Middle Grade Monday: Fall 2016 Preview

This has already been a staggeringly good year for middle grade (don’t call it a comeback), with personal favourites such as Raymie Nightingale, The Wild Robot, Look Out for the Fitzgerald Trouts, and Pax garnering all sorts of buzz and attention. Here is a sampling of the new kids on the block this fall:

Ghosts 

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Ghosts is probably my most anticipated read of the fall. When it comes to middle grade, Raina Telgemeier is the gold standard we all aspire to- funny, relatable, original, and lots of heart. Ghosts promises to delve into deeper and somewhat darker territory than Smile, Sisters, or Drama, but readers are always safe in Raina’s hands.

A Day of Signs and Wonders 2000px-Maple_Leaf

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Say the name ‘Kit Pearson’ to Canadian readers of a certain age and watch grown women turn into blubbering, starry-eyed tweens. She is as much a part of my childhood as Hypercolour T-shirts, slap bracelets, and the movie My Girl. Kit Pearson exploring the childhood of artist Emily Carr? Too perfect to be true

The Best Man

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Somehow Richard Peck, author of rich slices of Americana such as A Year Down Yonder and A Year in Chicago, has pulled off a pitch-perfect contemporary novel about a community-and one boy in particular- who have their biases checked when everyone’s new favourite teacher turns out to be gay.

The Inquisitor’s Tale

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If you’ve been following the buzz on this hotly anticipated novel from story-wizard Adam Gitwitz you’ll note that common themes among reviewers are “incomparable” and “hard to describe.” I have heard Adam speak about how religion is the last taboo in middle grade and he definitely gives readers a lot to chew on in this Medieval ensemble piece. I very much enjoyed the multiple narrators. Also, farting dragons.

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill

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I didn’t think this charmer could possibly stand up to the hype, but boy did it ever. This weeper is tinged with just enough magic realism to keep a reader guessing. Take The Secret Garden, set in during WWII, and throw in some winged horses for good measure. Deft prose and emotional resonance give this one the feel of a classic.

The Griffin of Darkwood  2000px-Maple_Leaf

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This latest offering from solid (if a little under-sung, IMO) Canadian author Becky Citra has a stellar cover and is getting good reviews. There is a strong Canadian tradition of gothic middle grade novels (The Nest, The Night Gardener, Flickers, The Swallow being just a few), and this seems to fit right in. Run-down castles, a side-kick who emulates his idol, Julia Child, AND the promise of griffins? Yes please.

Clara Humble and the Not-So-Super Powers 2000px-Maple_Leaf

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Most of the books on this list are middle or upper middle-grade, but Clara is appropriate for those younger readers in grades 3-5. How do you hook a reader for life? By offering them funny books featuring true-to-life scenarios with just enough imagination to delight. Featuring spot illustrations by Lisa Cinar, this is a spunky, zippy book that deals with change gently and with much humour.

MINRS 2 2000px-Maple_Leaf

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I thoroughly enjoyed the action-packed first book in Kevin Sylvester’s latest series, about a group of tweens who find themselves stranded underground on Mars after an attack (from their own allies) leaves all of the adults from their settlement dead. Book one ended with a great revelation and a heck of a cliff-hanger. This is Survivor in space featuring resourceful tweens instead of fame-hungry “reality” stars.

Downside Up 2000px-Maple_Leaf

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I love when my city is well-represented in literature, and in this fantasy story about family, grief, and second chances, we get two representations of Toronto: the regular one (Sorauren Park! High Park! Sunnyside Beach!) and a slightly tilted version, where what was lost is once again found. And then of course there’s the dragons. Don’t be fooled by Richard Scrimger’s talent for humour, this one tugs on the heartstrings.

What’s on your middle grade reading list this fall?

 

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The Best Moments in Children’s Books, 2014

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There were some shining moments in the children’s book world in 2014. This year we encouraged children to practice their reading with cats, celebrated graphic novels, established a new YA award in Canada, and took a stand on diversity.

Mac Barnett’s TED talk

Barnett’s books are funny, clever, and sophisticated, but never at the expense of child appeal. It comes as no surprise that the author himself is an engaging ambassador for children’s literature. In his TED talk “Why a good book is a secret door,” he discusses the human aptitude for imagination and gives plenty of real-life examples from his days as a camp counselor to his work at the inventive writing & tutoring organization 826LA, and his own writing.

