Have you seen this book yet?

Why Sagging Bookshelves?

I have been creating an annual “best of the year” list for almost 20 years now. I’ve decided to enter the blogging world in order to talk about my favorite books in a more timely manner, address some issues that come up in the world of children’s books, and to share information about what is coming up in this world of books.

I am Joan Kindig and I am a professor at James Madison University where I teach Children’s Literature, Young Adult Literature, and a variety of Reading courses. I have served on the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Carnegie, and the Odyssey Awards. I am an incurable bookaholic.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Alleluia for transgender books for teens! Teens who thought they were alone out there can finally see themselves in books! This story is a different take on the issue from, let’s say, Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher. In that book, our protagonist finds out that Sage, the girl he is attracted to, is actually a boy. There are intolerant parents who are shamed and angered by this child of theirs and it is taken out on Sage physically. What is our protagonist to do? He wants to keep her safe but he is very uncomfortable knowing that she is a girl in a boy’s body. Is he gay then? In Gracefully Grayson we see a young teen who has felt wrong in his own body his entire life. Physically he’s a boy but inside he is a girl and all of his impulses are girl-oriented. When his grandmother dies he receives some letters his mother wrote to her. In one she talks about Grayson as a toddler giving all the indications that he is a girl. And she accepts him and loves him. This changes everything for Grayson who has lived in a state of confusion for his whole life. He tries out for the lead in the school play, Persephone, and you’ll have to read it to find out what happens. This book is about acceptance and love and if we all practiced that, wouldn’t it be so wonderful?

9781423185277_p0_v2_s600-1Please read it and pass it along. Put it on your bookshelf for those kids caught in that nowhere land and for those kids who aren’t as well. Pretending that this doesn’t occur is just not the right thing to do.


Revolution by Deborah Wiles

“You say you want a revolution?” the Beatles asked smack in the middle of the 1960s when revolution was everywhere. I lived through that tumultuous times but was young enough not to have had the fun part. I was not allowed to go to Woodstock, for example. Of course, I was a young teen at the time and what responsible parent would have allowed that? What I also missed out on that was far more important was the civil rights movement. It was in the background of my life then in the evening news and my parents discussing what was going on. I expect it was in the background for a lot of us who lived in the northeast.  It wasn’t in our face like it was in Mississippi, for example. Reading the books that have come out so far this year commemorating Freedom Summer, what was once background is now in the forefront of my mind. And this is the beauty of books, they can transport you back to important eras and fill in the blanks from that time. Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights by Susan Goldman Rubin is a great example. I met the three young men who died at the hands of the KKK and watched the bravery of the African-Americans who risked everything to get the right to vote and be recognized as the first class citizens they are. It was so well-written, so informative, and so compelling – a great read.


Revolution is the second book in a fictional trilogy that deals with the early 1960s. Actually, there has been a new term coined for books like this: documentary novels. It fits. The first book, Countdown, dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the craziness that went with that. I remember hearing about it but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized the seriousness of that crisis. My mother told me years later that when she sent us off to school each morning, she never knew if it would be the last time she would see us. That hit me like a ton of bricks! The book is a great read and completely brings alive that time period. Wiles is a gifted writer.

Revolution was fabulous. This book is set during the Civil Rights era in Greenwood, Mississippi where so much happened during Freedom Summer. Sunny is a normal 12 year-old girl who is confused by everything that is going on around her. Why are these whites coming from all over to register the African-Americans to vote? Why did they close the public pool when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and discriminating based on race, among other things, was forbidden. It wasn’t until Sunny saw for herself how everyone around her was reacting to this Act that she began to understand. It is a coming of age novel in the sense that Sunny begins to see what the world is really like. Read Freedom Summer and Revolution together and you will see that era in a new and important way.

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

I visited Russia last summer and got to see firsthand the opulence in which Nicholas and Alexandra lived their lives. Of course, they were so isolated from the people they were governing that the widespread starvation and deprivation went unnoticed by them. Sound ripe for rebellion? Candace Fleming has outdone herself with this book – and that’s saying something!


The cover photo is such a lovely portrait of the Tsar and his family. Not too long after this photo was taken the whole family came to a horrific end. Stories and lore have sprung up around this family since their deaths in 1918 due, in part, to the secrecy around their deaths. The family had been exiled to a remote village the year before and it was there, after some time, they were executed. In Fleming’s book we learn how they were killed, where they were buried, how they were found, and where they were finally buried. All but two of them, that is. It seemed two of the girls were missing. Did they escape? Did Anastasia get away and live her life in another country?

