Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy

9780062473073by Julie Murphy
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

It probably goes without saying that I love Julie Murphy (along with most of the rest of the world), so I was extra excited to see that she has a middle grade debut! Sweet Pea DiMarco (real name: Patricia) is nearing the end of her seventh grade year when a few things are set in motion to start healing her relationship with her ex-best friend, Kiera. Sweet Pea’s neighbor, Miss Flora Mae, leaves town for a few weeks and leaves Sweet Pea in charge of mailing in her advice column letters and responses. But Sweet Pea recognizes Kiera’s handwriting on an envelope and can’t help herself; soon she’s writing advice all by herself. Miss Flora Mae happens to live next door to both Sweet Pea’s parents, who in their divorce decided to maintain nearly identical houses on the same street.

I loved all the relationships and complexity going on in Sweet Pea’s life: her friendships with Oscar and Kiera, her parents’ divorce and the reason for it that makes them the talk of the town, the advice-column writing. There were some cringe-worthy scenes, especially when Sweet Pea crashes Kiera’s birthday party with embarrassing gifts. I didn’t totally buy how they became friends again but it mostly worked.

Stargazing by Jen Wang

9781250183880by Jen Wang
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Christine Wong and her little sister live a very disciplined life. But when their parents offer their spare unit to a community member in need, Christine gains an unlikely new friend. Moon Lin is artistic and unpredictable in ways that Christine learns to appreciate, and opens her eyes up to new things like dancing and painting her toenails. Her parents don’t always approved but show themselves to be adaptable in the end. The only problem is that Christine is a little jealous of the freedoms that her friend enjoys, with an unconventional and Buddhist single mother so she anonymously sets Moon up for teasing from their other friends. But then Moon has to have surgery and Christine is ashamed of how she has hurt her and they make up in a very touching way.

Great for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale!

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

9780316519007by Ibtihaj Muhammad
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Faizah is in awe of her big sister Asiya on the first day Asiya wears hijab to school. They pick the proudest, bluest blue for her first hijab and it serves as a beacon for Faizah to find her sister in tough moments. Asiya gets bullied by a boy in her class, and the endnotes reveal that this reflected Muhammad’s own experience (even featuring her own sisters’ names as the main characters). I also loved the mother’s remembered advice when the teasing starts, as a way to stay strong. As a prominent Muslim celebrity, Muhammad felt strongly about using her voice to advocate for and include Muslims and people of color in a new children’s book. This is a wonderful #ownvoices addition to any library, public or personal. I am looking forward to using it in another storytime about different cultures’ cloths.

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

9781626721623by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks
Overall: 4 out 5 stars

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends – only for two months in the fall when they both work at the pumpkin patch together. On their last night working there before they go off to college, Deja decides that it’s time for Josiah to tell the girl he’s liked for four years how he feels. They go all over the park to try and find her and have adventures along the way that make them realize that they actually like each other (and Josiah finally talks to the girl and realizes that she’s pretty terrible). It reminded me in some ways of Sorry For Your Loss. I also liked that Deja is bisexual because there aren’t too many bi characters out there.

Guts by Raina Telgemeier

guts_cover_shadowby Raina Telgemeier
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Another autobiographical story by the fabulous Telgemeier. At first I wasn’t sure how relatable Raina’s story of her anxiety and obsession with food was, but by the end, when she shares at a sleepover that her “deepest, darkest secret” is that she goes to therapy, her friends’ reactions convinced me otherwise. Her eventual friendship with the mean girl showed that she too had her struggles that were similar in their own way to Raina’s. Raina’s story also included a friend who was stressed about moving to a neighboring town. The friend is also teased for bringing “weird” food (I think she is Korean and brings things like kim chi for lunch) and Raina and her friend stand up to the teasing. Overall, a solid story about an unpleasant aspect of growing up. I could see this story helping other kids with anxiety feel less alone, and kids without it feel more empathy toward their classmates. It kind of reminded me of Because of Mr. Terupt┬áin that way.

Sorry For Your Loss by Jessie Ann Foley

sorryforyourlosshccby Jessie Ann Foley
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

16-year-old James “Pup” Flanagan is the youngest of 8 in a close-knit, Catholic, Chicago family. His oldest sisters are referred to as “the sister-moms” and his oldest nephew is also a junior at the same high school (though the two don’t get along at all and Pup’s nephew teases him for being a poor student). Pup is closest with his sister Annemarie, and the whole family is still reeling from (but not dealing with or discussing) the death of his next-oldest brother, Patrick, from meningitis three years before. His brother Luke has failed out of law school and become a full-fledged alcoholic and drinking himself nearly to death, leading to a scene of domestic violence and an even more harrowing scene where Pup goes and drags him out of a dingy basement and gets him to the hospital. With Pup’s help, the family starts to heal together.

On the cheerier side, what gets Pup through the end of his junior year is photography, a Hail Mary (if you will) to save his failing art grade, which he turns out to be a natural at. He also happens to spend a lot of time with Abrihet, a classmate he vaguely knew but never interacted much with. Pup finally lets go of his longtime best friend and crush, Izzy, whose skeezy boyfriend pushes Pup’s crush into the open. As Pup gets closer to Abrihet, he realizes that what he has with Izzy is superficial and, worse, one-sided, and what he has with Abrihet is real and powerful. Even when Izzy finally gets wise and dumps Brody’s cheating butt, and comes to Pup for solace, he finds he doesn’t even want what he thought they had. Through it all, the metaphors of photography and what he is able to learn about himself through compiling a portfolio at his art teacher’s urging is quite moving and lovely.

A librarian friend recommended this one to me, selling it by saying that it’s the best first kiss ever and the last several pages blew her away, and I have to agree. (Well, to be fully honest, I was a little distracted when reading the kiss but upon rereading, it was delightful.)

For fans of: I’ll Give You the Sun (or maybe the other way around – if they read this, they’ll like Sun)

Middle-eastern Picturebooks

by Rukhsanna Guidroz
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Leila is from Pakistan and takes us on a very sensory visit to her Naani’s (grandmother’s) house, with smells of curry, the clink of bangle bracelets, and the lovely soft feel of her grandmother’s many vibrantly colored scarves. Leila isn’t sure she likes her knobby knees and skinny arms, but she loves how being with her family makes her feel about herself.

a1l-cwaki-l-663x800by Mina Javaherbin
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Mina and her grandmother are inseparable and this autobiographical picture book is just one big love note to her grandma. In addition to describing the basket delivery system they rigged up from their third-floor apartment and helping her grandma make her chadors, Mina also remembers their neighbor Annette and her grandma, who are not Muslim, but who are great friends to them. Mina and Annette also discover that their grandmas pray for each other.

screenshot_20190521-130345_chromeby Supriya Kelkar
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Harpreet loves his colorful patkas (cloths used to make Sikh turbans) – until his family moves across the country, away from the beach and to a place where it snows. Now all he wants to wear is his white patka because he doesn’t feel like celebrating or having courage. But when he makes a new friend, he returns to his old self, and his old interest in expressing himself through his patka’s color.