Inspired recommendations for kids from
independent booksellers across the country.

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In This Issue...

#1 Kids' Next List Pick...


By Tiffany D. Jackson

(Katherine Tegen Books, 9780062840356, $17.99)

"Tiffany Jackson has truly outdone herself with Grown, which is saying a lot as we've come to know her as one of the most brilliant storytellers in YA. But without a doubt, Grown hits at a new level. This novel is one of the most important, relevant, and utterly compelling stories of the year. It is a sharp-edged tale that both teens and adults should make space for in their to-be-read piles this year before it makes all of the award lists in the spring! Believe Black girls. Protect Black girls."
--Cristina Russell, Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL

#1 Kids' Next List Pick Author Interview...

(photo: Andrew_Fennell)

Indie booksellers across the country have chosen Tiffany D. Jackson's Grown (Katherine Tegen Books) as one of their top picks for the Fall 2020 Kids' Indie Next List.

When aspiring singer Enchanted Jones meets legendary R&B artist Korey Fields, her dream of being a professional singer starts to become a reality. At first, she's thrilled to be whisked away on his tour. But alone, Korey's dark side comes to light, and Enchanted is unable to escape his influence.

Until she finds Korey dead in his apartment. As the evidence stacks against her, Enchanted must find out who really did it--and why they framed her.

Here, Jackson discusses systemic racism and abuse as well as what it takes to craft a thriller.

Where did the idea for this story come from?

This idea came from the reaction to the documentary Surviving R. Kelly. I was thinking about how people reacted to the girls [who came forward], and how they placed a lot of fault on them, how they were victim-blamed. I kept thinking of how I could have been one of those girls. I did have an older boyfriend when I was a teen. Some people can't imagine being manipulated, but I can really speak to that. I decided to write with that in mind, to explain how something like this could potentially happen.

I don't usually get personal in my writing. This was the first time where I felt like I wanted to be an example of how you can find yourself in this situation despite your circumstances. I come from a two-parent household, I wanted for nothing, etc. But there are exceptions to this "rule" that people have made up in their head, these antiquated thoughts. And I also wanted to step out specifically for young girls, to say, hey, you may make mistakes, but you're not your mistakes.

In your author's note, you also mention that this book is not about R. Kelly--it's about the abuse of power. Why make that distinction? 

I think people really get caught up in the idea that this is all laid in one man's hand. He was a perpetrator, but there are so many more people involved, and that's exactly what happens in these types of cases. When you think of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Cosby, you only think about the people themselves, but there's a machine behind these people that is protecting them. We should focus not just on the perpetrator, but on how someone in the public eye with so much power can get away with so much.

Enchanted comes across the following Malcolm X quote on Facebook: "The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman." Why did you choose to include this quote specifically?

Because it's true. That's the easiest answer--it's truth. And not many people recognize that. It takes so many voices, so much screaming and shouting to even get that truth to be acknowledged sometimes, which is devastating for a Black woman to live through. Your word is never good enough. There has to be a triple layer of proof on top of that. I specifically used that quote to convey a statement that's been ongoing for as long as we can remember. 

To build off of that, in a 2018 Vox interview, you said that children shouldn't be sheltered from issues like racism because they'll turn into adults who don't believe it's happening. Can you expand on this idea in the context of the current Black Lives Matter movement?

I think one of the things we're dealing with that's quite scary in terms of this problem is the idea of fake news. People haven't actually been exposed to and taught about the realities of other people's cultures and situations. And I feel like, quite frankly, some adults are very set in their ways. They're not open to learning. But when we think of children, if we start exposing them to issues that have happened in the past and issues that are actually happening now, the hope is that they won't fear these types of issues. Or, they won't say, these things don't really happen. They will have a better understanding of what systematic oppression is like.

