Monday, January 16, 2017

STELLA BY STARLIGHT by Sharon Draper for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, and I'm commemorating it with another Diversity Monday here at My Brain on Books! This is a book I missed reading last year, so during my November/December blogging break, I caught up.

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (hardcover January 2015, paperback March 2016, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 336 pages, for ages 9 to 13)

Synopsis (from the publisher):  It's 1932. Stella lives in the segregated South in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can't. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn't bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they're never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella's community, her world, is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don't necessarily signify an end.

Why I recommend it: Not only is the writing lovely, but this is an important story about a dreadful part of our history (which, unfortunately, in some ways is still going on). It's also written in a way that's accessible for the age group, despite the subject matter.

Furthermore, Stella is one of my new favorite MG characters, spunky, and smart, with so much honesty and heart that it fairly spills from the pages. Her struggles to write are relatable for any student who has trouble in school. This book may look long, but the 50 chapters are each quite short, some only two pages.

Favorite lines: "Stella loved the feel of that table--she loved to trace the circular patterns in the warm brown wood.  Made of elm and built by her father when he married her mother, the table was large, sturdy, and dependable--and so much more than a place for meals. " (from p. 4 of the paperback edition)

Bonus: An excellent discussion-starter about the KKK, segregation, and mistreatment of African-Americans, as well as life during the Great Depression.

Sharon M. Draper's website

Find links to other MMGM posts on Shannon Messenger's blog

Find plenty of diversity posts at Pragmatic Mom and The Logonauts

Read about Multicultural Children's Book Day here

Thursday, January 5, 2017


I'm honored to be part of the blog tour for The Warden's Daughter, Jerry Spinelli's new novel!

The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli (January 3, 2017, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 352 pages, for ages 9 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Cammie O'Reilly is the warden's daughter, living in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Prison. But she's also living in a prison of grief and anger about the mother who died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. And prison has made her mad.
In the summer of 1959, as twelve turns to thirteen, everything is in flux. Cammie's best friend is discovering lipstick and American Bandstand. A child killer is caught and brought to her prison. And the only mother figures in her life include a flamboyant shoplifter named Boo Boo and a sullen reformed arsonist of a housekeeper. All will play a role in Cammie's coming-of-age. But one in particular will make a staggering sacrifice to ensure that Cammie breaks free from her past.

Jerry Spinelli
copyright Elmore DeMott

Why I recommend it: A new novel from Jerry Spinelli is always reason to celebrate. And this lovely historical novel revisits Two Mills, the town (based on Norristown, PA) that was the setting of Maniac Magee, my favorite Jerry Spinelli novel. Like all of Spinelli's novels, The Warden's Daughter is full of heart, sly humor, and gasp-inducing moments of drama. This one is also chock-full of 1959 culture (pedal pushers, crew cuts, convertibles) and of Philadelphia-area details, like Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Tastykakes, and scrapple. (I was born in Philadelphia and now live outside of it and yes, I've eaten scrapple, but I definitely do not like it!).

Cammie is a complex character who really grows on you, a curmudgeon of sorts, a 12-year-old who is not happy. But knowing about her past, you understand her and you feel for her. There are introspective chapters but there's also plenty of action, as Cammie rides her bike all over town and sometimes gets into fights. (There's a reason they call her Cannonball O'Reilly!)

Favorite lines:  "Some kids had tree houses. Some kids had hideouts. I had the Tower of Death." (from p. 35)

Bonus: To hear more about The Warden's Daughter from the author himself, watch this brief video:

Jerry Spinelli's website

Here are the next few stops on the blog tour:

January 6: Book Blather
January 9: Bookhounds YA
January 10: Reviews Coming at YA
January 11: Project Mayhem

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, visit Shannon's blog.

Monday, January 2, 2017


I'm back! Hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year's and I wish you all the best in 2017. Today I'm featuring another Diversity Monday.

