50 Middle Grade Titles by January, 2019: Stella Díaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

w204.jpg

I’ve been seeing Stella Díaz Has Something to Say for a while on our library shelves and I’ve been meaning to read it for two reasons: One, I find the cover super cheerful and adorable and two, the only non-English language taught in my school is Spanish, and I knew that this title is sprinkled with a lot of it. At first glance at this book, I assumed that this title was just a bit of fluff (which is fine and necessary!), but it’s actually got a lot of depth.

Stella Díaz Has Something to Say, to me, was really a title about the urge to belong and find one’s place in a community (in this case, the community being school). While Stella’s school days aren’t totally comfortable, as she sometimes experiences anxiety while speaking English (and sometimes Spanish, as well), she always has the support of her best friend, Jenny. This year, however, Jenny is assigned to another class and Stella starts to feel very lonely. Add bully Jessica Anderson to the mix, who makes fun of Stella when she struggles with language, and Stella has become very isolated at school.

Stella came to the United States when she was a baby, and has no memory of Mexico (other than second-hand recollections from her mother, brother, and other extended family), which is why she’s surprised when she discovers in class one day that she’s technically a resident or legal alien, meaning someone who, “can stay here as long as they want, but they don’t have as many rights as citizens” and that “after you’ve been a resident for a while you can apply to be a citizen.” The word “alien” is a shock to Stella’s system, making her feel even more out-of-place: “I don’t fit in, Mom,” she thinks, “I am different from the people in my class. I’m an alien.

But, of course, this is middle grade literature, so Dominguez delivers a happy, hopeful ending. Stella makes new friends and bonds with her classmates over her true passion, marine life. She still struggles with a bit of social anxiety, especially when interacting with new-kid Stanley, but, with the gentle encouragement of her mother, she finds a way to make connections.

Stella’s family is the high point of this chapter book, as her relationship with her mother and brother, Nick, is so warm, affirming, and cozy. Though her father is sort of an absent and unreliable figure, which is explored a bit later in the title, the Díaz home is a source of stability and comfort for Stella. Here, she is accepted, loved, and never has to worry about how good her English or Spanish is.

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 9.09.13 AM

Above, you see the flier that I update for our library bulletin board. I like to change it up as often as possible, especially with titles that are good for our third and fourth graders. For one of the last books, it actually worked! Two students who hardly ever ask for books said, “I want the book from the board.” It’s definitely motivated me to keep switching the titles out.

For my next books, I’m on the hunt for short, accessible titles that aren’t part of a series. If you have any recommendations for third or fourth grade literature with POC protagonists, preferably published in the last three years, that’s high-interest/low level and/or on the short side, I’d love to know about it!

♥ Ingrid

♥ Facebook ♥ Twitter ♥ Support ♥ Contact ♥

Booktalking George, by Alex Gino: It kind of takes a village

When I started this blog, I was a public librarian with a clear mission for what I wanted to write about here. Now that I’m a school librarian who is settling into a whole new work culture, it’s become less apparent to me what I’m supposed to talk about on this blog, except to say, “This is really different from my last job and sometimes it feels like I have no idea what I am doing.” Though I have been a school librarian for almost 6 months, it somehow only feels like a couple of days. The newness has not worn off yet. Hence, the lack of blog posts.

I thought I would talk about how George, by Alex Gino, became a project that much of our Upper School became involved in: 2 sixth grade classes, me (the librarian), several teachers, and the school psychologist. It all started when the 5th and 6th grade teachers asked me to present some booktalks to their classes. First, I asked if I could include books that acknowledged the existence of gay and trans* people. This is what I mean when I say that I’m adjusting to a new work culture. I would have never asked if this was OK at the public library. It would never even occurred to me to do so. It was never an issue there, a place where I was heavily protected by the First Amendment and an environment that supported freedom of information. Schools, especially independent schools, are trickier places to navigate, especially for us rah-rah liberal librarians, and I felt compelled to ask permission. Luckily, the teachers were open to my book selections.

I presented several titles: Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (which none of them had really read, oddly enough. I know this is an obvious choice), Better Nate than Ever by Tim FederleThe Marvels by Brian Selznick (I showed this trailer), The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (another older title they hadn’t read), and George by Alex Gino. While we saw increased circulation on all the titles, George generated the most discussion. I couldn’t keep a copy on the shelves and students were constantly asking when they could get their hands on it.

Here’s how I booktalk George: I say that it’s funny that the book is called George, because it’s actually about a girl named Melissa. Melissa gets home from school every day and does some pretty stereotypically “girly” things: She reads magazines written for girls, puts on lip gloss, and combs her bangs down over her face. However, before her mom and brother come home, she must fix her hair, clean her face, and put the magazines back in their hiding place. You see, while Melissa has always known she is a girl, her family sees her as a boy named George.