 

Berks ARL Book Buddies Program 

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I mean come on. Look at this picture! So cute I had to post it twice. This story of the Animal Rescue League of Berks County Book Buddies program went viral in February, due largely to this image of a little boy reading to a shelter cat posted on Reddit. Encouraging children to read AND comforting cats? I am in.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

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This grassroots organization of diversity crusaders has come a long way. After BookCon announced an all-white, largely male line-up this spring, authors and readers took to the internet to make it known that #WeNeedDiverseBooks. To their credit, the organizers responded, and a panel entitled “The World Agrees: We Need Diverse Books” was added to the programming. Months later, after significant media coverage and successful crowd-funding campaigns,  WNDB is a full-fledged organization. Featuring grants, book lists, tips for bringing diversity into the classroom and an upcoming festival, it is safe to say that #WeNeedDiverseBooks is transitioning from a moment to a movement.

 

THIS ONE SUMMER wins the Governor General’s Award for Illustration

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In an insightful piece in The National Post this fall, Anna Fitzpatrick discusses the potential impact of Jillian Tamaki‘s GG win on the perception of comic arts. With the ever-growing popularity of graphic novels and memoirs for children (El Deafo, Sisters, Through the Woods and the upcoming Roller Girl), the ever-growing attendance at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and a TCAF pop-up shop at the Toronto Public Library this month, it is hard to deny that graphic art in all it’s permutations is commanding more respect. This is fantastic news. Just think of the amazing crossover and genre-bending books there are to come!

 

The Amy Mathers Teen Book Award is Established

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Book-lover and CanLit advocate Amy Mathers began her marathon of books, reading her way across Canada one YA book at a time, in January 2014 hoping to raise enough money to fund a much-needed award for Canadian YA. At the TD Children’s Literature Award Gala in November it was announced that her dream would become a reality. The first Amy Mathers Teen Book Award will be awarded in 2015. This is great news for the vibrant and diverse range of YA books published by Canadians.  Follow Amy’s journey and peruse her book reviews on her website or connect with her on twitter.

Now doesn’t that make you feel good? Here’s to a great 2015! Happy holidays, friends!

Nina LaCour, Patron Saint of California: Everything Leads to You Review

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This blog is in danger of becoming a Nina LaCour fansite, but I can’t  help gushing about her books. Her latest might just be her best one yet.

When Emi’s senior year ends, her brother gives her the keys to his sweet apartment for the summer, telling her to use the space and the time to make something extraordinary. Two opportunities arise, the first when Emi is offered her dream job as a production designer on an indie film, a project she truly believes in, and the second when an estate sale at the house of a reclusive Hollywood legend leads her to his secret granddaughter.

The love story, between two women, is tender and engaging, fraught with tension but without a lot of drama. The book isn’t about being a lesbian in love, but about love full stop. The more books we have where issues of diversity are seamlessly woven into the narrative and not singled out as “other” the  better. The novel is also about Emi growing into herself as an artist and a young professional. I particularly enjoyed the moment where Emi butts heads with her boss only to realize that her boss was right and she was wrong. Who hasn’t had that moment of creative righteousness, only to be humbled later on? This is a lesson we all can learn, particularly a young generation of people who have been told that everything they do is miraculous.

It is fitting that this book is about the magic and fantasy of the movies. The narrative unfolds like a fantastic indie film, the kind of movie I am always seeking but can never seem to find: funny, warm, character-driven, and gorgeous to look at. And nary a manic pixie dream girl in sight! It is a particular accomplishment to create such a lasting visual impression considering this is a novel with no visuals to speak of, only the ones LaCour conjures with her pristine language.

Everything Leads to You is about details, something I have always thought LaCour does better than her contemporaries. Just as Emi scours flea markets and auctions for the perfect couch or markets for the perfect botanical, one gets the feeling that LaCour has been just as careful in how she selects her words. There is something deliciously meta in the way that we get to experience LaCour creating a world in which Emi creates worlds.

I hope California adopts LaCour as their state laureate. In all three of her novels the topography and spirit of California is so strong it transcends setting and becomes a character. Francesca Lia Block made a name for herself as a sort of poet laureate or voice for LA, and I’ve come to associate LaCour with California at large. More, please!

Everything Leads to You is available now in hard cover from Penguin Canada.

