The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake

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While I was pulling “The Might Heart of Sunny St. James” out from the rest of the April book order (to read first before putting it on our new arrivals table) I knew the author’s name sounded familiar.  Once I recognized that this was the author of the YA “Girl Made of Stars”, I was pretty stoked to see how her writing translated to juvenile fiction. I hadn’t realized I’d already read her juvenile fiction work.  
Anyway this is definitely one of those novels that I wasn’t sure if I was going to review as I was reading it.  The story moved along, created a lovely main character, and discussed the much needed voice of LGBTQ in juvenile fiction.  Sunny St. James is struggling with her health as well as her sexual identity, mix in some friend and family drama and we all know that’s the perfect storm of juvenile fiction!  But what really got me was the end. This is why I really do try to read as many books to the end as I can. There have been too many books that were either a drag to read or just simply classified as “a pretty good book” until I got to the end.  And then the author BLEW MY MIND in the final chapters. I think this novel would fall under that category, it was pleasant enough but the end is where it got me and I knew I wanted to share it in reviews.
When I was in middle school and my friends and I were moving through the chaos of puberty and coming into our sexuality; being called gay was sort of like the Salem Witch Trials. Ashley Herring Blake remains the pillar of coming of age sexuality by creating characters that are discovering who they are and owning it bravely; despite confusion, questions, and uncertainty.  Sunny St. James doesn’t come to the conclusion of her identity easily or without doubt and fear BUT it makes her journey worthy of respect and love. I think that’s what I adore most about Ashley’s characters; they go deep. They provide grounding for children coming into their own sexual identity. Because Ashley writes strength into her characters discoveries; these are truly earned badges of personal growth.  It is a thrill to see her characters come out the other side stronger and certain of their own resilience.
As I was settling in to write my “For Those That Liked” section I immediately thought of similarities to Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, in fact the cover art even reminded me of Ivy….. turns out Ashley Herring Blake ALSO wrote Ivy Aberdeen… Suffice it to say I believe Ashley Herring Blake is one the most relevant authors we have right now for LGBTQ voices in juvenile fiction; writing important and timely voices in a wonderfully insightful and thoughtful way!
For Those That Liked: Better Nate Than Never, Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World, George
For Ages: 9 years old and up

Outwalkers by Fiona Shaw

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Woah, THIS book.  I just finished the book at my desk and my library assistant asked if I liked it.  I pretty much said that first three sentence out loud. She asked me what was it about. I asked if she had every read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.  She hadn’t. So I said it was sort of like The Hunger Games. The first book before it all went choppy and lost it’s direction. But also it is NOTHING like The Hunger Games.  It feels post- apocalyptic. But it’s not. There was no apocalypse. It’s not really futuristic either. The best way I could describe it is a “Some Time in the Near Future Refugee Story”.  
What if a wall IS built? What if it keeps it’s citizens in, just as well as it keeps others out? Although you’re probably thinking Hunger Games resistance… it’s much closer to Katniss's accidental resistance of the first novel; Jack Riley just wants to get to Scotland to live with his grandparents.  Problem is, he lives in England and English residents aren’t allowed to leave England. The story is dark and gripping. Which is something my 8th graders are always requesting so I already know it will be on the line up for next year’s Book Club. They like difficult stories, something that pulls them.  Stories that are scary. This checks a lot of their requirements but I also like that it includes courage. But not like the obvious bravery, more like there’s only one option: KEEP MOVING FORWARD. I wouldn’t say it was super fast-paced but it was the sort of story where you end a chapter and drop right into the next one because you need to know what comes next.  
There is a beautifully constructed hardness to it, which is necessary.  This isn’t a light story but it’s spectacular. Easily the best Hunger Games-ish novel I’ve ever read for juvenile fiction.  6th- 8th graders that want a bit of scary and suspense and that liked “Among the Hidden” will love this for sure. It is a little long but in my opinion nothing is in this novel that shouldn’t be (it needs and deserves  its length). This is the first novel I’m putting in my juvenile collection that has more in common with YA style novels than juvenile fiction.
For Ages: 10 years old and up
For Those that Liked: Among the Hidden, City of Ember
***This is the first novel I’m putting in my juvenile collection that has more in common with YA style novels than juvenile fiction.  YA: Matched, The Hunger Games

