One for Sorrow

A month from today, Mary Downing Hahn’s newest spooky story, One for Sorrow, hits the shelves. It’s pretty well-known that I’m a wuss, so I figured this book would likely freak me out. I didn’t, however, expect it to scare the crap out of me–so much so that I couldn’t read it when it was dark outside. I don’t know how most young readers will respond to the book (the target audience is 4th-6th grade according to Booklist), but I found it to be absolutely terrifying. That’s probably all I need to say to make sure it flies off my library shelves (if I make the decision to purchase it).

The year is 1918. America is involved in a world war, and an influenza epidemic has gripped many communities. Annie Browne and her family have just moved to town. She is the new girl at school, and she’s nervous about making friends.

Someone claims Annie as a best friend almost immediately, but Annie’s not so sure she truly wants to be friends with Elsie, a strange, violent, and manipulative girl who won’t let Annie play or befriend the other girls at school. Annie’s a bit scared of Elsie, and she’s not sure how to free herself from her “friend’s” clutches.

Eventually, when Elsie’s out of school for a couple of days, Annie gets her chance to befriend some other girls and escape Elsie’s influence. Annie even joins her new friends in mocking Elsie. She feels a little guilty about making Elsie miserable, but she doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize her friendship with the other girls. Besides, Elsie brings a lot of this negative attention on herself.

While Annie and her new friends are tormenting Elsie, the horrible Spanish Influenza has hit their town. Dozens of people are dying each day. Schools and businesses close, and people are taking all the precautions they can to keep from getting sick.

One of Annie’s friends, Rosie, gets the bright idea to take advantage of the situation. She comes up with a plan to visit all the homes with black wreaths on the door, pretend to know the deceased, and load up on all of the cookies, candy, and cakes left for the mourners to eat. As for Annie, she does not want to see any dead bodies, but she goes along with Rosie’s morbid plan. (It’s hard to say no to Rosie.) Things are going okay with this whole scheme…until they recognize a girl lying in a coffin. It’s Elsie, Annie’s former “best friend” and the target of the girls’ relentless teasing.

Annie feels horrible about Elsie’s death, and she wonders if she and her friends may have had something to do with it. Annie’s feelings only intensify when she realizes that Elsie hasn’t gone very far. Her ghost has returned and is determined to make Annie her eternal best friend…or else.

Annie doesn’t know where to turn. Elsie, the very definition of a vengeful spirit, is turning everyone against Annie, making her say and do things she would never normally do, and convincing her friends, her teachers, and even her parents that Annie is going crazy. If Elsie doesn’t cross over soon, Annie’s entire world will be upended.

Is there any way for Annie to rid herself of Elsie for good, or will she forever be the focus of Elsie’s rage? Read One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn to find out!


One for Sorrow is a great fit for middle grade readers. I’m on the fence right now about recommending it to upper elementary readers. I’ll do a bit more research and read other reviews before I decide whether or not to place it in my elementary school library. If you’d like to weigh in on this, please let me know what you think in the comments.

In addition to being an excellent scary story, One for Sorrow teaches readers about the horrors of the flu epidemic of 1918 as well as providing a cautionary tale about bullying. Now, I’m not saying bullies will be haunted by the ghosts of those they tormented or anything, but it’s clear that there was bad behavior on all sides here. Elsie was horrible to Annie and the other girls in school, but did that mean the other girls should have been equally horrible? No, it did not. I think the lesson here is that you never know what someone else is going through, and a little kindness goes a long way.

If you’d like to read this gripping novel for yourself, One for Sorrow will be available on July 18th. It’s definitely a page-turner that will be hard to put down. For more information on this book and others by Mary Downing Hahn, visit the author’s website.

Bayou Magic

As I continue making my way through the nominees for the 2017-18 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, I have to commend the SCCBA committee on this list. I’ve read sixteen of the twenty titles so far, and there’s not a stinker in the bunch. Even the book with the dog on the cover–something that I usually avoid–is good. Many of my young readers will have a tough time choosing their favorite nominee when we vote in February. (Click here if you’d like to see a promo video for the SCCBA titles.)