 

Tiger Eyes & Days That End in Y: I Heart the CBC

There are a million and one reasons to love the CBC, including this right here:

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First of all, what a total thrill to be featured on The Next Chapter, a fantastic program that has taught me so much about books, writers, and Canadian literature in particular. Shelagh Rogers is warm, funny, and a fantastic broadcaster. Secondly, there is NO praise more moving to me than to be compared to Judy Blume, who is arguably the most important contemporary writer for children. Big thanks to Brian Francis, a great author, blogger, and gentleman, for the shout-out. If you haven’t already done so, go pick up a copy of Fruit or Natural Order now. Among many astute observations, he has this to say about Days That End in Y:

“It’s about a father who is absent who comes back to town to seek reconciliation with his daughter, but it’s also about this girl’s relationship with her mother. That is what Vikki and Judy’s books are about: both these mother characters make mistakes and their daughters are reconciling to these mistakes, and understanding that their mother was doing the best she could do at that stage in her life.”

Listen to the full interview here

 

What To Read This Summer- YA Edition

The May long weekend has come and gone, my patio furniture is out, it seems that summer is finally, FINALLY just around the corner! Here are some great YA reads for those summer days, starry nights (*cough* shameless plug)*:

We Were Liars

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I have been a big fan of E. Lockhart for many, many years. Her books are funny, smart, and sharply written. We Were Liars is a dizzying fever-dream of a book that weaves in and out of reality. The ending will make you flip back to the beginning just to see how she pulled it off. I read this one in two hours and was instantly sorry that I had not taken the time to savour it- but I dare you to try and read it slowly!

 

Unspeakable

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You can totally judge this book by it’s gorgeous cover- Unspeakable is a rich, beautiful love story that begins in the midst of one of the greatest maritime tragedies. No, not THAT one- the sinking of the Empress of Ireland claimed more lives than the Titanic disaster in May, 1914. One hundred years later Caroline Pignat has crafted a gorgeous tribute to the victims and survivors of this tragedy, told through the eyes of a young stewardess. This book is just as much about Ellie coming into her own as a young woman as it is about her love for Jim.

 

This One Summer

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If you’ve ever spent time at a cottage you will recognize some part of your experience in this beautifully-crafted graphic novel. The Tamaki cousins return with a book altogether different in tone from Skim, but just as human and unforgettable. Your heart will ache along with Rose’s as she realizes her crush isn’t all she wants him to be and cheer for Windy (great name!) as she blows through the book with her sunny optimism. I want This One Summer wallpaper so I can forever live inside this book.

 

Open Road Summer

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If you have ever sung along to Taylor Swift (and who hasn’t?) you will want to pick this one up. A road trip story about Reagan, a girl who’s been heading down the wrong road who switches gears to spend the summer on her best friend’s tour bus as she heads out on her first tour. It’s fun to read a story from the perspective of a reformed ‘bad’ girl, particularly one who is BFFs with the motivated, talented and squeaky clean Lilah Montgomery (think Swifty circa Fifteen). This is a great, subtly empowering story about the importance of friends that has a fun, backstage pass vibe.

 

Conversion

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I love witch books, particularly  a well-researched and absorbing psychological thriller from a bona fide Salem Scholar like Katherine Howe. A strange affliction is spreading through the population at a prestigious private girl’s school, one that medical science is having trouble explaining. Could it be related to the afflictions that turned the village of Salem to cry witchcraft in the 1700s? Is history repeating itself? A fascinating look at the pressures we put on our girls, the power of peer pressure and suggestion, with just a hint of X-Files.

 

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

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Slipping into a Jenny Han book is like putting on your fave slippers and curling up in a cozy chair with a big mug of tea…iced, if it’s summer and you’re at a cottage. She gets the every-girl vibe just right. I expected this to be a YA version of the classic Alanis Morissette song Unsent, but it’s actually quite a sweet story about the differences between our perceptions and the actualities of love and romance. For those of you who are following the #WeNeedDiverseBooks conversation, Jenny Han has always been an expert and including diversity in her narratives, and this one is no exception.

 

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*I have written not once, but TWICE about summer…which I guess makes me an expert? Days That End in Y starts with fireworks and ends in a wedding and Summer Days, Starry Nights is my middle-grade homage (read: no sex or abortions) to Dirty Dancing.

Happy (summer) reading!

 

 

 

 

Why Aren’t You Reading Nina LaCour?

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I love discovering new writers. There is something exciting about falling in love with a book by a an author you know little about and then telling everyone you know about said writer. My new current obsession is Nina LaCour. I had heard wonderful things about this contemporary YA writer but only recently did I get around to reading her first novel, Hold Still, and now I am a dedicated fangirl.

