Inspired recommendations for kids from
independent booksellers across the country.

In This Issue...

#1 Kids' Next List Pick...

With the Fire on High

By Elizabeth Acevedo

(HarperTeen, 9780062662835, $17.99)

"The only word I can use to properly describe this book is 'delicious.' I first fell in love with Acevedo's poetry in The Poet X, and now I'm even more in love with her prose in With the Fire on High. This gorgeously relatable story of a teen mom who dreams of life as a chef will rip your heart out, season it, fry it up, and serve it back to you in the tastiest of ways. My only warning is this: Do not read it while hungry."
--Emelie Burl, Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, CT

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

photo: Stephanie Ifendu

Indie booksellers nationwide have chosen Elizabeth Acevedo's With the Fire on High (HarperTeen) as the Summer 2019 Kids' Indie Next List top pick.

With the Fire on High follows Emoni Santiago, a high school senior who, with the help of her abuela, must balance taking care of her two-year-old daughter, Emma, with her school work, a part-time job, and her passion for experimenting in the kitchen. Emoni knows she needs to use this year to figure out what she wants to do after high school, so when a new culinary arts elective is offered, Emoni finds a way to work it into her packed schedule, despite the fact that it includes a mandatory trip abroad that she cannot afford. Emoni's story is one of finding one's true passion, self-discovery, and what it means to be a parent at any age.

Here, we talk with Acevedo about motherhood and family dynamics.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of young mothers. My mom was a childcare provider for over twenty years, and the majority of the children she worked with had teen/young moms. I watched how she interacted with those parents with respect and dignity, and I saw how those parents went to school, worked, picked up their kids, dropped them off early, called during the day to check in, etc. As a teacher I worked with teen mothers and saw the same thing: young people making it work. It seemed to me that there were few stories that handled the subject matter of a teen parent who lives a full life and also loves and takes good care of their child. I'm also someone who loves the Food Network channel and I'm always searching for a cooking competition on Netflix. When I fused those two elements into this story, Emoni Santiago began talking in my ear.

How did you create Emoni's character?

I don't want to sound mystical, but Emoni's character really did arrive one day. She began telling me about her name and her daughter's name. And from there it was an uncovering. I knew she was facing self-doubt and shame, and the rest was figuring out how she would confront those things and what lessons she needed to learn to lean into her dreams.

This book is set in Philadelphia and Spain, with mentions of Puerto Rico and North Carolina. How and why did you choose to incorporate these places?

I picked places that I know well, and have been to, but that aren't often settings in children's literature. Philadelphia was always going to be Emoni's home because I wanted her to grow up somewhere other than New York City, and Philadelphia has the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans outside of the island. It made sense to place her in the PR mecca. Spain was the first place I ever traveled to other than the Dominican Republic. I remember the cognitive dissonance of being somewhere that had such a connection to my people's island, but also so much that was unfamiliar and that brought up complex questions for me. I thought a kid like Emoni could grapple with some of those questions. Puerto Rico and North Carolina are the places Emoni descends from but doesn't know. My husband's family is from North Carolina, and I've learned so much about the history of this country as it pertains to the lived history in the South by talking with his family and reading more about North Carolina. Puerto Rico was the first place my mother lived and worked when she got American residency, and making Emoni of that descent felt right with the story, even though it meant I had to do a good amount of research and learn more about an ethnicity different than my own.

A central question of this book concerns family and what it means to be a mother, not only for Emoni, but for 'Buela as well, as she raises Emoni and helps her to raise her daughter, Emma. Where did the idea for 'Buela's character come from? How did you craft this family dynamic?

I come from a place where generations of women live together, parent together, and support one another. It was not uncommon for me growing up to know that the family upstairs had a grandmother, mother, and a young mother with a daughter in the house, and they shared the responsibility of caring for the youngest members. It wasn't uncommon for an elder to come from Dominican Republic, or Ecuador, or Ghana, and move in with the family. And it also wasn't uncommon to see really young children being raised by the family member who was in the best position to do so, often the matriarch. 'Buela is that matriarch. She is the person who steps in for Emoni when no one else does. I wanted strong bonds between women, I wanted to show different levels of sacrifice, I wanted to contemplate joy, and how it takes a village, and older women's fulfilment, and boundaries, and 'Buela allowed me to shape a character who could present and muddy all those questions.