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

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April is poetry month which meant my least favorite month in English class.  I was never a fan of poetry. Of course I grew up reading Shel Silverstein and then endured more Shakespeare plays that is necessary during High School.  I didn’t even know that modern authors were killing the poetry novel game until college. Now that is way too long to go before finding out about Inside Out and Back Again or Love That Dog.  It sort of became of quiet mission of mine to introduce this type of poetry to children, sothey had a chance to learn and love poetry before they got to Shakespeare (is it obvious, I’m NOT a fan….) I read Full Cicada Moon my first year as a librarian and immediately did my best to promote it whenever I could.  I pulled it back off the shelf for Bendy Bookworm Tween classes I’ve been teaching during this Poetry Month. It was easy to turn into a yoga class because the poetry lends itself to beautiful descriptive imagery. This book is crucial for teaching empathy and persistence. It’s an interesting moment of historical fiction; Mimi is a half Black, half Japanese Tween who has just moved with her family to Vermont in 1969.  While her struggles are definitely tied up in being half Black and half Japanese, there’s a huge portion of this story that deals with what it meant to be a young GIRL in 1969. At one point in this story Mimi tells her classmates she wants to be an astronaut and the class laughs at her. I asked the group of girls I was teaching why they laughed. To my delight and bemusement only one girl questioningly asked, “Because she was a girl?”  As if that was an absurd reason to not be allowed to do something. I loved that we’ve come at least this far, for middle school girls to not see their gender as a justifiable reason to be stopped from doing anything. I know we still have so much more work to do. But it was a great moment and also the perfect moment to honor all those middle school girls that came before that weren’t allowed to be astronauts, or take shop class, or not be invited to a friend’s house because of their skin color.  Full Cicada Moon is a privilege to read and a privilege to share. It’s a remembered time in our collective history that wasn’t all fun-loving-Woodstock-Vermont, that questions our resistance to change and prompts us to do better as we move forward.
For Ages: 8 years old and up
For Those That Liked: Amina’s Voice, Inside Out and Back Again, Blended

Teenage Wasteland

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One particular December, while I was reading “Valley of the Dolls”, I started descending into sadness. I was confused by what was prompting my despondency and blamed winter. Around the last couple of chapters, I finally realized that my emotions were reflecting the destruction of the characters in the book; I had become emotionally bonded to their depression. I forced myself to finish the book as fast as possible (at the time I didn’t believe in leaving a book unfinished) and filed away the fact that apparently a book had total control over my moods.

…And then I took a Young Adult Fiction Intensive Course. For this particular class we were expected to read five YA novels a week; the expectations was that by the end of the semester we would have a thorough understanding of the genre. My understanding is as follows: the YA novel is all the emotional chaos of puberty with zero emotional balance, reasoning, or sanity.

As someone who is easily influenced by books, I had zero emotional balance, reasoning, and sanity. When the desire to use black eyeliner ONLY on my lower eyelid resurfaced, I should have probably realized I was in the “Valley” again….

After one book, I had to force myself to remember that being a homeless teenager is NOT a desirable form of freedom. I didn’t notice when TakingBack Sunday and AFI were once again blasting through my speakers or that “Eleanor and Park” and “The Fault in Our Stars” are NOT actually idealistic romances but actually horribly depressing and slightly masochistic. I was falling in love in the morning and crying in angst and heartbreak in the evening. At the time I had only a vague notion that maybe it was the books… It seemed much more logical that the world was out to get me and I needed a tattoo to tell it that I regretted NOTHING. I was an emotional extreme but (unlike being an actual teenager surrounded by other teenagers) no one else around me was.

In May, the semester ended: as did 6 different romantic messes, 4 boxes of tissues (not of which had been used due to illness or allergies), as well as my interest in ever binge reading YA fiction EVER again. Thank God I barely had time to myself after work and homework because I was never actually able to schedule any tattoos or piercings.

I guess sometimes it takes descending into the valley 76 times before being able to acknowledge that my vulnerability to become emotionally manipulated by a good book isn’t going away anytime soon… but emotional phases do!! Sometimes people are sharing similar experiences AND sometimes you’re alone; reading books and blasting Blink-182. So here’s to moments of emotional instability and hopefully only having to live through the chaos of puberty once.

Sal and Gabi Break The Universe by Carlos Hernandez

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A few years ago I went to Florida in October to go to Harry Potter World.  It’s sort of irrelevant to this review except I wanted to make it clear that visiting Harry Potter World was one of the greatest moments of my life and Florida is a sticky humid swamp I would rather avoid.  It was October and my curly hair was a frizzed out poof (think Monica in Barbados), walking down the block caused me to sweat, and (weirdly, considering we were right by the ocean) there was an interesting LACK of sea breeze.  So I connected with Sal, a Connecticut through and through who is starting off the new school year in Miami. I got the distress the Florida heat caused….I liked Sal. I actually liked a lot about this book, which was a shock because I have hated every Rick Riordan Presents so far.  Rick Riordan Presents seemed like it was trying to market cultural myths and legends in a formula that brought the success of The Lightning Thief. It didn’t work. But this one steps away from that formula. It’s not about trying to retell all the myths of a culture; it’s about bringing to life a metaphysical theory about multi universes.  I loved how Carlos Hernandez was able to share culture and language with his characters, while presenting this super trippy concept of “breaking Universes”. I loved that the characters felt unique and ideal in a way that made them fun to read, but also held elements of relatable truth. I loved that the story was fun and ok honestly I just loved that a character like Gabi exists to give every girl the okay to be bossy AND like-able!!!  It was entertaining, magical, and pretty funny too!! AND no tears with this one…
For Ages: 9 years old and up
For Those That Liked: A Wrinkle in Time, Merci Suarez Changes Gears, Hello, Universe