This last line usually elicits a good deal of confusion, so I ask that if I said Melissa was trans, would they know what this means? When Melissa was born, she was assigned the male gender, but she never identified as such. The teachers and I found that while the students were certainly curious about trans* people, their only exposure to a trans person is Caitlyn Jenner. And while I’m grateful to Caitlyn for giving the students some sort of access point to discuss this topic, she’s certainly not the default experience.

When talking to the class, I referred to the author, Alex Gino, with the pronoun “they“. I explained that beyond she/her and he/him, there are a myriad of other pronouns, including they/them. I quickly realized that they had never heard of anything like this before. Caitlyn Jenner has exposed them to the idea of transitioning from one end of the gender binary to the other, but otherwise, they had no concept of people who exist in the middle (or outside the gender binary altogether).

I thought the booktalks would sort of be a one-off deal, but conversations around George kept sprouting up around the library and the classrooms. Students were asking me if I had anything else like George (I don’t, outside of a copy of Beyond Magenta in the inaccessible professional collection). I mentioned to Alex on Twitter that our students were obsessed with George and they suggested that we have a little Skype session to discuss how that was going. I appreciated this, as talking to kids about the book and trans-related issues was way harder than I had anticipated. They had questions and I had answers (or at least I thought I did), but how were we going to tackle all this in the limited time I, as the librarian, have with students?

Continue reading “Booktalking George, by Alex Gino: It kind of takes a village”

I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW: Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

Welcome to I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW, where I get all gross and cutesy about a book I am totally crushing on. I won’t summarize the book for you, because that’s boring and I don’t like being bored. Instead, I give you an excerpt that I feel really sums up how rad I think the book is.

Today, I’m going to talk about Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle. If we’ve met, then I’ve already told you how crazy I am about this book. First of all, it’s OOoooh, on the LGBTQ tip (That’s a TLC reference, kids!), which is unusual when we’re dealing with kid’s middle grade chapter books (not that LGBTQ  kid’s chapter books don’t exist. I’m very grateful for titles like Drama and The Popularity Papers). Our protagonist Nate (I don’t want kids, but I’d adopt Nate in a heartbeat. He’s the best), doesn’t identify as gay (yet). Rather, he calls himself “undecided”. Why does this make Better Nate than Ever an LGBTQ title? It absolutely speaks to the gay experience. Though kids are coming out of the closet earlier than ever these days, many kids end up grappling with labeling their sexual identities (some never end up labeling their sexuality or gender at all, which is absolutely a valid choice). Nate is one of these kids. He gets bullied at school and called anti-gay slurs. He unabashedly loves musicals. He finds solace in knowing that there are out gay men thriving in New York City. Now, none of these characteristics necessarily add up to “gay”, but with Nate, you’ve just got a feeling. I don’t know. You read it. You let me know if it speaks to the LGBTQ experience. It does for me.

As a proud and obnoxious New Yorker, I love Nate’s sense of wonder, fear, and hope when he experiences the city for the first time. Federle’s version of NYC is endearing and lovely and maybe just a little scary. But it’s full of promise. Everything might not be perfect now, but it’s going to get way better for Nate. His future looks pretty bright.

This is my absolute favorite part of this totally hilarious and heart-warming debut novel by Tim Federle. Thirteen year old Nate’s on the way to an oyster bar called Aw Shucks (get it?), when something catches his eye:

nates

Continue reading “I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW: Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle”

I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW: Potterwookiee: The Creature from my Closet

Welcome to “I AM READING THIS SO HARD RIGHT NOW”

In this segment, I like to share spoiler-free notable quotables on books I am loving the hell out of. Only sneaky bitches post spoilers and I am not a sneaky bitch. This is how I rock a review: I post a section of the book that really stuck with me or spoke to my soul or some stuff. I leave the summaries to book flaps and people who get paid to write reviews. Do I look like I get paid to write this? Hay-ell no.

I snagged an ARC of Potterwookiee: The Creature from my Closet at the Macmillan preview. I’m going to be honest: I didn’t read the first book in this series (bad librarian alert!). Have no fear though, fellow slacker librarians, the author, Obert Skye, totally makes sure that you’re up to speed. I’m reading this just fine, even having skipped the first book.

I’ve been reading this on the crowded Q train, and I see people reading this book over my shoulder. I get lots of weird looks–I’m clearly reading a kids’ book AND I keep breaking out into uncontrollable snorts and laughy-outburts. It’s clever and snarky and silly and sometimes gross and I can’t help myself. Q train passengers can eat it.

[source]

I realized that most of the little comics in this book make about zero sense out of context. For example, the drawing of the Principal saying “Progressive Rock Group” in air quotes makes me laugh like a dork, but I’m not sure how funny it is without the rest of the text. Instead, here’s two drawings that I like for being extra bookish:

This could easily go on a library advocacy poster.
Rowling as in bowling.

Anyway, file this under things to give the kids when they’re bugging you for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books that you never have on the shelves. This is just as funny, but it comes with the added bonus of having Star Wars and Harry Potter references. Nerdtastic. Look for it in September of this year.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid