Category Archives: diversity

Juvie by Steve Watkins


I received this e-galley from the publisher via Netgalley and read it on my ancient Kindle, so I didn’t pay much attention to the cover, including–I’m embarrassed to say–the author’s name. The story is written from a female teen’s point of view, and it’s done so well that I was shocked when I sat down to write this review and discovered that the author is male. I was also surprised to realize that, had I seen the cover before reading the story, I would have thought that was a book about a teen boy. My own misguided preconceptions, of course–girls go to jail, too.

Publisher’s description:  Sadie Windas has always been the responsible one — she’s the star player on her AAU basketball team, she gets good grades, she dates a cute soccer player, and she tries to help out at home. Not like her older sister, Carla, who leaves her three-year-old daughter, Lulu, with Aunt Sadie while she parties and gets high. But when both sisters are caught up in a drug deal — wrong place, wrong time — it falls to Sadie to confess to a crime she didn’t commit to keep Carla out of jail and Lulu out of foster care. Sadie is supposed to get off with a slap on the wrist, but somehow, impossibly, gets sentenced to six months in juvie. As life as Sadie knew it disappears beyond the stark bars of her cell, her anger — at her ex-boyfriend, at Carla, and at herself — fills the empty space left behind. Can Sadie forgive Carla for getting her mixed up in this mess? Can Carla straighten herself out to make a better life for Lulu, and for all of them? Can Sadie survive her time in juvie with her spirit intact?

Heart-wrenching and real, Juvie tells the story of two sisters grappling with accountability, sacrifice — and who will be there to help you after you take the fall.

Hand this book to the kid who:

* is struggling with making good choices in life

* knows someone who has been incarcerated or has first-hand experience with the juvenile detention system

* plays basketball–Sadie is on the college scholarship path when she has to leave high school to serve her six-month sentence.

* has a family member who suffers from agoraphobia–Sadie’s father never makes an appearance in the story because he hasn’t come out of his house in years. Although we don’t get to know him as well as we know the agoraphobic father in Linda Urban’s A Crooked Kind of Perfect,  we can still feel Sadie’s father’s love for her when he does reach out to her via the US mail.

Use this to discuss:

* Character Motivation–Sadie decides to take the fall for her older sister, Carla, who has been in trouble with the law in the past. Should she have made that sacrifice? What if Sadie’s decision can’t save her sister or her young niece, Lulu? Would she have made the same sacrifice if she had known that she’d spend six months in jail?

* Ethics–When Sadie tries to shield a fellow inmate from harm during a prison riot, she is reprimanded for getting involved and told that her only job in juvie is to follow directions. Yet she later risks her own life to save another. Sadie’s choices in these scenes would make good fodder for discussion. And speaking of choices…

* Choices–At first, I was indignant at the unfairness of Sadie going to jail for something she didn’t do. But Sadie eventually comes to the conclusion that although she didn’t knowingly break the law, a series of smaller bad decisions led her to the wrong place at the wrong time. Did she deserve to go to jail? Definitely not. But the ultimate consequences of her choices that led her to the scene of the crime could have so easily been avoided.

*Types of Conflict–There are several types in this story–character vs. character, and character vs. self, but the most interesting to explore might be character vs. society and the role of prisons in our society. The disparity between the crimes that some of the characters commit on the outside and their behavior on the inside would also make for good discussion.

Visit author Steve Watkins’ website here.

Click here for reviews (including starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly) and here to read the first chapter.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: October 8, 2013

ISBN-10: 0763655090

ISBN-13: 978-0763655099

Number of Pages: 320

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.


The Vampirina Ballerina books by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Today Biblio Links welcomes picture book author Anne Marie Pace! Anne Marie’s fourth picture book was released this summer to rave reviews, and it is guaranteed to make Vampirina Ballerina fans squeal with delight. (If you haven’t met Vampirina yet, then get thee to a bookstore!)

