Inspired recommendations for kids from
independent booksellers across the country.

In This Issue...

#1 Kids' Next List Pick...

Ghost Boys

By Jewell Parker Rhodes

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 9780316262286, $16.99, available April)

"Ghost Boys is a devastating novel. But it is also hopeful, full of compassion, and a compelling case for the fact that 'we can all do better, be better, live better.' Jerome's story is heartbreaking, and the telling of it is necessary, just as the telling of Emmett Till's story is necessary, though it so often goes untold. Rhodes has crafted a beautiful novel that will facilitate many conversations with young people; Ghost Boys is essential for the middle school classroom as well as for family discussion. This is a novel to be shared with children; read it with them, discuss it with them, and together we can gain the tools we need in order to live better."
--Michelle Cavalier, Cavalier House Books, Denham Springs, LA

#1 Kids' Next List Pick Author Interview...

Independent booksellers across the nation have named Jewell Parker Rhodes' Ghost Boys a top pick for the Spring 2018 Kids' Indie Next List.

Available on April 17 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Ghost Boys tells the story of 12-year-old Jerome, who is slain by a police officer while holding a toy gun. Jerome's death is just the beginning of a novel that blends history and fiction to bring to life a child whose story doesn't end with sound of a gunshot. As narrator, Jerome's ghost witnesses his family's grief and anger and meets the spirit of Emmett Till, another black boy unjustly killed. Lending the novel optimism and hope for the future, Jerome is also able to communicate with, and even befriend, the daughter of the police officer who killed him, calling her to question why a boy her own age was seen as a threat.

Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, Sugar, Bayou Magic, and the 9/11-inspired Towers Falling, as well as a number of fiction and nonfiction titles for adults. She has received numerous honors, including the American Book Award, the National Endowment of the Arts Award in Fiction, the Black Caucus of the American Library Award for Literary Excellence, and more.

Here, Rhodes discusses the process of writing Ghost Boys, the blending of fact with fiction, and other contemporary titles for young readers that are exploring the Black Lives Matter movement.

When did you get the idea for Ghost Boys?

When my editor said, "What about the young black men dying?" I said, "Oh no, no." I didn't think I could do it. But I felt this strong calling, and I kept thinking about it, and how I would do it. It was thrilling to see whether I could become good enough to write the book. It was worth it to give to this generation of kids because they've given me so much in life, and I'm waiting for them to grow up and rule the world and make it a better place. I also started thinking about how I was born the year before Emmett Till was murdered. I remember the Ebony and Jet magazines and seeing the segregation, the civil rights images, and Martin Luther King on our television set with his "I Have a Dream" speech. My son was two years old when the Rodney King beating happened, and I wrote an essay about how my two-year-old who loves Legos could one day be terrified a police officer would beat him. Tamir Rice really hit me in my core. He was from Chicago, like Emmett Till. He was a 12-year-old boy. Emmett Till was 14 years old. If you've ever seen the video of the policemen pulling up to Tamir Rice, the car leaps over the curb, the police officer gets out of the car before it even stops, and fires. You think about tasers. What about warnings? What about "Stop, halt"? What about the fact that they let him lay there as he was bleeding and dying?

There is a powerful moment in Ghost Boys when Sarah, the daughter of the policeman who killed Jerome, looks at him and realizes that they are the same age and size despite her father's description of him as big and scary. What did you want to achieve with that connection?

I knew Sarah and Jerome were going to have this experience, and she was going to have an impact and she was going to bear witness for Jerome's story. When you discover your parents aren't perfect--that they can make mistakes, and they are horrible mistakes--but they are still your parents and you love them, that, to me, is connected to the moment when she realizes that she and Jerome are the same size, and emotionally there is no way to absolve her father. She has hard, concrete evidence in front of her that they are the same size and in the same grade, and that is when she starts becoming an individualized, thinking, critical person, and that's what we want everyone to be. We hope to raise independent thinkers, and that is part of a rite of passage every kid has to make. She makes it in this particularly horrifying and tragic way, and yet that knowledge sets the stage for her to become a person who makes the world better.

Was the process of writing Ghost Boys different or similar to other novels you've written that blend fact and fiction?

I've never written a book the way that I've written this book. It came in fits and starts, and it broke my heart even to do the book. It did not come easy. I finished it in August, and I haven't written anything since. I have had people tell me they think that I've gotten it right, but I've never had a book that caused me so much pain, that took so much time. I never wanted to go to work on the book, but I felt the calling to try to get it right because I'm so saddened by the era in which we live. Why do I get to be in my sixth decade, and having seen the civil rights movement, having seen so much happen, why are we going back to these racially charged times? It gave me an urgency to speak to the kids who are like Jerome and Sarah--forming, growing, and changing and becoming the citizens that will rule our world.

