On the blog:
I thought that Kwame Alexander’s new sports-themed verse novel, Booked, would be my biggest ARC score at NCTE. I mean, you needed to say the secret word before the publisher would even hand the book over! Mostly I thought it would be my biggest ARC score because I was pretty sure my son would actually care about this book, and he more than rewarded me. He actually squealed when he saw it. This is a kid who might glance at a book and sniff—or might not even bother with the glance. And there was actual squealing. Then much waving of the book in the air and gloating over the publication date (“Not til April! And I’ve got it NOW!”) and then a hustle to the backpack to squirrel it away in anticipation of taking it school today for a show and tell. Any kind of book excitement on his part brings tears to my eyes, so thank you, Kwame Alexander.
I think I liked Booked even better than The Crossover. There’s a bit more quirk and a bit more digression, and I like quirk and digression. The verse is tight, and it’s plenty page-turney. What I love about Alexander’s books is that he writes real middle-grade boy characters. Sometimes I feel stuck in this reading loop of Wimpy Kid knockoffs where all boys aspire to be Greg Heffley—snarky, self-involved, without feeling or character. Alexander’s boys are funny and cool and flawed and full of feeling.
Booked is about Nick, who loves soccer and TV, hates to read, has a pretty serious case of limerence (it’s a real word!) focused on the lovely April, and misses his best friend, Coby, who transferred to a different school when he didn’t make the A team in soccer. Nick also has some parent drama: his dad, a college professor who forces Nick to read a dictionary of unusual words he’s compiled (the words are pretty awesome, though, and defined in footnotes), and his mom, a horse trainer whose work hasn’t been given equal focus in the family, are struggling in their marriage. Some extra drama is provided by an annoying English teacher, a super rad librarian, and a couple of bullies. It’s definitely a story about family and friends and sports, just like The Crossover. But this is also a love letter to librarians, books, readers, and reading. Which might be why I loved it even more than The Crossover.
So if Booked wasn’t my biggest ARC score, what was? Easy! BALLET CAT AND BUTTER BEAR! I was the one squealing when one of my students pulled the ARC out of her bag and handed it over. I squealed so loudly, in fact, that people turned to stare. I startled the student standing nearest me, who let out an expletive and then headed off to put as much distance as possible between us. I’m sorry, but I really couldn’t help it. BALLET CAT AND BUTTER BEAR!!!!! I know that some of my readers this morning are right there with me. So. Super simple story line: Ballet Cat is trying to browbeat Butter Bear into his great ballet debut, and Butter Bear is having none of it. A classic power struggle ensues, which they both kind of manage to win in different ways. This one had a bit of a slow start for me, but when it hits its stride, it is one funny spread after another. The whole story is resolved with a flash of some exciting underpants, so I’m guessing this is going to be a big hit with the younger set. What’s better than Ballet Cat? Only Ballet Cat AND Underpants! I sat in the Exhibit Hall giggling helplessly as my students looked at me stony-faced. WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU PEOPLE? IT’S BALLET CAT! AND UNDERPANTS!
What is there really to say about a Mr Putter and Tabby book except that it’s perfect? This book was the cause of many happy read-aloud sighs as I shared it with my son, who also still loves a Mr Putter and Tabby story.
I am most definitely not the audience for Gene Luen Yang’s new middle-grade series, The Secret Coders, but I’m glad this book exists. It’s about a girl who transfers to a new school and finds herself quickly involved in a mystery involving binary coding. I’m sure the computer stuff is explained so that any idiot could understand it, but I’m a special kind of idiot, and I totally didn’t get it. Several of the chapters end in binary code challenges that the reader can figure out for themselves (well, readers who aren’t me) before turning the page. There’s a diverse cast of characters and some basketball thrown in for good measure. This is a graphic novel with very wide appeal.
Fairly little happens in The Story of Diva and Flea: a deep-voiced, spoiled, fearful little dog and a soft-voiced, homeless, and brave large cat become friends. The meaning of the word flaneur is much discussed and there is quite a bit of flaneuring. But it’s one of those stories that’s really about everything good in the world: wonder and discovery and connection and bravery and being present with and for each other. So very good.
So Melanie Watt takes readers through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief in this hilarious story about a bug that inadvertently gets sucked up into a vacuum. The bug is first in denial, then in mourning about his unexpected fate. The bug isn’t the only one grieving: there is also a dog outside the vacuum cleaner who is mourning the loss of his best friend, a tattered toy that got sucked up into the vacuum. Clever, unexpected, philosophical, and hilarious.