A Game of Fox and Squirrels

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A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese. Grades 5-8. Henry Holt, 2020. 224 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Eleven-year-old Sam and her older sister Caitlin have just arrived in Oregon to stay with their aunt and her wife after an incident shattered their family in California. Sam misses her parents and is desperate to get back to her life in LA and start school with all her friends. She knows things weren't always the best with her family, but she was managing fine, thank you, and she doesn't want to be here in Oregon. 

So when a talking fox appears to her with a deal, Sam agrees. She'll do what the fox asks in order to earn the Golden Acorn that will grant her one wish - a wish for things to go back to how they were before. But somehow the rules keep changing and Sam will have to figure out how far she will go to please the fox and what she is willing to sacrifice. 

This is a dark magical tale about a girl navigating life with a foster family after being removed from her abusive home. Sam's game with the fox and his squirrel emissaries mirrors the game she played for years with her abusive father. She never know when the rules will change or what will set him off or what she might have to sacrifice next. This isn't an easy read, but it's a powerful read and could be a necessary read for some. I don't have a ton of knowledge about foster kids, but I have a little bit and what I read rings true with my experiences (such as they are). 

Readalikes: 

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Pair this with another stellar book that came out this year, Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, which offers a similarly searing, but realistic take on abuse and foster care life.  

ACPL's (Virtual!) Mock Newbery

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 Last year, I had the immense pleasure to travel to Fort Wayne, Indiana (about a 4 hour trek from my home in Southern Indiana) to attend the Allen County Public Library's Mock Newbery discussion. I had been one time before and it's always been a really great program. It's such a fun experience to get together with like-minded book lovers and talk in depth about some of the best books of the year. 

This year, due to COVID, the discussion is taking place virtually, mirroring the work the actual committees are doing right this very moment. I'm very excited that I get to take part in the discussion once again and I'm really excited to see how the discussion will work virtually. 

These are the titles that we'll be discussion on Saturday afternoon this year with links to any that I've blogged about. I have some personal favorites that I'll be discussing a bit on Wednesday, and I'd love to know your top contenders for the Youth Media Awards!

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All He Knew by Helen Frost (Indiana author!)

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Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

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Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy

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Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman

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Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford 

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Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

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Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese

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Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann & Lily Williams

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Kent State by Deborah Wiles

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The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

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Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

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Show Me a Sign by Anne Clare LeZotte

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Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

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The Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest

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Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson

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When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

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When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

The Light in Hidden Places

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The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron. Grades 7+ Scholastic, 2020. 400 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

If someone needed your help, would you give it? Even if it could cost you your life? Stefania Podgórska was a teenager when she started hiding Jews in her tiny apartment in Poland during WWII. It started with a close friend and as more and more people needed her help, she ended up with 13 Jews hiding in her attic. It was a life or death situation for them and a life or death situation for Stefania - she would be shot by  the Gestapo if anyone ever found out. She worked night and day to keep everyone fed and safe. And then the Nazis showed up at her door and commandeered her apartment. Two Nazi nurses who worked at the hospital across the street were moving in to her second bedroom. Stefania had no choice, she had to let them stay there. And she had to hope that they never discovered the 13 Jews living right above their heads. 

This absorbing historical novel is based on a true story about a real woman and it was Reese Witherspoon's December YA book club pick. It is definitely a fascinating story and if you love historical fiction that you can really sink your teeth into, this is a great one to pick up. It takes place over a number of years during WWII as Stefania moves to the city from her family farm and starts working for a Jewish family running a shop. As the war moves in and her employers find themselves in increasing danger, Stefania has to grow up quick and make a lot of decisions about what she will do. The hook in this booktalk doesn't happen until about three quarters of the way through, but I was so interested and invested in Stefania's story that I found myself completely absorbed. 

Author Sharon Cameron has done her research and includes a section at the end with photos of the real Stefania and information about what happened to her and her family after the war. This is a story about a little-known hero of WWII that needed to be told. It's teen, appropriate for middle school and up, and has a ton of adult crossover appeal. I added a short booktalk of this title to my Wowbrary email this week and it immediately got 5 new holds, even though it's not a new book. 