There's been a push in young adult literature to encourage and depict healthy female friendships like the one between Emoni and Angelica. What went into crafting their relationship?

Yes, there has been and I'm glad for it! The Mean Girl/Bitch best friend archetype is an easy one to fall into, because it's so familiar, and I'm glad folks are starting to complicate it. I wanted a friendship that pushed Emoni to be brave and to question what was possible, while also depicting Angelica, a queer black girl who is brilliant and self-assured. Any drama here is between Emoni and the comparisons she makes between herself and others, but also the profound belief she has that Angelica has her back. And on the reverse, Emoni can stand up for Angelica and has to learn how to do so for herself. I think so many relationships in Emoni's life come with strings and complications, and this was one that was simply wholesome. The rock that doesn't erode.

Another important aspect of this book is education. While Emoni largely teaches herself how to be a mother and how to cook, she struggles in the classroom and worries about not getting into college. Did you reflect on the national conversation regarding the state of education in the U.S. when you were writing this book?

As a former middle school teacher, I'm always considering how schools and teachers are depicted in stories. But also, how different methods of learning are depicted by writers. Emoni is not a traditional learner. She is a kinesthetic learner who needs to do in order to understand. She's someone who clearly has some educational needs like extra time and one-on-ones but she doesn't always know how to advocate for herself. I wanted to consider how many brilliant young people are told they are learning at a "basic" level simply because how they learn isn't convenient or easy for measuring quantifiable results.

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

My next novel, Clap When You Land, will be published in spring 2020. It is a dual narrative novel in verse about two girls who learn of each other, and discover that they are half-sisters, after their father's death in a plane crash. It's a story of love, loss, and legacy, and I can't wait to keep bringing bad-ass Afro-Latina heroines to independent bookstore shelves around the country.

 

Top Picks

If I Was the Sunshine

By Julie Fogliano

Loren Long (Illus.)

(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 9781481472432, $17.99)

"I am in love with this new picture book! Fogliano's sweet text about love paired with Loren Long's gorgeous, color-bursting illustrations is perfection. (Spoiler: the very best one is of enormous waves with text that reads, 'If I was the ocean and you were a boat, you'd call me wild.'). If a customer is in need of a perfect story, I'll hand them this one in a heartbeat."

--Jen Wills Geraedts, Beagle and Wolf Books & Bindery, Park Rapids, MN

Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens

By Tanya Boteju

(Simon Pulse, 9781534430655, $18.99)

"Nima may be awkward and a little lost in life, but she's funnier than she thinks and so endearing. You can't help but fall for her voice and feel for her situation. While she may think life is boring and want some changes, she doesn't quite bargain for all she gets. Filled with kings, queens, and in-betweens, this is the story of a girl searching for herself through family situations, friendships, and a possible new romance. Such a lovely story that really will captivate you and pull you in."

--Candace Robinson, Vintage Books, Vancouver, WA

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

A Wolf Called Wander

By Rosanne Parry

Mónica Armiño (Illus.)

(Greenwillow Books, 9780062895936, $16.99)

"Kids who loved The Call of the Wild will enjoy this novel. This middle reader is entirely from the point of view of a young wolf who is trying to find his way to a new home after his family is defeated by a rival wolf pack. A great book that will give kids insight into what it may be like to be a wild animal surviving on the edges of human civilization. Animal lovers, adventurers, and kids involved with nature will want to read this one."