What gave you the idea for allowing Jerome to communicate with the daughter of the police officer who shot him?

I started my career steeped in my grandmother's southern roots--hoodoo folk tale tradition. In the African American community, it's believed the dead are never gone. From the time I was a little kid, talking about ghosts, dreaming about ancestors who were dead, and playing the numbers have been part of my cultural heritage. When I wrote Voodoo Dreams, I went to Louisiana, which had that same tradition. It's all part of the African diaspora. I steeped myself in the African diaspora and the way in which African, African American, African Christian, hoodoo, Catholicism, all that blends and is at the root of a lot of religious traditions celebrated by black people all over the world. I've always believed in the power of the ancestors, that the dead are not gone, that they are still accessible. That's a cultural tradition, and it's linked to many other great cultures.

Sarah, with her dawning awareness of the injustice Jerome and other black boys and men experience and her determination to fight it, humanizes the family of the policeman. Why is her emotional and intellectual arc important to the book?

It's part of the tradition of bearing witness, which is part of African American tradition and a lot of other traditions. The catharsis that comes from telling your story, the healing and the power of it, is very important in the African American heritage. Emmett bore witness to Thurgood Marshall. Thurgood Marshall becomes a great civil rights leader and Supreme Court justice. Jerome is able to bear witness to Sarah. That's how Sarah's life is forever changed, and she is going to carry forth activism in her life. She may be a lawyer, and Jerome can see her being a mom, or she could be a Supreme Court justice--who knows? Only the living can make the world better, and that's Sarah. Her role is vital.

There have been several books published recently that explore the Black Lives Matter movement from a fictional perspective, including Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray) and Dear Martin by Nic Stone (Crown Books for Young Readers). How do you feel your book fits into this effort to explore these themes?

My whole life got me ready to write Ghost Boys in the way that I wrote it. I could not have done it younger. There are differences in all of our books, and they are all needed. There are other 9/11 books coming out, and they are all needed. If you look at my canon that I've done so far, it is me bringing everything I did as an adult novelist--race, class, gender issues, the feminist movement, the civil rights movement--I bring all of that and try to give it all to kids, but in a way that is not patronizing, that is not cheating the process. If I wrote a book that a kid wouldn't read in middle school, then it wouldn't be art. I was meant to write this book. I really believe it.

What are you reading now? Are you working on another book that blends history and fiction?

The book I had on the plane with me was Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge [by Erica Armstrong Dunbar (Atria / 37 INK)]. I had never known this story. Clearly, I love history and historical fiction, but I read everything. I also do a lot of reading for novels I'm getting ready to work on. Right now, I'm reading a lot about fencing because I'm writing a book about fencing. Did you know that Alexandre Dumas was black? The guy who wrote The Three Musketeers was a black man. I discovered this when I was 19 years old. I've been waiting to write this book for a long time. Five years ago, a book came out about Alexandre Dumas' father, who was a Napoléon's finest general. It's called The Black Count [by Tom Reiss (Crown)]. It's believed now that Alexandre Dumas wrote all of his stories based on his father's life, the great fencer and general. Fencing is known worldwide as an elite, white, aristocratic kind of sport, but Alexandre Dumas probably saw the Three Musketeers as black men. Why don't black kids know that?

Booksellers named Ghost Boys a Kids' Indie Next Great Read. What advice would you give to booksellers when it comes to hand-selling your book?

Though I was sad writing it, I don't think this is a sad, sad book. Ultimately, Ghost Boys is about children empowering others to make the world better. My faith is with children. As adults, we think we know everything, but there is a lot we get wrong. This is my song, my story to give kids to tell them we are waiting to hear their words. It's a love song to them. My gratitude to the booksellers is so deep because I know they are nothing but lovers of books, and they are going to be honest and critical, and they have a special responsibility in what books they are going to hand to a child. What better group of people to say, "OK, Jewell, we think you did good." --Julie Moran Alterio

Top Picks

Children of Blood and Bone: The Orïsha Legacy

By Tomi Adeyemi

(Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers 9781250170972, $18.99, available March)