The Chronicle of The Dark Star: The Shores Beyond Time by Kevin Emerson

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I’ve never been into sci-fi.  In fact, science in general wasn’t really my thing.  I didn’t really care too much about aliens. I sort of thought they were tacky…. I never really thought about deep space or “The Future”.  Even today I’m still a bit iffy on where I stand with the genre: I love Ray Bradbury but I have never seen or desired to see a single Star Trek episode.  (Side note: I actually love Star Wars but I just watched ll of the movies for the first time last year.) I hated A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the book…. Never saw the movie).  So I think me and sci-fi are best described as acquaintances. But if sci-fi were trying to steal my heart, woe me into a relationship then The Chronicle of The Dark Star would be its Ryan Gosling.  
We all know that we live in a made-up linear timeline.  It makes it easy for us to go through life in one direction but time itself is a man-made construct.  This book, taking place in space, plays with our construction of time; breaking it down and apart and questioning it’s reality.  There are a group of species that exist outside of time. For a moment in this book, one member of that species lives without the ability to see his future.  He begins to understand the three dimensional existence of being in a single moment, living a linear life. It made me think of how brave we are, as humans to live without knowing.  We don’t see any future paths but move forward anyway. We move into the dark every morning, every hour. That is brave.
My dad spent the better part of this week in the hospital with a blood clot in his leg.  Each day we were waiting for doctors to visit, the medecine to do it’s thing, for the “You can be discharged now.”  We didn’t know when he could leave, how his body would heal, or even if it would heal…. But the crazy thing as humans, we’re used to not knowing.  Imagine living in all timelines, seeing all possibilities. Would it have made this week easier, if I’d already saw all of the possible outcomes? I don’t know…    
Liam is learning the ways of the time traveling species, he is able to expand out from his current timeline to see and experience others.  But it makes him crave individual moments that he hasn’t seen before. They become more special, more significant. As a yoga practitioner I see enlightenment in this.  He is getting tuned into the present moment, wanting it even with uncertainty over seeing his future timelines. He wants to be in the now.
The coolest thing this series did for me (apart from just being straight entertaining) is that I feel like the NOW is more attainable to me now.  Because as a species, we’re only ever in the now. Sure we can worry or think about the past or the future, but the simple truth is… we’re a NOW species.  Maybe we don’t have to try so hard to accomplish this enlightened NOW. But just remind ourselves that as humans we’ve already nailed this one! Okay okay I know there’s more to it but …. Maybe there isn’t…. Anyway I think we’re pretty brave.  We live everyday not knowing what is going to come next. And we still get out of bed, do shit, and live… I think that makes us all pretty courageous.
For Ages: 9 years old and up
For Those That Liked: When You Reach Me, Among the Hidden, Dragon Pearl

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

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I cry all the time when I read… like ALL THE TIME. Now we all know, there’s different types of crying.  There’s beautiful crying where you look like the heroine on a Romance novel. Your shiny lustrous hair is blowing in the wind, your face is glowing and rosy, your eyes are glistening …. Only glistening, with maybe a single tear.  Then there’s trying not to cry crying, where you sniffle a lot and you try and pass it off like of a sudden you got a cold and your nose is just runny. And your eyes are red from desperately trying to hold the tears in. You think everyone just thinks you just recently developed an allergy.  Everyone knows you want to cry. Then there’s ugly crying. You don’t give a crap when you’re ugly crying. There’s snots, gasping for breathe, the neckline of your shirt is literally wet with your tears. Makeup is smearing, you’re choking, you’ll never be happy again…. Ugly tears. I regularly experience different stops along the crying spectrum with different books I’m reading.  The problem is, that I’m sometimes reading and sobbing at my desk in the Children’s room…. This book was just one of those amazing stories that literally had me tearing up like every other page but it was so beautiful I didn't mind at all.  They were sad tears just more like all the feelings tears, beautiful crying. But those last few chapters, the tear ducts opened and the floods came. I hung out in trying not to cry crying for like half a second because I was at my desk...openly weeping,,,, at my desk.... so embarrassing.  There had to be some effort to hold it together. But that was short lived and I landed in ugly crying for the novel's end. At this point, I’m pretty sure the rest of the staff is used to occasionally walking in on me with an open book, red eyes, tears streaming down my face, and sniffles.  I actually wonder if they know I’m crying because of a book… or maybe they just think I’m the Children’s Librarian version of Moaning Myrtle (they wouldn’t be totally wrong…)

Anyway despite this crying disquisition, it was a spectacular book.  Often I’ll read such an amazing book filled with deep, deep emotion and hand it off to a tween with a warning, “This was great but get ready for the feels.”  They come back and tell me, “This was sad?” So I connected to the love, loss, heartbreak and hope but many a Tween might just love the goofy story of a Dad and his daughter living and driving around in a school bus.  They might just like the adventure; the characters that get pick uped along the way. They might like the silliness, the uniqueness, the coolness, and the friendship. Either way it was a remarkable read!!!
For Ages: 8 years old and up
For Those That Liked: Holes, Raymie Nightingale, Flora and Ulysses, Summerlost

