and beyond) and why things happen the way they do. They are so creative and such amazing problem solvers. They’re great observers, but they don’t always have the vocabulary and language to fully understand what it is they are witnessing and experiencing. 

In my classroom, we spent our time learning about our own identities and those of our classmates and peers, and building community. We did this alongside learning how to read and write, building our mathematics skills, exploring science and diving into history, and it was so exciting and purposeful and necessary! My students always shared with me what they wanted to know and it is because of them—and ALL the young people with big questions—that I continue to do this work. All of my years of teaching and working with children and their families have led me to the work I am doing now, and I’m so grateful I get to do this. 

Can you talk a little bit about your hopes for this book? How do you hope a young reader who reads it feels when they turn that last page and finish reading it? What do you hope they do next?
I hope this book becomes a go-to book for all young readers and their caregivers! I hope they’ll see themselves in this book and know that they are not too young to talk about, learn about, understand and stand up against racism. I hope The Antiracist Kid becomes a well-loved book and is in every home and classroom and library around the country. I hope all readers will pick it up without fear. I hope this book will inspire everyone who reads it to share it, to work collectively and to work together to eradicate systemic racism and injustice!

The Antiracist Kid will be published in August 2023. That’s a long time from now! Can you recommend some books for kids to read in the meantime?
Yes! There are so many amazing books! I’ll share some of our family favorites and the ones students I’ve been working with are enjoying right now too!

  • Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho
  • Stamped (for Kids) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul, illustrated by Rachelle Baker
  • Jo Jo Makoons by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert
  • You Matter by Christian Robinson
  • I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
  • Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez, illustrated by Jamie Kim
  • What Will You Be? by Yamile Saied Méndez, illustrated by Kate Alizadeh
  • We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade
  • Not My Idea by Anastasia Higginbotham
  • You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel
  • Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
  • Black Boy Joy edited by Kwame Mbalia
  • The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
  • My Two Border Towns by David Bowles, illustrated by Erika Meza
  • Change Sings by Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long

Photo of Tiffany Jewell © James Azar Salem.

Photo of Nicole Miles © Danielle Hamilton.

Educator Tiffany Jewell’s book for teen readers, This Book Is Anti-Racist, became a #1 New York Times and indie bestseller in 2020. In her next book, The Antiracist Kid, Jewell brings her expertise as an antiracism and anti-bias facilitator to middle grade readers eager to discover how they can learn about and take action against [...]

This sunny story of creativity and resourcefulness provides a lighthearted entry point to discussions about how farms produce and provide.

This sunny story of creativity and resourcefulness provides a lighthearted entry point to discussions about how farms produce and provide.

Familiar and comforting, The Barn offers children a beautiful and meditative look at a rural farm.

Familiar and comforting, The Barn offers children a beautiful and meditative look at a rural farm.

Equal parts humorous and warmhearted, Cold Turkey is filled with vibrant language and clever wordplay. It’s a tender and tongue-twistingly terrific read aloud.

Equal parts humorous and warmhearted, Cold Turkey is filled with vibrant language and clever wordplay. It’s a tender and tongue-twistingly terrific read aloud.

Interview by

Phil Stamper’s debut YA novel, The Gravity of Us, is the story of two teens, Cal and Leon, who are brought together when their parents are both selected for a new NASA mission to Mars. Stamper magnificently balances the boys’ burgeoning relationship against a backdrop that brings the space race into the 21st century. We spoke to Stamper about his day job in book publishing and writing characters that feel real—and, of course, geeked out about space.

You work in book publishing, so this is a bit of a “chicken or the egg” question: Which came first, working in publishing or writing? Was it ever challenging to balance your knowledge of publishing as an industry with your own creative needs and process?
Writing came first! After college, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do for a job, but I eventually worked my way into nonprofit PR and marketing. I loved writing for a living, but the press releases got old fast, so I started writing fiction to recharge my creative energy. Through the exhaustive process of writing, revising, researching and querying, I really fell in love with book publishing. So much so that I got my M.A. in publishing from a school in London and now I work for one of the Big Five in New York City. (Ed. note: The “Big Five” is a publishing industry term for the five largest American book publishers: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Hachette.)