Here’s the description of the first Vampirina book:

9781423157533Oh, to be a ballerina! It’s a challenge for any little girl, but even more so if you happen to be a vampire like Vampirina. First of all, you have to find a class that meets at night. Then you have to figure out how to perfect your form when you can’t see yourself in the mirror?  And then there’s wearing pink (not the most flattering of colors if you happen to be undead) and that nagging urge to take a little nip out of the other dancers. And worse of all… STAGE FRIGHT!!!

…and the adorable second book:

9781423175704Before Vampirina can host her very first sleepover there are a few things she must keep in mind: be polite and offer her guests food (like blood pudding); plan some games like scavenger hunt (but keep the clues simple so no one gets lost); and don’t forget to dance! Vampirina may be a little nervous at first, but by following a few simple rules she will host the Best Sleepover Ever.

I promise you will fall in love with this ballet-loving vampire who just wants to fit in. The Vampirina books are the kind that offer something different each time you read them. My students love Vampirina, and the first read-through with them is always a delight. But the more kids hear or read the book and examine the detail in the illustrations, the more they glean from the story. They always make text-to-self connections about times when they felt different from their peers.

In the second Vampirina book, I know my students will make these same types of connections, but this time centered on family. Many of my students are immigrants, and their families bring their own rich and layered cultural traditions with them to this country. Sometimes it makes them stand out from other families, and it can be tricky for a kid to balance their home culture with that of the community in which they now live. I can’t wait to share this new Vampirina book with my students.

I asked author and former teacher Anne Marie Pace how her Vampirina books might be used in the classroom.

16048Biblio Links: Welcome, Anne Marie!
A student walks into my library and I think: THAT kid needs a Vampirina Ballerina book. Who is this child?

Anne Marie Pace: I can think of several types of kid who might need a Vampirina book. There are certainly people who see a little girl ballerina on the cover and assume it’s meant for small girls who love to dance, and definitely the books work for those girls.  In fact, even last year, in the first months after release, I received photographs of more than a few girls who had dressed as Vampirina for Halloween.

But surprisingly, when I’ve done school visits, I find that third and fourth grade boys really get the book as a whole.  They really appreciate the tiny creepy details that go over younger children’s heads.  For an example of what I mean, take a look at the ways in which LeUyen Pham portrays Dame Margot Fonteyn, the famous ballerina, throughout the book.

Speaking of tiny details, I’d say a reader who loves examining illustrations closely would also be a great candidate for the  Vampirina books because LeUyen Pham includes incredible telling detail throughout.  I am still discovering new things.

Another reader who might like Vampirina would be a child who feels a little different from his or her peers and needs reassurance that being different is not only a-ok, it’s actually pretty cool.  And of course, they’re good for anyone who likes to laugh!

Biblio Links: If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see or hear?

Anne Marie Pace: I hope you’d see a lot of kids laughing!  The teacher would have lots to point out to the kids.  She could talk about Dame Margot Fonteyn, whose influence figures prominently in Vampirina’s life; and they might discuss how we can look up to role models.  They could trace the numerous subplots that are present in the illustrations.  And they could move!  Because Vampirina is a dancer, she loves movement. There’s also a wonderful teachers’ guide developed by one Natalie Lorenzi.  It’s available for download on my website.  There are wonderful activities in that guide, from patterning to tooth brushing!

Biblio Links: Creating the teacher’s guide for Vampirina was so much fun! The story and illustrations lend themselves so well to activities across the curriculum. With the story’s theme of fitting in, school guidance counselors will want to add these to their shelves, too.

Where can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?

Anne Marie PaceMy website is a starting point:  There are also a lot of links on the Vampirina Ballerina Facebook page, at  And Linda Urban did a series of blog posts with both me and LeUyen Pham, the illustrator.  Those links are here, here, and here.

Biblio Links: Thanks for stopping by, Anne Marie!

You can also follow Anne Marie on Twitter: @AnneMariePace.