I tell you all of that to introduce my latest read, another SCCBA nominee, Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This book is a spell-binding, compelling read that takes place in the Louisiana bayou in the summer of 2010, right around the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The story revolves around Maddy, a young girl learning about her heritage, what it means to be a friend, and the magic that lives within her.

Like her older sisters before her, Maddy is spending the summer with her grandmother in Bayou Bon Temps. There will be no phones, no Internet, no television, no air conditioning. Just Maddy, her grandmère, and a rather simple life on the bayou. Maddy soon learns, however, that her summer here will be anything but simple.

Grandmère sees something in Maddy that her sisters didn’t possess. Maddy has a love for the bayou, its mysteries, and its people. She’s in touch with the magic of her ancestors, those who traveled from Africa in the most horrible of circumstances.

Grandmère teaches Maddy to read the signs around her, and soon Maddy can call fireflies, sense when danger is coming, and perhaps even communicate with an ancient mermaid. Maddy is the only one who can see this strange being, known as Mami Wata, so can she possibly be real? Both Grandmère and Maddy’s new best friend, Bear, seem to think so. Sometimes a person just needs to have a bit of faith.

As Maddy becomes more sure of her newfound abilities, she realizes that something bad is headed for the bayou. She can’t stop the event–a catastrophic oil spill–from happening, but maybe she can do something about the impact of the spill on the bayou.

Calling on her mermaid friend, Mami Wata, Maddy uses her magical heritage and everything Grandmère has taught her to protect Bayou Bon Temps and all who call it home. Will it be enough? Will this disaster touch this place and its people in some other way? Whatever happens, can Maddy be a true friend and hero in both good times and bad?


Bayou Magic is an enthralling book that showcases the beauty of a simple life, exploring nature with friends, finding solace in silence, and getting to know the people and environment around you. (I must admit that I’m okay with the silence part, but I’m usually not one for getting to know nature or other people. Also, I’d probably go crazy without WiFi.) It also emphasizes spending time with elders, learning from them, and respecting one’s cultural traditions.

If I have one issue with this book, it’s that the ending feels a little rushed. Maddy’s journey back home from her bayou summer is rather abrupt. I’d like to know more about what happens between the book’s major culminating event and Maddy’s trip back to New Orleans. All in all, though, that’s a rather minor complaint for what is otherwise an excellent book.

Bayou Magic is a wonderful work of magical realism, but this story is also about courage, friendship, family, faith, protecting the environment, and honoring one’s culture. All of these things combine to make a truly magical book. I hope my students agree.

Bayou Magic is a great fit for upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s accessible and easy-to-read, and it features a dynamic African-American protagonist, something we need much more of in children’s literature.

If you’d like more information on Bayou Magic or other works by Jewell Parker Rhodes, please visit her website, Facebook, or Twitter. You may also want to check out the awesome book trailer for Bayou Magic below. Enjoy!

Now I Rise

Notice: You MUST read And I Darken, the first book in Kiersten White’s Conqueror’s Saga, before proceeding with this post. You’ve been warned.

If it’s not readily apparent, I recently finished reading Now I Rise, the sequel to And I Darken. This series focuses on Lada and Radu Dracul, the children of Vlad Dracul, the inspiration for Dracula. Like I mentioned in the post on book one, this series presents an alternate history of this family. Vlad is not the brutal leader of legend here…but his daughter is.

In And I Darken, Lada and Radu were dealing with their complicated feelings for each other, their circumstances, and the new sultan, Mehmed. In Now I Rise, the complications continue. Lada has left Mehmed’s side to reclaim the throne of Wallachia. Radu, on the other hand, has stayed with Mehmed, and that presents its own set of difficulties.

Lada Dracul is determined to be Prince of Wallachia. It does not matter that she is a woman. She’s the rightful ruler, and she will take what’s hers, by force if necessary. And it looks like force–and lots of it–are necessary. In her quest to rule, she strikes down anyone who gets in her way. She forges alliances that make her sick. She betrays those close to her. All of this to get her closer to the Wallachian throne. Yet even as she is on the cusp of achieving her goal, she misses her brother, Radu, and even Mehmed.

