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A-Okay
Author: Jarad Greene
Published November 2nd, 2021 by HarperAlley

Summary: A-Okay by Jarad Greene is a vulnerable and heartfelt semi-autobiographical middle grade graphic novel about acne, identity, and finding your place.

When Jay starts eighth grade with a few pimples he doesn’t think much of it at first…except to wonder if the embarrassing acne will disappear as quickly as it arrived. But when his acne goes from bad to worse, Jay’s prescribed a powerful medication that comes with some serious side effects. Regardless, he’s convinced it’ll all be worth it if clear skin is on the horizon!

Meanwhile, school isn’t going exactly as planned. All of Jay’s friends are in different classes; he has no one to sit with at lunch; his best friend, Brace, is avoiding him; and–to top it off–Jay doesn’t understand why he doesn’t share the same feelings two of his fellow classmates, a boy named Mark and a girl named Amy, have for him.

Eighth grade can be tough, but Jay has to believe everything’s going to be a-okay…right?

Praise:

A compelling depiction of teenage uncertainty. –Kirkus Reviews

Supported by expressive, well-drawn, and colorful illustrations, this compelling graphic novel will appeal to fans of middle-grade graphic memoirs. Booklist

Greene’s use of color, line, and composition in his comic-panel layouts enhances the humor and angst of this particular slice of adolescent life. -The Horn Book

Jay’s arc is distinct and refreshing, and the story’s emphasis on friendships and body image issues is likely to resonate with any reader who has wished to jump out of their skin. Publishers Weekly

A story about kids learning to feel good about themselves on their own terms is no small thing, and Jay is a low-key, lovely protagonist. Greene’s simple, bubbly color illustrations are friendly and accessible, matching the content perfectly. An earnest exploration of adolescence, recognizable and relevant to middle schoolers coming into their own. -School Library Journal

About the Author: Jarad Greene is a cartoonist originally from Lutz, Florida, who now lives in the curious village of White River Junction, Vermont. In addition to his own comics, Jarad works on staff at the Center for Cartoon Studies and has helped color many graphic novels for younger readers. He is also the author and illustrator of the graphic novel Scullion: A Dishwasher’s Guide to Mistaken Identity. Find him online at www.jaradgreene.com.

Review: My students and I really love middle school memoir (or memoir-esque) graphic novels–I cannot keep them on the shelf, and A-Okay is going to fall right in with that group. What makes a book like this so popular is that it takes something that students need to connect with or that they need to understand and shines a spotlight on a likeable character working their way through the challenge. A-Okay fits this perfectly with Jay’s wonderful character arc as he makes his way through 8th grade figuring out his passions, true friends, and sexual identity; with the focus on Jay’s acne which many middle schoolers deal with but may never have seen in a book; and with the very realistic middle school friendship drama that happens as childhood friends begin to become their own person. This engaging storyline along with Greene’s colorful, detailed, and distinct illustrations will make this a graphic novel I know will never be on my school library’s shelf.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation & Discussion Questions: HarperCollins created a Classroom Conversations page for A-Okay which includes a book talk and five topics with questions for group discussion:

It can also be accessed through the publisher’s A-Okay page. 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Middle school memoirs like Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, Guts by Raina Telgemeier, New Kid by Jerry Craft, and The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to SparkPoint Studios and the publisher for providing a copy for review!**

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Sofia is a 10-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer, who started with us when she was 8 years old. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

GET READY TO READ THE BEST BOOK EVER! Introducing The Double Life of Danny Day by Mike Thayer! Danny is no normal kid! He lives every day twice, which means he can improvise on the first run of the day! During his “discard days” he does crazy things because he knows anything that discard Danny does will be erased from people’s memories at the stroke of midnight. This is the kind of book that would make reluctant readers hooked. This book is recommended for ages 8-12.

Danny has always had the ability to live every day twice. When he was a little kid and did not know to keep the double day thing a secret his parents thought he was crazy. Only after going to a psychologist for a few years, he now knows how to keep it a secret. Maybe he got this “power” by being born on February 22 at 2:22 am (2/22 at 2:22 am!) At his new school Danny sits with a girl named Freddie. On a discard day Danny plays a game called the brown bag game. It is a game where kids play a video game at lunch and whoever wins gets all the money the other people put into a brown bag under the lunch table. The money that the winner gets is the money that the kids pay as “entrance fee” which is two dollars. But Danny and Freddie suspect foul play when one kid wins every day. By now you might know why Danny mostly plays on discard days. At some point Danny starts to feel like he should tell somebody about the double day. Do you think Danny will tell somebody, and most importantly, who will he tell?!

I love this book because it is so funny and it keeps you reading. I love the idea of living every day twice and was enchanted by this book. It was so amazing to see how much a person can change on a discard day. I would really recommend this book to anybody! I hope you enjoy this fantastic book!

