Inspired recommendations for kids from
independent booksellers across the country.

In This Issue...

#1 Kids' Next List Pick...

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

By Janae Marks

(Katherine Tegen Books, 9780062875853, $16.99)

"Zoe Washington is my new favorite middle-grade heroine! When she receives a letter from Marcus, her birth father, on her 12th birthday, Zoe begins corresponding with him in secret. Marcus is in prison for a crime he says he didn't commit, and Zoe is determined to find out the truth while also trying to excel in her baking internship and manage middle-school friendship drama with her neighbor Trevor. In her excellent debut novel, Marks skillfully balances a difficult social justice theme with lighthearted elements and lovingly rendered familial relationships."

--Anna Millsaps, bbgb books, Richmond, VA

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

#1 Kids' Next List Pick Author Interview...

Indie booksellers across the country have chosen Janae Marks' From the Desk of Zoe Washington (Katherine Tegen Books) as one of their top picks for the Winter 2019–2020 Kids' Indie Next List.

Marks' debut novel follows aspiring baker Zoe Washington as she pursues her dream to audition for a spot on Food Network's Kids Bake Challenge while also searching for the truth about a family mystery--one her family intends to keep her out of.

Where did the idea for this story come from?

In 2014, I became hooked on the first season of the podcast Serial, which told the story of an incarcerated man who may have been wrongfully convicted of murder. I also watched the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, which told a similar story. Both of these cases made me curious about wrongful convictions, so I started researching them. Since I write for kids, I wondered what life is like for the children of incarcerated parents. Then I thought, what if a kid found out that their parent might be innocent of their crime? From there, Zoe Washington was born.

One of Zoe's favorite things to do is baking. Do you have any personal experience with this? How did you create the recipes in the book?

I bake occasionally, but I'm not the avid baker that Zoe is. I love watching baking shows, though! My favorites are baking competition shows, like The Great British Bake Off and Food Network's various Baking Championships. I gathered a bunch of baking tips and tricks from watching these shows. When I needed to come up with a cupcake recipe, I thought about the interesting cupcake flavors I've tasted before, as well as flavors that I'd seen bakers use on these shows.

An important conversation this book prompts is one about systemic racism, specifically in regard to the U.S. prison system. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

As I researched wrongful convictions and what caused them, I was not surprised to learn that racism plays a big part. I watched Ava DuVernay's incredible documentary 13th, which delves into the racial inequalities within the criminal justice system. Before starting to write my book, I knew that Zoe would be Black. It was important to me to create a main character that looks like me, especially since there are so few brown girls in children's literature, written by authors of color. Since systemic racism is so prevalent in our prison system, it only made sense to include that conversation in my book, and have Zoe wonder whether it played a part in Marcus' conviction.

This book also explores the issue of lying, and more specifically, the things children sometimes hide from their parents. Why did you choose to explore this topic?

In From the Desk of Zoe Washington, Zoe's mother doesn't want her to communicate with Marcus because she wants to protect her. But Zoe wants to make that decision for herself. I remember what it's like to be 12 and want more agency over your own life, and I wanted to explore that aspect of adolescence through Zoe. But lying does have consequences, which Zoe eventually learns!

This book also features a complicated but strong friendship between Zoe and her friend Trevor. In the children's book world, there's an ongoing conversation about crafting strong platonic friendships. Can you talk a little bit about that? Did you have that conversation in mind while writing?

I'm an only child like Zoe, so strong platonic friendships have always been important to me. When I was in middle school, there was a girl who tried to get between me and my best friend. That incident inspired the friendship storyline between Trevor and Zoe. I knew all along that I wanted Zoe to have someone there to support her through her journey toward finding out the truth about Marcus, but I also liked that Zoe had to learn to forgive Trevor as well.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

I hope this book entertains young readers and also inspires them to stand up for whatever they believe in, just like Zoe!

Can you tell readers what you're working on next?

I am revising my second middle-grade novel, another standalone. It will be out in 2021 with Katherine Tegen Books, and I can't wait to share more about it soon!

