Real Friends

Thanks to NetGalley, I have come across a book that is a must-purchase for my school library. As a matter of fact, I think this book will probably be a welcome addition to most elementary, middle school, and public libraries. I wish it had been around when I was growing up. The book is Real Friends, a graphic memoir written by Shannon Hale and wonderfully illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

To say that I related to young Shannon in Real Friends would be a drastic understatement. Make her a chubby girl in a small town in South Carolina, and parts of this book could have been my own story. I’m sure that anyone who ever had trouble making friends as a child (or even as an adult) will be able to see themselves in this book.

Shannon met Adrienne on the first day of school, and they became best friends. For Shannon, Adrienne was her only friend. Adrienne, on the other hand, had lots of friends. It was sometimes hard for Shannon to share her best friend with others, but she tried. She even made a new friend when Adrienne moved away, but she was always waiting for Adrienne to return and things to go back to normal.

Well, Adrienne did return, but things didn’t exactly go back to the way they were. Shannon and Adrienne were still friends, but Adrienne was also part of The Group, some of the most popular girls in school. Shannon didn’t always fit in with The Group, but she hung around with them anyway to stay friends with Adrienne.

One of the girls, Jenny, seemed to really dislike Shannon, and she made it pretty clear that she wanted Shannon out of The Group. Shannon took this really hard and spent a lot of time crying in the bushes. (This was something she did at home, too. Her older sister wasn’t exactly nice to her a lot of the time.) Shannon didn’t know what she’d done to make Jenny so mean to her, but she was growing a little tired of it all. Maybe she didn’t want to be part of The Group after all if this is what she had to deal with.

Eventually, after she and The Group ended up in different fifth grade classes and Adrienne transferred to a different school, Shannon made a couple of new friends. These friends were popular as well, but they were popular because they were nice…unlike Jenny. They seemed to like Shannon just as she was, but could it last? These girls were in the sixth grade and would be going to junior high next year. What would Shannon do then?

Join Shannon as she navigates the ups and downs of friendship (and even sisterhood). It’s not always an easy path, but putting in the effort to find real friends–and to find peace within–is always worth it.


Let me reiterate this one more time: Real Friends should be added to every library that serves elementary or middle grade children. Young readers will love the graphic novel format, and they’ll stick around for the thoroughly relatable story. Market it with Cece Bell’s El Deafo and Jennifer Holm’s Sunny Side Up, and it will surely fly off the shelves.

Look for Real Friends when it’s released on May 2nd. Your library patrons will thank you.

Fuzzy Mud

I finished another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees a couple of days ago, but I decided to wait a little while to write about it. Why, you ask? Well…I didn’t want to. I was on spring break, and I wanted to do as little as possible during the last few hours until I went back to work. I succeeded, and it was wonderful. Now, though, it’s back to the grind for me, so here we go.

On Sunday, after all of my family Easter festivities were over, I finished reading Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar. This was a quick, interesting read that could lead upper elementary and middle grade readers to think more about the environmental impact of the things around them.

If only they’d walked home on their normal route…

Tamaya Dhilwaddi and Marshall Walsh always walk to and from school together, and they always take the long way around the woods. One day, however, Marshall changes things up. In an effort to avoid Chad Hilligas, a bully who’s been making his life miserable, Marshall decides to walk home by taking shortcut through the woods. Tamaya is not exactly happy about this plan, but her mom won’t allow her to walk home alone, so she follows Marshall.

It doesn’t take long for Tamaya to realize that Marshall doesn’t know where he’s going. What’s more, Chad has caught up with them and is bent on making Marshall his own personal punching bag. In an effort to get Chad away from Marshall, Tamaya scoops up a handful of strange, fuzzy mud and flings it into Chad’s face. She and Marshall then run away, and, a little worse for wear, they eventually make their way home.

After her adventure in the woods, Tamaya notices that her hand is tingly and has what looks like a rash on it. She tries to take care of it herself, but it keeps getting worse. Could it possibly be caused by the fuzzy mud she hurled at Chad? If so, does his face look as bad as her hand does?