Lada knows that Radu’s silver tongue and gift of diplomacy would get her closer to the throne. As for Mehmed, her feelings for him are a bit more complex. She misses how he makes her feel, but, at the same time, she refuses to place her future in a man’s hands. Also, she doesn’t fully trust Mehmed. He has seemingly thwarted her grab for power, and Lada knows he will do anything–including betray her–to further his own ends. She both loathes and respects that about him. After all, has she not done the same?

As for Radu, he remains completely loyal to Mehmed and the sultan’s desire to conquer Constantinople. Radu does whatever he can to further the Ottoman cause, and, when Mehmed asks Radu to become a spy within Constantinople’s walls, he reluctantly agrees. While Radu does not wish to be parted from Mehmed, he will do as Mehmed asks even as he ignores his sister’s plea for help in her endeavors. Radu knows his feelings for Mehmed will likely never be returned, but he will continue to prove his love and loyalty to Mehmed…no matter what it costs.

While in Constantinople, Radu becomes more and more conflicted. Even as he’s relaying information to the Ottomans, he’s growing closer to those fighting for Emperor Constantine. How can he betray these people who have taken him in, shown him kindness, and trusted him? But how can he turn his back on Mehmed, who he loves more than all others? He’s given up nearly everything for Mehmed, but is he willing to give up his very soul so that Mehmed can conquer a city that seems to be dying anyway?

Both Radu and Lada Dracul are wrestling with questions of loyalty, love, faith, and sacrifice. What are each of them willing to do to achieve their goals? What will they find themselves capable of? Betrayal? Murder? And what will be lost along the way?


Everything I said about And I Darken also applies to Now I Rise. I don’t feel like writing all that again, so read the end of my post on And I Darken to get my full take on both of these books. In short, though, these books raise all sorts of questions on what a person is willing to do to serve their own ends, how love makes a person both strong and weak, what it means to be feminine, and how women who do not subscribe to societal expectations are viewed. And that barely even touches on the religious and historical aspects of the book. It’s a lot to take in, and all of this stuff makes both And I Darken and Now I Rise as sumptuous as two decadent pieces of dark chocolate.

So…how does Now I Rise differ from And I Darken? Well, we get to know both Lada and Radu a bit more. These two characters get more complex with each page, and I’m sure that will continue in the next book. The biggest difference, though, is the elevated brutality. Radu is in the middle of a war zone, and he both witnesses and commits atrocities true to what is happening around him. Lada, in her quest for power, cuts down anyone in her path and leaves a trail of bodies behind her. There’s nothing pretty, delicate, or civilized about her path to the Wallachian throne. She’s vicious, brutal, and without mercy. She has to demonstrate to all that she is no pushover, and she’s not shy about shedding blood to prove her point.

In case you’re wondering, I would recommend both And I Darken and Now I Rise to a mature teen or adult audience. I doubt most middle grade readers are developmentally ready for books like these. They deal with political maneuvering, sexuality, betrayal, and the horrors of war, and I think reading and discussing these issues require a certain level of maturity. You may have a different take, but I urge you to read the books yourself before you make that determination.

Now I Rise will be released on June 27th. The third book in The Conqueror’s Saga should be out next summer. To learn more about And I Darken and Now I Rise, visit the series’ official website.

Full Cicada Moon

It’s my first Monday of summer break, and I’m continuing to make my way through the nominees for the 2017-18 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. (My job never really stops, does it?) My latest read is one that I devoured in about a day. It’s Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton, and it’s both a novel in verse and a work of historical fiction. Neither of those categories are my typical favorites, but I absolutely loved this book, and I look forward to sharing it with my students in the coming year.

This moving book takes a look at one girl’s life over the course of one year, beginning on January 1, 1969, and a big move from California to Vermont. Relocating from one coast to another is a lot to handle; when you’re a half-black, half-Japanese girl moving to a mostly white area, it’s even more difficult.

Our protagonist, Mimi, reflects on the move, the attitudes of people around her, her own dreams, and what she’s willing to do to achieve them in this wonderful novel that will hopefully inspire readers to stand up for themselves and do whatever they can to be the change they want to see in the world.


Mimi dreams of becoming an astronaut one day. She loves studying science…even when people tell her that’s nothing something girls should be interested in. Mimi doesn’t care what other people think. She’s determined to go to space someday, just like the brave astronauts on the Apollo 11 mission.