**Thanks so much, Sofia! Now we need to get our hands on this book!**

 

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Inside Cat
Author: Brendan Wenzel
Published: October 12, 2021 by Chronicle Books

GoodReads Summary: Told in rhyming text, Inside Cat views the world through many windows, watching the birds, squirrels, and people go by—but when the door opens it discovers a whole new view.

Review: Brendan Wenzel regularly impresses me. I use his They All Saw a Cat to teach about perspective, and it reminds us of the value of picture books at all levels of class instruction. I was really excited to read Inside Cat because I knew it would be just as compelling—and it was! Inside Cat can see the world in so many ways. It travels around the house and sees so much. I don’t want to give a spoiler, but the last page of this book will make you gasp.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book should be paired with They All Saw a Cat to teach perspective. Both offer different angles to questions of perspective. I think it could also be used to teach about authorship (as in authority and authenticity). Teachers might ask students to think critically about what perspectives we do or do not hold.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What does Inside Cat do?
  • What does Inside Cat see?
  • How do the images on the page work together?
  • What does the surprise ending teach you?

Read This If You Love: They All Saw the Cat by Brendan Wenzel, The Journey Trilogy by Aaron Becker

Recommended For:

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall 

RickiSig

**Thank you to Eva at Chronicle for providing a copy for review!**

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Sofia is a 10-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer, who started with us when she was 8 years old. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

Whether you are a cat fan or not this funny graphic novel will make it into your hearts. Presenting… Katie the Catsitter by Stephanie Yue and Colleen AF Venable! This amazing book will make you want to read it every single day! This book is recommended for ages 8-12.

Katie’s friends are going to camp and are always talking about how many hours are left until camp starts. Katie is not going to camp because she does not have enough money to. Then she gets an idea to get money! She puts up a poster in her apartment hallway saying that she can help watering plants, carrying grocery bags, that kind of stuff. But after she kills a lot of plants and accidentally breaks an egg carton in a shopping bag she starts to doubt that she will have enough money to go to camp. Just when Katie has given up, a nice lady comes to her with a job, cat sitting. Katie loves cats, but when Katie agrees to the job she has no idea what a handful the cats are! The cats are super intelligent, they do not use a litterbox, they use a real toilet! The weirdest part is that they all have talents! Not just any talents though, Potato is a yoga instructor, Jolie is a computer hacker, Jack Slayer is a getaway driver and, best of all, DJ Bootie Butler is a DJ with mad beats! With 217 of these crazy and not to mention mischievous cats to take care of, how will Katie survive and save enough money for camp! Oh and when you are reading brace yourself for more crazy action as the book goes on!

This book is one of my all time favorites because of all of the action that happens in the story. So many things are not what they seem and that makes this book super exciting! This is the best book any kid could wish for! The illustrations are also sooooooo cute! I love how the illustrations are filled with all sorts of beautiful colors! The illustrator did a beautiful job coloring this in. This book is easily one of the best graphic novels I have ever read and probably ever will read! I can not wait for the second book in the series called Katie the Catsitter Best Friends for Never! Enjoy!

**Thanks so much, Sofia! We are so glad you loved it!**

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Violets are Blue
Author: Barbara Dee
Published: September 28, 2020 by Aladdin

Summary: From the author of the acclaimed My Life in the Fish Tank and Maybe He Just Likes You comes a moving and relatable middle grade novel about secrets, family, and the power of forgiveness.

Twelve-year-old Wren loves makeup—special effect makeup, to be exact. When she is experimenting with new looks, Wren can create a different version of herself. A girl who isn’t in a sort-of-best friendship with someone who seems like she hates her. A girl whose parents aren’t divorced and doesn’t have to learn to like her new stepmom.

So, when Wren and her mom move to a new town for a fresh start, she is cautiously optimistic. And things seem to fall into place when Wren meets potential friends and gets selected as the makeup artist for her school’s upcoming production of Wicked.

Only, Wren’s mom isn’t doing so well. She’s taking a lot of naps, starts snapping at Wren for no reason, and always seems to be sick. And what’s worse, Wren keeps getting hints that things aren’t going well at her new job at the hospital, where her mom is a nurse. And after an opening night disaster leads to a heartbreaking discovery, Wren realizes that her mother has a serious problem—a problem that can’t be wiped away or covered up.

After all the progress she’s made, can Wren start over again with her devastating new normal? And will she ever be able to heal the broken trust with her mom?

Ricki’s Review: This book ripped me apart and put me back together. It is unflinchingly honest, and it is a book that so many middle grade kids need. The characterization is beautiful, and the book would make for a great study on the relationships between humans and a general study on humanity. No character in this book is perfect—all are flawed, and this reflects who we are as people. I stayed up late at night reading this book (when I should have been sleeping), and I cannot recommend it highly enough. We all deserve to reinvent ourselves, and this book gives us permission to do so.

