Tag Archives: individuality

Edna in the Desert Review

edna_in_the_desertEdna in the Desert by Maddy Lederman

eLectio Publishing, 2013. 978-0615884738

Synopsis: Edna’s parents are at their wit’s end. Their daughter is constantly in trouble at school and she needs a wake-up call, but no good solution has presented itself. As a last resort, Edna is sent to spend the summer with her grandparents in Desert Palms where she is cut off from her phone and her computer. Bitter and angry, Edna is about to give up when she meets Johnny. Will her time in the desert cure her rebellious streak or will it create even more of a mess?

Why I picked it up: The author emailed me about reviewing the book and I loved the premise, so I agreed.

Why I finished it: My interest is always piqued when I hear about a story in which those of us obsessed with technology are forced to do without it. I can’t say I’m not guilty of hiding behind my cell phone just walking out on the street or even in social situations, but I’m trying to get better at this whole interacting-with-others bit. In this way, I’m no different from Edna. I’m always in a place where I am surrounded by signals that allow me to communicate via text or to look something up on the internet. But when she’s confronted with a situation in which she can’t use her usual methods of getting out, Edna is forced to find a different solution to her problem with what is available to her: a paper phone book and a rotary phone. While she is initially resistant (to put it mildly) to spending the summer with her grandparents, her acquaintance and budding romance with Johnny seems to help alleviate her boredom. She also becomes invested in getting to know her Grandma and Grandpa, the latter of whom is suffering from PTSD and rarely leaves the house. Lederman’s writing draws in the reader and as we go on this summer journey with Edna, we find ourselves just as changed as the protagonist. We learn to recognize Edna’s self-absorbed behavior as our own and it makes us think about what we could change to get us to be more in touch with the important people in our lives. Edna and the reader are forced to consider the consequences of our actions, to learn how to love much more fully and live a life that is richer. It’s a coming of age story that asks the reader hard questions without forcing an immediate answer. While the ending is somewhat bittersweet, we, like Edna, will have made a more positive change that we will be able to carry with us into the real world.

Other related materials: Salvaged by Stefne Miller; Rise by Stefne Miller; Collision by Stefne Miller; In Front of God and Everybody: Confessions of April Grace by KD McCrite; Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor; Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words by Rachel Coker; All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven; Paper Towns by John Green; Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver; It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini; We Were Liars by E. Lockhart; I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson; Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

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Gumwrappers and Goggles Review

gumwrappers_and_gogglesGumwrappers and Goggles written and illustrated by Winifred Barnum-Newman

Gnu Sky Publishing, 2014. 978-0692232965

Synopsis: The hangar is abuzz because there is going to be new flights for businesspeople, and all of the jets want a chance to have the job. TJ, a little grey jet in the corner, wants to beat out the other, larger jets but he’s going to have to have spirit if he is going to fly.

Why I picked it up: I was curious about this book because I wasn’t aware of the original story and I was intrigued by the loveliness of the illustrations.

Why I finished it: This is a cute story that is loved by both children and adults about believing in yourself and doing the right thing. In the introduction, Barnum-Newman recognizes that the premise of a court case doesn’t seem like it would fit into the context of a children’s book. But the story isn’t so much about a court case as it is finding the power to do what you want, find different ways of dealing with naysayers, and having integrity and love in all that you do. The illustrations are intricate and simple, using bright colors to draw the reader’s eye to the page. They bring the story to life and inspire our imaginations. With a varied cast of characters, readers will be drawn into the story, cheering for TJ and his friend Amelia the Good Air Fairy. It teaches us about how important it is to stay true to ourselves and that our differences are what make us unique.

Other related materials: Max the Flying Sausage Dog by Jack O’Driscoll and Richard Kelley, illustrated by Arthur Robins; Lost Star: The Story of Amelia Earhart by Patricia Lauber; Orville & Wilbur Wright: Step Out Into the Sky by Carole Marsh; Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson; Riding Freedom by Pam Muñoz Ryan; Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, illustrations by Garth Williams; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

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Two Boys Kissing Review

twoboyskissingTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013. 978-0307931900

Synopsis: Based on true events—and narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS—Two Boys Kissing follows Harry and Craig, two seventeen-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teens dealing with universal questions of love, identity, and belonging. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I will read anything David Levithan writes forever.