Strange Star by Emma Carroll

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I’m about to type something that may risk my credit as a Literature Major: I have never read Frankenstein.  And to be honest, after a Wishbone (moment of gratitude for this little Jack Russell Terrier who is the reason I made through all my HS AP classes during my no reading phase) episode and multiple viewings of Young Frankenstein, I never really felt like I needed too.  Anyway, I never read it and never ever felt like there was a hole in my “classics” arsenal. Enter Strange Star:

Strange Star falls under the super small but one of my favorite genres of “reimagined literature”.  This is exactly what it sounds like: reimagined stories- fairy tales, movies, stories, moments in history, etc.  Stories that take something we’ve heard before and twist and turn it into something electric and new. But Strange Star goes one genius step further: it is not a retelling of Frankenstein but an imagination inspiration story: what could have inspired Mary Shelley to write the classic novel in the first place.  And suddenly I’m interested in the original work. Historical nuances; a mix fact and fiction in this twisted retelling add a whole new dimension because we are given a chance to “know” the author and the time period before the work. For the first time, I found the premise of Frankenstein fascinating; the quest for science and greatness facing off against humanity.  And while I’m being a bit of a high minded Adult here, let me stop and make absolutely clear that it is 100% accessible to the recommended age. While there’s a whole lot of deep thought going on in this novel for some readers (adults ahem ahem), others can just enjoy a creepy new version of Frankenstein for the ghost story that it is.

Now I’m off to read Frankenstein….

For Ages: 9- 14 years old

For Those That Liked: The War That Saved My Life, Max Tilt Series, Frankenstein ( any Young Readers Editions)

Yoga Pose- Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose):

*From Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) on the right side, bring your left hand to rest on your left hip. Inhale and bend your right knee while sliding your left foot about 6 to 12 inches forward along the floor. At the same time, reach your right hand forward to press against the floor about a foot beyond the little-toe side of the right foot.
*Exhale and press your right hand and right heel firmly into the floor.  Straighten your right leg while simultaneously lifting the left leg parallel to the floor. Be careful not to lock (and so hyperextend) the standing knee by mirco bending in the knee.
*Begin to rotate your upper torso to the left.  Most beginners should keep the left hand on the left hip and the head in a neutral position, possibly gazing towards the ground until balance is achieved.
Next Level: Raise the left hand, lifting fingertips towards the sky.  Allow the gaze to follow the fingertips.
To Exit:Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale to come up, by slowly lowering the lifted heel to down to press firmly into the ground. Reverse the feet and repeat for the same length of time on the opposite side.

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

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I truly enjoyed this book but I struggled to get myself to sit down and write the review for it. I didn’t know what I wanted to say.  So I’m settling on telling the only story that keeps coming up whenever I look at the color of this book: Early into my teens, I taped a piece of paper to the back of my closet.  This paper listed all the reasons I was unlovable. Whenever I got into a fight with a family member or had a particularly bad day, I would add to the list. I couldn’t tell you why it started or when it exactly it ended.  (I don't know if it ever truly ended or it just shifted into an internal dialogue as I got older). Honestly, I sort of forgot about the list’s existence until picking up this book. Genesis has the list and for the first time I wonder: how many other children, tweens, teens, adults also have the list: a personal ledger of what they think others think about them, the worst things about themselves?

Although Genesis is a character I didn’t immediately identify with, I found myself in her: the girl that wanted to be a different person.  As a teenager, I went to great lengths to bury the person I was (the one I believed was unloveable) as I tried to be the person I thought I should be.  Had I had Genesis maybe it wouldn’t have taken me into early adulthood to figure it all out…..

This book is a beautiful story about how we see ourselves, how we see others; judgements and prejudices and personal histories. Equal parts infuriating and hopeful.  The entire time absolutely human.

For Ages:10-14 years old

For Those That Liked: Blended, Harbor Me, Stella by Starlight

Yoga Pose- Camatkarasana (Wild Thing Pose):
*
Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) lift the left leg high moving into Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana (Three-Legged Down Dog).
*
Bring your weight into your right hand and roll onto the outer edge of your right foot like in Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose).
*Inhale: lift.  Exhale: step your left foot back and place your toes on the floor with your knee partially bent.
Next Level: If you feel stable, lift your hips higher until you curl more into a backbend with your right foot solid on the ground.
To Exit:
Hold for 5-10 breaths breaths, return to Down Dog and repeat on the other side.





Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

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This was all kinds of challenging but in an astoundingly beautiful way.  It is full to the brim of triggers so if rape is has a significance for you, it may be taped. I know that statement is true for too many of us.  Which makes this book even more relevant and powerful.

Right before reading it, I happened to see a meme posted on instagram: it showed a girl in the top half of the frame the words read something to the effect of “think of our daughters, sisters, wives…” while the bottom half had a picture of a boy reading “think of our sons, husbands, brothers”.  As if requiring better behavior, sexual responsibility, and respect of men is treating them unfairly or poorly. Yes, it was an infuriating meme and unfortunately reflects a sentiment that is still perversely outweighing victims. This book is that meme in story: it is raw and honest; illuminating all the angles.  It demonstrates the darkside of struggle, blind trust, chosen ignorance, and fear. But it also shares hope, solidarity, and strength. And lots of love both how it can affect justice, but also how it can redeem and save. Summing this book up in one powerful line, “You mean it's not that easy. Because what happened is that simple… It’s a tangled mess of simple facts, a kaleidoscope of right and wrong.  The aftermath --- that's what’s complicated.”