Flying Lessons & Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh (January 3, 2017, Crown Books for Young Readers, 240 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the bookjacket):  We need diverse stories. Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos,  first crushes, or new neighborhoods, these stories celebrate the uniqueness in all of us. Award-winning and bestselling middle grade authors Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Pena, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina,  Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson are joined by newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in this anthology partnership with We Need Diverse Books, edited by Ellen Oh. From ten distinct authors come ten unique stories ready for flight.

Why I recommend it: Providing diverse stories for our children (whether it's so they can see themselves, or so they can develop a better understanding of others) is more important than ever in these troubling times.  And these ten stories by a diverse group of middle-grade authors are accessible, fast-paced, and filled with memorable characters. They can be read in little sips (one story at a time) or big gulps (several at a time). They can be read in any order.

I believe that diversity should include more than different racial backgrounds, so, while all these stories are important, I'm also grateful for Walter Dean Myers's story about a boy on a wheelchair basketball team, and Tim Federle's story about gender identity.

Favorite story: These stories are all so fine and so well written that I had a hard time picking out a favorite. Read them all! (However, I admit I may be a bit partial to Kwame Alexander's intriguingly-titled story in verse, "Seventy- Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents".)

Bonus: This is an excellent read-aloud for classrooms or at home, and the perfect conversation-starter with your kids about diversity.

We Need Diverse Books website

Find other diverse children's books at: Pragmatic Mom and The Logonauts

Monday, December 12, 2016


Since November 2016, I've decided to bring more attention to diverse authors and diverse books, because now more than ever #WeNeedDiverseBooks. So this will be one of an occasional series of posts.

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly (March 2016, Greenwillow/Harpercollins, 304 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher):  Soledad has always been able to escape into the stories she creates. Just like her mother always could. And Soledad has needed that escape more than ever in the five years since her mother and sister died and her father moved Sol and her youngest sister from the Philippines to Louisiana. Then he left, and all Sol and Ming have now is their evil stepmother, Vea. Sol has protected Ming all this time, but then Ming begins to believe that Auntie Jove—their mythical, world-traveling aunt—is really going to come rescue them. Have Sol’s stories done more harm than good? Can she protect Ming from this impossible hope?

Why I recommend it:  The author makes us fall in love Sol's 12-year-old girl voice, a voice that's brave and funny and achingly honest. With so many quotable lines, I had trouble coming up with just one favorite.

This book will break your heart into thousands of pieces--and then knit them all back together. A strong sibling bond, good friends, and a kind neighbor lift this contemporary novel up into heartwarming territory, as does the power of Sol's imagination. Sol is so real, you'll want to hug her and buy her some ice cream.

Favorite lines:  When Vea's in a good mood--which is like, never--she brings home extra tartar sauce for Ming.
                          Today wasn't a tartar sauce day.

Find other diverse children's books at: The Logonauts and Pragmatic Mom

Find the author at

Follow her on Twitter at erinkellytweets

Friday, November 11, 2016

Positive things to do

I'm taking a blogging break. 

And during this time I'm going to read every diverse MG book I can get my hands on, that I haven't yet read. Because now, more than ever, We Need Diverse Books!*

Reviews when I return.

*I also donated to them today. If you're frustrated or upset about things, please consider doing something positive. Donate to a charity. Volunteer. Hug someone. Read.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. 

                                                                                                             -- H. L. Mencken

Monday, October 31, 2016

Are you ready????

Happy Halloween! 

by Hugh McMahon as seen on BBC World News
I am registered non-partisan and this photo in no way reflects my opinion on either candidate

Are you ready? No, I'm not talking about Halloween so much as next week (although I think I still have some candy left around here). I don't know about you, but I'm soooo ready for this most bizarre of all US Presidential elections to be over.

Why can't we handle our elections the way Great Britain does and have it all finished within a few months? Better yet, the way Australia does -- in six weeks. Both countries also limit campaign spending. Isn't it high time we did the same?

And speaking of six weeks or a few months, I'm taking a blogging break. Probably for all of November and December. So sorry to miss reading your blogs but I need some time off.  I'm way behind on my writing and reading, and something has to give. I also want to start querying my novel in verse and I need to get cracking on stalking researching agents.

See you on the other side!