Why I finished it: This book definitely deserves the glowing reviews its received: it’s poignant, heartbreaking, and full of hope. Each of the couples in this book represents a stage every relationship – gay or straight – goes through: the nervous getting-to-know-you, the continual desire to know every little thing about the other person, the still trying to be friends even after things are over, and everything in between. It’s a story about the struggles we encounter on the way to becoming ourselves, the way we want others to see us, the way that we have to let ourselves open up to someone we want to be close to, the way we support our friends. The chorus of those who came before gives the reader insight as to what our characters face, what generations of men and women after them will face: the adversity, the challenges, the hurdles people will overcome in order to be together. The real story behind the kiss is just as exciting as Levithan’s fictional re-telling, and while records can be broken, the message sent sticks in our minds. It’s a message that says to me that we’re all people, we all deserve to be treated with the same respect, we all deserve to have our voices heard. It’s a message that stays with the reader long after the book has been put down, and will continue to resonate with readers after us.

Other related materials: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan; Every Day by David Levithan; Every You, Every Me by David Levithan; The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan; How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan; The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Álire Saenz; Just Between Us by J.H. Trimble; Where You Are by J.H. Trimble; Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trimble; Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez; Rainbow High by Alex Sanchez; Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez; Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Alex Sanchez; The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. daforth; Something Like Summer by Jay Bell; Something Like Winter by Jay Bell; Something Like Autumn by Jay Bell; Something Like Spring by Jay Bell; Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg; Branded by the Pink Triangle by Ken Setterington

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Walking on the Boundaries of Change Review

walking_on_the_boundaries_of_changeWalking on the Boundaries of Change: Poems of Transition by Sara Holbrook

Wordsong, 1998. 978-1563977374

Synopsis: Transition is a large part of life, especially when you are a teen. This collection explores the theme of change, new experiences, and tough choices that all of us must make in our journey to adulthood.

Why I picked it up: It’s another one of those books that the title caught my eye because it so perfectly describes the teen age.

Why I finished it: The beauty of poetry is that it tells a story, paints pictures, relay emotions, and show us moments in time. But the same thing that makes poetry so wonderful is also what makes it a challenge – the language must be concise, the words carefully chosen to convey just the right emotion, to portray the right voice. So it would make sense that the challenges of being a teen would be perfectly portrayed in poems, and Holbrook tackles the combination with a certain finesse that I have only found in poems written by teens. Each poem takes on the angst, the anger, the fear, the love, and the confusion of what it means to be a teen and what it means to struggle with finding your personal identity, finding your niche. The poems relate the joys and the trials of being different and how we deal with growing up. They help us understand that even though we feel alone and misunderstood that there are things that can still speak to us in our resistance. It encourages us to explore our personal growth and our beliefs so that we can become the people we wish to be.

Other related materials: I Never Said I Wasn’t Difficult by Sara Holbrook; The Dog Ate My Homework by Sara Holbrook; Which Way to the Dragon!: Poems for the Coming-on-Strong by Sara Holbrook; Weird? (Me, Too!) Let’s Be Friends by Sara Holbrook, illustrated by Karen Sandstrom; More than Friends: Poems from Him and Her by Sara Holbrook and Allan Wolf; Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems by Kristine O’Connell George; Paint Me Like I Am: Teen Poems from WritersCorps selected by Bill Aguado and Richard Newirth; Words with Wings by Nikkie Grimes; Poems from Homeroom: A Writer’s Place to Start by Kathi Appelt

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Divergent Review

Divergent_16Divergent by Veronica Roth

Katherine Tegen Books, 2011. 978-0-06-202402-2

Synopsis: The post-apocalyptic city of Chicago has been divided into five factions: Abegnation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). At sixteen, young adults are tested to determine which faction they will call their own. Beatrice Prior already knows that she will have a difficult time with her decision, but when her test results come back inconclusive, she will have to make the choice on her own. At the Choosing Ceremony, she chooses Dauntless, making the decision to leave her family and make a new life for herself. Renaming herself Tris, she begins her initiation training and begins to uncover a plan that could send their entire society into chaos.