I am so grateful to Ashley Herring Blake for writing such a multiple dimensional novel, it isn’t easy when there’s so much anger and pain but it was necessary.  And we are better people for it.

For Ages: 14 years old and up

For Those That Liked: Picture Us in Light, Speak, The Beauty That Remains

Yoga Pose- Eka Pada Vasisthasana (One-Legged Side Plank Pose):
*Come into Plank Pose, with your shoulders over your wrists. Turn your hands out until your index fingers are parallel to each other.
*Move into Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose) by pressing your inner right hand down, externally rotating your upper right arm as you spin your outer right heel to the floor. Line up the center of your right foot with the center of your right wrist. Stack your left leg on top of your right.  Stretch your left arm straight up. If you feel stable, look up to your left hand. Hold for 5 to 8 breaths.
Next Level:
*
If you’re stable in and can hold Side Plank Pose for 5 to 8 breaths, externally rotate your left hip, bend your left knee, and rest your big toe above the right knee (Tree Pose).
You May Also:
*
Hold your big toe or use a strap, and straighten your left leg up while keeping your right side body in a straight diagonal line. Look down at first to help with balance, and then look forward. If your neck feels strain free, turn your head to look up toward your left foot.



Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

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Sometimes I need some time to process a book.  I don’t want to sit down and immediately write the review because I end up with a list of adjectives and not a whole lot else.  When I wrote out my adjectives for this I had:

*Hope: this book is the single most hopeful book of 2018. Hope in friendship and community.

*Anger: reading truth can do that.

*Heartbreak: same as above.

*Change: the result of all the previously mentioned emotions.  By the end I felt changed, as if I had just grown through that year in the ARTT room with those six children.  

I usually hate when reviewers refer to books as stunning.  But honestly, it just applies here. Woodson manages to explore the current American political and social landscape while keeping us focused on the six children talking in the ARTT room.  We relate, empathize, and sympathise with their struggle to define their individual identities as well as their place and role in community.

For Ages: 9 years old and up

For Those That Liked: Blended, The Parker Inheritance, Louisiana’s Way Home

Yoga Pose- Ustrasana (Camel Pose):
*Kneel on the floor with your knees hip width and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Rotate your thighs inward slightly as you firm your buttocks. Imagine that you're drawing your sitting bones up, into your torso. Press your shins and the tops of your feet firmly into floor.
*Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis (bases of the palms on the tops of the buttocks, fingers pointing down).  Inhale and lift your heart.
*ENGAGE YOUR CORE and begin to lean back while keeping your head up, chin near the sternum, and your hands on the pelvis.

NEXT LEVEL:
*Kneel on the floor with your knees hip width and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Move one ankle in front of the other knee.  Rotate your thighs inward slightly as you firm your buttocks. Imagine that you're drawing your sitting bones up, into your torso. Press your shins and the tops of your feet firmly into floor.
*Continue to ENGAGE YOUR CORE as you lean further back, while keeping the heart elevated.  Reach the right hand back to touch the right foot and then allow the left hand to follow. (If you're not able to touch your feet without compressing your lower back, turn your toes under and lift your heels.)

TO EXIT POSE:
Stay in this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. When you are ready to exit, bring your hands onto the front of your pelvis, at the hip points. Inhale and lift the head and torso up by pushing the hip points down, toward the floor. If your head is back, lead with your heart to come up.  Rest in Child's Pose for a few breaths.





The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

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This novel took my breath away; a magnificent piece.  The story layers, much like the colors and shades of a painting.  Emily X.R. Pan is truly a gifted artist, the composition itself is lyrical.  And then there's the story which reads equal parts hauntingly realistic with a unexpected supernatural component that reminded me quite a bit of The Emperor of Any Place.  Personally, I struggle in the early chapters with this style of writing because my mind wants to keep the realistic pieces together, “this is realistic fiction.” I find myself wondering, Is the character dreaming?  Is this fantasy? When I first read a similar style I would almost say I hated the story until my mind wrapped around that it is a realistic paranormal fiction (if such a genre could exist). After the acceptance, comes awe.  Especially in the case of this novel. It is nothing short of a masterpiece; blending culture, hormones, guilt, familial obligation, curiosity, fear, and forgiveness. If you don’t read any other 2018 YA fiction, please let this be the novel you read!!