When Tamaya discovers that Chad is missing after their encounter in the woods, she becomes determined to find him and get him the help he probably needs. Marshall isn’t as eager to go looking for Chad, but he eventually follows Tamaya into the woods…where they find even more of the fuzzy mud and Chad, who is not doing well at all.

Something weird is going on in these woods, and Tamaya, Marshall, and Chad have–literally–stepped into a big mess. What they uncover could have huge implications for their school, their town, and the entire world.

What exactly is this fuzzy mud? Why is it causing such an odd rash? Is there a cure? What (or who) created the fuzzy mud, and can anything stop it from spreading? You’ll have to figure that out for yourself…


Like I indicated previously, I think this book could start some discussions on the environmental impact of industry and innovation. Most kids probably won’t deal with something as potentially disastrous as what occurs in Fuzzy Mud, but they do need to be aware of how much their lives could be impacted by governments, industries, and decisions made by others. Don’t believe me? Take a good look at the water situation in Flint, Michigan.

Fuzzy Mud also handles a couple of issues beyond the environment and unintended consequences. It addresses bullying and what may be causing a kid to act out. It addresses courage in the face of scary situations. At one point, Tamaya thinks to herself, “If not her, who?” No one else was really even looking for Chad when he was missing, so she did. It wasn’t easy, and she was scared; nevertheless, she persisted. An important lesson, wouldn’t you say?

I encourage you to share this book with readers in upper elementary and middle grades. It’s a fast, fun, intriguing read that’s sure to leave you thinking long after you’ve read it.

For more information on Fuzzy Mud and other books by Louis Sachar, visit this award-winning author’s website.

The Possibility of Now

Every once in a while, I thank the Maker that I did not grow up in the age of social media. Adolescence was hard enough without worrying about my most embarrassing moments–and there were a lot of them–ending up on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. As the fat nerd who played the tuba, I was already a target for bullies. I shudder to think what I would have had to deal with had social media been a factor in my life…the way it was for the protagonist of my latest read, The Possibility of Now by Kim Culbertson.

In this book, our main character, Mara, feels the need to disappear after she has a major meltdown and someone posts her shame on YouTube. Over half a million hits later, Mara escapes her elite private school in San Diego and journeys to Lake Tahoe to spend several weeks with the father she’s never really known.

Mara is hoping that this drastic change in scenery will help to clear her head…and perhaps allow everyone to forget about her public breakdown in the middle of her calculus exam. If only she could forget.

Mara makes a detailed plan to get her life back on track, but, as so often happens, plans have a way of changing. She still does a ton of work to stay on top of things at school, but she gradually begins to let go a bit and actually enjoy life in Tahoe. She makes friends who encourage her to live a little and take things less seriously. She sort of begins to know her father. More importantly, Mara begins to realize just who she is and what’s really important to her. Maybe it’s not being perfect or worrying about everyone thinks of her. Maybe is exploring the possibilities around her and learning to truly live in the now.

While Mara misses parts of her life in San Diego, she’s coming to love the slower pace and relaxed atmosphere of Lake Tahoe (not to mention the guy who’s captured her interest). As the time nears for her return to San Diego, she wonders if she really wants to go back at all. Maybe she can make a home here with her father and new friends. Maybe she doesn’t have to go back home and face what made her leave in the first place.

Can Mara reconcile the person she’s become in Tahoe with who she was in San Diego? Will she be able to face her past while embracing her future? Explore the possibilities when you read The Possibility of Now by Kim Culbertson.


In addition to dealing with how social media now plays into adolescence, I think this book also addresses the pressures that young adults face, particularly as it concerns academic performance. I related strongly to this aspect of Mara’s character.

Like Mara, I was an overachiever, and I freaked out if I made less than an A on an assignment. This was true all through middle and high school, even into college. I even had a bit of a meltdown when I realized I was doing too much. For me, this didn’t happen until college, and it led me to change my major and eventually find the path that steered me to librarianship. So, I get what Mara went through, and I think a lot of young adults will feel the same.

If you’re interested in sharing The Possibility of Now with others, I would recommend it for middle grades and up. Mara is a high school student, so those readers will probably relate more to what she’s dealing with, but it’s accessible to anyone who’s ever wanted to escape an embarrassing situation and try to reinvent themselves somewhere else. Can we all do that in picturesque Lake Tahoe while learning to ski? No, but we can dream.