Readalikes:


Pick this one up if you've enjoyed immersive historical fiction like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak or The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse. 

Reading Resolutions

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 Happy 2021! It's definitely a year like no other. Maybe you feel like this is a year to give yourself some grace and take it easy. Maybe you feel optimistic about changes you want to make. Are you planning on making some reading resolutions this year? 

As you can see, I'm already late to the game, but part of my plan for the year is to practice grace for myself. If 2020 taught me anything it's that being uber-focused on productivity and optimization is not the best. Sometimes you need some space to take a breath, to rest, to refocus, or just to get through your day.

That said, I do have some reading goals for myself this year, and I'm curious what yours are (if you have any - it's totally fine if you do not!). 

But first... deep breath and let's look back at last year's reading resolutions...

40% of the books I read will be own-voices by diverse authors. 

Okay, as far as I tracked, I read 122 books by diverse authors, which is only about 23%. Part of this resolution was to be more intentional about tracking and I absolutely did not do that. If I had tracked and checked on myself each month like I had intended, I bet I would have done better with this.

500 books read and tracked on GoodReads this year.

Yes! I did this! I started tracking picture books to help with my NoveList work and even though I got super way behind in the spring, I caught back up by the end of the year and finished with 529 books tracked in GoodReads. 

Continue my romance project for another year. 

Okay, I did read nine romance books in 2020, most of them romcoms. I did not do anything to track them or log them or really review them (outside GoodReads), but I read a bunch of books I really enjoyed. I'm calling that success. And I may revisit the romance project in 2021. 

Read at least two pre-pub titles each month. 

Hahahaha, no way. I've been really bad at this. I absolutely did not make this goal. I miiiight have read 24 pre-pub titles over the course of the year, but honestly probably not. 

So, let's look ahead to 2021 (as scared as we might be about that...)

My biggest thing this year is giving myself grace. I realized what it's like to live through trauma this year (very privileged trauma, yes). And although I love reading, it's not important enough to be something to stress out about. I'm going to set some goals for myself because I like to have projects to work on, but I also have some non-reading projects going on this year and we're striving for balance and reasonable expectations. I have already hit library book bankruptcy where I just return ALL my checked out books and start over with a clean slate once this year. 

Read more teen books

Now that I have turned over adult collection responsibilities to my new collection development librarian, I can let myself more fully concentrate on youth materials. And one area that I know I need to step it up is teen literature. According to GoodReads, I read 28 teen books in 2020 and I'd like to do better this year. Let's try to read at least 36 teen books in 2021

Try the Read Native Challenge from the American Indian Library Association

It's been a minute since I attempted a reading challenge that gives specific categories for titles, but when I saw this one pop up, I wanted to give it a try. It dovetails with my always-goal to read diversely and I've been trying to add more Native writers into my reading life over the past few years. I'm not sure if I'll be able to complete the adult challenge with adult titles, so I may shoot for some kind of hybrid or use the adult challenge prompts but with teen and children's titles. I'm sure I won't be eligible for any prizes, but that's okay since I have intrinsic motivation for wanting to do this challenge. 

Read and track at least 500 books in GoodReads again. 

I did find tracking picture books and logging everything in GoodReads to be helpful. It was surprisingly helpful when I went to compose my 12 Days of Giving book lists this year. So I think that's a good goal and my hope is that I will easily be able to hit 500 books logged (including lots of picture books!). Of course, that's counting on no trauma-inducing shut-down work-from-home months to put me behind again. WE'LL SEE. 

And other areas that I may not make "official" goals, but you may see some blog posts about this year... I have enjoyed reading romance and I'm going to embrace that and encourage it. You may see some romance project updates from me this year since I think that would be fun. And one of my non-reading goals is to cook 50 new recipes this year, so of course I started out the year by checking out a ton of cookbooks. It might be fun to blog about some of the cookbooks I'm discovering and trying out. No promises, but maybe! 

And that's it for 2021 Reading Resolutions. How about you? Are you setting any reading resolutions? Or even just casual goals for yourself (if resolutions maybe feel like a bit much coming off of 2020)?