"When Zélie was a child, she saw her mother and all magic wiped from existence with a tyrant's single, sweeping order. Now she finds herself tasked with restoring that magic to the land of Orïsha, with the aid of her brother and that same tyrant's daughter. As Zélie races against time, she reckons with her newfound abilities and the moral complexities they awaken her to. Adeyemi's debut features truly epic world-building without sacrificing the intimate character development that propels the narrative. Every action combines taut pacing with lucid internal monologue, lending each work of magic or physical blow a palpable emotional weight. Stunning, cinematic, and resonant."
--Bill Grace, Buttonwood Books & Toys, Cohasset, MA

The Night Diary

By Veera Hiranandani

(Dial Books 9780735228511, $16.99, available March)

"The Night Diary is a beautifully written and intimate story about the Partition of India. Nisha's letters carefully explore the changes in herself and her family through one of history's biggest forced displacements. Veera Hiranandani's writing and characterization make this intense (and often overlooked) historical atrocity accessible to young readers. Nisha's longing for her mother and search for personal identity in the midst of political struggle are also universal and timely subjects for our contemporary world. A gorgeous book that readers will fall into from the first page."
--Johanna Albrecht, McIntyre's Books, Pittsboro, NC

Like Vanessa

By Tami Charles

(Charlesbridge 9781580897778, $16.99, available March)

"All I can say is thank goodness the '80s are back in fashion, because this gem of a book is best read sitting in front of a TV tray in a recliner. Inspired by Vanessa Williams' 1983 Miss America win, a headstrong and pushy teacher, and a supportive and scheming grandfather, Vanessa Martin braves the small-town pageant circuit, the potential disappointment of her father, and the challenge of being dark skinned. Vanessa touches the dreamer spirit in all of us, and I cheered her on right through to the end."
--Kim Bissell, Broadway Books, Portland, OR


By Junot Díaz

Leo Espinosa (Illus.)

(Dial Books 9780735229860, $17.99, available March)

"Islandborn is a delightful picture book about celebrating your heritage. Lola's teacher has asked the class to draw a picture of their first home. While the whole room grows loud with excitement over what they will draw, Lola sits quietly at her desk. Lola doesn't remember her first home, the Island. How will she draw a picture if she can't remember anything about the Island? With help from her family and neighbors, Lola learns that the Island will always be with her. A great picture book for the whole family, with vibrant illustrations that jump off the page."
--Jen Steele, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

All the Animals Where I Live

By Philip C. Stead

(Roaring Brook Press 9781626726567, $18.99, available March)

"All the Animals Where I Live is a meditative, meandering picture book journey that exalts in the smallest details. Stead's welcoming voice and innovative illustrations are as delightful and gentle as ever."
--Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

Baby Monkey, Private Eye

By Brian Selznick and David Serlin

(Scholastic Press 9781338180619, $16.99)

"Baby Monkey, Private Eye is the cutest beginning reader I have ever seen! Baby Monkey looks for clues, writes some notes, eats a snack, and then puts on his pants (which isn't easy!) before solving each case. Simple words paired with Selznick's detailed art make this adorable book delightful for everyone to read."
--Melissa Fox, Watermark Books, Wichita, KS

Be Kind

By Pat Zietlow Miller

Jen Hill (Illus.)

(Roaring Brook Press 9781626723214, $17.99)

"An excellent picture book about empathy and kindness, both how to show it and how it can be challenging. Simple text and engaging illustrations make this perfect for kids in pre-K to third grade. I think some adults could use it, too. Timely, necessary, yet also heartwarming."
--Kathleen Carey, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, NY

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli

By Kyo Maclear

Julie Morstad (Illus.)

(HarperCollins 9780062447616, $17.99)

"Bloom explores Elsa Schiaparelli's lifelong interest in fashion design, an art that is often dismissed as frivolous. However, Maclear takes her protagonist's artistic journey seriously, even when that art is playful and spontaneous. Watch her create dresses with lobster prints and hats that look like shoes! Through bright, vigorous color and beautifully stylized illustrations, the book readily draws us into young Elsa's perspective. Maclear and Morstad have the rare gift of presenting a biography that truly feels alive."
--Sarah Sorensen, Bookbug, Kalamazoo, MI

Harriet Gets Carried Away

By Jessie Sima

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 9781481469111, $17.99, available March)

"This book, about an adorable little girl who gets too carried away planning a birthday party with her dads, is just what we need right now. Her mission is to find the perfect party hats, but she ends up getting caught up with penguins and must find her way home in time for the party! I highly recommend this author."
--Kate Larson, Liberty Bay Books, Poulsbo, WA

I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness

By Kerascoët

(Schwartz & Wade 9781524769550, $17.99)