Kellee’s Review: Barbara Dee is so wonderful at writing such relatable middle school books with characters that deal with the real issues that middle schoolers are dealing with today. This book is no different as we get to watch Wren deal with her own identity, dealing with divorce & remarriage, moving, finding new friends, and just learning how to be happy. All of this in addition to what Wren ends up needing to work through when it comes to her mom. Dee does a great job balancing all of these plot points while also building such full characters. All characters in the main characters in the book are well developed and are truly themselves–flaws and all!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book works beautiful to teach about characterization. Students might select a character to study in a group and then work individually to study a person in their own lives (personal or famous). This offers opportunities for rich discussions about imperfection and the flaws in all of us.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does Wren’s hobby with makeup reflect her life? How does it connect with the story?
  • How does Wren’s mother evolve in the story, and why do you think she makes specific decisions in the text?
  • Why do we keep secrets? How does secret-keeping impact others?
  • What did you learn from this story? What will you take with you?
  • How does Wren and her mom moving change the trajectory of the story?
  • Were there clues about Wren’s mom earlier in the book?
  • Why is it that people have such a hard time with girls and boys just being friends with each other?

Flagged Passage:

Chapter 2: Changes: “The day Dad left us, just a little over nine months ago, it all happened so fast. One gray Saturday morning in February, when we were still living in the house in Abingodon, I woke up to the sound of loud arguing in the kitchen. Yelling, actually, which happened a lot those days, followed by a car zooming out of our driveaway.”

Chapter 9: Nebula “[CatFX’s YouTube Channel] Here’s my secret message to you guys: fantasy is not the opposite of truth.”

Read This Book If You Loved: My Life in a Fish Tank by Barbara Dee; The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner; Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm; Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Recommended For: 

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall

  RickiSigand
**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!
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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

Introducing Princesses Wear Pants by Savannah Guthrie! This is one of my favorite picture books and my little sister agrees. Princesses Wear Pants is a colorful picture book which every kid will love! This book is recommended for ages 3-12.

In this book there is a princess named Penny. The princess wears dresses and tiaras but she also has a closet of all kinds of pants. She wears pants for things like workouts and tending a garden. Then the royal ball comes up! Penny goes to the ball at first with a fancy shirt and pants but a person named Grand Lady Busyboots tells her that princesses don’t wear pants. Penny goes home to change but with a secret pair of pants underneath her dress. When she arrives at the ball for the second time she forgets all her worries but then her royal cat is seen hanging on the side of a tower trying not to fall. The princess throws off her dress and dives in the water around the tower. To everyone’s surprise the princess had put on her bathing suit underneath her clothing! You should read the book so you know what happens to the cat and the princess! 

I love this book so much because of the beautiful illustrations! I got this book as a gift a few years ago and have read it countless times since. This is an amazing book to give as a gift. This is a cute and powerful story which tells about the importance of wearing pants! There is a sequel which I have on my NEED TO READ list. I really hope you and your family members love this book as much as I do!

**Thanks so much, Sofia, for this wonderful review!**

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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

This book is especially for the Katherine Applegate fans! I present to you . . . The Wishtree by Katherine Applegate! This book is also a Teachers’ Pick on Amazon!!! This book is recommended for ages 8-12.

Red is a wishtree. His friend, Bongo, the crow, is one of his residents as you might say because she lives in Red. Red is the town’s wishtree so he gets covered in paper scraps and cloth that is carefully tied onto his branches with wishes for the future. Some of his other inhabitants are a family of owls, a family of opossums and a family of racoons. At night time a girl from a family that just moved in goes outside and sits quietly and waits for Red’s inhabitants to scurry forward. Bongo likes the girl, her name is Samar. When it’s wishing day, Samar ties a wish on Red that reads “I wish for a friend”. Will the wishtree be able to make up a scheme to help Samar’s wish come true?

I love this book for its really cute illustrations. They are remarkable even though they are not colored. They look more like pencil drawings but great ones at that! When I read this book I feel my heart warm up. This is such an amazing book and Katherine Applegate did an awesome job writing this book! I just can not express how much I love this book! The author wrote this book from an unexpected point of view. Who would have thought to write a book coming from the perspective of a tree! The perspective is fun because we are simply not trees, we will never be trees. It is exciting to imagine how something like a tree would think. Of course, like almost all of the Katherine Applegate books, there is a bit of humour just to keep the mood happy! I hope that you love this book as much as I do!

If you loved this book then I highly recommend Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate! The Wishtree by Katherine Applegate is similar to Crenshaw because it is the same type of heartwarming story. The problem is not the same but Crenshaw will touch your heart like The Wishtree.

 

**Thanks so much, Sofia. This book holds a special place in our hearts, too.**

 

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