The people at her school in Vermont don’t know what to make of Mimi. For one thing, they’ve never really encountered someone with her cultural background. For another, they don’t know what to think of a girl who likes science and wants to take shop class instead of home ec. Mimi doesn’t see what the big deal is on either count. What does it matter what color her skin is? Why should that make people dislike her before they even know her? And why do girls have to learn to sew and cook? Why can’t they learn to use tools and build things? None of this makes sense to Mimi–and it sometimes gives her a sick feeling in her stomach–but she’s not going to let any of it stop her.

Eventually, Mimi makes a couple of close friends who like her just the way she is, friends who support her efforts to change things. They may not always understand Mimi or their own privilege, but they’re willing to do what they can to help their friend. Those friendships, while helping Mimi to feel like she fits in her new town, also help give her courage to stand up for her rights.

Things may not change overnight, but Mimi is determined to do what’s right. In the process, she may just change the attitudes of those around her. Maybe, once people–adults and kids–get to know Mimi and her family, they’ll realize that they’re not so different after all.


Many readers will be able to see themselves in the character of Mimi, regardless of their racial backgrounds, but biracial readers may especially relate to Mimi. Mimi celebrates both her Japanese and African-American cultural traditions, all while trying to fit into a mostly white town. Mimi handles everything thrown at her with grace, tenacity, and courage, even when it would be much easier to respond in anger. In my opinion, she inspires others–both the characters in this book and those who read it–to do the same.

Full Cicada Moon is a powerful read that celebrates the things that make us different as well as those that bring us together. I cannot recommend it highly enough for any libraries that serve upper elementary, middle grade, and even teen readers. For more information on this wonderful book, visit author Marilyn Hilton’s website. You may also want to follow the author on Twitter.

The Last Kids on Earth and the Zombie Parade

Caution: Read The Last Kids on Earth before proceeding with this post. I’d hate to ruin things for you…but I will.

So…thanks to students returning library books at the end of the school year, I was finally able to get my hands on The Last Kids on Earth and the Zombie Parade, book two in Max Brallier’s Last Kids on Earth series. If you read my post on book one, you know I’m a big fan of the first book, and that only solidified when I read book two. The sass continues in this latest volume as, once again, our heroes try to save themselves and the world from the monster apocalypse. (I know the premise doesn’t sound all that fun, but it totally is. Trust me.)

When last we left Jack and company, they had just defeated Blarg, an evil monster bent on killing Jack and everyone else in his path. Now, Jack, Quint, Dirk, and June are staying busy doing all sorts of heroic questing. At present, that means gathering supplies, building a bestiary (a record of all the monsters around) and evading the Wormungulous (giant worm monster) that resides at the local mall. You know…business as usual.

With the help of a mysterious man-monster named Thrull, Jack’s crew does manage to wound and evade the Wormungulous. But who is Thrull, and where did he come from? He appears to be a friendly sort, and he leads our merry band to Joe’s Pizza, which has essentially become home to a bunch of not-so-bad monsters. Nothing like the big guys who’ve been trying to kill everyone and everything. Maybe someone here can help them figure out what brought the monster apocalypse to Earth in the first place…and how to stop it from getting worse.

Speaking of worse, a strange shrieking is having an odd effect on the zombie population in town. Whenever the Shrieking sounds, all the zombies form kind of a zombie parade, they move toward the horrible sound, and they’re never seen again. (One would think this would be a good thing, but Jack knows it’s super-creepy and probably indicates that something really bad is going on. He’s right.) What’s causing the Shrieking, and what’s happening to the zombies when they reach their destination?

Jack and company are determined to answer these questions, but can they do that without putting themselves in even more danger? (Answer: No.) You see, they’ve been duped by someone close to them, someone who’s working for an evil worse than anything they’ve ever encountered, a force so big, so powerful that it could bring forth the total annihilation of Earth. (And you thought monsters and zombies were bad.)

Can Jack, Quint, June, and Dirk stop what’s is happening? Can they rescue all those poor, pitiful zombies from whatever is calling them to their doom? Can they figure out who to trust before it’s too late?


