New Releases

Summer has come to an end, most of the kids are back in school, and publishers are starting to publish their fall releases. We have four new releases this week, including Jacqueline Woodson’s newest. I got a chance to meet her in February at a conference and really loved what she had to say. I’m looking forward to reading her book.


Bombay BluesBombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier

The long-anticipated sequel to Tanuja Desai Hidier’s groundbreaking BORN CONFUSED!

In BORN CONFUSED, Indian-American just-turned-17-year-old Dimple Rohitbhai Lala found love, friendship, art, and home where she least expected it. But a lot’s gone on in the years that have followed. And what happens if what you thought you wanted wasn’t what you wanted after all? As she learns during adventures that take her from India to New York to London and back, with a little luck and a lot of vision, the journey home might prove just as magical as what you left behind to make it.


AmityAmity by Micol Ostow

For fans of Stephen King and American Horror Story, a gruesome thriller suggested by the events of the Amityville Horror.

Connor’s family moves to Amity to escape shady business deals. Ten years later, Gwen’s family moves to Amity for a fresh start after she’s recovered from a psychotic break.

But something is not right about this secluded house. Connor’s nights are plagued with gore-filled dreams of demons and destruction. Dreams he kind of likes. Gwen has lurid visions of corpses that aren’t there and bleeding blisters that disappear in the blink of an eye. She knows Amity is evil and she must get her family out, but who would ever believe her?

Amity isn’t just a house. She is a living force, bent on manipulating her inhabitants to her twisted will. She will use Connor and Gwen to bring about a bloody end as she’s done before. As she’ll do again.

Alternating between parallel narratives, Amity is a tense and terrifying tale suggested by true-crime events that will satisfy even the most demanding horror fan.


Kinda Like BrothersKinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

Jarrett doesn’t trust Kevon.

But he’s got to share a room with him anyway.

It was one thing when Jarrett’s mom took care of foster babies who needed help. But this time it’s different. This time the baby who needs help has an older brother — a kid Jarrett’s age named Kevon. Everyone thinks Jarrett and Kevon should be friends — but that’s not gonna happen. Not when Kevon’s acting like he’s better than Jarrett — and not when Jarrett finds out Kevon’s keeping some major secrets. Jarrett doesn’t think it’s fair that he has to share his room, his friends, and his life with some stranger. He’s gotta do something about it — but what? From award-winning author Coe Booth, KINDA LIKE BROTHERS is the story of two boys who really don’t get along — but have to find a way to figure it out.


Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books

Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.




Review: the Ring and the Crown

18296016Title:  The Ring and the Crown
Author:  Melissa de la Cruz
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 384
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Review Copy: the library
Availability: August 5th, 2014

Summary: Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the Lily Throne, and Aelwyn Myrddn, bastard daughter of the Mage of England, grew up together. But who will rule, and who will serve? [Image and summary via Goodreads]*


Review: The Ring and the Crown begins with two awesome quotations — one by Emily Dickinson, and one from a Beyonce song. It was a promising beginning to a story told from the point-of-view of four (yes, FOUR) girls living out their roles in royal and magical intrigue. Their world is an alternate take on Regency-era England, with the British Empire ruled by the queen and her sorceror Merlin. Glamour and magic is used for everything ranging from war to illusions and pretty dresses.

Each of the main four girls in the Ring and the Crown are involved in the treaty being made between Prussia and the Franco-British empire after a terrible war that was ended with dark magic. Having these four narrative threads to follow was difficult at first, but it got better — eventually. Once I got into the story that was unfolding, it was interesting to see four separate views of the events going down.

Unfortunately, even four POVs of one story was not enough to lay the foundations for the climactic scenes at the end when All is Revealed. Instead, the entire plot is summarized and explained away through several pages of exposition. It made sense, but felt a bit contrived. The minor appearance of token gay friends (and they were sassy!), plus the heavy use of men-mistreating-women as a plot device was also off-putting. Certain serious issues (mainly, sexual assault) were not handled well.

Setting aside the plot — an alternate universe where Regency-era England* is part of a magical British empire is not a new idea, but it’s one that is filled with potential. It was the strength of the Ring and the Crown, and I’m disappointed that it wasn’t expanded on. Fortunately, the main characters themselves  (or, at least, two out of the four) are compelling enough to drive the story and keep it interesting. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, for that reason.

The Ring and the Crown is a relaxing light read, and great for anyone who is really into books set in long-ago England. If you’re not so into that sort of thing, or you’re looking for a book with a tight plot and more focused storytelling, look elsewhere.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday, especially if you’re into alternate universe magical-British-empire books.