Top Picks


By Gabby Noone

(Razorbill, 9781984836120, $17.99)

"I absolutely loved this book! Imagine limbo as an airport, with flights bringing in the newly dead and leaving with those moving on to Heaven. Then imagine dying in a car accident at the age of 17. Since you were such a mean person in life, you are sent to this limbo airport as punishment to help other souls move on. But who knew helping other souls could help yours, too? A multilayered, funny, and emotional story that is different from anything I've read in a while."
--Lauren Nopenz Fairley, Curious Iguana, Frederick, MD

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

A Heart So Fierce and Broken (The Cursebreaker Series)

By Brigid Kemmerer

(Bloomsbury YA, 9781681195117, $18.99)

"Cursebreakers rejoice! The sequel to A Curse So Dark and Lonely is here! This story follows Grey and introduces a new heroine: Lia Mara from the enemy kingdom of Syhl Shallow. Filled with the same propulsive action and slow-burning romance as the first book, the sequel turns the first story on its head, leaving you to wonder who the real hero of the series will be. A cliffhanger ending will have you counting down the days until the next book in the series is released!"

--Carrie Deming, The Dog Eared Book, Palmyra, NY

Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir

By Robin Ha

(Balzer + Bray, 9780062685094, $12.99 trade paper; 9780062685100, $22.99 hardcover)

"Chuna lives with her mother in Korea; it's just the two of them and always has been. Suddenly, her life is turned upside down when what she thinks is a vacation to Alabama turns out to be a permanent stay. Her mother is getting married, and her family of two has just quadrupled in size. Now, at 14, Chuna must learn how to navigate this new American life. Robin Ha shares her story with readers in this touching memoir told in graphic novel form, and I enjoyed every moment of it. You will laugh and cry!"
--Jen Steele, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

The Runaway Princess

By Johan Troïanowski

(Random House Graphic, 9780593118405, $12.99)

"How can one individual have this much talent and imagination? Each of the three stories written and illustrated by Johan Troïanowski were delightful, from the lively, colorful illustrations to the humorous dialogue, unbelievably creative fantasy sequences, and quick plot twists. Princess Robin is a wonderful character with endless energy, an adventurous spirit, and an irrepressibly optimistic attitude. Highly recommended."
--Brittany Baker, Trident Booksellers & Café, Boston, MA

Bedtime for Sweet Creatures

By Nikki Grimes

Elizabeth Zunon (Illus.)

(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 9781492638322, $17.99)

"Grimes' words and Zunon's beautiful illustrations combine to create a book that has the potential to be a new bedtime classic, especially for parents looking for diverse books for their young children. Grimes uses animals and instruments to reimagine bedtime rituals in a story sure to delight readers in the same way as Eric Carle books."

--Alison Perine, Hooray for Books!, Alexandria, VA

Cherry Blossom and Paper Planes

By Jef Aerts

Sanne Loo (Illus.)

(Floris Books, 9781782505617, $17.95)

"A lovely story of friendship near and far. The illustrations are breathtaking and enhance the story immensely. Subtle nods to differences in race and class--and how they can mean little to children but have greater implications--will make good discussion points for older readers, but anyone who has ever moved or had a friend move away will appreciate this story. Incredibly captivating."

--Tildy Banker-Johnson, Belmont Books, Belmont, MA

The Heart of a Whale

By Anna Pignataro

(Philomel Books, 9781984836274, $17.99)

"In The Heart of a Whale, mesmerizing illustrations combine with a story that is at first sweet, then melancholic, and at last endearingly hopeful. This book transported me into a world of soothing colors, beautiful reflections, and a touching message."

--Alexa Ochocki, Content Bookstore, Northfield, MN

In a Jar

By Deborah Marcero

(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 9780525514596, $17.99)

"There's nothing like a picture book to drop you into a moment, a memory, and have you feeling the feelings and experiencing the magic anew. This book filled my heart. My daughter, now grown, was quite a collector. In a Jar transported me right back to the moment she started her first collection: worms she gently deposited in jars after naming each one, and which we eventually released. I still have the heart-shaped stones she gave me in a basket, bowls of shells, and random trinkets. Each one is capable of transporting me back to her childhood, to that moment of experiencing the wonder alongside her."

--Alana Haley, Schuler Books, Grand Rapids, MI

Just Like Me

By Vanessa Newton

(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780525582090, $17.99)

"In her ever-stunning style, Vanessa Newton playfully and vividly illustrates poems about subjects from parties to grandmothers to errant sundresses. Some silly and some serious, Newton's poems are perfect for reading together and reading aloud."
--Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC

Ready to Fly: How Sylvia Townsend Became the Bookmobile Ballerina

By Lea Lyon and Alexandria Lafaye

Jessica Gibson (Illus.)