Why I picked it up: The movie comes out on Friday and I decided I had probably read it before I saw the movie.

Why I finished it: It started out a little bit slow for my taste, but it picked up the more I got into the story. Roth has created for the reader a dystopian society that is reminiscent of We, The Giver, and 1984: the notion that though the government has been designed to keep peace, it is in fact creating dissonance in society, showing that not all of the people are equals (which was one of the reasons for the Communist movement in Russia). But aside from the history lesson that we could get from this book from a deeper read, we have teenagers that are forced to make decisions about themselves and the kind of people they will become. None of Beatrice’s inner conflicts are foreign to the reader, and the feelings of being too small, believing that the wrong choice has been made, and the desire to find a place in the world transcend age and gender. Tris, as she calls herself after she switches from Abegnation to Dauntless, may seem like a small character, but she grows more determined and more brave as the events of the plot take their course. Like many modern teenagers, she has to learn hard lessons about her peers, about her mentors, about love, and about the world as a whole. She spends a fair amount of time doubting herself, but it is her stubbornness and her inherent selflessness (a trait from which she tries to distance herself) that gives her the fuel she needs to keep going, to keep fighting. My one qualm with the book is that Roth spends quite some time describing the movements of the characters to the point where it detracts from the dialogue in some places; in the little intimate moments, I don’t care whether their hands are on each other’s waists or running their fingers through hair while the other has their hands on their hips, I just care whether they’re going to embrace/makeout/whatever. Teenagers have wandering hands, we get it. But overall, this is a strong debut novel with a message that we are in charge of our own transformations, that despite feeling out of control, we do have a say in our own future.

Other related materials: Divergent (movie); Insurgent by Veronica Roth; Allegiant by Veronica Roth; The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins; The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau; Independent Study (The Testing, Book 2) by Joelle Charbonneau; Graduation Day (The Testing, Book 3) by Joelle Charbonneau; Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner; Matched books by Allie Condie; The Giver by Lois Lowry; Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry;  Feed by M.T. Anderson; Gone by Michael Grant; Uwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman The Mind Readers series by Lori Brighton; Life As We Knew It series by Susan Beth Pfeffer; The Selection books by Kiera Cass; Under the Never Sky books by Veronica Rossi

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Bloomability Review

bloomabilityBloomability by Sharon Creech

HarperCollins, 2012. 978-0064408233

Synopsis: Dinnie is in trouble: she’s been ‘kidnapped’ by her aunt and uncle and taken to Switzerland to attend an International School. Her parents are calling it an opportunity, but all Dinnie wants is to go back to the states with her family. She even tries to makes a sign for her window that says “Kidnapped” but she can’t seem to find the right word to convey her message. Then Dinnie meets Guthrie and Lila, two of the students at the school, and through their friendship she begins to see more and more opportunity in her life and more ways to feel less like a dot and more like a person.

Why I picked it up: It’s another middle school favorite I pulled off my shelf while I was reorganizing my personal library.

Why I finished it: Creech has a flair for telling the reader a story about themselves, though it might not always be seen in that way. Dinnie, like many of her other protagonists, feel that they are missing a part of their own identity, whether it be from losing a loved one, making a life change, or having the world as we know it seem to fall apart. Dinnie overhears her mother telling her aunt that she is ‘adaptable’, but Dinnie isn’t quite sure of this assertion; she just feels like a dot in a bubble, floating around above the world but never really participating in it. Guthrie and Lila have a lot to do with changing her point of view: both characters are loud, boisterous, and full of a lust for life, Dinnie’s opposites. As she copes with missing her family and figuring out where she belongs in the school, Dinnie begins to look more and more into herself. She wants to be her own person, but she’s so afraid to have her bubble burst that she is afraid to let anyone in. Part personal discovery, part letting go, Creech’s coming-of-age story reminds us that the people around us can help us shape our lives in ways we could never have imagined and that one should remember to look up rather than down.