*Summary cut for length because it’s basically an inaccurate plot review.

Social Justice and Activism in YA Lit

Yesterday, I started noticing tweets about literature related to the events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri. The events there and the very different reactions to them just confirm that we need diverse literature.

One YA title that immediately popped into my mind was Kekla Magoon’s The Rock and the River. In that book and in the sequel, young people see injustice around them and are moved to action. What I really appreciated about The Rock and the River was that Magoon acknowledged that there are gray areas. Activism is messy and it’s not just perfect people against evil people. In her excellent blogpost, “The Violence in Missouri: Writers and Artists Respond,” Lyn Miller-Lachmann also mentioned Kekla Magoon’s books among others. In her own book GringolandiaLyn has also written about social justice issues and activism.

There are quite a few titles available for children and young adults that deal with social justice issues and activism. There are already a few lists circulating online. School Library Journal created a list of resources on their blog, Understanding Ferguson: Resources on Protest, Nonviolence, and Civil Rights. In that post, they pointed to the work that Left Bank Books (a bookstore in St. Louis) is doing. Left Bank is curating a list they have named #Ferguson – How We Got Here. Their list includes titles from picture books through adult. There are also two hashtags on Twitter that are related to this subject if you want more titles. For any and all ages see #FergusonReads and for children’s lit see #KidLit4Justice.

Here are a few titles that are specifically YA.

rockThe Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon
For thirteen-year-old Sam it’s not easy being the son of known civil rights activist Roland Childs. Especially when his older (and best friend), Stick, begins to drift away from him for no apparent reason. And then it happens: Sam finds something that changes everything forever.

Sam has always had faith in his father, but when he finds literature about the Black Panthers under Stick’s bed, he’s not sure who to believe: his father or his best friend. Suddenly, nothing feels certain anymore.

Sam wants to believe that his father is right: You can effect chnage without using violence. But as time goes on, Sam grows weary of standing by and watching as his friends and family suffer at the hands of racism in their own community. Sam beings to explore the Panthers with Stick, but soon he’s involved in something far more serious — and more dangerous — than he could have ever predicted. Sam is faced with a difficult decision. Will he follow his father or his brother? His mind or his heart? The rock or the river?


Fire in the Streets by Kekla Magoon
Maxie knows all about how fire can erupt at a moment’s notice, especially now, in the sweltering Chicago summer of 1968. She is a Black Panther—or at least she wants to be one. Maxie believes in the movement. She wants to belong. She wants to join the struggle. But everyone keeps telling her she’s too young. At fourteen, she’s allowed to help out in the office, but she certainly can’t help patrol the streets.

Then Maxie realizes that there is a traitor in their midst, and if she can figure out who it is, it may be her ticket to becoming a real Panther. But when she learns the truth, the knowledge threatens to destroy her world. Maxie must decide: Is becoming a Panther worth paying the ultimate price?

revolutionThe Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano
There are two secrets Evelyn Serrano is keeping from her Mami and Papo? her true feelings about growing up in her Spanish Harlem neighborhood, and her attitude about Abuela, her sassy grandmother who’s come from Puerto Rico to live with them. Then, like an urgent ticking clock, events erupt that change everything. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, dump garbage in the street and set it on fire, igniting a powerful protest. When Abuela steps in to take charge, Evelyn is thrust into the action. Tempers flare, loyalties are tested. Through it all, Evelyn learns important truths about her Latino heritage and the history makers who shaped a nation. Infused with actual news accounts from the time period, Sonia Manzano has crafted a gripping work of fiction based on her own life growing up during a fiery, unforgettable time in America, when young Latinos took control of their destinies.

angel Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery by M. Evelina Galang
Angel has just lost her father, and her mother’s grief means she might as well be gone too. She’s got a sister and a grandmother to look out for, and a burgeoning consciousness of the unfairness in the world—in her family, her community, and her country.

Set against the backdrop of the second Philippine People Power Revolution in 2001, the contemporary struggles of surviving Filipina “Comfort Women” of WWII, and a cold winter’s season in the city of Chicago is the story of a daughter coming of age, coming to forgiveness, and learning to move past the chaos of grief to survive.

surrender The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle
It is 1896. Cuba has fought three wars for independence and still is not free. People have been rounded up in reconcentration camps with too little food and too much illness. Rosa is a nurse, but she dares not go to the camps. So she turns hidden caves into hospitals for those who know how to find her.

