Inspired recommendations for kids from
independent booksellers across the country.

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During times like these we're grateful for the solace and escape of a great book. We're grateful also for your support. We hope you and yours are all safe and sound, and we hope you love these books as much as we do.

In This Issue...

#1 Kids' Next List Pick...

The Project

By Courtney Summers

(Wednesday Books, 9781250105738, $18.99)

"Courtney Summers is back with another electric gut-punch of a novel, and I couldn't be more thrilled to have found myself a quivering mass of emotion after turning the last page of The Project. Only Summers can perfectly encapsulate the dueling states of fragility and ferocity that exist within young women when they find themselves alone in a world that isn't designed to protect them from harm. I dare you to pick up this brilliant novel about two sisters and a mysterious cult--you won't be able to put it down."
--Cristina Russell, Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL

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

(photo: Megan Gunter)

Indie booksellers across the country have chosen Courtney Summers' The Project (Wednesday Books) as one of their top picks for the Spring 2021 Kids' Indie Next List.

When a tragedy pushes her sister Bea to join The Unity Project, Lo Dehnam knows something's off--she just can't prove it. Six years later, Lo, estranged from her sister and working as an assistant at a magazine, finds the lead she's been searching for: a close friend of her boss claims The Unity Project killed his son.

Her investigation grants her the perfect opportunity to find out the truth about what's happened to her sister from The Unity Project's leader himself, Lev Warren. But when every answer she gets upends everything she thought she knew, Lo must decide who she believes--Lev, or those standing against him.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

Most people don't believe they'd join a cult and I wanted to write a novel that really pushed back against that perception. I wanted this book to be fearless in what it asked of readers: to approach the story with the full force of their empathy and to try to see themselves in its pages.

When we meet Lo, she's 19 years old and navigating the complicated world of her first job as an assistant at a powerful magazine, SVO. Can you talk more about bringing a slightly older protagonist and dealing with more "adult" issues into the space of YA?

There's been an ongoing conversation about whether or not The Project is a young adult novel--or at the very least, appropriate for the category--and it's been really interesting to me because there's no doubt in my mind that it is. I feel like the question often stems from a very rigid perception of what constitutes "the young adult experience." The absence of a high school setting and the supporting cast of adult characters is frequently mentioned, as well as Lo being right on the line between adolescence and adulthood, though at 19, she is still a teen. I think the narrower our parameters, the more we run the risk of privileging certain types of narratives and it comes at the expense of, if not outright denies, the truth of how varied, diverse, and, yes, "adult" the teen experience actually is and can be. And that truth represents a place in my work where I refuse to compromise.

Likewise, we also follow Bea's indoctrination into The Unity Project. How did you craft her character?

Bea actually came to The Project in the second--and final--draft and the moment she did, the whole book came together. It was important to have a counter to Lo's brittle nature and her skepticism, and Bea provided that. There was something very lovely and heartbreaking in developing and exploring a character who was willing to be open to this cult because she believed its leader saved her little sister's life after a devastating car accident. I feel a lot of love for Bea and that certainly went into how I crafted her.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

The Project was inspired by Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, so I did an intensive amount of research into the cult's history; its leader, Jim Jones; and its victims and survivors. This included but was not limited to deep dives into academic texts, historical accounts and memoirs, documentaries, lectures, interviews, the FBI's archives... The Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple website was a particularly important and helpful resource while writing this novel.

This book is also set just a few years ago, between 2017 and 2018, during Trump's presidency. Why then?

It was a time of fear, of major instability, one we're still processing and actively recovering from. Peoples Temple was established during a time of national upheaval and that was a huge contributing factor as to why people were compelled to join; they saw Jim Jones and his church as an answer to the helplessness they felt and an opportunity to do things that would make a positive difference. They also saw it as a safe place--or, at least, a safer place than the world they currently inhabited. It's an additional layer of tragedy. The timing of The Project serves its narrative in much the same way. I also wanted this book to feel like it could be a very real moment in our history, and I think if I had been too opaque, I would have given the reader more opportunity to reject the novel's thesis--that they, too, could find themselves vulnerable enough to see The Unity Project as an answer for themselves.

