Books for Middle Readers: Best Gift Ever

There are so many amazing books out there that make the perfect gift. Throw a cool bookmark on top, and you’re good to go no matter who is on your gift list. This list is for the avid young readers in your life; the ones who tear through books and then look for more. I’ve paired up a few books for those hungry readers so they can be sated for at least a weekend.

Baptiste_JumbiesRise-jkt_rgb_HRMiddle Readers: THE JUMBIES and RISE OF THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste are aimed at the 4-7 graders in your life. With themes of overcoming fear, defending your family and home, and discovering your own strength, and being misunderstood, the stories will appeal to a wide variety of children. The strong, spunky protagonist of The Jumbies and Rise of the Jumbies, Corinne Le Mer, is a likable new hero to discover. In addition, the connections to Caribbean and West African folklore and mythologies makes this modern set of stories feel recognizable and fresh. Together, the books create an exciting story arc that will keep kids reading, and probably re-reading, through school break.

  • Bonus suggestion: Do you have mermaid fans at home? Add FISH GIRL to the pile for an extra dose!

9781419723087THE MIGHTY ODDS and AGAINST THE ODDS by Amy Ignatow follow a group of middle-schoolers with one thing in common: accidentally acquired Slightly Super Powers. This is a fast-moving, fantastical albeit realistic tale of what middle-school can feel like. Personality conflicts and popularity struggles, family and friendship obligations, and learning to appreciate themselves and each other are intertwined with Bad Guys, dangerous mysteries, and standardized tests. The cliffhanger chapters and stories will ensure eager anticipation for the third installment of The Odds Series.

  • Bonus suggestion: Got kids who love the idea of superpowers? Try ZACKTASTIC for some kid-genie adventures.

9780374301309_p0_v4_s600x595A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME by Phil Bildner and RAIN REIGN by Ann M. Martin make an interesting pair of books to give together. With major characters on the autism spectrum, they tell two very different stories with messages applicable to any child facing adolescence and all the conflicts and challenges it brings. A Whole New Ballgame is about friends, Rip and Red, facing an exciting, challenging year in 5th grade. They learn that working with others and leaving your “comfort zone” can work out well. 9780312643003_p0_v4_s600x595Rain Reign focuses on Rose, who has Asperger Syndrome, and how her dog Rain helps her cope with difficult times at home and at school. In this story as well, Rose has to choose to leave her “comfort zone,” albeit in a both literal and figurative way. At once inspirational and heart-breaking, Rose’s narration will help readers empathize with her and root for her throughout the story.

  • Bonus suggestion: Have someone who loves to experience life through different lenses but they’ve already read Wonder? Give OUT OF MY MIND. This emphatic suggestion is from my 10 year old son, as I haven’t read it yet!

This just brushes the surface of what’s out there! Stop by your favorite independent bookstore and ASK for suggestions or browse the stacks. Let us know some more suggestions in the comments! Happy giving and reading!

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Books for Kids: The Best Gift Ever

My home is overflowing in books. Each member of our household, save the dog, has lots of books and a true aversion for clearing out the shelves (or stacks…). Even so, there’s always room for more!

What follows are some suggestions for graphic novels for the kids in your life. Some are new for 2017, and others are older BUT have follow-ups coming soon in 2018! For an adult version, focused on women writers, go HERE.

Cici's Journal cover

  • A really fun book for ages 7+ is CICI’S JOURNAL. The main character loves
    mysteries, writing, drawing, and adventure. The book is a mix of traditional graphic novel panels and journal page layouts that are lovely recaps of Cici’s adventures and her feelings. Mysteries that center on art and animals and long, lost loves fuel the two storylines. With conflicts between mothers and daughters, as well as friends, many children and young people will recognize everyday adventures as well.



  • STAR SCOUTS is a fast-paced story that will appeal to a wide range of ages from 8 and up. It begins thanks to a happy accident, and from then on there’s no stopping Avani Patel, the main character. With a diverse host of alien beings, lots of attitude from the heroes, fart jokes, and a parent who seems oblivious to strange goings-on and doesn’t question odd wording on permission slips for a week of sleep-away camp, there’s something for every reader. See a full review here. The next installment, THE LEAGUE OF THE LASERS is due out in March 2018!


  • In the 10-14 year age range, there is PASHMINA, a story about a search for identity and truth that is at once realistic and magical. The main character, Priyanka Das, wrestles with questions, conflicts, and relationships that will feel very real and intense to readers. The power of imagination and the feeling of being connected to culture as well as what home means all play a role. The imagery shuttles between black and white and vivid color, and the dialogue is realistic.