For Ages: 14 years old and up

For Those That Liked: The Emperor of Any Place, The Beauty That Remains, The Chaos of Standing Still

Yoga Pose- Svarga Dvijasana (Bird of Paradise Pose):
*Begin in Warrior II Pose with left knee bent in front. Inhale and take your arms to shoulder height. Exhale and bring your left arm under the left thigh, and your right arm to the sky, then behind your back. Clasp the left wrist with the right hand. Keep the left leg bent, twist the torso to the sky as you gently press the hips forward into Bound Extended Side Angle Pose.
*Exhale and turn both your feet parallel, carefully start to move them toward one another. Once the legs are close to hip distance, straighten them both while maintaining the bind.  
*Pour all of your weight into your right foot and start to lift your torso, at the same time lifting the left leg off the floor (as you straighten to standing balance on your right foot). Keep the lifted leg bent in this Svarga Dvijasana variation—Bird of Paradise with a bent leg variation.
Next Level:
Straighten and extend the lifted leg to the side, being careful not to swing the supporting hip out to the side. Fix the drishti straight ahead or over the right shoulder and stay for 5–10 deep breaths. Repeat on Opposite side.

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

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At first I didn’t want to read this book.  I didn’t really liked the cover, I’m not a fan of the watermelon pattern because it feels a little childish to me (like patches on a pair of Osh Kosh overalls) and I didn’t really like the title because it reminded me of the song.  I’m still a little perplexed by the title…. But some of the other children’s librarian nominated it for our Mock Awards. Normally I’m in agreement with what we nominate so I was prepared to kick myself in the butt for judging this particular book by its cover.

I didn’t love it.  

I guess the main character was pretty decently developed.  And all the plot points were hit on nicely. It should have been the kind of book that makes me cry: the mother has Schizophrenia, has stopped taking her medication, and the family farm is failing, instead it felt like it lacked emotional charge.  It read a bit predictable and I couldn’t help but feel like Della underwent an unrealistic personality change in too short a time period; a forced resolution in a story without a resolution.
But here’s where I want to try and reframe my perspective: I thought authentic emotion was missing BUT maybe it's perfect for the age group.  Maybe it felt predictable because pride is so familiar to us. Exhausting and boring as it is, most of us let pride interfere. Maybe as adults we want children to be children so badly we forget that most of the time they feel the weight of the world, they feel responsible, they feel adult.  Maybe the emotional charge I felt was lacking, was written in a different form (shoving the emotion down and ignoring it).  Final decision: although it wasn’t my favorite juvenile book of 2018, I see its merits and I can see how it can be relatable to children who react like Della to fear.

For Ages: 8-12 years old

For Those That Liked: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, The Science of Breakable Things, See You in The Cosmos  


Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

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Have you ever heard of the frog in the boiling pot of water: drop a frog in a pot of boiling water and he’ll immediately hop out.  But drop a frog in cool water and gradually warm it to boil and the unsuspecting frog will cook because it acclimates to each slowly rising degree….until its death.  

I’ve experienced this a few times in my life: in work, with life situations, in relationships.  We as humans can adapt to our deaths. We as women, socially and historically, have been frogs… slowly boiling to death.  

“Holy crap!” - my hand to heart, first thought (and subsequently spoken out loud sentence)  at the end of Damsel. Exquisite. Magnificent. Raw. Our collective fury and sorrow. It’s most breathtaking element is the early stages of the summer; so common it was innocuous.  I didn’t notice the heat turning up… and that was so achingly familiar, it got under my skin. It snaps and crackles as a new folklore for women. Maybe not new, maybe a better word is remembered- lore.  A fairytale that will burn the memory of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and every other “Damsel in distress” we were taught to be, to emulate, to adore...

Damsel is the boiling pot.  However, by the end we are no longer cooked by the fire and heat but warmed through, fired up, and ready to slay this storyline once and for all!!

For Ages: 14 years old and up

For Those That Liked: The Lunar Chronicles, Grim Lovelies, Children of Blood and Bone

Yoga Pose- Komodo Dragon Pose:
*Come into Lizard Pose on the right side (right foot forward, back knee on the mat).
*Lower down to forearms, pressing the right knee into the right arm.
*Begin to work your right shoulder underneath the right thigh; moving the right hand to the outside of the right foot.
*Bend the left knee, lifting the left foot towards the base of the spine.
*Reach the right hand back to grasp the left foot.
*After balancing in this hold; begin to lift the right foot off of the ground while straightening the right leg.
*Remain for several breaths before attempting this pose on the opposite side.

TO EXIT POSE:
Bring the right foot back to the ground, release the left foot from the hold, move the right hand back to inside the right foot.






Pride by Ibi Zoboi

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My family loves to watch the A&E Pride and Prejudice.  The one with Colin Firth and multiple discs, we’ve watched it marathon style several times.  I didn’t read the book for the first time until a few years ago and it didn’t disappoint. Darcy was a snarky conceited jerk and Elizabeth was my first feminist heroine.  All this to say that I was pretty excited for this novel. ZZ is tough, opinionated, and spunky. Almost too much. There were moments when I was annoyed by her views, that she wore so well…. Proudly…. As I typed that final word, I think I just fully realized the brilliance of this novel.   Ibi Zoboi really gets into who these characters would be if they were dropped into modern Bushwick. The novel says a lot about the judgements we make consistently and unconsciously today, which is pretty much the exact same thinking that Jane Austen wrote about years before. The story could have gone off onto a social trajectory (the questions and nudges are there) but Ibi keeps it on track as a romance story.  I sorta loved that. Afterall the original Pride and Prejudice is the same way: you can’t have the story without the money BUT fundamentally Pride and Prejudice is about seeing people for who they are: sometimes straight up scummy liars and sometimes wonderfully beautiful individuals.  