This book is at once a riveting thriller, but also a deep exploration of the ramifications of trauma, abuse, and manipulation. Is there any one thing you'd hope readers take away from this story?

Women are held to incredibly punishing standards with regards to how they react to, cope with, and process their trauma. I've seen this reflected in the response to my work over the years, which frequently explores this topic--people want my characters to have sedate, easily understood, or likable reactions to the trauma they've endured. I think providing narratives that prioritize and honor the pain my characters are going through, instead of making it palatable at their expense, is what I need to do. I want readers to consider how they're engaging with stories exploring trauma and abuse featuring female characters and to unpack what their response potentially reveals about themselves, and how we might unknowingly declare ourselves safe and unsafe spaces for others.   

What role do indie bookstores play in your life?

My work wouldn't be possible without the work of independent booksellers. Being the #1 Kids' Indie Next List Pick for Spring 2021 is certainly a highlight of my career. I'm so grateful for the honor. When you walk into an indie bookstore, you are met as more than just a consumer--you are seen, welcomed, and embraced as a reader. An indie facilitates a lifelong relationship between readers and books through a level of care and personal connection that goes beyond the act of merely selling them.

Can you tell readers what you're working on next?

I can't tell them anything specific but I can promise them this: it's gonna hurt.

Top Picks

Mel Fell

By Corey R. Tabor

(Balzer + Bray, 9780062878014, $17.99)

"This charming, exuberant picture book features Mel, a young kingfisher who has decided that today is her day to learn to fly. As the title suggests, things don't initially go according to plan, but readers will delight in flipping the book around to cheer Mel along as her irrepressible optimism turns 'Mel fell' into 'Mel flew.' With its unusual and fun vertical format, this book has great read-aloud potential."
--Brittany Baker, Trident Booksellers & Café, Boston, MA

As Far As You'll Take Me

By Phil Stamper

(Bloomsbury YA, 9781547600175, $17.99)

"As Far As You'll Take Me is a profound and relatable coming-of-age story about leaving home for the first time in search of true belonging. When closeted, socially anxious, oboe-playing Marty Pierce flees his small Kentucky hometown for London, he reinvents himself, going on to find an LGBTQ-friendly community of musicians and have a meet-cute with a guy coincidentally named Pierce. Stamper's follow-up to The Gravity of Us will resonate strongly with readers struggling to break out of their shell or start over when they feel stuck."
--Alyssa Raymond, Copper Dog Books, Beverly, MA

Red, White, and Whole

By Rajani LaRocca

(Quill Tree Books, 9780063047426, $16.99)

"Don't mind me, I'm just over here crying. What an incredibly beautiful, intense read. I'm in awe of how much LaRocca manages to fit into so few words, from Reha's different friendships to her family connections to all the wonderful retellings of Indian stories. Every single metaphor is perfect, from the moon to the different blood cells. I can see this book being a great tool for writing teachers as well as an inspiration for young readers to look to stories and poetry for comfort in difficult times. A treasure."
--Cecilia Cackley, East City Bookshop, Washington, DC

Down Comes the Night

By Allison Saft

(Wednesday Books, 9781250623638, $18.99)

"Down Comes the Night is a breathtaking debut. Brilliant, healing, and affirming, this gothic fantasy is simply unforgettable. Wren is one of the most empathetic characters I've had the pleasure of reading recently. In a country in the midst of a war, Wren is a healer who puts her predisposed biases behind her in order to save someone she isn't sure is worth saving. I loved every bit of this atmospheric book."
--Cody Roecker, The Novel Neighbor, Webster Groves, MO

Bartali's Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy's Secret Hero

By Megan Hoyt

Iacopo Bruno (Illus.)

(Quill Tree Books, 9780062908117, $17.99)

"Elbows in. Head down. Hoyt's writing puts us right in the saddle of this amazing true story. Striking compositions and sumptuous renderings illuminate the courageous experiences of a dedicated athlete and quiet hero who saved hundreds of lives in WWII but kept it a secret all his life. Sure to inspire another generation to keep their faces to the wind."
--Julie Rowan-Zoch, Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins, CO

Carpenter's Helper

By Sybil Rosen

Camille Garoche (Illus.)