"This is a great anti-bullying book precisely because it has no text and so never gets preachy. It leaves it up to young readers to figure out cause and effect for themselves, and the book is all the better for it."
--Billie Bloebaum, Third Street Books, McMinnville, OR

The Rabbit Listened

By Cori Doerrfeld

(Dial Books 9780735229358, $17.99)

"The Rabbit Listened is the story of a toddler who is stumped by the collapse of their play block tower. A number of animals offer Taylor solace and support, but when the child relates the whole incident and ideas for revenge or rebuilding, the fact that somebody simply listens and hears is most inspiring."
--Jilleen Moore, Square Books, Oxford, MS

Wordy Birdy

By Tammi Sauer

Dave Mottram (Illus.)

(Doubleday Books for Young Readers 9781524719296, $16.99)

"I love this book! It has great pictures, a funny story, woodland animals, and a lesson! It's colorful and exciting, and no one's friends abandon them to be eaten by bears even if they talk too much--like really, really too much--and never listen. You should probably read it and then read it again and then read it out loud to someone and then read it out loud to someone else. It's great!"
--Angela Whited, Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul, MN

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire

By John August

(Roaring Book Press 9781626728141, $16.99)

"Lumberjanes meets Stranger Things in the contemporary Colorado mountains. Arlo and his family have lived a transient life since his hacker father fled for China. As a last resort, they move in with weird Uncle Wade in Mom's hometown where the supernatural is very much a part of everyday life. Invited to join the Rangers, Arlo soon discovers his own surprising connection to Pine Mountain and its mysterious, magical woods. Page-turning, funny, fantastical, and engaging, this one is sure to fly off the shelves."
--Summer Laurie, Books Inc., San Francisco, CA

The Book of Boy

By Catherine Gilbert Murdock

(Greenwillow Books 9780062686206, $16.99)

"Boy (not 'boy') is a youngster living in an isolated community following the Crusades. Boy, who has a hump on his back and can speak to animals, grows under the care of Father Petrus, who has taught him to read and care for himself and has protected him from the community. Secundus, a wandering pilgrim, hires Boy to carry his bag on a trek to recover the relics of St. Peter. The tale of Boy begins and ends with wonder and encourages readers to think about who Boy is and how his relationship with Secundus evolves during their quest. An exceptional novel, The Book of Boy is a winner sure to satisfy the curiosity of middle readers of all ages."
--Jack Blanchard, Fairy Godmother Books & Toys, Washington, DC


By John David Anderson

(Walden Pond Press 9780062643865, $16.99)

"Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is no ordinary fairy--she is a Granter, one of the select few whose job it is to venture beyond the boundaries of the Haven and grant the wishes of unsuspecting humans every day. No matter how prepared she believes she is, Ophelia doesn't expect the major adventures she encounters with humans. Readers learn about the importance of our wishes, as well as the difficulties fairies face in getting our wishes granted. Hopefully my wish for a second volume of adventures with Ophelia will come to pass. Highly recommended for all 'wishers' ages seven and up."
--Candace Moreno, San Marino Toy & Book Shop, San Marino, CA

Marabel and the Book of Fate

By Tracy Barrett

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 9780316433990, $16.99)

"Marabel's twin brother, Marco, is the Chosen One, prophesied by the Book of Fate to save the kingdom of Magikos. For Marabel, that means always being in Marco's shadow. But when an evil queen kidnaps Marco on their very important 13th birthday, Marabel knows that she has to rescue her brother. With help from her best friend and a talking unicorn, Marabel treks across kingdoms to find her brother, a journey that teaches her about friendship and fate, good and evil, and that sometimes a different perspective can help you save the day. For fans of humorous fairy tale classics like Ella Enchanted, and for anyone who is tired of waiting around for their day in the sun."
--Melissa Oates, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC

Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans

By Russell Ginns

Barbara Fisinger (Illus.)

(Delacorte Books for Young Readers 9781524720001, $16.99)

"Samantha Spinner feels somewhat slighted when from her (now missing) uncle her sister receives $2,400,000,000, her brother is given the New York Yankees, and all Samantha gets is a ratty, rusty, red umbrella. But when the umbrella is revealed to contain a map with secret passageways throughout the entire world, Samantha feels very, very lucky, indeed. Clever, smart, and sometimes a bit silly, this fun mystery from game designer Russell Ginns also includes a few extra secrets for the especially inquisitive mind."
--Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC

The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1)

By Sayantani DasGupta

(Scholastic Press 9781338185706, $17.99)