Look for Anne Marie’s other picture books published by Scholastic Book Clubs. Click on either book cover to learn more.

Strangers final front coverTeacher for Bear

The teacher’s guide link to the first Vampirina book is here.

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication Dates: Fall 2012 (Vampirina Ballerina) and Summer 2013 (Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover)

ISBN-13: 978-1423157533 (Vampirina Ballerina)

ISBN-13: 978-1423175704 (Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover)

Interest Level: Ages 2 to 6

Number of Pages: 40

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Thanks to Sheila at Book Journeys for starting this meme, and Jen (Teach Mentor Texts) and Kellee (Unleashing Readers) for turning it into a kid-lit meme! Click here for more Monday reviews.

Ten Picture Books with Multicultural Casts of Characters (That Have Absolutely Nothing To Do With Race or Culture)

42cc2-pb10for10015-1Many thanks to teachers Mandy Robek and Cathy Mere for creating the August Picture Book 10 for 10 event! Click on their names above to visit their blogs where you’ll find  links to more Top 10 picture book lists from  bloggers around the kidlitosphere.

My list has more than 10 titles, because I’ve included several series–same authors with (usually) the same illustrators and the same lovable cast of characters.

As a school librarian in a culturally and linguistically diverse school district, I’m always looking for books that highlight different cultures and life experiences for my students. Books introduce kids to everything from Cinco de Mayo to Ramadan to the life experiences of an undocumented immigrant child in the U.S. But my students also want stories about fairies and friends, monsters and space travel.

Try this…the next time you’re at the library or in a book store, pull some picture books at random from the shelves–books with at least one character who is a child  (not only animals or aliens or monsters), and a story or subject that is not tied to culture or race. Do this until you’ve chosen ten books. Next, count how many of those ten  show children of different races. If you’re coming up empty, check out some of these titles from the following list:

(All summaries come from the publishers’ websites.)

Wokka_cover-330How Do You Wokka Wokka? by Elizabeth Blumle, illustrated by Randy Cecil

Some days you wake up and you just gotta wokka. Wokka what? Wokka-wokka! It’s about movement. It’s about dance. It’s about shimmy-shakin’, be-boppin’, and more! It’s about gathering friends and joining the party. The creative team behind MY FATHER THE DOG returns with a call-and-response for preschoolers, an exuberant invitation to be part of the fun — and show your stuff!