This book is an extraordinary story and it is done justice here. Not all non-fiction is written truly as a story but Fleming is the master of that. All of her books read beautifully. This one is especially marvelous because all th elements of a good read are there: murder, intrigue, power, and well-drawn characters. And all of it is true. Teachers who cover Russian history, this is the book for you.

Oh, and how about Rasputin? Holy man or scoundrel? You’ll be able to tell one from the other once you have read this book. It’s the best non-fiction I have read so far this year.

Judy Blume: Still Speaking Out for Her Beliefs


I recently saw Judy Blume at ALA at a party for the “Two Judys.” It was not only Blume but Judith Viorst as well. The latter’s book, Alexander and the Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, will be coming to your local movie theater soon and, like Judy Blue, continues to write. In today’s The Guardian”  there is a very nice interview with Judy Blume which can be found here:

By the way, believe the accompanying photo, she looks THAT good. :-)


Lunch Lady Rocks!!!!

As many of you know, I have been a fan of Jarrett Krosoczka’s since the beginning of his career. It has been such a treat watching this talented young guy grow into the artist he is today. Jarrett has always been the nicest guy and, I’m happy to say, he is still the same in that regard. In addition to all his professional growth and success he is now married to the wonderful Gina and he has two of the cutest little girls, Zoe and Lucy.

I just read the latest of Jarrett’s enormously popular series, Lunch Lady. This is #11 and I just love it.


Complete with her amazing spy inventions (like a spatula with a rotor blade that takes her off into the sky), Lunch Lady is both hilarious and a darn good read. Kids love them in 2nd and 3rd grade but to only offer them to that age group is a mistake. I gave them to struggling and reluctant readers in middle school and they loved them. The graphic novel format pulls readers in and when they meet the Lunch Lady of all lunch ladies, they’re hooked. In this story, Lunch Lady and her sidekick, Betty, have been fired due to budget cuts. Or maybe it’s something else? Someone is up to no good and Lunch Lady is going to stop them, no matter what. Check out this series (and you know how kids like series!) and I guarantee your kids will love each and every one.


I would be missing the boat if I didn’t mention Jarrett’s newest project. Comics Squad Recess! Edited by Jarrett and his pals Jennifer L. Holm (3 time Newbery Honor winner) and her brother, Matthew Holm (together Jenni and Matt do the Babymouse series)  this graphic novel is a series of stories told by 10 fabulous graphic novelists. All of the stories involve recess in some way and they are hilarious. Any kid who likes Lunch Lady and Babymouse will love this collection. This is the first in the series and I know there’s another one coming. The artist/storytellers are Jarrett, Jenni & Matt Holm, Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants), Dan Santat (Sidekicks), Raina Telgemeier (Smile) & Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy), Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese), Eric Wight (Frankie Pickle series), and Ursula Vernon (Dragonbreath series). This is an astounding line up! Check it out for your kids. It’s awesome.


I also wanted to give a shout out to Jarrett’s latest picture book, Peanut Butter and Jellyfish. What kid won’t be attracted by that title! The story is about a curmudgeonly crab who treats his friends badly but when Crabby gets captured in a crab pot, his friends come to the rescue. They do the right thing and Crabby realizes that and apologizes for being such a crab. The art is pure Krosoczka – bright colorful palette that is perfect for the audience it was painted for. Children will love it and librarians should add to their collections as soon as they can.

Walter Dean Myers: The Loss of an Inspired Man

MYERS-obit-master675Walter Dean Myers, a giant both in physical stature and in the world of children’s and YA literature, died on Tuesday, July 1st. Myers created Monster and Fallen Angels, among so many other highly regarded books, will be remembered for good stories that told the truth about growing up. He told it at he saw it and held nothing back.

Some years ago Myers came to UVA for the Highlights Children’s Literature conference and I had the good fortune of spending the day with him. Together we hunted through antique stores in search of old photographs of black children. He had already published a book of poetry illustrated with beautiful sepia-toned photographs but he kept searching for more. Walter was such a pleasure that day. I worried about what I would talk about but that became a problem. Conversation flowed. I feel so lucky to have met the man – the man who has inspired so many teens with his wide variety of books. He will be sorely missed.