There's a girl right now who's in jail because she didn't do her homework . When thinking about girls like her, people immediately look at the crime and say, "She must have done something bad." Rather than looking at the rest of the story--why would she not do her homework? What wasn't available for her to complete her homework? Why is this the only solution to a problem like this? Why is this only happening to Black children?

When we start getting young kids to think about the deeper root of the problem, we can hope that they spark change. We need more kids to be involved in their local politics. That's what's going to change their communities.

While this book delves into social issues like racism, systemic abuse of power, and sexual assault, it's also a page-turning thriller. Why explore these topics through the lens of this genre?

I love thrillers. And I always want these types of topics to be covered in thrillers because it's more of an experience and you can have a more visceral reaction. The hope is that visceral reaction will truly stay with you, because when you're learning through history textbooks or something like that, what you read can go in one ear and out the other. In fiction, you're sitting in someone's shoes while they're going through something like Enchanted did. You become the character, and you're witnessing life through the character's eyes. You're truly part of the story, and you never really forget that.

I also feel like there aren't enough Black thrillers out there in the world. So, why not write a thriller and also add a piece of a social issue that could inspire kids to do their own outreach and activism?

This book provides an in-depth exploration of what Enchanted goes through in her relationship with Korey, but it also brings her family and community into focus, particularly her younger sister Shae and her local chapter of Will and Willow. How did you craft these dynamics and why did you include them?

It takes a village to raise a child, and I wanted to explore that proverb more to show that communities do get involved when children are being abused. A lot of the time, people feel like families are alone, and sometimes they are. But there is a better way to handle a situation like this. Will and Willow is based off of Jack and Jill, which is a real organization. I wanted to show how Black communities can really come together, and what happens when people do come together to bring someone down. When we work together as a community, that also helps. We're stronger in numbers. I feel like that's one of the key points of the #MeToo movement--women and men coming together to stand against an issue.

 Is there anything you'd like to add?

This is a tough book. I recognize that. And there are going to be challenges against this book for various reasons. But, at the end of the day, I know that this is something kids really need to see, especially young girls who may be in this type of circumstance. I want them to be brave enough to use their voice, which is something that doesn't really happen often. Particularly in the Black community, we come from a community where there's an adultification of girls specifically. There's an assumption that they should know better. I feel that we need to start observing the language that we use toward girls, because it really does stay in their psyche and make them question their own actions. We should be looking at the real person who's involved--the person responsible.

Bloomsbury YA: A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer- Pre-order Now>

Top Picks


By Romina Garber

(Wednesday Books, 9781250239129, $18.99)

"Move over Twilight, there are new werewolves in town! Romina Garber's Lobizona is a wonderful blend of Argentinian witch and werewolf lore, a magical school setting, and contemporary commentary on immigrant justice. Its unique magic system acts as the perfect setting to explore themes of belonging, love, family legacy, and what it means when we call a person illegal. This richly told story will entice young readers who've enjoyed the Harry Potter or Shadow and Bone series. I can't wait for readers to connect with this epic story!"
--Julia DeVarti, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

Where Dreams Descend

By Janella Angeles

(Wednesday Books, 9781250204356, $18.99)

"Moulin Rouge meets Phantom of the Opera in this stunning debut by Janella Angeles. Filled with wonder, sultry performances, and dark mysteries, this book had me on the edge of my seat. I cannot stress enough how fun and dark this one was! This book, with its show-stopping magic, secrets galore, and an unsolved mystery, is not one to miss!"
--Haley Calvin, Neighborhood Reads, Washington, MO

Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian

By Tim Probert

(HarperAlley, 9780062990471, $22.99 hardcover; 9780062990464, $12.99 paperback)

"With flavors of Amulet, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and the world of Shannara, Lightfall delivers a rich and exciting quest that feels epic yet thoroughly cheeky, accessible, and adorable all at once. So many themes are handled with delicate gusto, such as Bea's anxiety and her grandfather's failing memory. Above all, there is such a positive mindset it makes me wish I had a friend like Cad who would help me face my fears. I am SO excited to read the next book in the series (hello, cliffhanger!) and push these into our readers' hands."