Say “HEY!” to your neighbors and get your dance on! Jazzy rhythms, silly rhymes, and welcoming images are guaranteed to entice little readers.
cvr9781416933625_9781416933625_lgOh How Sylvester Can Pester! And Other Poems More or Less About Manners by Robert Kinerk, illustrated by Drazen Kozjan
Robert Kinerk pokes fun at what can happen when good manners are neglected. From Eleanor Ickity who is served nothing that she likes to eat or Sylvester who can pester and pester and pester, this charming cast of characters will warn the ill mannered about the consequences of their shameful behavior.
ATW_CaldecottAll the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee
All the world is here.It is there.It is everywhere.All the world is right where you are.Now.Following a circle of family and friends through the course of a day from morning till night, this book affirms the importance of all things great and small in our world, from the tiniest shell on the beach, to warm family connections, to the widest sunset sky.
thinkbigThink Big by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Vanessa Newton
Art is so much more than easels and paintbrushes as this delightful new picture book by two exciting talents makes clear. Follow along as a classroom of exuberant young kids explore art and the power of creativity in its most varied forms-painting, music, writing, cooking, performing … there’s no end to where their imaginations can take them! The lilting poetry of Liz Garton Scanlon’s text pairs perfectly with the playful art of Vanessa Newton in this warm, thoughtful, and-of course-creative picture book. Young listeners will want to jump right into the pages to find their own muse.
ray-starsStars by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Marla Frazee
A star is how you know it’s almost night.
As soon as you see one, there’s another, and another.
And the dark that comes doesn’t feel so dark.
What if you could have a star?
From acclaimed author Mary Lyn Ray and two-time Caldecott Honor winner Marla Frazee comes this tender, evocative—and profound—exploration of stars both near and far.
gbm-coverThe Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery
When a class leaves for recess, their just-baked Gingerbread Man is left behind. But he’s a smart cookie and heads out to find them. He’ll run, slide, skip, and (after a mishap with a soccer ball) limp as fast as he can because: “I can catch them! I’m their Gingerbread Man!”With help from the gym teacher, the nurse, the art teacher and even the principal, the Gingerbread Man does find his class, and he’s assured they’ll never leave him behind again.
GB cover 10.1.12The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery
Guess who gets to go along on a field trip to the firehouse? The Gingerbread Man! But when he falls out of his classmate’s pocket, Spot the Dalmatian comes sniffing around. Luckily, this Gingerbread Man is one smart cookie, and he races into the fire truck, up the pole, and all through the station, staying one step ahead of the hungry dog the whole time.
Then an emergency call comes in and the Gingerbread Man knows just what to do:
“I’ll ride to the rescue, as fast as I can.
I want to help, too! I’m the Gingerbread Man!”
With snappy rhymes and fresh illustrations, the Gingerbread Man makes a sweet return in his second school adventure.
fairies400The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies by Ammi-Joan Paquette, illusrated by Christa Unzner
Could a tulip be a good place for hide-and-seek? Could a bit of dandelion fluff be a pillow? They could be, if fairies live nearby. This book invites kids to have a backyard adventure searching for the telltale signs of fairies who might be residing all around them. Not only can children “search” for fairies in the book’s unique blend of art and photography, but they will also be encouraged to discover the wonder and magic in nature, whether in a backyard or a local park.
mermaids400The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids by Ammi-Joan Paquette, illustrated by Marie Letourneau
Have you ever walked on the beach and looked for shells or clams? There are creatures, more like you and me, who are even more interesting to look for. Most people don’t see them, but they might just not know how to look for signs. That sand dollar – why, that could be a mermaid-size surfboard. Those twisted reeds – a bed for a lovely afternoon mermaid nap. And if you peer closely into the water, you might see a mermaid market.
9780061762758Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein

Your buffalo is growing up. He plays with friends. He shares his toys. He’s smart! But is he ready for kindergarten? (And is kindergarten ready for him?)

A hilarious look at first-day-of-school jitters from author Audrey Vernick and illustrator Daniel Jennewein.

9780061762536Teach Your Buffalo to Play the Drums by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein

Does your buffalo pound on pots and pans?
Tap out rhythms at the dinner table?
It’s not as unusual as you might think.
He’s simply at the start of an exciting new journey.
A very loud musical journey that begins by teaching your buffalo to play drums.
(Did we mention it might be loud?)

bees-cover-300x220These Bees Count! by Alison Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow

How do bees count? The bees at the Busy Bee Farm buzz through the sky as one big swarm, fly over two waving dandelions, find three wild strawberries bursting with sweetness . . . As the children in Mr. Tate’s class listen, they learn how bees work to produce honey and make food and flowers grow. Bees count–they’re important to us all.

7688367-300x236These Trees Count! by Alison Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow

If you listen carefully to the lone tree behind Oak Lane School, it has a story to tell about… one owl, two spiders, three squirrels, four robins, five caterpillars, six ants, seven crickets, eight flies, nine ladybugs, and ten earthworms, all living safe and free in their tree home.

What does this tree need?  The children know — it needs friends!

Formento-cover-300x237These Seas Count! by Alison Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow

Mr. Tate’s class helps clean up a local beach and listens to the sea as it tells them about all the wildlife that make it their home. One whale, two giant sea turtles, three marlins . . . and more. Of course, the class discovers that “this sea counts!” These Seas Count! explores the environmental impact and importance of the seas, and how crucial it is to keep them healthy.