I’m in a lucky spot in publishing. I get to help authors every day but not work on specific titles or marketing campaigns, which gives me plenty of energy to work on my own edits/marketing on my downtime. I’m not sure where this career will lead, but I’m happy with the balance I’ve struck. Even if it can be a little stressful when edits are due!

I think it’s important for authors to understand the publishing industry, and especially their role in it. But the more familiar you are with the industry, the more you realize that “what works” is all pretty random. Stories that don’t fit the mold can get book deals and find success, while stories that tick every single box can get lost in the stacks. At the end of the day, it’s taught me that writing things I’m passionate about is the only thing I can do. If you put that energy into your work, readers will feel it. And that’s about all you can control in this process.

Do you see The Gravity of Us as being in conversation with or descended from other YA titles? Which ones, and how?
This is a really interesting question! I think it’s hard to write YA without reading YA and knowing what’s out there. I do see The Gravity of Us as being “in conversation” with plenty of books. I’ve always felt that we need all sorts of queer stories and experiences out there. I built this book in a world where homophobia is just not acknowledged, and I wanted this story to be a safe space for queer teens who always feel like they have to keep their guards up when reading a book.

In that way, I feel like my book is descended from books like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli or You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan. But it’s also out there in conversation with heavier (but still hopeful!) stories like Ziggy, Stardust & Me by James Brandon and Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of The Gravity of Us.

Can we talk about space for a bit? Have you always been into space, or was it an interest you cultivated when you began writing this book? What kind of research did you do to write accurately and convincingly about this aspect of the book?
Oh, yes! We can always talk about space. I’ve been a space nerd for decades now, especially when it comes to the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions. I’ve read dozens of astronaut/engineer memoirs, watched documentaries, and I’ve got a growing collection of LIFE magazines from the era.

While reading The Astronaut Wives Club, actually, I realized that one thing in the background of every astronaut story kept calling out to me. The astronaut families essentially became the celebrities of this era, frequently gracing the covers of magazines and giving interviews for national news outlets. This meant the astronauts’ spouses and children had to be immaculately dressed, polished and ready to entertain, all while not knowing if their husbands or fathers would come home alive that night. In The Gravity of Us, I wanted to capture this brilliant tension while also showcasing a contemporary queer love story.

What do you love about the idea of space exploration?
There’s so much to love about space exploration, but for me, that love is tricky and complicated. I often hear that those at NASA were so focused on this exploration that they missed the many important movements of the 60s. But I don’t fully buy that. They saw the world changing around them and refused to change with it. Women and people of color were excluded at every turn, even though NASA had the influence to actually make a change. Too often, I think we focus on that starry-eyed joy and power of the space race and not the realities of it, and I am glad I got to deconstruct that some in my story.

Do you have a favorite constellation, nebula, planet or other celestial body?
Cassiopeia has always been my favorite constellation! It’s easy to pick out, and it’s shaped vaguely like a crown. In high school, my best friend liked it, so we’d always keep an eye out for it. I mention that one in the book, and I also talk about the constellation Lyra, which isn’t one I was very familiar with before researching the book. When naming the Orpheus missions, I was curious to see if there was a constellation representing the myth, and Orpheus’s lyre is represented in the tiny constellation, so that was a fun discovery.

How about a favorite astronaut or other real-life figure from the history of space exploration?
Oh I could go on for days about this, really. I loved learning about all of the astronauts, even the ones that weren’t exactly good people, because they were fascinating. But I guess you’d have to be pretty interesting to willingly take the kind of risks they had to take every day. But to answer your question, my favorite real-life figure from this era is probably Poppy Northcutt. I think she had one of the most interesting experiences of the space race. She was the first female engineer to work in NASA’s control room, and she dealt with a lot of sexism during her time there and because of that experience she later became a lawyer to fight for women’s issues.

She was such an inspiration for her brilliance and tenacity, but she was also incredibly ambitious. She knew exactly how she was being treated and portrayed, and she found a way to turn the media’s sexist coverage of her into her own platform, making space for more women on the team and getting a chance to speak out about these issues on the national stage, in front of a fully captive audience. Her interviews from back then are phenomenal. If you’re interested in learning more about her, this Fast Company piece is a great place to start.