  • For slightly older kids, CAST NO SHADOW hits all the adolescent pangs without being saccharine and predictable. The main character is dealing with loss, change, and generally eye-rolling at his hometown. His crush on a local ghost complicates matters considerably. The mystery of why the main character doesn’t have a shadow culminates in the novel’s climax, and while adult readers may feel it’s too crowded at the end, most teens will find a lot to relate to and recognize. The illustrations are at once simple and expressive, and the story and dialogue are touching and funny.


9781626721807GIANTS BEWARE! and DRAGONS BEWARE! will be joined by the third in this series of Claudette, Gaston, and Marie conquering foes with MONSTERS BEWARE! in March 2018. The adventures are sure to continue with spunk and clever solutions to often humungous problems. Giving the first two books as a gift to prepare your little readers for the series conclusion!

9781626723399THE CREEPY CASE FILES OF MARGO MALOO is incredibly fun, and it is filled with hidden teases and Easter Eggs for readers to find. The book puts an active spin on the Monster-In-The-Closet story, and it humanizes monsters and presents kids with challenging and irresistible adventures. Readers follow Charles, a reluctant transplant to Echo City, as he grumbles about his new home while discovering local secrets and new friends, both human and…perhaps not human. Even though the follow up (THE MONSTER MALL) doesn’t arrive until September 2018, kids will be sure to read and re-read these adventures as they wait.

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Glad I Saw It: Bench Trimmed in Green

There are several memorial benches around Brookdale Park. Some have pithy sayings, and some are more simple. This bench, overlooking the meadow, has been lovingly trimmed in greenery for the season. It is lovely, and it made me smile. IMG_5297

It is in honor of a young man lost too soon, and a little bird told me that Vincent DeFalco loved peppermint sticks. So if you pass by, leave a candy cane or two for someone to find and enjoy. And let us remember that this season of joy and celebration for so many faiths and cultures is a very difficult time for many people as well. If you are feeling a loss more deeply during this time, look for coping methods that work for you.


Other posts here about grief: Your life, trying to be remembered, Readings on Grief, Peanut Butter Pie (for Mikey).

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Buy Like You Give A Damn, part I

I found Brittany Packnett via Twitter, as one does. And I liked what I saw. In fact, I really liked what I saw. So I clicked on the website she has in her profile and hello! I found a comforting and inspiring and much needed trove of items for our times. And as the website saysall sales help support organizations run by women of color, so
each purchase is an action of LOVE + POWER.

It looks like some of the items are only available through Sunday, so check it out today! You know you have an office mate, a friend, a child, a family member who wants — no, needs! – one of these right now.

Shop with your conscience.

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Lawrence Welk and the Modern Spiritual

My family used to watch Lawrence Welk every week. Together with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, it provided the backdrop for many Sunday evenings. I loved the bubbles, the outfits, the Polkas, everything. Lawrence Welk occasionally featured versions of current songs sung by members of the cast, and he calls this one a “Modern Spiritual.” Enjoy.

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Books: The Best Gift Ever

If you choose books like I choose my wine, then you know that the cover (or label) can sometimes be an uneven predictor of what’s inside. So for this gift-giving season, I’m going to help you with a taste of what’s inside. Today’s Edition: Women Writers.


  1. Have You Met Nora? by Nicole Blades is intense and passionate and painful and fun. As with Blades’ earlier novel, The Thunder Beneath Us, friendships play an important role as do “meant to be” romantic partnerships. The layers revealed about the characters and the fluctuating sympathy Blades’ demands we have for various characters ensures readers relate to the events, even if reluctantly. Struggles with identity, race, emerging secrets, and anxiety about the future all play major roles in this novel. In brief, HAVE YOU MET NORA? is a high pressure version of reality. NB: Child sexual abuse plays a role in flashbacks. 
    • For someone who enjoyed The Talented Mr. Ripley, admires Keyser Söze, and rejects Disney endings because they betray the original folktale endings. This novel also works well for someone who rejects feel-good stories and likes mystery tinged with a penchant for horror.

Emily Wilson Book, The Odyseey Homer_0

  1. The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson has been creating waves with its direct, readable, uncomplicated translation. Some reviewers have admitted that Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey is the first time they’ve enjoyed it! Even Wilson’s Translator’s Note has been posted to Poetry Daily. Wyatt Mason has a wonderful interview/profile of Emily Wilson in the NYT Magazine as well.
    • For the person who didn’t read The Odyssey in high school out of laziness or boredom. Or for the person who loves all things Greek Myth but gets annoyed at glistering heroes who can do no wrong. As the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman, the book is a milestone for a year in which we need positive milestones. In addition, this makes a great gift for someone who loves to have beautiful books; the cover is gorgeous.