(HarperCollins, 9780062888785, $18.99)

"Warm and inviting illustrations follow young Sylvia Townsend on her journey to becoming a ballerina. Weaving in the history of the bookmobile, this picture book biography is perfect for fans of dance."

--Jill Burket Ragase, Blue Manatee Literacy Project Bookstore, Cincinnati, OH

Ruby Red Shoes

By Kate Knapp

(Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 9780593123461, $9.99)

"This is a positively charming story of the beauty all around and the knowledge of right action. If the world worked half as well as what I see in these pages, we would probably all be fine. The illustrations alone are like a quiet moment of mindful beauty. I have to give it a 10 and will most certainly gift this one myself."

--Kathryn Nassberg, Otto Bookstore, Williamsport, PA

The Best of Iggy

By Annie Barrows

Sam Ricks (Illus.)

(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 9781984813305, $13.99)

"Another fun series by Annie Barrows! Kids who have trouble doing the right thing ALL the time will relate to Iggy. Fun illustrations accompany a narrative full of winking nods to the reader."
--Robin Stern, Books Inc., San Francisco, CA

Catherine's War

By Julia Billet

Claire Fauvel (Illus.)

Ivanka Hahnenberger (Transl.)

(HarperAlley, 9780062915597, $12.99)

"This story of everyday courage highlights the life of a Jewish teen in occupied France. Rachel Cohen must change her name to Catherine Colin and go into hiding. As she moves from safe house to safe house, she captures her journey in photographs as a way to hang on to her identity and her hopes for the future. I was so moved by Rachel's story, which is largely based on the life of the author's mother. This is an excellent graphic novel for middle grade (and beyond!) readers who want to learn more about resistance and preserving history on the home front."

--Julia Steiner, The Book Cellar, Chicago, IL

Diana: Princess of the Amazons

By Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

Victoria Ying (Illus.)

(DC Zoom, 9781401291112, $9.99)

"Diana lives on the island of Themyscira, home to the Amazons. She is the only child among these grown-up, powerful, incredible women, so to ward off loneliness, she makes a duplicate of herself out of sand and clay. When her 'twin' comes to life, Diana is extremely happy to finally have someone her own age to do things with. But all is not as it seems. Her double is actually the evil nemesis of the Amazons and their friendship puts her and all the Amazons in great peril. This book enforces how easy it is to let ourselves be deceived by what looks good."

--Pat Trotter, Bookends on Main, Menomonie, WI

Go With the Flow

By Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams

(First Second, 9781250143174, $14.99)

"This period-positive story is fantastic. Letting teenagers experience and understand that menstruation is a natural occurrence and not something to be ashamed of is an important step in the journey toward gender equality. This graphic novel is about menstruation and activism, but it is wrapped up in a wonderful story about friendship. A great read for pre-teens and teens who love realistic graphic novels like those by Raina Telgemeier and Teri Libenson."

--Sandy Scott, The Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, VT

Martin McLean, Middle School Queen

By Alyssa Zaczek

(Sterling Children's Books, 9781454935704, $16.95)

"Middle school seems daunting to shy and insecure Martin. To complicate his life, he's starting to wonder if he like likes girls or boys, and the class bully keeps makings digs about him being gay. Is he? He doesn't know and can't talk to anyone about his feelings. The one place he shines is Mathletes... until he discovers drag. Cue the Celia Cruz tunes and Martin's feeling confident and happy. But becoming a middle-school drag queen will not be without some crazy drama. A wonderful, laugh-out-loud debut."
--Ellen Richmond, Children's Book Cellar, Waterville, ME

Race to the Sun

By Rebecca Roanhorse

(Rick Riordan Presents, 9781368024662, $16.99)

"Nizhoni Begay is a heroine you won't soon forget! Roanhorse delves into Native American mythology with glee as Nizhoni learns about her heritage and what it takes to become a hero. With a colorful cast of characters--Mr. Yazzie the horned toad being a personal favorite--it's a race to the sun god for mythical weapons so Nizhoni and company can free her father from a tyrannical monster (who also happens to be an oil baron)."
--Sami Thomason, Square Books, Oxford, MS

Sunnyside Plaza

By Scott Simon

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 9780316531207, $16.99)

"When the residents of Sunnyside Plaza--a group home for adults with developmental disabilities--start unexpectedly dying, a young woman must work with the other Sunnysiders to figure out what's happening. Scott Simon's characters are instantly emotionally engaging and their resiliency and determination to help and protect each other will have readers of all ages deeply invested in their story."