--Grace Menary-Winefield, Booked, Evanston, IL

The Blue House

By Phoebe Wahl

(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9781984893369, $17.99)

"What makes a home? In this beautiful picture book, Wahl explores the emotional arc of moving. But her story goes beyond the simple act of packing and leaving: A child and father are pushed out of their home due to gentrification, and their family is just the two of them. Small details, such as the records the child and father rock out to when they need to dance and scream out their emotions, will captivate readers. Though a subject many authors have dealt with, The Blue House offers a creative, alternative way of looking at moving, one with clear Pacific Northwest details and a family we don't often see on the page. Warm, welcoming, and lovely!"
--Marika McCoola, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA

Wattpad Books: Historically Inaccurate by Shay Bravo - Pre-order Now>

Buttercup the Bigfoot

By Douglas Rees

Isabel Munoz (Illus.)

(Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), 9781250209344, $18.99)

"Willa Cathcart Wilmerding is the bravest girl in the world, but even the bravest girl in the world needs a friend. Told with playful prose and illustrated in charming, bright hues, Buttercup the Bigfoot makes for the perfect story time book! Readers will love Willa's outrageous antics and Buttercup's gentle support of her new best friend. And, of course, everyone will want to join them and howl at the moon! Aaa-oo-eee-oo-yaaah!"
--Laura Graveline, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX

Every Little Letter

By Deborah Underwood

Joy Hwang Ruiz (Illus.)

(Dial Books, 9780525554028, $17.99)

"A really lovely book about breaking down walls and working together. With so many books out there about coming together, this one goes beyond to incorporate the alphabet and word-learning, as well as the importance of listening to young people. The illustrations are warm and the cuteness helps deliver the empathetic message for our youngest readers."
--Tildy Banker-Johnson, Belmont Books, Belmont, MA

I Am Every Good Thing

By Derrick Barnes

Gordon C. James (Illus.)

(Nancy Paulsen Books, 9780525518778, $17.99)

"When we speak of beauty, we think of inside and out. Derrick Barnes has given us a book that directly connects us to the real beauty of the Black boy. An uplifting story, brought to life with vibrant images from Gordon C. James, provides the reader with the opportunity to breathe deeply and reflect. I will be handing this out to children, adults, and educators. It is a book for everyone, and it is more important than ever."
--Kirsten Hess, Let's Play Books!, Emmaus, PA

I Promise

By LeBron James

Nina Mata (Illus.)

(HarperCollins, 9780062971067, $19.99)

"Oh my bookness! This is the picture book we've been waiting for. Children need more stories that help them feel confident and that capture the everyday joys of childhood. I Promise is beautifully and thoughtfully illustrated to showcase the joys and simplicity of life--from reading in the library to jumping double-dutch, from swimming to having fun and adventures with friends. Its August release will be right on time as youngsters head back to school from summer break. The message I Promise sends will be a perfect beginning to a brand-new school year!"

--Kendra McNeil, We Are LIT, Kentwood, MI

The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story

By Tina Cho and Jess X. Snow

(Kokila, 9781984814869, $17.99)

"Tradition stands the test of time in this lovely story about the haenyeo--older Korean women who dive for abalone and other sea treasures, and are known locally as mermaids. Dayeon longs to be brave and strong like her diver Grandma, and through patience and experience learns to love the gifts of the sea. This beautiful tale of bravery and familial bonding rooted in matriarchal love will touch hearts while educating readers about a revered aspect of another culture."
--Melissa Posten, The Novel Neighbor, Webster Groves, MO

Pea, Bee, & Jay: Stuck Together

By Brian "Smitty" Smith

(HarperAlley, 9780062981172, $12.95 hardcover; 9780062981165, $7.99 paperback)