Like book one, The Last Kids on Earth and the Zombie Parade delivers a story full of action, adventure, mystery, courage, and friendship, all with a liberal dose of humor. Max Brallier’s text and Douglas Holgate’s illustrations flow seamlessly and provide the reader with a quick, amusing, engaging story that makes them eager to turn every page. Anyone who reads this book (and its predecessor) will be thirsty for more tales from this frighteningly fun world.

The next book in this series, The Last Kids on Earth and the Nightmare King, will be out on September 26th. Based on the previous books and the synopsis on Goodreads, book three will be just as thrilling as the rest. I can hardly wait!

To learn more about The Last Kids on Earth series, visit author Max Brallier’s website.

Enjoy!

Supergirl at Super Hero High

Notice: While it’s not 100% necessary to read Wonder Woman at Super Hero High, the first book in Lisa Yee’s DC Super Hero Girls series, before reading the second installment, it is a pretty good idea. Not only does it help to establish the world of these novels, it also focuses on Wonder Woman. Isn’t that reason enough to read it? (Yes, it is.)

If it’s not already obvious, the second book in the DC Super Hero Girls series focuses on Supergirl. Now, you may think you know Kara Zor-El from the awesome Supergirl TV series or even the older movie (which brings on a sense of nostalgia in me), but you might want to think again. In this book, we get a look at a teen Supergirl, a girl dealing with being not only the new kid in school but the new kid on the planet. Her home planet of Krypton was destroyed, and everything and everyone she knew–including her parents–are gone. That’s a lot for a normal kid to take in. Throw in some brand-new superpowers, and things get much more complicated.

Kara Zor-El never really wanted to be a superhero. One minute, she was a happy kid on Krypton, enjoying life with her loving parents. The next minute, she was strapped into a spacecraft and sent off into the great unknown while her parents, her planet, and everything familiar to her was destroyed. She landed on Earth, and two wonderful people, Martha and Jonathan Kent, took her in…much like they had done for another Kryptonian years ago.

Now, Kara is facing even more change in her life. Thanks to Earth’s yellow sun, she’s dealing with some pretty intense superpowers–heat vision, super strength, flight, super speed, and much more. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, Kara is a tad clumsy, and managing her newfound abilities is becoming something of a hazard to those around her. What she needs is a place to learn how to control her powers and how she can use her gifts to help the world around her. That’s where Super Hero High comes in!

At Super Hero High, Kara, now known by the name of Supergirl, immediately feels like the odd person out. Everyone here, especially her hero Wonder Woman, seems to already know so much. They don’t trip over their own feet or cause mayhem and destruction with their out-of-control powers. Supergirl is overwhelmed by how much she has to learn, and she often wonders if this place is even right for her. A new friend, Barbara Gordon, and a cookie-wielding librarian, Granny Goodness, try to reassure Supergirl, but her doubts continue to plague her.

When a mysterious threat begins to target Super Hero High, the students and staff work together to determine who–or what–is attempting to infiltrate their school. Supergirl wants to help, but what can she do? Sometimes she thinks she just makes things worse. But when the true nature of this threat is revealed, Supergirl–with an assist from Barbara–may be the only one capable of neutralizing this menace for good.

Can Supergirl find the confidence she needs to face this danger head-on? And can she finally find her place at Super Hero High?


Like Wonder Woman at Super Hero High, this book is an ideal fit for upper elementary and middle grade collections. (I assume that this will also be true of the remainder of the series.) It’s a fun, inviting book that gives readers a glimpse into what life may be like for some of their favorite teen superheroes. It also lets readers know that they’re not alone when they feel out-of-place, lacking in confidence, lonely, or clumsy. Superheroes deal with the same stuff we all do.

Spoilers ahead! While I thoroughly enjoyed Supergirl at Super Hero High, I do have one (not totally serious) issue with it. I just have to ask one question. Why did it have to be the librarian? Why, I ask you?! Sure, some in my profession could have super-villain tendencies, but most of us are awesome. I, personally, vow to use my powers for good and never get my students to help me take over the world. I can only hope my fellow librarians feel the same way.

