Vengeance Road

Set in the Wild West in 1877, inspired by the legend of the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine, a rich gold mine hidden in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, this suspense and action-filled novel follows Kate Thompson who sets out on a pursuit to seek vengeance for her father’s death. On her mission to search for her father’s murderers, she disguises herself as a boy named Nate and along the way, meets new friends throughout her journey.

I have never read a western book before and being that I grew up watching Old Western movies, I’m not sure what took me so long, but after reading this novel I’m happy I started. This book was out of the ordinary from other YA novels I’m used to reading and had many twists and turns that kept me from putting the book down! Vengeance Road is the perfect mix of suspense, humor, mystery, and romance, and I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for an adventure.


Explaining Homelessness

Explaining Homelessness cover art

Kids are curious about their surroundings.  As my daughter and I have driven around our neighborhood and our surrounding cities, we have seen an increase in the number of people panhandling and living on the streets. There is a food pantry in my daughter’s elementary school, along with several of her fellow classmates that are homeless. Books are one way of explaining homelessness to my daughter. The following books are great tools for explaining homelessness to young children:      


Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth

Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth book cover art

While reading Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce, I often contemplated the direction this book was going, but what always seemed clear was that despite it seeming like a funny light read, it carried a heavy message. Speaking on the subject of what it is like to feel like a temporary kid in a foster home, it explores the concept that home is more than just a place. Throughout the book, Prez develops a relationship with Sputnik, an alien, who seems like a boy to just Prez but a dog to everyone else. Sputnik can read Prez’s thoughts and manipulate the laws of space and time. This book contains a valuable heartwarming lesson for any child that has ever felt like they didn’t have a home to belong to; it challenges that happiness doesn’t always have to come from a family, but from within.


Want to read the analysis for Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth? Click here to check it out.

In English, of Course

In English, Of Course book cover art

The book In English, of Course follows a young girl’s journey in adjusting to life in a new country as she balances her pride with her desire to connect and adapt to the new heritages that are present. Josephine, an immigrant from Italy, struggles to communicate and connect with her American peers.  Demonstrating how a child can find their voice in another language, and by extension, their agency, In English, of Course is as meaningful as it is thought-provoking.

In English, of Course depicts students from a wide array of backgrounds. These students share their heritage with each other and come together in their pursuit of learning English and maintaining their roots. Ling-Li, a student from China, talks about her culture while Juan, an immigrant from Puerto Rico describes his home country. Finally, its Josephine’s turn to share; she describes her old life and learns new English words simultaneously.  She describes a story about a cow, a river, and a pig and making new friends. When her teacher asks her, “Did you live in a farm?”, Josephine struggles to find the words to explain the magnificence of Naples and the prestige of her parents’ professional background.

In her struggle to communicate, Josephine learns patience and learns new words such as “falling down,” “dragging,” and “push.” By the end of the book, she can communicate more effectively, and she is inspired to learn more English words. In English, of Course portrays an immigrant’s journey from uncertainty to empowerment.


Want to read the analysis for In English, of Course? Click here to check it out.


Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee is a heartfelt and uplifting novel about Mattie, a bookworm and star student whose had a crush on one of her fellow classmates Elijah for about a year. Her friends Lucy and Tessa know she had a crush on him for the longest, but one day at a party, Mattie meets the new girl, Gemma, and starts to develop an interest in her. As time passes, her crush for Gemma grows, as well as her confusion considering she was just crushing on Elijah. When Mattie’s English teacher announces who will be casted in Romeo and Juliet, Mattie is delighted to hear that she will be taking over the role of Romeo since the other student casted broke his arm; and Gemma will be playing Juliet. Despite her nervousness and not wanting others to find out, the play was still a success.

I enjoyed reading this book because it was like none I’ve ever read before. It was an adorable and sweet story on life, friendships, and family dynamics. I loved how normal and totally fine everyone was with her having a crush on a girl. Her sister and friends were very supportive and reminded her there’s nothing to be afraid of. Overall, it’s clear she learns to stay true and honest with herself. I believe this is a great book every middle-school library should have.


Want to see the analysis for Star-Crossed? Click here to check it out.

Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender and Friendship

Introducing Teddy book cover art

There are very few books, specifically picture books, that explain transgender people to young children. There are even fewer that do so delicately and skillfully. Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender and Friendship by Jessica Walton boldly takes the reins to explain transgender people to younger audiences in an easy-to-understand and age appropriate manner. The illustrations, by Dougal MacPherson, add tremendous depth to the story. We see the anguish on Tilly the Teddy Bear’s face as she struggles to tell her best friend that she is not a boy teddy, but a girl teddy. The anxiety and sadness are palpable on Tilly’s face and any reader of any age can see the importance of this decision and its impact on her life. The illustrations translate to real life as countless youth make the difficult decision to come out every day.

Children are incredibly perceptive, and they will immediately pick up upon the acceptance and friendship that Errol extends to his teddy bear. His compassion is shown in both the text and the illustrations. Errol is mindful of how his friend is feeling and comes out in full support of Tilly’s true identity. Introducing Teddy teaches children how to empathize and the importance of being there for your friends. These lessons in kindness and consideration are incredibly important, especially as the world continues to grow more diverse.


Want to read the analysis for Introducing Teddy? Click here to check it out.