Black, white, Cuban, Spanish—Rosa does her best for everyone. Yet who can heal a country so torn apart by war? Acclaimed poet Margarita Engle has created another breathtaking portrait of Cuba.



Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Daniel’s papá, Marcelo, used to play soccer, dance the cueca, and drive his kids to school in a beat-up green taxi—all while publishing an underground newspaper that exposed Chile’s military regime. After papá’s arrest in 1980, Daniel’s family fled to the United States. Now Daniel has a new life, playing guitar in a rock band and dating Courtney, a minister’s daughter. He hopes to become a US citizen as soon as he turns eighteen.

When Daniel’s father is released and rejoins his family, they see what five years of prison and torture have done to him. Marcelo is partially paralyzed, haunted by nightmares, and bitter about being exiled to “Gringolandia.” Daniel worries that Courtney’s scheme to start a bilingual human rights newspaper will rake up papá’s past and drive him further into alcohol abuse and self-destruction. Daniel dreams of a real father-son relationship, but he may have to give up everything simply to save his papá’s life.

This powerful coming-of-age story portrays an immigrant teen’s struggle to reach his tortured father and find his place in the world.

march March: Book One by John Robert Lewis and Andrew Aydin with artist Nate Powell
Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

dreamer The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle
“I find it so easy to forget / that I’m just a girl who is expected / to live / without thoughts.” Opposing slavery in Cuba in the nineteenth century was dangerous. The most daring abolitionists were poets who veiled their work in metaphor. Of these, the boldest was Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, nicknamed Tula. In passionate, accessible verses of her own, Engle evokes the voice of this book-loving feminist and abolitionist who bravely resisted an arranged marriage at the age of fourteen, and was ultimately courageous enough to fight against injustice. Historical notes, excerpts, and source notes round out this exceptional tribute.

freedom The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell
To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer murders, this will be the first book for young adults to explore the harrowing true story of three civil rights workers slain by the KKK.

In June of 1964, three idealistic young men (one black and two white) were lynched by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi. They were trying to register African Americans to vote as part of the Freedom Summer effort to bring democracy to the South. Their disappearance and murder caused a national uproar and was one of the most significant incidents of the Civil Rights Movement, and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

yummy Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri with illustrations by Randy DuBurke In August of 1994, 11-year-old Robert “Yummy” Sandifer — nicknamed for his love of sweets — fired a gun at a group of rival gangmembers, accidentally killing a neighborhood girl, Shavon Dean. Police searched Chicago’s southside for three days before finding Yummy dead in a railway tunnel, killed by members of the drug gang he’d sought to impress. The story made such an impact that Yummy appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, drawing national attention to the problems of inner city youth in America.

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty relives the confusion of these traumatic days from the point of view of Roger, a neighborhood boy who struggles to understand the senseless violence swirling through the streets around him. Awakened by the tragedy, Roger seeks out answers to difficult questions — was Yummy a killer or a victim? Was he responsible for his actions or are others to blame?


While the final title (Yummy) is not really about activism, it brings up many questions about justice, violence, and our communities. These are issues that young people are seeing in the news and possibly experiencing in their own lives. Literature is one way to open the door for discussion. If you know of any other titles that would fit in with this list, please let us know in the comments.

– Cover images and summaries are from Goodreads

On Why I Love Small Presses

Pig ParkPlease welcome Claudia Guadalupe Martinez to Rich in Color! Claudia’s novel, Pig Park, will be out from Cinco Puntos Press on September 16:

It’s crazy! Fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga’s neighborhood is becoming more and more of a ghost town since the lard company moved away. Her school closed down. Her family’s bakery and the other surviving businesses may soon follow. As a last resort, the neighborhood grown-ups enlist all the remaining able-bodied boys and girls to haul bricks to help build a giant pyramid in the park in hopes of luring visitors. Maybe their neighbors will come back too. But something’s not right about the entrepreneur behind it all. Then there’s the new boy who came to help, the one with the softest of lips.

Claudia is currently running two giveaways for Pig Park–one that’s open to individuals and one that’s for educators, which includes a classroom set of 10 copies of the book. The drawing ends on August 28, so enter now!

I sometimes joke that I completed my MFA under Lee Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press. I was alway a writer, but I didn’t “study writing” in any traditional setting. I set out to write my first novel, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos, 2008), with a strong desire and a degree in Literature.

When I thought I was finished, I sent my manuscript to five small presses with all the bravado of my 23 years on the planet. One of those presses was Cinco Puntos. I had just moved to Chicago, but I figured that–because we were both El Pasoans in a sense–they would get what I was doing.