--Amy McClelland, Bright Side Bookshop, Flagstaff, AZ

 

Nocturna

By Maya Motayne

(Balzer + Bray, 9780062842732, $18.99)

"Maya Motayne's Nocturna is the fantasy that you have been waiting for. With the sneaky cleverness of Stephanie Gaber's Caraval and the moral grayness of Marissa Meyer's Renegades, Nocturna offers up a tale of a brother in search of a way to save his kingdom, and a girl doing all she can to survive. This tale set in a Latin-inspired world provides just the right amount of magic and adventure, as heir-to-the-throne Alfie and shape-shifter Finn race to stop the terrible darkness they have released."

--Jen Pino, Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, CA

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

Camp Tiger

By Susan Choi

John Rocco (Illus.)

(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 9780399173295, $17.99)

"Camp Tiger is an amazing picture book. Perfect text and gorgeous art combine harmoniously to offer readers an incredible, unforgettable adventure. This story of a friendship between a young boy and a very real tiger is improbable, but through the immense talents of Choi and Rocco it becomes believable, compelling, and beautiful. Camp Tiger is a story of growth and passage that is original, unique, and important."
--Christopher Rose, The Spirit of '76 Bookstore, Marblehead, MA

Fox and the Box

By Yvonne Ivinson

(Greenwillow Books, 9780062842879, $17.99)

"This is a delightful story told in very few words. What a perfect book for early readers to enjoy independently! With amazing artistry, the author introduces an adorable fox who decides to set sail in a box. The illustrations allow readers to use their imagination to follow the fox's adventures and fill in the details. For example, by the light of the moon, we see the fox has survived a terrible gale with hail but the page only says, 'Pail. Bail.' Of course, there is a happy ending. I found myself falling in love with the fox and his little mouse friend, and I'm ready to share this gem with a young one just as soon as I can."
--Pat Donmoyer, White Rabbit Children's Books and Gifts, Leonardtown, MD

Hair Love

By Matthew A. Cherry

Vashti Harrison (Illus.)

(Kokila, 9780525553366, $17.99)

"I LOVE this charming and empowering story about Zuri, a girl who gets a little help from her dad to achieve the perfect hairstyle for a very special occasion. Hair Love is a sweet and heartwarming celebration of natural hair and loving daddy-daughter relationships with absolutely perfect pictures from one of my favorite illustrators. This picture book will have you cheering enthusiastically alongside Zuri!"

--Tomoko Bason, BookPeople, Austin, TX

Lambslide

By Ann Patchett

Robin Preiss Glasser (Illus.)

(HarperCollins, 9780062883384, $18.99)

"Oh, what a joyful, playful story! Life on the farm can seem a little dull, but when the lambs hear 'lambslide' instead of 'landslide' by mistake, it becomes the talk of the farm. Getting the votes of the animals and the farmers leads to a cooperative effort to build the best lambslide ever! Great illustrations make this story special. Patchett and Glasser are a dynamic duo for sure."

--Melissa DeMotte, The Well-Read Moose, Coeur d'Alene, ID

Llama Destroys the World

By Jonathan Stutzman

Heather Fox (Illus.)

(Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers, 9781250303172, $17.99)

"I love this book! It is a wonderful addition to the world of children's picture books and I can't wait to share it with the world. I laughed, I cried, and then I laughed again! Now I'm off to buy a pair of dancing pants, after I eat some cake (maybe all the cake)!"

--Jessica Osborne, E. Shaver, Bookseller, Savannah, GA

My Papi Has a Motorcycle

By Isabel Quintero

Zeke Peña (Illus.)

(Kokila, 9780525553410, $17.99)

"This book is perfect for Father's Day! This beautifully illustrated celebration of all that makes father-daughter relationships so powerful also incorporates a vision of neighborhoods filled with many who do not often see their world reflected in the pages of books. This is for all those fathers who show their love in ways not typically seen in picture books, and for all those daughters who recognize and cherish those acts of love."

--Linda Sherman-Nurick, Cellar Door Books, Riverside, CA

You Made Me a Dad

By Laurenne Sala

Mike Malbrough (Illus.)