If the DC Super Hero Girls series seems like something you or your kids, students, or library patrons would enjoy, have no fear! There are at least two more volumes to love. In addition to Wonder Woman and Supergirl, Batgirl at Super Hero High is already out. (I’ll be reading this one soon.) Book four, Katana at Super Hero High will be released on July 4th. Given how popular these books are, I have high hopes that we’ll see even more books in this wonderful series.

For more information on Supergirl at Super Hero High and the series as a whole, visit author Lisa Yee’s website. Happy reading!

Roller Girl

This evening, I bring you one more of the 2017-18 South Carolina Book Award nominees. For the second year in a row, the SCCBA committee has chosen to place a graphic novel on the nominee list, a trend I desperately hope continues. This year, the lone graphic novel on the list is Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. (By the way, this book is also a 17-18 SC Junior Book Award nominee. Bonus.)

Roller Girl has been on my radar for a while, and I finally made time to read it last night. I found it to be thoroughly relatable, and I think fans of Cece Bell’s El Deafo, Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, and anything by Raina Telgemeier will devour this book, a book that is essentially about being a good friend and embracing one’s own unique gifts. It could also encourage many young readers to search out a sport that may be unfamiliar to them–roller derby.

Astrid and her best friend, Nicole, do everything together, and Astrid assumes that will always be the case. She’s about to learn, however, that things have a way of changing.

After attending an exciting roller derby bout, Astrid signs up to attend a summer roller derby camp. She assumes that Nicole will join her, but Nicole has other plans in mind. She wants to attend ballet camp. Not only that, but she’ll be at ballet camp with Astrid’s sworn enemy, the vile Rachel. (Rachel is responsible for giving Astrid a particularly terrible nickname.) Astrid is not happy about the situation, but she really wants to go to roller derby camp. Maybe she’ll make some new friends there, friends who will make the growing distance with Nicole a little less painful.

Pain, as it turns out, is something Astrid is about to become very familiar with. Roller derby isn’t exactly all sunshine and roses. It hurts. It hurts even more when one doesn’t really know how to skate. Astrid goes home each day battered and bruised, and she barely has enough energy to fall into bed. Becoming a star roller girl is a lot harder than Astrid thought it would be.

Even though roller derby is more difficult than Astrid ever imagined, she is getting better slowly. She’s also making new friends. She’s growing closer to one girl in particular, Zoey. She and Zoey practice together, hang out, and Zoey even dyes Astrid’s hair blue–something her mother is not exactly happy about.

Things seem to be going okay for Astrid. She’s determined to be the best roller girl possible, and she’s putting in the work to make that happen. But what happens when she comes face-to-face with Nicole (and Rachel) again? What happens when Zoey, her new friend, gets the position Astrid desperately wants for their upcoming bout? What happens when Astrid is forced to face the consequences of everything she’s done this summer?

Will Astrid become the person–the roller girl–she knows she can be? And will she form–and keep–the friendships she so desperately desires?


Roller Girl is a wonderfully engaging book about the importance of perseverance, being a good friend, and being part of a team. It also introduces readers to roller derby, a sport that may be unfamiliar to them. I confess that I knew very little about roller derby before reading this book, but I now want to see if there are any teams in my area. (I have no desire or ability to play, but I bet it would be a ton of fun to watch.)

There is only one thing about Roller Girl that gives me pause. That’s the unfortunate nickname that Rachel saddled Astrid with. As I’m sure you know, kids can be cruel, and Astrid’s name lends itself to an especially rotten nickname–“ass-turd.” (I tell you this now so you’ll know what to expect.) Yes, this is a horrible term and some readers–mainly adults–could have a problem with it, but it emphasizes the dynamic between Astrid and Rachel and helps to explain why Astrid is so hurt that Nicole is friends with a girl who could come up with something so mean. Is this one term going to keep me from promoting this book to my upper elementary students? Nope, but I do believe in being prepared (with collection policies, reviews, Library Bill of Rights, intellectual freedom information, etc.) should anything be called into question. I urge anyone else to do the same.

With all of that being said, I do highly recommend Roller Girl to upper elementary and middle grade audiences. It’s a quick, entertaining read that emphasizes both individuality and teamwork. You’ll have a hard time keeping enough copies in your libraries. (I know I can’t keep it on my shelves.)

For more information on Roller Girl, visit author Victoria Jamieson’s website. Enjoy!