After a couple of requests for more, I was rejected by all. Lee’s rejection was notably kind and pretty much told it straight: she liked my writing, but I had not written a “book.”

“Well, what was a book?” I huffed in my little apartment. But Lee was right. To begin with, my so-called novel was only maybe 60 double-spaced pages. Ay!

Over the course of the next three years, and many more submissions to Cinco Puntos, I fleshed the thing out. Right around this time, I also began submitting to agents. An agent from Andrea Brown offered to work with me, but I knew that I wanted to publish with Lee. Though I hadn’t yet met her face to face, substantial back and forth over those three years made me think of her as a mentor.

I finally wore Lee down, and I can safely say things worked out in my favor. Lee tells her own version of this story, of course, one about a persistent girl that kept sending her a manuscript with no explanations.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know of at least one other debut author (a Pura Belpre winner) who had a similar experience with an independent press.

So when I hear all these conversations about the lack of diversity in books being published, I can’t help thinking about something Lee always says. People are focusing on the hole in the donut when there’s all this delicious stuff all around it. Small presses haven’t failed to champion diversity. Almost half of the diverse books counted each year by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center are published by small presses, despite their limited share of the overall market.

It is my hope that– just as the “Buy Indie” to support independent bookstores movement has caught fire in the wake of the Amazon fight with Hachette–”Buy Indie” will also become synonymous with buying from independent publishers for those interested in the diverse books movement. Independent publishers like Cinco Puntos, Arte Publico, Groundwood Books, Lee and Low and others have found ways to accomplish what the big guys haven’t, and be truly representative of the diverse world we live in.

Sure, I can’t help wondering what might’ve happened had I signed on with Andrea Brown. Sure, I would love for my publisher to have the marketing dollars afforded to the John Greens and Veronica Roths of our industry. But I am mostly grateful to have a publisher who gambles on voices not often found in the mainstream, time after time. Signing on with Cinco Puntos to publish my second novel, Pig Park (Cinco Puntos, 2014), was kinda a no-brainer.

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez Claudia is the author of The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos, 2008) and Pig Park (Cinco Puntos, 2014). She grew up in sunny El Paso, Texas where she learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old westerns with her father. She now lives and writes in Chicago.

Review: Katrin’s Chronicles: The Canon of Jacqueléne Dyanne, vol. 1

Katrin's ChorniclesTitle: Katrin’s Chronicles: The Canon of Jacqueléne Dyanne, vol. 1
Author: Valerie C. Woods
Genres: Historical, Mystery, Fantasy
Pages: 205
Publisher: BooksEndependent
Review Copy: Received review copy from publisher
Availability: Available now

Summary: 13-year-old Katrin DuBois decides it’s never too soon to start an autobiography. She needs to set the record straight about the outrageous rumors concerning certain adventures that began when she was in 6th grade. That’s when her elder sister, 8th grader J. Dyanne, began exhibiting extraordinary detecting powers.

Volume 1 begins in the late summer of 1968 on the south side of Chicago, a turbulent time before cell phones, laptops and text messages became essential elements of pre-teen life. The girls manage to thrive in a world of social change with multi-generational family support, creative quick-thinking and fearless inquisitiveness. The dog days of August find them prohibited by their parents from visiting the Central Library downtown because of the riots during the Democratic Convention. However, there’s plenty of adventure in their own neighborhood as they become swept up in family mysteries, neighborhood political schemes and discovery of a surprising legacy of psychic, even supernatural, talent.

Review: Katrin’s Chronicles is an odd—but fun—little book that blends mystery and fantasy with the backdrop of 1968 Chicago and more than a dash of Sherlock Holmes. Katrin functions much as Watson did in the Sherlock Holmes stories: she is the narrator for her sister’s adventures (to set the record straight, as it were) while still being an important agent in the story.

And while Katrin is a great narrator, my major complaint with any story told in this style is that I often feel more removed from the story than I want to be. Katrin only explains what J. Dyanne picked up on and the deductions she made after events have concluded instead of in the moment, even though Katrin is telling the story three years after the fact. Katrin also has a few narrative affectations that take some getting used to and that occasionally pulled me out of the story. The book is also at an awkward crossroads between middle grade and young adult. Thirteen-year-old Katrin—with an impressive vocabulary—is telling the story of what happened when she was ten, but her teenage sister is the one spearheading the adventures. It left me more than a little confused about where I would shelve it, though I ultimately settled on the lower end of the YA spectrum.