What Happened

  1. What Happened by Hillary Clinton shares Clinton’s view of the 2016 election cycle in a series of essays. The format of the book makes it easy to skip around to subjects of interest (Comey, sexism, election night), read sections bound by theme (Perseverance, Frustration), or devour it whole. There is also an audiobook, read by HRC. For supporters of Clinton, the book will affirm, comfort, and inspire. For those who consider her corrupt or the leader of Pizzagate, it will be fodder for eye-rolling and shrieking fits.
    • For the person who still feels most comfortable in the fetal position, drinks tea from an #ImWithHer mug, or refuses to take down their Clinton/Kaine lawn sign. Also for the person who denies sexism was a factor in the 2016 election cycle and occasionally mutters Benghazi under their breath. I was also told that some enjoy the book as a teaching tool to learn more about a woman’s experience in politics and society. Bonus points if you have an extra signed copy to give as a gift.


  1. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay is intense and painful and life-affirming. Gay invites us to confront intimate and often glossily summarized topics, helping us to face our own feelings of discomfort around body image and food issues, whether they are about ourselves or other people. Hunger acknowledges the everyday aggravations of being oversized and invisible in a world made for less than average sizes. NB: Gay’s memoir includes a remembrance of a violent sexual assault when she was 12.
    • For the person who is a member of IDGAF Nation and wants a literary compatriot. For someone on a journey towards body acceptance, their own or others. For anyone who needs a kick in the butt regarding empathy, humanity, and appreciation of everyday frustrations. Basically, Hunger is for everyone.

Please support your local bookshops whenever you can! 

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Why I Knelt: Honoring the Good and Asking for Better

In Our AmericaMy friend Adrienne Riofrio recently shared the story of choosing to kneel during the anthem at a sporting event this weekend. It moved me for its honesty, for its vulnerability, and for its example of one way to be an ally. Reprinted below with permission.

I knelt during the national anthem for the first time today. It happened at a 5K race I took part in. I didn’t expect them to play the National Anthem, and I was caught off-guard with only a few seconds to make the decision of whether or not to kneel. To make things more difficult (and funny) I was caught by this surprise anthem announcement when I happened to be standing by the announcer, directly in front of the 100 or so racers, who were all turned in my direction. AND, I didn’t know a soul at the race, my husband having stayed home with the kids.

And so, with what felt like 200 eyes watching only me, I knelt.

I knelt to draw attention to the terrible legacy of racism that strips people of color every day of basic rights of freedom, peace of mind, equal opportunities and safety. I knelt in homage to the brave protestors, advocates, activists and survivors, whose lives are a testament to perseverance and determination. I knelt for the people I love who I pray never fall victim to police brutality but who already face indignities and injustices each day.

In those moments of the anthem, I was keenly aware of my race and that of those around me. Everyone I saw around me was white (or at least I read them that way). I was keenly aware of them seeing me as a white woman, kneeling. I wondered what they thought of me: Did they consider kneeling? (No one did). Were they angry? Would they accuse me of pulling focus from the cause we were running for? Would anyone confront me? I was aware that if I were not phenotypically white, I may have made a different decision about kneeling: perhaps I would not have felt safe to do so.

I was also keenly aware of the sense of honoring my country. Kneeling felt MORE respectful than standing. Standing is something we do every day; it’s like a waiting position: standing in line, standing while we make dinner; standing as our kids take 20 minutes to tie their shoes but won’t let us help. You stand waiting for what’s next.

But kneeling, I was fully present in the moment: the song, the feeling of eyes on me, the meaningfulness of our country and all it stands for.

I am the child of immigrants. My parents love this country and raised me with a sense that we should be grateful for the freedoms and opportunities it provides, even as we long for the intangibles we left behind. I remember my mother always stood during the national anthem, even at the movies. When the anthem would play in a movie we would all stand in our row. I’m not kidding.

Kneeling today felt like holding the history of our country, the history of my family AND holding our country accountable. Honoring the good and asking for better. Don’t we hold these two forces in our mind all the time? I’m a good parent AND I can do better. I love this country and yet we can do better.

Want a yard sign like mine? You can get one here from the Syracuse Cultural Workers.

Linked to Yeah Write’s Weekend Writing Showcase.