(Schwartz & Wade, 9780593123201, $17.99)

"This sweet children's book features a little carpenter named Renata and two even smaller carpenters in the form of wrens who decide to build a nest in the bathroom Renata and her Papi are renovating. This book will likely generate interest in two hobbies: carpentry and bird-watching! The illustrations are lovely; the little birds come to life on the page."
--Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC

Milo Imagines the World

By Matt de la Peña

Christian Robinson (Illus.)

(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 9780399549083, $18.99)

"I'm in tears. This book is beautiful and necessary. As he rides the subway with his sister, a little boy draws where he imagines the passengers live when they disembark. He realizes it's hard to know what is really going on with people simply by looking at them. The pictures are so simple but beautiful and emotional."
--Robin Stern, Books Inc., San Francisco, CA

More Than Fluff

By Madeline Valentine

(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780593179055, $17.99)

"Cute, adorable, fluffy Daisy duck just can't take it anymore. Everyone wants to hug her, and all she wants is for everyone to stay out of her personal bubble. When her subtle hints don't quite do the trick, Daisy boldly asks her friends for wing bumps, pinky shakes, and high fives. The perfect choice for those kiddos seeking personal space or just someone needing a little 'me' time, More Than Fluff gives young readers the words to ask for what they need."
--Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC

My First Day

By Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien

(Make Me a World, 9780593306260, $17.99)

"I want to climb inside these illustrations and explore them forever. The bold colors and flowing lines bring every page alive and capture readers immediately as we follow a young student on their first day of school along the Mekong River Delta."
--Stephanie Heinz, PRINT: A Bookstore, Portland, ME

Sunny-Side Up

By Jacky Davis

Fiona Woodcock (Illus.)

(Greenwillow Books, 9780062573070, $17.99)

"The images and color palette of this book really help to illustrate the feelings of a rainy day and the joy that can be found in imaginative play. I also love that the father is represented as the caregiver while the mother is the one coming home from a day of work."
--Dana Grimes, Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers, Columbus, OH


By Andy Harkness

(Bloomsbury Children's Books, 9781547604425, $17.99)

"Wolfboy is an edge-of-your-seat suspense story fueled by the all-too-common feelings associated with being hungry. It is a fantastically fun read-aloud with incredible images. The detail of color, texture, and light in the clay sculptures make for amazing spreads. Best enjoyed right after snack time!"
--Meghan Hayden, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury, CT

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids

By Cynthia L. Smith

(Heartdrum, 9780062869944, $16.99)

"Reading Ancestor Approved is like being wrapped in a family hug. While telling stories of the many wonderful Native Nations, it demonstrates the important role family plays. Through each story runs the beauty, resilience, and kindness of Native culture. Each author shares a story that honors their background and gives a glimpse into the wonderful world of the powwow. This book is a fabulous way to introduce children to our Native Nations and the wonders of the powwow. A must-read for 2021."
--Sally Sue Lavigne, The Storybook Shoppe, Bluffton, SC

Brightly Woven

By Alexandra Bracken and Leigh Dragoon

Kit Seaton (Illus.)

(Disney-Hyperion, 9781368015882, $21.99, hardcover; 9781368018630, $12.99, paperback)

"Reminiscent of the whimsical magic of Howl's Moving Castle, Brightly Woven features a strong female lead with a young wizard who is determined to put an end to a magical war. Sydelle's world is flipped upside down when wizard Wayland North takes her on the adventure of a lifetime. Alexandra Bracken weaves a tale of dangerous wizards, crumbling mountains, and buried secrets that is compulsively readable."
--Jessica Dushame, White Birch Books, North Conway, NH

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City

By Stuart Gibbs

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 9781534443815, $17.99)

"Twelve-year-old, super-smart super spy and extreme sportswoman Charlie Thorne is at it again in this heart-thumping sequel! This time, she's in South America racing her way through the Amazon rainforest to track down the priceless treasure Charles Darwin left behind before it's found by a ruthless KGB agent and a team of Italian siblings who've been looking for this treasure their whole lives. Pick this book up only if you're ready to feel sweat on your brow and your heart beating in your chest when you're transported into the biggest rainforest in the world to follow Charlie's adventure."
--Ali Teague, Bookworm of Edwards, Edwards, CO