My Friend Isabelle

My Friend Isabelle book cover art

I had a blast reading this book. It reminded me so much of my best friend and I, very different from each other and still the best of friends. For example, I am an ambivert with high energy most of the time while she is an introvert who likes to spend her free time catching up on her shows. She likes environmental sciences while I’m more geared towards exercise sciences. She is vegan while I eat meats almost daily. Yet we still go to church as many Sundays as we can. The hours we spend together feel like minutes filled with laughs and inside jokes. We share the same core beliefs and even apart, I know that we could never truly be separated.

This book is about a friendship such as ours. Isabelle is slow, Charlie is fast. Isabelle is short, Charlie is tall. They still spend time together and have lots of fun playing, going to the park, and eating delicious snacks. The book is wonderfully illustrated with just a sentence or two on each page. It highlights the many differences between the two kids just to show how the same things that should keep them apart is actually what brings them together. Charlie even says himself that “the world is more fun with friends like Isabelle.” I teared up at the end because not only was this a familiar feeling, but I was able to understand from the author’s simple words that Isabelle was not quite like the other kids. Sure enough but not directly mentioned by the author, I was able to piece together that Isabelle has Down syndrome. My favorite part about this book is how it showcased children’s unconditional love; their innocence and general acceptance of things and people that are different from them. This is a great book to educate young kids about differences between people, how they can learn from each other, and accept each other no matter what.


Want to read the analysis for My Friend Isabelle? Click here to check it out.

Rescue and Jessica

Rescue and Jessica book cover art

The book Rescue and Jessica showcases a woman who loses both of her legs from the Boston Marathon Bombing and finds a service dog that brings back her joy. The book shows a true representation of a tragedy that causes someone’s life to change. The authors honestly portray the struggles and recovery of the bombing victim. The book also shows how service dogs are trained and the amount of service they provide to their owner. The authors and illustrator briefly touch upon the mental struggles that often occur when someone experiences a traumatic event.

This book is inspiring to people of all ages. It demonstrates to readers that disabilities don’t need to limit you; that if you find something that brings you joy and happiness, you can achieve many things. As a person who wants to work with children and show them that disabilities don’t limit them, this book helps show that there might be setbacks, but if you keep trying, you can achieve anything. This book received the 2019 Schneider Award which just goes to show that representation of a disability is important. When books like these get awarded, it shows people that these topics are necessary and that there is an audience for them. Rescue and Jessica shines a positive light on people with disabilities, because as a person with a disability, it is nice to read a book that shows that a disability does not have to limit me. 


Want to see the analysis for Rescue and Jessica? Click here to check it out.

Intersectional YA

collage - Intersectional YA book covers

In 2014, I attended a bookstore event for Shannon Hale—a children’s and young adult author—where she was promoting her newest book, Dangerous. Dangerous tells the story of Maisie Danger Brown, a biracial teenager born with a congenital limb difference who gains superpowers at an ultra-secretive, highly-exclusive space camp. At the event, Shannon Hale described a criticism she’d received from an early reader: “A homeschooled, biracial Paraguayan American girl with one hand who wants to be an astronaut? That’s too specific. Teens won’t be able to relate to her.” As if teenagers who are both biracial and disabled don’t exist in the real world. As if white, able-bodied teens could wrap their minds around superpowers bestowed by alien technology, but not a character whose identity deviated too far from their own experience.

Intersectionality is a term coined by activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, while discussing issues of feminism and race. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.” Young adult books featuring characters who live in the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and disability have become more common in the five years since Dangerous was published, but as with most issues related to diversity in young adult and children’s literature, there is still plenty of room for improvement and growth.

The following books feature teenage characters who belong to more than one marginalized group:


The Junkyard Wonders

The Junkyard Wonders book cover art

This book was incredibly fun to read. Not only were the illustrations interesting, but the story as well. It is the story of a dyslexic young girl who moves to Michigan to live with her dad for a year. When she gets to the new place, she’s hoping that she’s left the difficult part of her life behind but unfortunately, due to her disability, she still finds herself singled out and placed in “special” classes. However, this is where the story gets better instead of worse. The class that she is made to join is nicknamed the “Junkyard Wonders” and it is a collection of kids who don’t quite fit in with the others. Mrs. Peterson, the teacher, explains to them what a junkyard really is. “It is a place of wonderful possibilities! What some see as bent and broken throwaways are actually amazing things waiting to be made into something new. Something unexpected. Something surprising.” The very first day of class Mrs. Peterson reads the definition of genius that she had written on the board. She told them: “Read it, memorize it, genius describes each and every one of you.” Mrs. Peterson turned out to be one of those teachers who eventually leaves a lasting impact in your life. Everyone in the little group that Patricia is assigned to grows up to be amazing people with extraordinary lives. The boy who loved ballet grew up to be the artistic director of the American Ballet Theater Company, the girl who didn’t talk became a fashion designer, and the boy who liked to build things became an aeronautical engineer for NASA. If it wasn’t for the other kids in school, the kids in the Junkyard that they rudely called weirdos and retards would have lived to be pariahs and society rejects, but because of a caring and dedicated teacher they became much more than that. Mrs. Peterson went as far as bringing them to an actual junkyard and telling them to go ahead and find something to make beautiful and the kids did just that. The Vanilla group, which is the one that Patricia sniffed her way into, found everything they needed to make an airplane. Then one of the kids, Gibbie, said something about the airplane that stuck with me, “This baby is goin’ all the way to the moon!” Years later, as an engineer for NASA, Gibbie put the airplane that he made with his friends from the Junkyard Wonders on an aircraft which, you guessed it, found its way to the moon.


Want to read the analysis for The Junkyard Wonders? Click here to check it out.