Myers’ NY Times obituary can be found at:

Myers’ website is found at:


Pediatric Group to Recommend Reading Aloud to Children From Birth – New York Times

Here’s a link to a wonderful story in the New York Times today. The American Academy of Pediatrics has announced that they will recommend that all children are read aloud to from the time they are born. There are a heck of a lot of teachers out there that will be saying, “Amen!” when they see this.

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything


Teachers are always looking for new books to help with what they need to teach in their classrooms. In Virginia, Thomas Jefferson tops that list. Maira Kalman has created a terrific picture book biography of our third president that covers all facets of his life and does so in a measured, non-judgmental way. Jefferson was a remarkable man and this biography addresses all of his interests (music, books, farming, etc.), his political successes (the Constitution), and his personal life at Monticello. Sally Hemings is mentioned in a way that teachers will feel comfortable presenting. Scattered throughout are quotes from Jefferson and humorous asides from the author. Kalman’s art (think Fireboat, What Pete Ate) is so striking – I just love her palette. This is the most balanced and most interesting book for children on Jefferson and I would recommend it to all teachers and librarians. Check it out!

Bob Shea – A Banner Year

Unless my math is wrong (and it could easily be), Bob Shea has three books out this year…so far! What genius! (or perhaps he’s just showing off?) You’ll have to decide for yourself by going out and buying all three. :-)

9781423168072_p0_v2_s600In January came Buddy and the Bunnies in: Don’t Play with your Food. Another very funny book for the ages 4-8 crowd, this one centers around the adage, “Don’t play with your food.” In this book, however, he means it literally. It’s a hoot.


Just out is the latest in the Dinosaur series, Dinosaur versus School, in which Dinosaur starts kindergarten. He’s got to make friends, do arts & crafts, and other kindergarten rituals. Dinosaur is a force unto himself in school or out but, roar, roar, roar, Dinosaur wins! This is so much fun to read aloud if you’re willing to put some oomph into it. Kids love Dinosaur and I do too.


Some time back, Bob Shea was teamed up with the incredible Lane Smith to create this crazy wonderful book, Big Plans.  I think it was a match made in….well, the publishers office, but they really are completely on the same page. Everything about this book was fun including the large trim size. The two have teamed up again, this time with a Western complete with a lawman named Kid Sheriff. I was searching for an image and found this wonderful review of the book at a site called geekdad. Click here to read a review far better than I can write.


This hilarious Western from an 8 year-old’s viewpoint comes out in October but it’s worth the wait. Never fear, I’ll remind you when the book comes out.

My New Friend is So Fun! by Mo Willems

Oh, that Mo – he’s done it yet again. I have loved the Elephant & Piggie books since the very first one. Mo has nailed beginning readers from the start. Friendship is the biggest deal to young children who happen to be setting out to read. (This is followed closely by losing their first tooth in about 2nd grade.) But there are plenty of books about friendship so what makes E&P so good? I love the repetition that is done so unobtrusively and the absolute hilarity of the stories. Kids love to laugh! The books are so well written and so appealing in the apparent simplicity of the drawings. Kids go back to them time and time again. And it’s that practice that turns them into readers.

My favorite!

My favorite!

Teachers love the books because they like to laugh too. Wasn’t it Mary Poppins who said “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?” So true in this case – kids want to read the books and reading them again and again is just what they need to do. With my classes of teacher candidates we always do Reader’s Theater with the books. I have two or three of each title (they really are inexpensive) and my students love it. So many have emailed me from their classrooms and talk about how successful it was with their kids. I love it. I will have to admit that I stole the idea from Mo himself who, along with Brian Selznick, performed one of the books at a conference. It was brilliant.

Jealousy rears its ugly head in this latest offering. Piggy is spending a lot of time with Brian Bat. Elephant and Brian’s best friend, Snake, begin to think they have lost their best friends. Won’t kids love this set up? I can’t tell you how it ends but all’s well that ends well. It’s perfect.


I spoke to Mo’s publisher, Stephanie Lurie, at BEA and I asked her how many he plans on making. Initially I thought that six was the goal. Now Mo has decided to do 25 and this is the 21st. I’ll hate it when he stops but completely understand that he needs and wants to go on to other things. What will he think of next?

According to Barnes&, the next one is due in November and will be called Waiting Is Not Easy!


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