Other related materials: Heartbeat by Sharon Creech; The Wanderer by Sharon Creech; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech; Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech; Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech; Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath; The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron; Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm; The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen; How Tía Lola Came to (Visit) Stay by Julia Alvarez; Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan; Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan; Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool; Blue Willow by Doris Gates; The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson; Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer; The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg; About Average by Andrew Clements, illustrations by Mark Elliott; Remarkable by Elizabeth Foley

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My Basmati Bat Mitzvah Review

my_basmati_bat_mitzvahMy Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Harry N. Abrams, 2013. 978-1419708060

Synopsis: During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-O–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with the snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I want to expand my multicultural knowledge base and I have a special place in my reading list for stories about finding yourself.

Why I finished it: Tara is a charismatic narrator with a wacky family and caring friends that despite misunderstandings will always have her back. And like any young teen, she’s trying to find a happy medium between what she wants and what her parents want…and what side of her family she most identifies with – her Jewish side of her Indian side. Tara has the unique problem of being in a culturally diverse family and it’s clearly having an effect on her religious beliefs and on her relationships with her friends. She doesn’t want to have to give up her identity as a Indian-American Jew to be just ‘Jewish’ or just ‘Indian-American’. Freedman has captured both the confusion and the determination of a young girl to prove that she is her own person while navigating the minefield of personal relationships. It reminds the reader about the confusion of first loves, the strength of true friendship, and the often overlooked support that comes from family. The novel is a charming coming-of-age story that proves that everyone is unique and that we can shape ourselves in ways we never thought were possible.

Other related materials: You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah! by Fiona Rosenbloom; We Are SO Crashing Your Bar Mitzvah! by Fiona Rosenbloom; The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah by Nora Raleigh Baskin; The JGirl’s Guide: The Young Jewish Woman’s Handbook for Coming of Age by Penina Adelman, Ali Feldman, and Shulamit Reinharz; The JGuy’s Guide: The GPS for Jewish Teen Guys by Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler, Shulamit Reinharz, Liz Suneby, and Diane Heiman; Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch; Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch; The Night Journey by Kathryn Lasky; A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Michelle Barnes; The Path of Names by Ari Goelman; My Family For The War by Anne C. Voorhoeve; Looking for Me…In This Great Big Family by Betsy C. Rosenthal; Stories for Children by Isaac Bashevis Singer; With a Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah adapted by Amy Erlich, illustrated by Daniel Nevins; The Barefoot Book of Jewish Tales by Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, illustrated by Amanda Hall, narrated by Debra Messing; Letters from Rivka by Karen Hesse; All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor; More All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor; Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth

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The Unfinished Angel Review

unfinished_angelThe Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech

HarperCollins, 2009. 978-0-06-143095-4

Synopsis: In a tiny village high in the Swiss Alps, there is an Angel who is unsure of what he/she is doing on Earth…or rather, supposed to be doing. Then the Angel meets Zola, an American with a peculiar fashion sense and a desire to make everyone in the tiny village happy. Suddenly, the Angel is helping everyone left and right, much to its chagrin, but perhaps it has finally found a mission, a reason for its residence on Earth.

Why I picked it up: I was looking for Eragon in a friend’s library and found this under a stack of J.D. Robb books. Plus, I have loved Sharon Creech ever since I read Walk Two Moons in elementary school.

Why I finished it: Creech is a prolific author and this book is another wonderful addition to her large and well-known body of work. The Angel as a narrator is simultaneously curious and disgusted with humanity, commenting on how people can have such a large capacity to care and yet they worry so much about time. Zola jolts the Angel out of its comfort zone and inadvertently forces the Angel to become more involved in the lives of the villagers, which gives the Angel a new perspective. The language Creech uses is unique in that the Angel’s voice is often broken and it misuses or can’t think of the right word, reminiscent of an English language learner. It’s an endearing characteristic that bonds us to the Angel – for me, it reminds me of some of the students I went to college with whose first language was not English. It plays on the notion of being uncomfortable with formal communications and trying to learn to command one’s first language (I am a native American English speaker, and honestly, I’m probably never going to have a firm grasp on the English language). The Unfinished Angel is a sweet and endearing story about finding our place, learning to see the good in people, and banding together for a common cause.