"A pea, a strawberry, and a cherry roll into the garden... and dare the pea to see what lies beyond the farm's fence. On his quest, Pea befriends the studious Bee and shy bird Jay. What an unlikely trio! This short graphic novel is the first in a new series, and it's delightfully punny. I look forward to seeing what other adventures are in store for Pea, Bee, and Jay!"
--Andrew King, University Book Store, Seattle, WA

Sometimes People March

By Tessa Allen

(Balzer + Bray, 9780062991188, $17.99)

"The perfect book for this moment in time! Sometimes People March is a thoughtful overview of the ways and reasons people march. It eloquently examines this important aspect of free speech in an accessible way that speaks to the heart of movements."
--Jill Burket Ragase, Blue Manatee Literacy Project Bookstore, Cincinnati, OH

Before the Ever After

By Jacqueline Woodson

(Nancy Paulsen Books, 9780399545436, $17.99)

"Jacqueline Woodson brings us into the life of 12-year-old ZJ, whose father is a beloved football star. But after years of professional head-bashing, something is terribly wrong: he now has headaches, memory loss, and mood swings. With the help of his mother and good friends, ZJ faces his father's decline. An important and heartfelt prose poem."
--Liza Bernard, Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, VT


By Ash Van Otterloo

(Scholastic Press, 9781338561593, $17.99)

"Cattywampus is filled with raccoon familiars, magic, and two kids aimed at saving their town from generations of zombie ancestors brought on by a spell gone bad! I loved the sense of place Ash Van Otterloo has brought to this book, plus the wonderful language and some beautiful representation."
--Nathaniel Hattrick, Ballast Book Company, Bremerton, WA

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

Fighting Words

By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

(Dial Books, 9781984815682, $17.99)

"Wow, wow, WOW. This book handles so many intense, difficult topics--addiction, sexual abuse, foster care, mental health, consent, poverty--in a sensitive, age-appropriate way. I can't express how perfectly Kimberly Brubaker Bradley walks the line of telling the truth about these situations without ever getting explicit or unnecessarily graphic. I am astounded at how gracefully and carefully this story is laid out. Everyone everywhere should read Fighting Words."
--Tory Hall, Chapters Books & Gifts, Seward, NE

The Girl and the Ghost

By Hanna Alkaf

(HarperCollins, 9780062940957, $16.99)

"A marvelously unique story that incorporates both an unfamiliar modern-day world and an uncommon mythology. Should be a great fit for fans of Percy Jackson and the books of Erin Entrada Kelly."

--Rosie Lee-Parks, Readers' Books, Sonoma, CA


By Nnedi Okorafor

(Viking Books for Young Readers, 9780593113523, $16.99)

"This is a story that deals with heavy issues through the lens of a 12-year-old boy who lost his father and now seeks justice, superhero style. Preteens often get stuck between books that are too kiddy or too adult; without making it too 'old' for them, this walks the fine line of what someone this age is thinking and prepared to learn about. I love the respect Nnedi Okorafor gives kids by putting deep issues and thoughts into her books."

--Kate Larson, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT

The Places We Sleep

By Caroline DuBois

(Holiday House, 9780823444212, $16.99)

"This middle grade novel-in-verse follows Abbey, the only child in a military family who is adjusting a new school for the 2001-2002 school year. On September 11, Abbey gets her first period. Abbey grapples with love and loss, family and friends, finding her passion, and connecting to her parents. A beautiful book that effectively captures the post-9/11 world from a 12-year-old's perspective."
--Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

The Silver Arrow

By Lev Grossman

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 9780316539531, $16.99)

"When Kate and Tom's rich, eccentric uncle delivers a steam train on Kate's birthday, the breathtaking adventure they take will sweep readers off of their feet. Meeting many (talking!) endangered animals on the train, taking them to safe places to live after their habitats were destroyed, and hearing their stories fills Kate with a need to help them all. The important message of conservation and awareness is not blatantly lectured on, but brought up in an honest and hopeful way."