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Quick List of Halloween Book Treats for Kids

rothAges 3-7: ROOM ON THE BROOM by Julia Donaldson

This favorite story of a witch, her cat, her broom, and lots of room for friends is a delight. The repetition will make sure children “read along” and get familiar with the rhythm of the story. As a bonus, the animated short film is on Netflix, too!

halloween-activities-kids-classroom-books.jpgAges 4-8: BIG PUMPKIN by Erica Silverman

This is a fun story about a witch who wants to make pumpkin pie, and the friends who try to help her get a pumpkin off the vine. With a cast of traditional Halloween characters, children will find the story entertaining in the haunting spirit without being scary. As a bonus, lessons about cooperation are emphasized.


Following in the journal-entry style of many popular book in this age range, this book centers on Edgar, an uncool vampire who defies his family to bravely attend middle school. Bullied by a classmate and facing all the usual middle school challenges, Edgar has to navigate being uncool to humans and vampires alike. Or does he? Kids will enjoy the relatable problems and gross lunches as they follow Edgar’s adventures.

cast-no-shadow.jpgAges 12+: CAST NO SHADOW by Nick Tapalansky and Anissa Espinosa

This graphic novel hits all the adolescent pangs without being saccharine and predictable. The main character is dealing with loss, change, and generally eye-rolling at his hometown. His crush on a local ghost complicates matters considerably. The mystery of why the main character doesn’t have a shadow culminates in the novel’s climax, and while adult readers may feel it’s too crowded at the end, most teens will find a lot to relate to and recognize. The illustrations are at once simple and expressive, and the story and dialogue are touching and funny.

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Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats

9781626726062The SECRET CODERS, a trio of friends diverse in personalities, gender, and ethnicity, are up against Dr. One-Zero once again. This time there is the added drama of finding a clue that may lead to Hopper’s missing dad! This fourth volume of the science-fiction series from Gene Luen Yang and illustrator Mike Holmes, Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats, continues to intertwine typical kid drama with teaching code via easy-to-understand instructions and helpful, fun illustrations. The graphic novel format works really well to demonstrate how to code as well as moving the story along.

This series, published by First Second, is aimed at 8-14 year olds, and is best for kids interested in coding and familiar with the basics. The coding breaks, which are part of the adventures, can feel like they’re interrupting the flow of the story, but they will seem natural for readers who already know some coding language or have a strong motivation to become comfortable with it. However, even children with little or no coding knowledge will be drawn to the relatable storyline, including many parent-teacher-child scenes that most kids will recognize.

While the fourth volume, Robots & Repeats, could be read on its own, younger readers may want to start with the original Secret Coders graphic novel and continue from there. In addition, there is a website with excerpts, videos, and interactive activities. Clearly, Gene Luen Yang wants to recruit a wide variety of coders in the upcoming generation! Visit the Secret Coders website here: SECRET CODERS.



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Glad I Saw It: Nasty Women

IMG_4350This has been quite a week for me. Not only did I have the honor of meeting Hillary Clinton (!), shaking her hand, and thanking her at a signing for What Happened, I was able to bring my children, two of HRC’s biggest fans. I don’t remember what I said to her, but she asked my children their names and was gracious and warm and genuine. I also had a chance to chat briefly with Huma Abedin as we waited for our signed books, and I do remember thanking her for taking good care of HRC.  The whole evening was a wonderful opportunity.

Then, the next day, as I was walking up 9th Avenue in Manhattan towards a taping of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, my friend and I passed Dr. Ruth! I think I may have squealed “Ahhhh! It’s Dr. Ruth!” as we walked by. About a half a block later, we stopped and looked at each other, and clearly thought the same thing. We turned and rushed back to grab a photo with the 89 year old sexual educator. She was just as smiley as we were. We were on a serious adrenalin high all the way to 57th Street.

My final #NastyWoman adventure this week was to get a behind-the-scenes peek at how Sam Bee and her crew manage to pull off the Emmy Winning Full Frontal with Samantha Bee every week. I was also hoping to see my current favorite comedic writer-performer Ashley Nicole Black. So when Sam Bee introduced her after showing her segment, I’m not embarrassed to admit I yelled out “I LOVE YOU, ASHLEY!” She heard me, but looked in the wrong section of the audience to acknowledge the outburst. But she heard me. And then she retweeted me. So now we’re besties, right?

ANB retweet

Anyway, rest assured that I’m now settled back into my non-celebrity version of being a #NastyWoman. But it sure was a fabulous week of inspiration!


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