In a nutshell, Hold Still is the story of how Caitlin learns to deal her best friend Ingrid’s shocking suicide.  It is also a story about making new friends, finding your voice artistically, allowing yourself to be loved, and learning that adults are people, too. LaCour’s narrative voice is smart but believable. Caitlin is an angry young woman and it is hard to watch her take her grief out on the wrong people. Ultimately she makes her own peace with Ingrid’s loss, and not in a way that feels too tidy or unrealistic. For those people who are dealing with grief, I hope they are surrounded with the kind of loving and influential people that Caitlin has around her.

More than Caitlin’s grief and transformation, what I take from this novel is the sense of place LaCour creates. There are so many interesting and vivid places in the book, including a derelict, condemned movie theatre, a veritable haunted house full of memories that Ingrid and Caitlin made together. The theatre plays an important role in both Caitlin’s artistic evolution and her final goodbye to Ingrid. I also longed to hang out in the tree house Caitlin builds in her backyard and get soup in the noodle place she and Dylan escape to at lunch. LaCour creates images that will not easily be forgotten.

Hold Still reminded me of Jandy Nelson’s perfect The Sky is Everywhere and Matthew Quick’s searing Sorta Like a Rock Star in terms of character, imagery and layered examinations of grief. If you’ve been following this blog you know I can give no higher praise than these two comp titles. Fans of sophisticated and emotionally resonant YA fiction will appreciate LaCour’s insight and style.

Sometimes, when falling in love with a book, you get a sense that the writer is also an awesome person. So it follows that LaCour is one cool chick who is deeply involved with bringing her book to the screen with a team of intrepid artists and filmmakers making use of social media and kickstarter to bring her vision to life.

Expect big things from LaCour.

I am off to binge on The Disenchantments.

Hold Still is available now in paperback from Penguin Canada.

Read, Write, Blog: 2013 in Review

WHAT I PUBLISHED

Instagram DAYS Jenn Hubbs

Not one, but TWO new novels! Bringing my series about Benji and Clarissa to a close in DAYS THAT END IN Y was bittersweet. I love this review in CM Magazine because above all else I aim to be authentic, and if the mother of a teenage daughter who happens to be a middle school librarian says I succeeded, than I am a happy girl. I  still think about those crazy kids and what they might get up to in high school. I feel like Benji would be a big Lorde fan and that Clarissa would have many opinions on Miley Cyrus.

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SUMMER DAYS, STARRY NIGHTS came out a few months later and I was thrilled with the fantastic response it received, including pieces in The National Post, The Toronto Star, and on such great blogs as CanLit for Little Canadians and Fabbity Fab Book Reviews. This is my love letter to summer and the 1960s and on my snowy walk home from the bus stop I often imagine sitting lakeside with Reenie at Sandy Shores. Plus the launch party held at 3030 was my favourite night of the year!

WHAT I WROTE

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Some of my blogging highlights include the fantastic discussion generated by my spring post, YA Is Too Late: Gay Characters in Middle Grade Fiction. I got some great recommendations from this post, and I will continue to seek out titles for an update in 2014. Rounding up the idiosyncrasies shared by kidlit lovers everywhere in You Probably Work in Children’s Books If…  was a labor of love and celebration of our quirky community. I also ruminated on the oft-discussed niche genre of New Adult, listed my Top Ten Under-Sung Series, and started the CAIRN writing retreat, which will be returning in 2014.

WHAT I READ

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The thought of recapping everything I read is daunting, but here are some highlights: I wept over the  Montmaray journals, gushed over the latest Kiki Strike, had my faith in whimsy restored by Rooftoppers, found my spirit animal in the form of a book in Jane, The Fox, and Me, and fell in love with middle grade all over again with The Apothecary. If (like me) you enjoy a visual list, feel free to browse my Read Shelf over at the Fifty Book Pledge. I stand by all of these books. This list is missing a few unpublished titles (the hazards of working in publishing include reading books that are sometimes YEARS away from publication), but it’s fairly accurate. I’m aiming to get to 115 by December 31st!

What am I looking forward to in 2014? I want to read more books set in remote areas (real or imagined). I want more chapter books with spot illustrations. I want to read fantastic YA that doesn’t revolve around a love story. I’d like my magic to be subtle,and my characters strong. More than anything I want to read WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart. Thank you for joining me in a year of reading and writing- I hope you’ll join me in 2014!