--Colin Sneed, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

That's What Friends Do

By Cathleen Barnhart

(HarperCollins, 9780062888938, $16.99)

"It's been a while since I read a middle-grade book, but this bittersweet tale of adolescent friendship was certainly worth making an exception for. The relationships are messy and complicated, and while parents and peers 'just don't understand,' the novel doesn't try to paint miscommunication as an insurmountable part of growing up, but rather a problem to be rectified. This is a tale of self-discovery and shame, of realizing your parents aren't perfect and you aren't either, and an important book for anyone who has ever lost a friend or wondered why things can't stay the same forever. If you're looking for catharsis, That's What Friends Do will deliver."

--Reid Wilson, Prairie Pages Bookseller, Pierre, SD

Dark and Deepest Red

By Anna-Marie McLemore

(Feiwel & Friends, 9781250162748, $17.99)

"Every Anna-Marie McLemore book is a gift, and Dark and Deepest Red is truly something wondrous. Eerily suspenseful, achingly romantic, and fiercely defiant, it is a love story for the overlooked, a fairytale for the outcast, and a triumphant song for those whose stories go untold. It is a book to savor, to embrace, to wrap around your heart to keep out the cold. This book will dance your heart to pieces and then tenderly stitch it back together."

--Rebecca Speas, One More Page Books, Arlington, VA

The Map From Here to There

By Emery Lord

(Bloomsbury YA, 9781681199382, $17.99)

"I absolutely adored this book. Emery Lord really understands what it is to be a teenager, especially one with anxiety. All of the overthinking, the nervous energy, the panic that goes on inside Paige's head over the drama surrounding college and boys and friendship is so relatable. I desperately wanted her to succeed despite her flaws, because Paige Hancock is an authentic teenager. This book is cute and funny, and it sometimes made me want to rip my hair out from sheer relatability. The romance between Max and Paige was my favorite part of the book, because Lord didn't shy away from the stumbles that come with first loves. I wish I'd had this one a few years ago!"
--Ava Tusek, Second Star to the Right Children's Books, Denver, CO

Not So Pure and Simple

By Lamar Giles

(HarperTeen, 9780062349194, $17.99)

"What The Hate U Give did for opening up a conversation with teens about police brutality and racial profiling, Not So Pure and Simple does for toxic masculinity. This story is hilarious, honest, and more necessary than I know how to put into words. Giles is able to paint the normalcy of toxic masculinity in all its minute idiosyncrasies without it feeling like a beat-you-over-the-head-I'm-trying-to-teach-you-something story. He shows the layers to a problem that's been built by generations of men just passing on the habits, expectations, and advice of the men before them. And he does so through the beautifully flawed--although he doesn't know he's flawed--Del. Everyone needs to read this book."

--Claire Phelan, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA

Scavenge the Stars

By Tara Sim

(Disney-Hyperion, 9781368051415, $18.99)

"Scavenge the Stars is a bold, gender-bent retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. Told from dual points of view, the story follows one woman's quest for vengeance against an entire world that has wronged her. Moray is a gilded city, with deep-rooted depravity lurking just underneath the glittering surface. Revenge and a romance built on lies make this tempest of a novel one you will never want to put down!"

--Laura Graveline, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX

Tweet Cute

By Emma Lord

(Wednesday Books, 9781250237323, $17.99)

"This is an adorable debut from new young adult romance author Emma Lord that follows Pepper and Jack as they navigate high school, parents, New York City, and a life-or-death Twitter war. When her mom asks her to respond to a tweet claiming the family restaurant empire stole a recipe from a small local diner, Pepper counts it as just another frustrating thing on her to-do list; Jack is just defending his family's small business and grandmother's recipe when he takes on the Twitter war. The two learn more about themselves and each other as they tweet in defense of their families. An unputdownable first novel for anyone craving a delicious morsel!"
--Annie Carl, The Neverending Bookshop, Edmonds, WA

What I Carry

By Jennifer Longo

(Random House Books for Young Readers, 9780553537710, $17.99)

"Muir is in the final year of foster care before she ages out. She has to focus and prepare for the time when she's on her own, but in her last placement she runs into problems--problems with names like Kira, Sean, and Francine. Muir needs let go of her rules and open her heart. Longo has crafted a great story that engages as well as educates. I loved it!"
--Laura Cummings, White Birch Books, North Conway, NH