Alison Formento’s gentle story and Sarah Snow’s amazing collages combine for a powerful message about the environment and what we can do to preserve our oceans.

cover32259-mediumHow Do You Burp in Space? And Other Tips Every Space Tourist Needs to Know by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by Michael Slack

Want to blast into orbit? Walk on the moon? Snag a personal photo of a shooting star? Well your time is coming! And when it does, you’re going to need How Do You Burp in Space? 

This guide is filled with the kind of information you’d need to plan any vacation including what to pack (hint: no bubble bath or juggling balls!); what to expect from your accomodations (a sleeping bag attached to the wall), and what to do for fun (leapfrog on the moon!). Grounded in the history of space travel and the planned future of space tourism, this guide book will leave young adventurers daydreaming about future intergalactic space vacations. Get ready to rock your rocketship!

Back to School with Audrey Vernick’s Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten

Today Biblio Links welcomes back one of my favorite authors, Audrey Vernick!

As kids head back to school, I thought this would be the perfect time to introduce (or reintroduce) readers to the charming picture book Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?

In tongue-in-cheek style, Vernick advises buffalo owners everywhere  how to prepare their buffalos for that all-important first day of Kindergarten. My own kids and students laugh out loud at the buffalo’s antics, but the true message  of acceptance shines through. Although diversity is never mentioned in the text, Daniel Jennewein’s illustrations of the students in the buffalo’s classroom reflects a variety of ethic backgrounds.

My son gave this book to his Kindergarten teacher last year when we met her for the first time at Open House in August, and I think it would make the perfect gift for the newly-minted Kindergartener in your family or neighborhood.

I asked Audrey about ways in which readers connect with Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?

Biblio Links: A student walks into my library and I think: That kid needs a copy of  Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? Who is this kid?Audrey Vernick: The  year this book was published, I heard from a kindergarten teacher who had a student who was having a very hard time at the start of the year. Inexplicably, the only way he could get through those first few days was if the teacher let him hold my book. That touched my heart–the kind of response you can’t even conceive of when writing a book. So I guess you could say the child who needs a copy of Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? might be one who, at the start of the year, has not yet found her way. Of course, it might also be a child who likes a silly book. Or one who wonders, as I did, what chewing cud really means.

Biblio Links: If we were to peek into a classroom where a teacher is using your book in a lesson or with a small group, what might we see?

Audrey Vernick: This is another one of those things that I never came close to envisioning during the writing/editing process–but this book really lends itself to classroom use. You might see anything from hoof painting to hula hoop Venn diagrams to cave drawings to the creation of a class guide just in case a buffalo happens to show up one day. Or, you might hear a whole classroom, as one, moaning “Eeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!” when you reach the page that describes what cud chewing is.

 Biblio LinksWhere can teachers, librarians and students learn more about you and your book?
Audrey Vernick: Cover your ears, Natalie. There’s an incredible, brilliant, superfun discussion and activity guide for using IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN? on my website created by the divine Natalie Lorenzi. (
And this page has a bio and a link to recent interviews:
My website also has information about my school visits, other books, reviews, and there’s a page (with link to a free downloadable buffalo door hanger coloring sheet) for this book’s sequel, TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS.

Biblio Links: I’ll also add the Buffalo’s Facebook page here. Thanks for stopping by, Audrey!

Check out Audrey’s middle grade novel, Water Balloon, and her other picture books, Bark and Tim,  Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? and Teach Your Buffalo To Play The Drums, and picture book biographies She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story and Brothers At Bat.

Click here for some buffalo love, including a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

I’d love to hear from other teachers and librarians, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles…what book(s) do you recommend to ease first day of school jitters?

The Nitty Gritty~

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication Date: July 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0061762758

Interest Level: Ages 4 and up

Number of Pages: 32

Thanks to the fabulous bloggers at Teach Mentor Texts for today’s meme!