(HarperCollins, 9780062396945, $15.99)

"The absolute perfect Father's Day gift for brand new dads, this fun little book showcases all the fabulous opportunities that come with this amazing new job."

--Jane Knight, Bear Pond Books, Montpelier, VT

Finding Orion

By John David Anderson

(Walden Pond Press, 9780062643896, $16.99)

"Finding Orion is for anyone who thinks their family is crazy, and for anyone who has experienced the upheaval the loss of a loved one can create. This wonderfully funny and insightful story follows Rion and his family after the death of his dad's estranged father, Papa Kwirk. A singing clown comes to deliver the news to Rion's family, and that isn't the only odd thing to happen: Papa Kwirk's body turns up missing. As he searches for his missing grandfather, Rion learns about him and his own father at the same time. John David Anderson is a master storyteller. I've loved EVERYTHING he has written; I'm sure you will, too."

--Cherilyn Perelli, Gibson's Bookstore, Concord, NH

Just Jaime (Emmie & Friends)

By Terri Libenson

(Balzer + Bray, 9780062851062, $12.99)

"An instantly relatable tale for anyone who has struggled or is currently struggling with navigating the tricky trials and tribulations of middle-school friendships. Told from both sides of a lifelong friendship that seems headed for an imminent end, Just Jaime tells a story of female friendship with a focus on the respect, depth, and empathy young girls deserve but so often don't get from adults."

--Miranda McGowan, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, MA

Odd Gods

By David Slavin and Daniel Weitzman

Adam J.B. Lane (Illus.)

(HarperCollins, 9780062839534, $13.99)

"While the characters are rooted in Greek mythology, this story is very relatable for any young reader, and this is a great book for anyone who likes the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. The characters are classified as Gods and odds, and the illustrations are very well done and quite funny. The story is all about overcoming stereotypes and being confident in yourself, no matter how odd you may be."

--Ashlee Mitchell, Viewpoint Books, Columbus, IN

Pie in the Sky

By Remy Lai

(Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers, 9781250314093, $21.99)

"If books came in cake form (and WHY NOT, I ask?), Pie in the Sky would be the apple mille-feuille of the bunch. Lai masterfully creates a story of grief, familial love and discord, and alienation that will have readers both biting their nails and loudly guffawing. The character of Jingwen helps us remember that growing up means forgiving yourself and others--even if letting go is the one thing you don't want to do. A delicious confection that will be devoured by fans of Raina Telgemeier, Vera Brosgol, and Shaun Tan."

--Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

Planet Earth Is Blue

By Nicole Panteleakos

(Wendy Lamb Books, 9780525646570, $16.99)

"It's 1986, and Nova is eagerly awaiting the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. She loves astronomy, plus her sister, Bridget, promised she'd be back for the launch, no matter what. Nova is autistic and nonverbal, and navigating a new foster family and a new school alone is extra tough; no one but Bridget has ever fully understood that she's a whole, intelligent person. As Nova counts down to the launch, we share in her excitement, her worries, her grief, and her joys. Panteleakos, who is on the spectrum herself, has crafted a compelling, compassionate debut."

--Madeline Shier, Powell's Books, Portland, OR

Shouting at the Rain

By Lynda Mullaly Hunt

(Nancy Paulsen Books, 9780399175152, $16.99)

"A well-spun tale of a middle-grade girl whose life swells its own storms one summer on Cape Cod. The barefoot local finds herself suddenly adrift as friends' lives shift away from her and she's forced to deal with her motherless past. Amid all this turmoil, she finds hope in new and familiar faces. A great summer read for young and old storm chasers."

--Ernio Hernandez, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury, CT

Spark

By Sarah Beth Durst

(Clarion Books, 9781328973429, $17.99)

"This story is a triumph for every quiet person and those who feel a little out of step with their peers. Mina and her lightening beast, Pixit, are learning how to make the weather idyllic in her country. Mina doesn't like to be the center of attention but decides to make herself heard when it's important to her and to society. As she discovers that making things better in one place can have unforeseen consequences, one quiet girl learns that she can be strong and change the world."