Anyway the story was fun and easy to read, with a whole lot to talk about.  As I said the social questions are still very much present. Pride has done Jane Austen proud; it is masterfully written to bring one of the greatest tales of dating up to date.  Plus I loved Ibi’s perspective, which brought to life a world that I don’t know and for that glimpse I am eternally grateful.

For Ages: 13 years old and up

For Those That Liked: The Poet X, Dread Nation, The Hate U Give

Yoga Pose- Ustrasana  (Camel Pose):
*Kneel on the floor with your knees hip width and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Rotate your thighs inward slightly as you firm your buttocks. Imagine that you're drawing your sitting bones up, into your torso. Press your shins and the tops of your feet firmly into floor.
*Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis (bases of the palms on the tops of the buttocks, fingers pointing down).  Inhale and lift your heart.
*ENGAGE YOUR CORE and begin to lean back while keeping your head up, chin near the sternum, and your hands on the pelvis.

NEXT LEVEL:
*Continue to ENGAGE YOUR CORE as you lean further back, while keeping the heart elevated.  Reach the right hand back to touch the right foot and then allow the left hand to follow. (If you're not able to touch your feet without compressing your lower back, turn your toes under and lift your heels.)

TO EXIT POSE:
Stay in this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. When you are ready to exit, bring your hands onto the front of your pelvis, at the hip points. Inhale and lift the head and torso up by pushing the hip points down, toward the floor. If your head is back, lead with your heart to come up.  Rest in Child's Pose for a few breaths.






Blended by Susan Draper

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I was wiping away some fresh tears when my friend walked into the room.  I put the book down and said, “This one has me tearing up at the end of every other chapter.”

“Why are you reading it then?”

“Because they’re good tears; its beautiful….that’s why I’m crying.”

Okay so tears as I read through this young girl’s experience of family whiplash- being passed off between parents every week (remembering how much children feel, experience, and understand- a chronic problem of adult’s underestimating this).  Tears as the middle school is rocked and then attempts to heal. Tears as Izzy/Isabella bravely steps into her identity. And then a gasp as the plot twists in a way I never saw coming, do we ever see tragedy hit us?? But it was remarkable and insightful.  I thank Susan Draper deeply for this novel, for this character, for telling this story.   

For Ages: 8-14 years old

For Those That Liked: Ghost Boys, Front Desk, Love Like Sky

Yoga Pose- Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand):
*Kneel on the floor. Bring your right fingers to hug your left arm, just above the bent elbow as you bring your left fingers to hug your right arm, just above the right bent elbow. (this will give you the proper distance to keep your elbows as you set your forearms on the floor).
*Lace your fingers together, set the forearms on the floor, and roll the upper arms slightly outward, while pressing the inner wrists firmly into the floor.
*Set the crown of your head on the floor. For added support: press the bases of your palms together and snuggle the back of your head against the clasped hands. You also have the option to open your hands and place the back of the head into the open palms.
*Inhale and lift your knees off the floor (downdog legs). Walk your feet as close to your elbows as possible while keeping the heels elevated. Actively lift the shoulder blades together and towards the tailbone so the front torso stays as long as possible. (This should help prevent the weight of the shoulders collapsing onto your neck and head.)
*Exhale and lift one leg straight towards the ceiling- further enabling your shoulders to be stacked in line with your hips.  Lift the opposite leg toward the ceiling then slowly begin to bend both knees, lowering them to hug close to the chest.
*Remember  to press the shoulder blades against the back, widen them, and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the weight evenly balanced on the two forearms. It's also essential that your tailbone continues to lift upward toward the heels.
*Practice holding this position for a set number of breaths before releasing the feet back down to the floor.  





The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

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The end makes this totally worth it.  So in the Children’s Librarian world we have what we call award bait.  These are incredibly well written novels with beautiful language, an articulate story, and deeply developed characters.  The type of book that adults love and praise. The type of book that finds its way into school curriculum. The type of book parents shove at their children.  The type of book that children don’t finish. I believe this novel checks off all those boxes. It is beautiful and exquisite. It had a wonderful end that made the entire plot leading up to it, really and truly mean something (extra points because the reader ahem, me didn’t even know it was supposed to mean something).  To be totally clear: the story as a whole was brilliant, but you don’t fully appreciate that until the end.  Getting to the end, well ….honestly.. it was boooorrrriiinnggg. It was sort of drawn out in a Canterbury Tales way (I am not a fan of Canterbury Tales); a pilgrim and a boy head out in Medieval France to gather the Relics of Saint Peter, in order to receive their desired miracles.  I followed through mainly because if the book is even moderately interesting, I’ll commit to finishing it. This is a remnant of some sort of weird competition I began with myself back when I was forcing reading my list of “classics”. I generally tell the children that if their reading for pleasure and not enjoying the book to immediately stop reading it, there are just too many fantastic books that will be right up their alley to waste their time hating a book…. No one should hate a book.   BUT I should also point out that there have been many books that I ended up loving ONLY because of the end. This is one of them. Had I stopped when I first felt mildly bored, I would not have finished. I would not have appreciated the plot progression. Because I’m a 30 year old Librarian, I appreciate plot progression. I live for plot progression and deeply developed characters. I bow to the Literary Gods when a book has a capital E, ENDING!! I am shot with Cupid’s arrow when I drag myself through a book only to be convinced of the author’s genius right in the last three chapters.  I eat up Award bait. Hook, line, and sinker. So to end this review that was more about my tendency to swoon over exquisite endings, I suggest it to any and all adults. I will shove it into your hands, check it out onto your library card, and shout its praises on our Mock Awards spreadsheet. But I probably won’t add it to my collection. I probably won’t suggest it to any of my young patrons. And I don’t really see myself using it in any programs. Because it’s Mock Award Bait: deliciously irresistible to us Librarians, but really just a handful of earthworms dug up from the backyard (brown and bland) to all the children.    