That said, I really enjoyed the world Valerie C. Woods created. The world was all the better for the historical grounding, especially since the story needed a solid anchor once all of the psychic/supernatural elements started popping up. I do wish that the story had explained more about what rules/limitations the supernatural had, but I suppose that’s something that will be explored in more depth in later volumes. As it is, the hunches/dreams both J. Dyanne and Katrin get serve to point them in the correct direction as they go about solving various mysteries, but the girls generally still have to find the actual evidence they need. On occasion, the supernatural help sometimes makes the mystery seem too easy.

I enjoyed Katrin’s sprawling family, particularly in how so much has been hinted at but not explained, like how Katrin’s mother chose not to pursue her own supernatural talents. There are stories—many of them—skulking about in the background that make the world richer and, I anticipate, are seeds for the future installments of the series.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday, especially if you like Sherlock Holmes-esque mysteries. The historical setting and supernatural elements are integral and appealing parts of the story. Katrin is a fun narrator, but the emotional distance with the three-year gap between recording the adventures and actually experiencing them may leave some readers cold.

Book Review: Can You See Me Now?

Can You See Me NowTitle: Can You See Me Now?
Author: Estela Bernal
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 161
Publisher: Arte Publico Press
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: In Bookstores now

Summary: On Amanda’s thirteenth birthday, her father is killed by a drunk driver while on the way to pick up her birthday present. She’s stunned when she overhears her mother blaming her: “If she hadn’t insisted on that stupid watch for her birthday, he would still be alive.” Her mom retreats into extra shifts at work, leaving Mandy with her grandmother and making her feel as if she has lost both parents.

To make matters worse, she’s the butt of cruel pranks at school. One day, some girls even glue her skirt to the chair! But things take a turn for the better when she befriends Paloma, an unusual new student at Central Middle School, who introduces her to yoga and meditation. And she reluctantly becomes friends with Rogelio, a fat boy who is bullied even more than she is by their classmates.
Mandy’s new friends, a dog named Lobo and an interesting school project help to ease the pain of her father’s death and her mother’s absence. She maintains a connection to her father by writing letters to him each night. But will she always be invisible to her mother?

Estela Bernal’s debut novel, a fast-paced and entertaining read for middle school teens, explores tough issues—including death and bullying—with sensitivity and humor.

Review: A few days ago a writer friend sent me an article about the difference between Middle Grade books and Young Adult books. The article was focused on writers sending their manuscripts for publishing, but it also made me realize why I had such trouble getting into Estela’ Bernal’s debut novel. In the article, the author reminded writers that readers often “read up” and since I teach 8th grade, I’m commonly recommending (and reading) novels on the “older YA” spectrum. While “Can You See Me Now?” is marketed at a YA novel, when reading it, it becomes clear that the novel is actually a Middle Grade novel. It is shorter than the average YA novel and the writing is much more simplistic. The article notes that MG novels tend to focus on “a characters immediate world” with little self-reflection and “Can You See Me Now?” fits the definition of a MG novel.

The lack of self-reflection in the novel is actually what bothered me the most. The story is very “on the surface”, not fully getting to the deeper emotional issues that Amanda is dealing with. Essentially Bernal’s novel lacks heart. Amanda’s father died tragically and her mother practically abandons her, and none of that emotional pain is reflected in the novel. Amanda writes letters to her father, which is very sweet and a realistic portrayal of how one grieves, but pages go by without her talking about her mother. I kept leaving the story because of that. I couldn’t understand why she’d go days, weeks, without a passing thought to her mother. The novel focused on her budding friendship with Paloma, Rogelio and the school project. I understand that the budding friendships is what helps Amanda heal, but the lighthearted approach Bernal took towards those relationships bothered me. Spending my days around middle schoolers, I know how deep, emotional beings they can be and I felt that Bernal didn’t quite grasp the complexity of the pre-teen/teenage mind.

Lastly, I had a lot of trouble connecting with Amanda, in that I didn’t really get to know her. I know her in a superficial way, not enough to care to want to read a novel about her. A book can have a strong premise, such as “Can You See Me Now?” does, but if a reader cannot connect to the main character, if we don’t have a good enough reason to root for her, then the novel falls flat. I was left wanting more from Amanda, more from this novel.

Recommendation:  Tying back to my opening paragraph, I think the main reason why I didn’t like it is because I’m not used to reading Middle Grade books (which are aimed at an audience of 8-12 years old). While “Can You See Me Now?” would make a good MG novel, as a reader of YA, it doesn’t work for me. If you enjoy MG books, then I’d suggest you borrow the novel when you can, but if you are a fan of YA, then skip it.