--Katrina Bright-Yerges, Books & Company, Oconomowoc, WI

A Whale of the Wild

By Rosanne Parry

Lindsay Moore (Illus.)

(Greenwillow Books, 9780062995926, $17.99)

"What a great follow up to A Wolf Called Wander! This time in the Salish Sea! When an orca brother and sister are separated from their pod, they need to find their way back, and they help others along the way. I learned a lot about the orcas and their ecosystem in this great book, which shows the true meaning of family and what it means to love them eternally, while finding how to be your true self!"

--Derrick Brunner, The Well-Read Moose, Coeur d'Alene, ID

Bookish and the Beast

By Ashley Poston

(Quirk Books, 9781683691938, $18.99)

"I devoured this book in one perfect sitting. I relished every bit of Rosie and Vance's hard-won romance, every cozy moment in the library, and the Howl's Moving Castle references. There's just nothing out there quite like the Once Upon a Con series; it's geeky, witty, and genuinely comforting."
--Anna Bright, One More Page Books, Arlington, VA

Cemetery Boys

By Aiden Thomas

(Swoon Reads, 9781250250469, $17.99)

"I couldn't put this book down--I raced through it. Everything about it I loved, from the rich world-building of the brujx community Yadriel is part of, to the diverse cast of characters that included multiple trans and queer Latinx characters. It being written by an Own Voices author only made it that much better!"
--Dany Stark, Rediscovered Books, Boise, ID

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers


By Adrienne Young

(Wednesday Books, 9781250254368, $18.99)

"This book was FANTASTIC! I love reading books set at sea, and this is arguably my favorite one yet! I was so captivated by the writing, the characters, the story, and everything the book is. Adrienne Young brought me to the seas with Fable, and I could see what she saw and feel what she felt. This book has heists, secrets, found family, betrayal, adventure, love, loyalty, and so much more. I highly recommend it and cannot wait for the next book. I must know what happens to these characters I care so much about!"
--Meghan Vanderlee, Schuler Books, Grand Rapids, MI


By Tracy Deonn

(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 9781534441606, $18.99)

"This book showed up at the perfect time. It addresses many things that we as Americans have not discussed. Weaving the Arthurian legend with Black southern folklore make this a magical and unique book on so many levels. All the emotions and experiences that Briana goes through are so relevant and timely. I was totally transported and enthralled with this book, which is going to make waves in the fantasy community. Much needed waves. Kudos to Tracy Deonn for writing such a fantastic piece of fiction."
--Kim Brock, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

Never Look Back

By Lilliam Rivera

(Bloomsbury YA, 9781547603732, $18.99)

"In this fresh remix, Lilliam Rivera deftly combines original details with contemporary Afro-Latinx life in the Bronx, from the flirty bounce of bachata to the weight of Hurricane Maria and its impact on island communities and diaspora. I love how this character-driven romance humanizes Pheus and Eury--they are accessible, complex teens distinctly of our time who face an ancient and destructive threat with equal parts assuredness and fearful trepidation. A satisfyingly feminist ending rounds out this myth retextured for our modern moment. Immersive and intense, Never Look Back will make you want Rivera to retell all of your favorite classics."

--Niki Marion, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA

Star Daughter

By Shveta Thakrar

(HarperTeen, 9780062894625, $17.99)

"Star Daughter follows Sheetal, a half-star, half-mortal girl. When her star power injures her human father, Sheetal must seek the help of her mother, a star who returned to the heavens long ago. Sheetal soon finds herself representing her family in a magical competition that will decide the next ruling house of heaven. A standalone fantasy, Star Daughter reads like a diverse version of Stardust that is all its own, taking inspiration from Hindu mythology. With prose the likes of Laini Taylor and Margaret Rogerson, Shveta Thakrar has a bright future in YA literature."
--Isabella Ogbolumani, Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca, NY