For more information on The Possibility of Now and other books by Kim Culbertson, visit the author’s website. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

The Queen of Oz

I’m one step closer to the end of Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series. I’ve just finished the final prequel novella, The Queen of Oz, and I’ll soon start reading the final full-length novel, The End of Oz. If you haven’t read all of the stories up to this point, you may want to turn back until you’ve caught up.

(While it’s not absolutely necessary to read all of the prequel novellas to get what’s going on in the novels, it does help tremendously. They add tons of context to what’s happening in Oz.)

Here are all of the stories in this series thus far:

Now let’s move on to The Queen of Oz

In this final novella, we learn more about Mombi’s origins and her connection to Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz. Mombi wasn’t always the powerful witch we’ve come to know throughout the course of this series. As a matter of fact, she didn’t have much power at all…at first.

While a young witch, Mombi asks Glinda (who is actually quite horrible) to teach her everything she knows, but it doesn’t take long for Mombi to realize that Glinda isn’t about to teach anyone to be as powerful as she is. So Mombi strikes out on her own, and she’s soon given a very important task by Lurline, the fairy who founded Oz.

One day, a visitor arrives at Mombi’s home deep in the woods. It’s the Wizard, and he’s carrying a peculiar little bundle. He claims that the baby in his arms is his niece, and he charges Mombi with protecting the child until he can return for her.

Thanks to a dream encounter with Lurline, Mombi knows the truth about this child and has been preparing for the task before her. She knows this child is Ozma, the true heir to the throne of Oz, and it’s up to Mombi to protect her. There’s only one thing to do. She must use all the magic she’s learned to transform Ozma into something–no, someone–else. She doesn’t plan on Pete, though.

Pete has spent his entire life sequestered with Mombi. The old witch doesn’t seem to like him very much, but she’s still oddly protective of him. Pete does what he can to find momentary reprieve from his life with Mombi, and he dreams of a life of excitement and adventure. Eventually, those dreams and an encounter with an intriguing Munchkin drive Pete to find the Wizard in the hopes of being completely free of Mombi and her magic.

Pete couldn’t know, however, that someone was watching for him…someone far more dangerous than Mombi. Someone whose name rhymes with Blinda who wants to unlock the magic within Pete for her own nefarious purposes. With Glinda’s “help,” Ozma is finally returned to Oz, but she may not be quite as easy to control as the “Good Witch” would hope.


I’ve given way too much away here, and I apologize for that. There’s still a good bit to the story, so read for yourself to uncover the rest. Also, if you didn’t already know the connection between Ozma and Pete, you really have a lot of reading to do.

I’ll soon turn my attention to The End of Oz, the final installment in the Dorothy Must Die series. I have a few other books to finish first, but I’m hoping to get to this book by the end of April. Part of me is putting it off so that I can keep my enjoyment of the series going as long as possible. Another part really wants to see how things play out, especially as it concerns Glinda and Dorothy getting what’s coming to them. Stick with me here, and I’ll post my thoughts as soon as I finish the last book in this gripping series.

For more information on the entire Dorothy Must Die series and Danielle Paige, connect with the author on her website, Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.

Vigilante

For those of you who’ve read and binge-watched Thirteen Reasons Why and are looking for something similar, I suggest you give Vigilante by Kady Cross a try. This book, which was released a couple of weeks ago, made me so mad that I could scream, but it also made me want to fight back against a society that shames victims while excusing their attackers. I’m not advocating taking things to the extremes that the main character in this book did, but I can certainly understand the appeal. When you feel like nothing is being done, sometimes the only thing to do is to take the situation into your own hands.

Everything changed after the party. The party where Hadley and her best friend, Magda, went their separate ways. The party where Magda was drugged and raped by four “good boys,” and the shameful act was posted to social media. Months after that party, despite all of the physical and video evidence, those “good boys” remained free, and Magda had to live with what had been done to her.

Hadley tried to be there for her friend, but Magda was slipping farther and farther away.  Soon, she would be completely out of Hadley’s reach. The pain and humiliation became too much for Magda, and she ended her life. Now, Hadley is starting her senior year of high school without her best friend, and she has to sit in the same classes with the boys who destroyed her world.

