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Alex is Reading: Everything Since Children’s Institute

by Alex S

You may remember that a few weeks ago, Amy, Clarissa and I were at ABA/ABC Children’s Institute. This is a young but rigorous conference dedicated exclusively to young people’s literature. There’s always so much going on here that it already feels like an age gone by, but let me tell you: Children’s Institute was really cool, and an energetic bounty for kids’ booksellers among their own very particular kind. I dare to say that we’ve got an amazing kids’ team, and the New England children’s bookselling community is substantial and healthy enough to support a New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council.

Even so, sometimes being really, really into your job of selling and caring for children’s books can feel like less evil version of Uncle Andrew’s “high and lonely destiny.” Wandering the halls stockpiling books, meeting with writers and publishers, and digging into the details of what makes other bookstores work–all with booksellers who love kids’ books as much as you do–is positively dreamy and inspiring.

Aside from a slew of good ideas and wonderful experiences, CI sent me on my way with a fresh bout of reading fever. This is good, because do you know what a bookseller’s to-be-read-immediately-on-pain-of-professional-failure-or-death looks like? AWFUL. LIKE THIS:


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Sometimes these books are in order. Sometimes I deliberately put them out of order so that I am not paralyzed by the conviction that I should read chronologically, when I deeply do not feel like it. Sometimes I read book-book-book-book-book, all in days, and at other times I just stare in horror, start five books in a row, put them all down, wail a little at the stars, and play Kingdom Hearts instead.

However: in the last couple of weeks I have built a new pile, called SUCCESS. Here are some of its favored contents.


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Kristin Cashore’s Graceling is about a girl named Katsa who is preternaturally good at fighting and must root out an insidious political evil while keeping a young princess (literally the best princess of all time) alive. There’s also a hot guy called Po. Pair it with The Hunger Games (not just because of its weirdly similar protagonist names) and with almost anything by Tamora Pierce.  They’re all great places to go for tough girls in fantastic settings, struggling with the violent discord of nations by their own two hands.

The War That Saved My Life was a Newbery Honor book and Schneider Award winner this year, but it was one of my favorites of the year before it got the stickers. Ada’s struggle to work out from under a lifetime of neglect and misery will find kindhearted companions in a couple of my other recent reads. Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale is a quiet tale of devotion, loss, and grabbing onto friendship where you find it.

Erin Entrada Kelly’s The Land of Forgotten Girls is one of my favorites this year, the story of two little girls from the Philippines living with their bitter stepmother in a poor neighborhood outside New Orleans. It’s a thoughtful and willfully nuanced book with kindness filling the cracks, and I wish I’d read it the day it came out.

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner adds a little SFF to this contemporary middle grade mix. In The Seventh Wish, a girl who wants a pricey and beauteous dress for her Irish Dance competition catches a magic fish that grants wishes. Wishes, with and without fish, are complicated when she and her parents find out about her older sister’s emerging drug problem. This one, by the way, has caught flack for its contents. Let me state clearly that this is a child-considerate discussion of a topic that’s close to home for many actual children, and a hopeful story as well.

Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung has a similar tone and sense of earnestness. It’s about a Korean-American girl whose family is frustratingly tight-lipped about their Korean heritage–and the rest, from me, is silence. You don’t want to know why they’re holding back NOW, do you?

Last, Emery Lord’s When We Collided is a YA summer romance with a hint of heaviness. Jonah is a brilliant cook with high hopes for his family’s restaurant. Jonah’s family, recently bereft of their father, is struggling to keep itself in one piece while their mother is sunk into a deep grief. Vivi, new girl in town, is as vivacious as her name–but it sometimes comes with a cost, since Vivi is recently diagnosed as bipolar, and all is not thoroughly under control. I’m cautious about books featuring mental illness, but Vivi and Jonah’s mother are both realistic and complicated people that I’m happy to recommend. The course of Jonah and Vivi’s relationship is sweet and complicated by turns, and in the end, it all feels right.

Not pictured is the audiobook of Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days, which is the first audiobook I’ve listened to in about two years, and which has a great and Shannon Hale-ish happy ending.

Now for the rest of the bookcase.

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