For Ages: 8-12 yrs. old

For Those That Liked: The Unfinished Angel, Bob, Crenshaw

Yoga Pose- Fallen Angel:

*Begin standing with the big toes and inner heels touching. Bend the knees drawing the weight into the heels keeping toe toes light and fluffy.
*Begin by lowering the hips down into Utkatasana (Chair Pose).  Keep the big toes light, while majority of weight is held in the heels.
*With hands at your heart in Anjali Mudra, revolve from your upper chest and twist to land the left elbow onto or to the outside of the right thigh.
If this is plenty, breathe here pushing the palms together to point the right elbow up toward the ceiling. If there is wiggle space, keep working the armpit towards the thigh to deepen the twist.
*Gently place both hands onto the ground shoulder width apart, fingertips pointing away from the right thigh. Bend the elbows toward a 90 degree angle as the feet sweep back (into a variation of supported side crow).
*Bring your elbows directly over the wrists as you lift the shin bones up parallel to the ground.
Keep the inner thighs squeezing and the inner elbows hugging in.
*Lower the head to the ground so that the right side of the face rests lightly on the floor.
*While reaching the left leg straight up towards the sky as the bottom foot (right foot) rotates up toward the sky as well.
Continue to keep the right knee bent.

TO COME OUT: Re-stack the knees into Side Crow before lowering the feet back onto the ground.




You don’t know everything, Jilly P! By Alex Gino

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Truth time: I’m revising my original review.  I read this a few weeks ago and when I first finished I was disappointed.  My opening line was, “I really wanted to like this…” Because I felt like it had been unfocused and a little unfinished.  Originally I wrote, “To be fair there are a lot of merits to this story but it felt like two different stories merged into one.”  Then it hit me out of nowhere and unavoidable: DUH that was its point!! Different stories, different voices; messing up and learning.  Alex Gino writes a brilliant novel shining a light on racism while also creating a voice and for another juvenile fiction minority: the deaf community. The multiple story lines reflect our ability (and often inability) to emphasize, learn, and better understand one another.  There’s a lot more in this novel and it isn’t a completed story; but maybe that’s also the whole point- that there’s SO much in these stories and it’s only the beginning of listening to them, telling them, and learning from them.  

For Ages: 8-12 yrs. old

For Those That Liked: The Parker Inheritance, Ghost Boys, The Miscalculations of Lightening Girl


Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

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Winslow is a sick, newborn donkey.  Nobody expects him to live through a few days.  Nobody, except Louie. Louie takes responsibility for his care. Constantly repeating “Don’t say that.” when Winslow’s chances are questioned.  As Louie become more attached to Winslow, he becomes more aware of the people around him. Creech shares this story in her uniquely wonderful, understated prose that are reminiscent of storing and sharing memories.  The story runs circles around itself in short and seemingly even a bit unrelated snippets; exactly how we store and share our own memories and experiences. In the end, each stories purpose becomes as clear as Winslow’s. (Great pick for animal lovers)!!  

For Ages: 8-12 yrs. old

For Those That Liked: The One and Only Ivan, The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn-Dixie

Yoga Pose- Sirsasana II  (Tripod Headstand Pose):
*Start in tabletop: placing the hands flat on the ground, shoulder distance apart.
Bend the elbows back towards the ribs (similar to chaturanga arms)
*Place the crown of the head onto the ground.
Make sure that your hands are far enough away from your face that you can create a 90
degree angle in the elbows and be able to see your fingers.  
*Curl the toes under, lift the hips, and straighten the legs into dolphin pose.  Begin to walk the toes towards the head. Press down into your hands, using the strength to keep your shoulders lifted, and any added pressure off your head and/ or neck.
*If you feel stable, draw your belly button to your spine and use your core strength to lift your right leg, bend the knee and place it lightly on your right tricep.  Bend the left knee and place on the left tricep.

Next Level:
*Lift the hips up (until they are stacked over the shoulders) as the thighs draw into the chest.
Remember to lift the shoulders and keep the triceps engaged in chaturanga.  
*Engage the core by drawing the belly button to the spine. Cross legs at the ankle! Hold for desired length of time.