Numb since her friend’s death, Hadley finally begins to feel something again when she gets the chance for a little revenge. At a party, one of Magda’s attackers is left passed out and alone. Hadley takes that as her cue. She writes “rapist” on him in Magda’s lipstick and posts a photo of the guy–using his own phone–to every site she can. Her classmates take care of the rest.

After the photo goes viral, Hadley decides to take things a step farther. Donning a pink ski mask and using her martial arts training, Hadley begins to go after the other guys who raped her friend. Along the way, she encounters (and stops) more attempted sexual assaults. Finally, after so long feeling like she failed her friend, Hadley is doing something that makes a difference…something even the cops can’t seem to manage.

But things are getting far more complicated than Hadley ever envisioned. Taking punches is becoming all too commonplace for her. People are starting to suspect that she is the person the media has dubbed “Pink Vigilante.” And the very guys she’s targeting are putting their own target on Hadley. She knows what they did to Magda. What more would they try to do to her?

Even as her quest for revenge threatens to overtake her world, Hadley simply can’t stop. No, she won’t stop…not until every one of Magda’s attackers has paid for what they’ve done. She’ll deal with the consequences of her actions when she’s finished, but she has to see this through.

Will Hadley find justice? Or will her desire for vengeance lead to her own destruction? Find out when you read Vigilante.


As I sort of mentioned at the beginning of this post, I do not advocate violence or taking the law into your own hands. That being said, I couldn’t help but cheer for Hadley as she put a hurt on the horrible guys she encountered. She refused to accept that she and the other women around her simply had to be victims, so she did something about it. Yes, many of her actions were questionable (and illegal), but others were inspirational, like getting involved in self-defense classes, finding a group of girls to watch each others’ backs at parties, and calling people out–even her own mother–for victim-blaming.

Aside from Hadley, one of the characters in Vigilante that I particularly liked was Detective Davies. This woman was involved in Magda’s case and was disgusted by how it turned out. She taught Hadley’s self-defense class and encouraged all who attended to band together. She told them how to fight, and, at a school assembly, she gave the single most important way to stop sexual assault and rape. Don’t sexually assault or rape anybody. Full stop. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if a girl (or guy) is drunk, wearing revealing clothing, or strutting around naked. She’s not asking for it. No excuses, fame, or family money should be enough to erase sexual assault. (I’m thinking of quite a few public figures as I type this.)

I do think Vigilante is suited to a mature teen audience, but many of its themes need to be discussed with girls–and boys–as early as middle school. While this book may not be the best fit for middle grades, I urge you to seek out others that may be more age-appropriate.

If Vigilante sounds like the book for you, I also urge you to read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (obviously), Some Boys by Patty Blount, All the Rage by Courtney Summers, and The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney.

For more information on author Kady Cross, visit her website.

Finally, if you or anyone you know has experienced sexual assault and you need help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE. You can also go to RAINN.org for more information.

Royce Rolls

I’m typically not one to watch “reality” television (with the exception of Survivor). I don’t care about keeping up with anyone, any sort of dynasties, or housewives from major cities. I see enough on social media to know that there’s not much that’s real about these shows, and I prefer my celebrities to have actual talent.

I tell you all of this to introduce my latest read, Royce Rolls by Margaret Stohl. This book is, of course, fiction, but it takes readers behind the scenes of what life on a “reality” show may be like. The action revolves around Bentley Royce, middle child in the family featured on Rolling with the Royces. It’s almost immediately clear that the Bentley shown to the public is nothing like the real girl, and she’s growing tired of the charade. If only her family felt the same way.

Bentley Royce has spent much of her life in front of cameras. It kind of goes with the territory when your family is the subject of the number two reality show in the nation. But Rolling with the Royces is in trouble. Cancellation looms, and Bentley is hopeful that this could be her chance to live life on her own terms instead of following the network’s idea of who she should be.

But the Royces have never been a family to go down without a fight. Bentley’s momager, Mercedes, is ruthless and will stop at nothing to get her family back on top. Her older sister, Porsche, isn’t much better. Bentley’s only possibly ally is her younger brother, Bach, but he’s dealing with his own problems with gambling.