Other related materials: Heartbeat by Sharon Creech; Love That Dog by Sharon Creech; Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech; The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech; Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech; Bloomability by Sharon Creech; Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech; Replay by Sharon Creech; The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate; Another NASTYbook: The Curse of the Tweeties by Barry Yourgrau and Robert DeJesus; A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass; A Recipe for Robbery by Marybeth Kelsey; Mountain Pose by Nancy Hope Wilson; The Talent Thief by Alex Williams

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Page by Paige Review

pagebypaigePage by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

Amulet Books, 2011. 978-0810997226

Synopsis: Paige Turner has just moved from Virginia to New York and she feels lost in the big city. She’s worried no one at school will talk to her, that she won’t fit in, and she misses her friend Diana. On a whim, Paige buys a sketchbook and decides to fill it with her drawings and use them to illustrate nine pieces of advice given to her by her grandmother. Page by page, Paige becomes more confident, social, and better acquainted with herself and the world around her.

Why I picked it up: It was a title that got tossed around in a couple of my classes in library school and I decided to check it out.

Why I finished it: The color cover was so vibrant that I was thrown through a loop for a brief moment when I realized the book was in black and white, but the lack of color didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the story in any way. The simplistic nature of the black and white sketches and drawings Gulledge uses is helpful in showing Paige’s inner monologues and how she moves from self-doubt to self-confidence. Self-discovery is a very personal thing and Gulledge’s story illustrates this beautifully over the course of the book. I found myself identifying closely with Paige as she explores her relationships with her parents, her peers, and herself. I thought the portions about the familiar relationships were particularly well-executed, since during the teen years we often feel a sense of suffocation from the parent/authority figures in our lives. The characters were likable and they complimented Paige very well, but by the end of the story I still felt like they were two dimensional – granted, the story is Paige’s story, but I might have liked to see Gulledge discuss these relationships more. I’d probably recommend this story for junior highers/younger teens because of some of the content and subject matter toward the middle of the book, but I know that Tweens will pick up a lot of the books that their older peers are reading. Overall, a touching story that encourages the reader to find their voice.

Other related materials: Smile by Raina Telgemeier; Drama by Raina Telgemeier; A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Madeline L’Engle, illustrated by Hope Larson; Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol; Feed by M.T. Anderson; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; Tangerine by Edward Bloor; Rapunzel’s Revenge by Dean Hale and Shannon Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale; The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel by Jeanne DuPrau, adapted by Dallas Middaugh, illustrated by Niklas Asker; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead; Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead; Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine; To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel; Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

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Smile review

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Graphix, 2010. 978-0545132060

Synopsis: Raina is just a normal sixth grader until she falls and severely injures her two front teeth after a Girl Scout meeting. Now, not only does she have to get braces, but she has to wear fake teeth and carry around dental floss, wax, and a whole lot of other stuff that is just embarrassing! Will Raina be able to smile again or is she doomed to live forever without her two front teeth?

Why I picked it up: I wore braces in junior high and had to carry around a whole arsenal of dental supplies just like Raina.

Why I finished it: Though Raina’s story takes place in the late 80s/early 90s, there is something timeless about the struggles she goes through: dental drama, secret and not so secret crushes, friends drama, and everything that made junior high, well, junior high. Some of the references might go over the heads of the current generation (it makes me feel old when I realize that I know who the New Kids on the Block are…though I was an N’Sync girl myself), the dilemmas are still the same. I loved Telgemeier’s art, since it really brought the story to life without being over-the-top cutsey. As aCalifornia girl, I loved the way she drewSan Francisco, which makes it apparent that although she has bad memories of a certain freeway off-ramp, she does love the city. I’d highly recommend this book for junior high girls, those of us that were junior high girls, and those of us that genuinely feel we survived junior high in one piece.

Other related materials: The Babysitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin, illustrated by Raina Telgemeier; The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger; Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LeFleur; Trash by Andy Mulligan; Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes; Countdown by Deborah Wiles; Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin; One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; Amulet books by Kazu Kibuishi; The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang by Amy Ignatow; Wonder by R.J. Palacio; Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol; Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke; The Dork Diaries books by Rachel Renee Russo

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