"Kiran's 12th birthday is not going well. Her parents have disappeared, there's a rakkhosh demon in the house, and two handsome princes seem to think she's a princess. What follows is a daring adventure through Bengali myths and legends, with a little bit of string theory thrown in for good measure. Action, adventure, comedy demons, embarrassing parents, and a talking winged horse are just some of the highlights of The Serpent's Secret. This book is a lot of fun and a real page-turner."
--Clare Doornbos, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA

The Unicorn Quest

By Kamilla Benko

(Bloomsbury USA Children's Books 9781681192451, $16.99)

"I loved this book. It's so much fun, as well as beautifully and vividly written. I felt like I could really see the story playing out in my mind like a movie. It's perfect for the age range, as well as for adults who enjoy reading these kinds of books. It has pretty much everything that you can ask for out of a book: magic and unicorns. I really loved the bond between the sisters, Sophie and Claire, and am excited to see where the series goes next!"
--Kristen Beverly, Half Price Books, Dallas, TX

American Panda

By Gloria Chao

(Simon Pulse 9781481499101, $17.99)

"American Panda is the cutest book I have read in a long time. Mei's parents want her to become a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer. When Mei goes off to college, she doesn't want her family to find out that she sleeps through biology and hates germs, or that she's met Darren, who is not Taiwanese. Readers follow Mei as she struggles between keeping secrets from her parents and going after what she loves. When she reconnects with her brother Xing, who was estranged for dating the wrong girl, Mei realizes that it might not be worth it to keep her secrets. American Panda is packed with culture, romance, and family."
--Emily Matz, McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI

The Belles

By Dhonielle Clayton

(Freeform 9781484728499, $17.99)

"In a world where people are born gray and sallow, only a Belle and her powers can bring forth beauty. But being a Belle may prove dangerous for Camellia Beauregard, as she discovers in the royal court of Orleans, where secrets and danger lurk behind every sparkling facade. The Belles is a rich, opulent, intoxicating book--reading it feels like eating the most decadent cupcake you've ever tasted in your life. The atmosphere Clayton creates is sumptuous, and her characters are compelling, ambitious, and beautiful, though some only on the outside. I was blown away by this debut novel and can't wait for the author's next gorgeous book."
--Emily Hall, Main Street Books, St. Charles, MO

Blood Water Paint

By Joy McCullough

(Dutton Books for Young Readers 9780735232112, $17.99, available March)

"Artemisia Gentileschi was one of the greatest painters of her generation, but she also lived in 17th-century Italy, where women had no power and little recourse when wronged. When one of her father's friends assaults her, Artemisia must decide whether to keep the secret or force him to face justice, no matter the cost she'll have to pay. Written in gorgeous verse, this book is heartbreaking, brilliant, and tragically relevant today. Read this book even if you don't care about art history. Read this book even if you don't usually like verse novels or historical fiction. Just read this book. It will haunt you."
--Lillian Tschudi-Campbell, The Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul, MN

Heart of Iron

By Ashley Poston

(Balzer + Bray 9780062652850, $17.99)

"The perfect way to sum up this action-packed, heart-wrenching, and humorous book that came out of Ashely Poston's dark and dastardly brain is Anastasia meets Firefly. From the first page, there is action and adventure, with plenty of laughs, gasps, and sighs mixed in. By the end of the book, you will want--and need--more. Seriously."
--Renee Becher, Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins, CO

The Price Guide to the Occult

By Leslye Walton

(Candlewick Press 9780763691103, $18.99, available March)

"Nor's family tree is thorny and full of secrets. Descended from a witch, cursed by her use of black magic, and doomed to enchanted, obsessed love, the Blackburn women have paid for an ancient crime for eight generations. But Nor is different, the ninth generation--her magic is stronger. And she knows she will need all of that power when her estranged mother begins making headlines with public displays of magic. Because magic comes with a price, and it's not counted in dollars. Gripping and dark, this bewitching family drama will have you reading to midnight!"
--Leah Moore, Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, VT

Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles, Book One)

By Tamora Pierce

(Random House Books for Young Readers 9780375847110, $18.99)

"This is the first book I've read by Tamora Pierce, and I now understand why she is referred to as a master of fantasy writing! Tempests and Slaughter tells the story of Arram Draper, a young boy with the potential to become one of the world's most powerful mages. With the support of his three friends--a 'leftover' prince, a clever girl, and an extremely sassy bird--Arram faces the challenges and adventures of student life at one of the most well-renowned universities for young mages. This fun and magical world Pierce has created was such a pleasure to experience!"
--Colleen Regan, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, MA