While Bentley longs for freedom from the insanity around her, she quickly realizes that it’s not that simple. Without the show, who are the Royces? The family could very well crumble without the show keeping them afloat, and that’s simply not acceptable to Bentley. So she’ll do what she must–including embracing the Bad Bentley character the public seems to love–to ensure that her family stays on the air.

As Bentley is giving the paparazzi a show, her sister has her own idea for avoiding the show’s demise. What else but a celebrity wedding? Porsche announces that she’s getting married (to a guy that no one knows anything about), and the family drama gets even more insane. Now, Porsche is planning the wedding of the century, Mercedes is shooting daggers at her future son-in-law, and Bach’s gambling addiction is worse than ever.

It seems, as always, it’s up to Bentley to get things back on track. But how can she keep her family in the spotlight while stepping out of it herself? Is there any way out of this mess? Who can she turn to for help? In a world that never looks below the surface, can she find anyone that sees and supports the real Bentley Royce?

Discover just how far one resourceful, desparate girl will go to save herself and her family when you read Royce Rolls, the latest book by best-selling author Margaret Stohl.


Whether you love or hate reality television, Royce Rolls definitely makes you think a bit more about what you’re watching. In turns both hilarious and serious, this book makes it abundantly clear that what we often see on screen is not even remotely real. That doesn’t mean, however, that the people on these shows aren’t dealing with very real problems. I couldn’t handle cameras in my face 24/7, and I now have a little more empathy for those who do. (That doesn’t mean I like–or even respect–any of them, but I get that their seemingly charmed lives may not be as easy as they appear.)

Royce Rolls is a great book for people who both love and loathe reality TV, particularly Keeping Up with the Kardashians…which had to be the inspiration for most of the book’s characters. I would recommend this book to a high school audience, but it should be fine for mature middle school students as well.

If I have one complaint about this book, it would be the footnotes. From what I gather, they are production notes, but that isn’t clear at the beginning of the book, so I find them distracting and not altogether necessary.

For more information on Royce Rolls and others by the fabulous Margaret Stohl, check out the author’s website. You also definitely need to take a look at this totally awesome book trailer for Royce Rolls.

Ruby on the Outside

Last night, I finished yet another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. This book, Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin, was a quick but powerful read, and it handled a difficult subject with a great deal of sensitivity.

What is life like for kids whose parents are in prison? Well, Ruby Danes can tell you that it’s not easy. She doesn’t want to tell anyone the truth of her mom’s situation and risk becoming an outcast. That makes forming real friendships very difficult. But Ruby is getting ready to begin middle school, and what she wants more than almost anything is her very own best friend to face the future with her.

As it turns out, Ruby may just get what she wants. A new girl, Margalit, has moved in nearby, and she and Ruby hit it off almost instantly. They spend most of their summer days together, and Ruby thinks she’s finally found the best friend she’s been looking for. Can she trust Margalit with her secret, though? Would Margalit judge Ruby for her mother’s crimes?

When Ruby begins to piece together what led to her mother’s incarceration, she doubts that Margalit could ever want to be best friends. It seems that Margalit’s family may be closely tied to the crime that landed Ruby’s mom in prison. This devastates Ruby, and it forces her to finally deal with some deep feelings that she has toward her mother.

Will Ruby be able to forgive her mother for the decisions she made in the past? Will she be able to reveal her secret to Margalit and find the friend she needs? Find out when you read Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin.


Ruby on the Outside is an important book to add to upper elementary and middle school library collections. It addresses a situation that is often overlooked, but, like it or not, that situation is all-too-real for many children, even those in our own spheres of influence.

This book is not preachy, overly optimistic, or terribly gritty, but it does offer a simple, realistic, and touching look at the life of one girl dealing with her mom’s imprisonment. That one thing colors nearly everything in Ruby’s life, and it’s interesting to see how she looks at things that most of us may take for granted. Something as simple as “Have your mom sign this permission form,” for example.

Ruby on the Outside is a powerful little book with many big lessons. I hope many students and teachers in my school–and many others–will give this book a chance and use it to foster discussions about empathy, forgiveness, and friendship.

To learn more about Ruby on the Outside and other works by Nora Raleigh Baskin, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. You can also hear more about this book from the author herself in the video below. Enjoy!