"Too often, I think we focus on that starry-eyed joy and power of the space race and not the realities of it, and I am glad I got to deconstruct that some in my story."

The characters of Cal and Leon feel constructed with a great deal of thoughtful intentionality (which also reads effortlessly and invisibly, making the reading experience an absolute joy). Can you talk about some of the choices you made as you crafted their characters?
Early on, I had sort of figured out the astronaut families. I knew what role I wanted the Tuckers (Leon’s mom, especially) to play in the story, and I also knew how Cal’s family was going to fit into that world. Then I wanted to create characters that really stood out against that. Leon’s mom is at times the voice of NASA, polished and concise and thoughtful. Leon doesn’t have it together, and doesn’t really want to have it together. He’s living in a spotlight he never asked for, and it makes him withdraw a bit. I gave him his own passions, and took a lot of inspiration from my own experience of pursuing things you really care about while depression makes you want to pull back. In this way, he became an earnest, authentic character. When Cal’s thrown into this fake, stressful new environment, he is automatically drawn to the authenticity of Leon and his sister, Kat.

Cal, however, was a foil to everything the media world is inundated with today: clickbait, sensationalism, “fake news.” Cal doesn’t buy any of that, and he will make it his life’s mission to show you that being real is what makes you stand out. I’m a pretty nostalgic person, sitting here with my LIFE magazines and my rose-colored glasses, so I had to put the cynic at the lead of this novel. I wanted this book to be a love letter to NASA in many ways, but I needed it to be relevant. I think there’s a natural urge to romanticize things from the past as well as things that are happening now. And Cal? He’s not having it.

Of course, Cal’s a bit of a hypocrite because he has his own ironic cassette collection. But I liked showing that not all our connections to the past are inherently bad, they just sometimes blind us.

I think readers are going to fall for the romance that unfolds between Cal and Leon in a big way, and I loved the way it was paced and incorporated into the book’s other narrative threads. What part of their relationship was the most fun for you to write? The most difficult?
I’m really happy with how the romance in this book turned out. I think so often in m/m fiction there’s the pressure to write characters who are sweet and devoid of flaws to please a broader audience. In this, I wanted to show two flawed teens who were trying. Cal is a little selfish, Leon’s a little guarded, but I had such a good time bringing these two together and letting them talk it out. From the beginning, they found an ally in each other, and I think they were able to hold onto that feeling of “I’m not alone in this” that got them through the many highs and lows that were thrown at them along the way. It was fun to create that bond from nothing, almost the moment Cal is dropped in on Houston.

The Gravity of Us is populated with a fantastic supporting cast. It’s something of a cliché to say that secondary characters feel as though an entirely new novel could be written about them, but in this case, I think it’s true. From Deb, Cal’s best friend back in Brooklyn, to Kat, Leon’s sister, to Cal’s parents and the other members of the Orpheus team, the crew of StarWatch — you’re balancing a huge cast of characters with lots of conflicting motives and desires that shift realistically over the course of the book. Who was your favorite of these characters to create and write? Who was the most challenging? Who kept trying to steal whatever scene they were in?

I hope that isn’t too cliché, because I love that comment! In all of my stories, I want my secondary characters to be fully fleshed out, have stories of their own and make you feel like you could just as easily be entertained if the book was from their perspective. Though I’m not a rigid plotter, I work off of beat sheets and I put all my characters through the same test. Even if things are happening in the background, their story should progress in a similar way to the main character’s. There are no cardboard cut-outs here, and my editor is great at helping me pull out the emotional arcs for these side characters.

I have a soft spot for Deb, who was certainly the most fun to write. I made sure to give her a full arc, but I also got to talk more broadly about how hard it is to keep a best friend when you move away from them and start to change as a person. Cal and Deb have a messy friendship, but that’s what makes it so real, to me at least. I see the comment “Where’s Deb?” from time to time as people are reading, and though I make sure we check in with her throughout, I want you to miss her. (Sorry!)