--Julie Karaganis, Cabot Street Books & Cards, Beverly, MA

The Beholder

By Anna Bright

(HarperTeen, 9780062845429, $17.99)

"Selah, seneschal-elect of Potomac, knows that she must find a husband for the good of her country. But when she is publicly rejected in front of her father's court and her stepmother takes the opportunity to send her across the Atlantic under the guise of securing an engagement, Selah realizes there are more things at play in her life than her own heart. Sweeping in scale and lushly romantic, The Beholder is a shimmering debut that whispers its magic to you, wraps you up in an old cloak of fairy tales, and carries you off across a brand-new ocean of its own making. A positively lovely book."

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

Don't Date Rosa Santos

By Nina Moreno

(Disney-Hyperion, 9781368039703, $17.99)

"If you're a guy with a boat, don't date Rosa Santos. Both her grandfather and her father died at sea, so she is supposed to stay close to home and away from the water. But that's tough when you live in Port Coral, Florida! Of course, while organizing a fundraiser to save the community, Rosa meets a boy who feels pulled to the ocean. What's she to do? This debut novel is pitch-perfect in tone and voice, and its characters are as real as your own friends and family."

--Cathy Berner, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

By Mariko Tamaki

Rosemary Valero-O'Connell (Illus.)

(First Second, 9781250312846, $24.99 hardcover; 9781626722590, $17.99 paperback)

"Freddy has a problem: her girlfriend, Laura Dean, keeps breaking up with her. One day, they're a happy couple. The next? Freddy's heartbroken while Laura Dean is off partying with some other girl. As Freddy struggles with the roller-coaster ride of her relationship, her friendships--including with her best friend, Doodle--suffer. As Tamaki and Valero-O'Connell explore the ins and outs of high school relationships in this compelling graphic novel, readers--LGBT or not--will see themselves in Freddy's story, and hopefully ask themselves the same question: Do my relationships make me happy? Eloquent, engrossing, and utterly unputdownable."

--Melissa Fox, Watermark Books & Café, Wichita, KS

Let Me Hear a Rhyme

By Tiffany D. Jackson

(Katherine Tegen Books, 9780062840325, $17.99)

"Jackson's third novel transports you straight into the Brooklyn of the late '90s, full of great hip-hop and rap references, dial-up internet, and the cultural reverberations of the murders of Tupac and Biggie on the black community. When their best friend is shot and killed, two teens attempt to keep his spirit alive by convincing his younger sister to let them make years of his secretly recorded rap music go viral. Jackson's characters are tangible and her atmosphere is so timely, even though it is set 20 years in the past."

--Lauren Nopenz Fairley, Curious Iguana, Frederick, MD

Like a Love Story

By Abdi Nazemian

(Balzer + Bray, 9780062839367, $17.99)

"Like a Love Story broke me and fixed me at the same time. Set in New York City in 1989, it chronicles the lives of three teens as they navigate the AIDS crisis. Abdi Nazemian captures perfectly what it felt like to be both excited and repelled by the thought of finding other gay kids to share experiences with, as well as the constant fear of wondering if AIDS was inevitable for all young gay men. I finished Like a Love Story with tears streaming down my face; they were tears of recognition to see myself so accurately reflected on the pages of a book."
--John McDougall, Murder by the Book, Houston, TX

There's Something About Sweetie

By Sandhya Menon

(Simon Pulse, 9781534416789, $18.99)

"There's Something About Sweetie is a warm story about loving yourself and opening yourself up to others. I instantly wanted to become best friends with Sweetie; not only is she aptly named and open-hearted, she's hilarious, brilliant, and determined to better herself and the lives of everyone around her. As he falls for Sweetie, Ashish's player-style humor quickly transforms into something sweet, a little self-conscious, and ultimately endearing. They're a perfect match, and their struggles with image, perfectionism, and the everyday difficulty of being a teen strikes true."

--Sami Thomason, Square Books, Oxford, MS