As for the others, I really enjoyed building out StarWatch producer Kiara’s story. Without giving spoilers away, she does some great and awful things, and she has her own motivations and frustrations. Leon’s sister, Kat, stole every scene and moment she was in, and I loved how she was so fiercely supportive of her brother the whole time. Cal’s mom, Becca, experiences anxiety, and how she and Cal support each other throughout was really authentic and sweet. And we got to see some of the astronauts’ lives in the interstitial chapters, which were really fun to play with. I just love all of these characters!

“I want my secondary characters to be fully fleshed out, have stories of their own and make you feel like you could just as easily be entertained if the book was from their perspective.”

Since you’ve worked in publishing, you know that authors typically aren’t heavily involved in the process of designing book covers. I’d love to hear a little bit about what (if any) input you had on The Gravity of Us jacket, and how you felt the first time you saw it.
From what I can tell, publishers seem to be involving authors more and more into the process. This isn’t the case for everyone, and many authors don’t want to take part at all, but I think it’s great that authors are at least being consulted or involved in early stages. For The Gravity of Us, I ended up sending over a mood board, had a miniature brainstorm about options with my editor, and they ran one illustrator by me (who was my secret top choice to begin with!) and got him signed up right away.

I will truly never have an easier cover design process. From the very first moment, my editor and I had the same scene in mind for the cover. I wanted the boys to be on the ground, holding hands, watching the satellite launch. Even in the rough sketch, the illustrator, Patrick Leger, captured the perfect emotion and mood of the book, with the warped perspective of the shot and the sunrise gradient, stars and the satellite in the sky. It came together quickly, and Danielle Ceccolini designed the full cover, and everything just clicked perfectly.

I was emotional when I first showed it and when I got to reveal it on Teen Vogue last May, but seeing the finished copy with the embossed text and the full jacket for the first time? There’s nothing like that feeling of seeing your book finished for the first time, especially when that book has such a beautifully queer cover.

What’s something you love about your book? Something you’re really proud of?
I really like that I was able to create a love story between two people who are fully functioning on their own—they have their own stories, struggles, dreams, and they’re both on their own paths when we meet them and when the story ends. I’m also really proud I was able to make this story a love letter to NASA and a nod to the amazing people involved in the 60s space race, while still allowing myself to critique that era and keep the story relevant for a teen audience in 2020.

What’s something you learned from writing this book that you’ve been able to use as you’re writing your next book?
I’ve always been great at plotting and pacing, and I always like my contemporaries to move quickly through beats. My YA origins are in 2010-era dystopian books, and I love action. So no, there are no sword fights in this book, but that urgency and tension can still be built into contemporary stories in a meaningful way. But as for what I learned, while working with my editor, I was able to pull out a lot of emotional moments throughout. She’s great at highlighting points where it’s nice to pause and take a breath, where we can dig into characterization and also just show the aspirational aspects of teens having fun.

I’ve brought that into my next book, a lot, and I think that’ll be the case for the other books I write as well. I will never abandon my beat sheets, but I will fight that urge to push forward and let the readers sit in important emotional moments a bit more.

“I was able to create a love story between two people who are fully functioning on their own—they have their own stories, struggles, dreams, and they’re both on their own paths when we meet them and when the story ends.”

Someone finishes reading The Gravity of Us and they love it. Recommend some things for them to read or watch next (while they wait for your next book).
Ooh, I love giving book recommendations. If you like fast-paced and unique YA contemporary, you’ll love Sadie by Courtney Summers and The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante. If you love unapologetically queer YA, you have to check out Ryan La Sala’s Reverie and Abdi Nazemian’s Like a Love Story. If you love space, but want another book that’s set on the ground, check out The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum and, of course, The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. 

And if you liked The Gravity of Us, I hope you’ll come back in early 2021 when my second book is on shelves!

Phil Stamper’s debut YA novel, The Gravity of Us, is the story of two teens, Cal and Leon, who are brought together when their parents are both selected for a new NASA mission to Mars. Stamper magnificently balances the boys’ burgeoning relationship against a backdrop that brings the space race into the 21st century. We [...]

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