The Deepest Breath

By Meg Grehan

(HMH Books for Young Readers, 9780358354758, $16.99)

"This sweet story deals with a young girl, Stevie, and the many things she has anxiety about. There are so many things to learn and more come up every day, so Stevie can't keep up--but a lot of us feel the same way! While she learns ways to combat her fears of the darkest parts of the ocean or her struggle learn all the stars and their constellations, she also fights with herself about the feelings she has around her classmate Chloe. An incredibly tender story beautifully told in verse, and dealing with some difficult topics to educate middle graders on, I think this will be an important book to pick up."
--Nichole Cousins, The Yankee Bookshop, Woodstock, VT

Ground Zero

By Alan Gratz

(Scholastic Press, 9781338245752, $17.99)

"As expected, Gratz has delivered another powerful punch with Ground Zero. Brandon's story begins on September 11, 2001, and Reshmina's on September 11, 2019. How do they connect? With devastating narration, they tell their heartbreaking stories. Can they find common ground? Can the world? As we are reminded in the book, this is history for everyone now in school. We adults remember where we were. I was sitting with students who had parents working in the North Tower. Six of those parents never came home. Gratz puts us in the middle of the attacks with horrific accuracy and guides us back to hope."
--Carolyn Roys, Anderson's Bookshops, Naperville, IL

Houdini and Me

By Dan Gutman

(Holiday House, 9780823445158, $16.99)

"Eleven-year-old Harry is obsessed with Harry Houdini. In fact, Harry lives in the house the real Houdini lived in while in New York. When Harry is given an old flip-phone on his birthday, he starts receiving text messages from someone claiming to be the real Houdini contacting Harry from the other side. Is he really Houdini? Is this some sort of prank? Does he really want to change bodies with Harry? What would happen if they do swap bodies? Would Harry be trapped in 1921? A fascinating read for all fans of magic and Houdini."

--Pat Trotter, Bookends On Main, Menomonie, WI

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as Told to His Brother)

By David Levithan

(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9781984848598, $16.99)

"The whole town is in an uproar when Aidan, Lucas's older brother, completely vanishes. When Aidan is found in the attic almost a week later, that concern turns into frustration. None of the adults believe what Aidan is telling them, that he accessed another world through the old attic wardrobe, a portal that has now closed. What Lucas finds hardest to believe is that when Aidan describes the green skies and foreign creatures of Aveinieu, it seems that he would rather be back there than home with his family. A thought-provoking novel of magical realism that leaves much to the imagination in both the ordinary and extraordinary. Bound to become a modern classic."
--Andrew King, University Book Store, Seattle, WA

A Place to Hang the Moon

By Kate Albus

(Margaret Ferguson Books, 9780823447053, $17.99)

"This is a heart-warmer! Three orphaned children, determined to stay together, are sent out of London to the safety of the country during the Blitz. All is not happy, but the library is a refuge. Love for reading and for family combine to make this one of the most satisfying books I have read in a long time. It stands right up with the Penderwicks and the Vanderbeekers, and it is perfect for middle-grade readers."
--Carol Moyer, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC

Amelia Unabridged

By Ashley Schumacher

(Wednesday Books, 9781250253026, $18.99)

"Amelia Unabridged is a love letter to bookstores, books, and the people who cherish them. Amelia is a book for the book lover, and I loved every single second I spent within its pages. It explores grief and loss while also reminding us that words and the stories they create are among life's greatest gifts."
--Isabella Ogbolumani, Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca, NY

The Electric Kingdom

By David Arnold

(Viking Books for Young Readers, 9780593202227, $18.99)

"A thrilling story reminiscent of The Fifth Wave series, The Electric Kingdom has massive appeal for every type of reader. Taking place some years after the Fly Flu has wreaked havoc on the earth, three characters--Nico (along with her dog), Kit, and the Deliverer--work to rebuild life, love, and beauty in the wake of total devastation. Brilliant, compelling, and full of humanity, The Electric Kingdom is a thing of beauty."
--Amanda Hurley, Tombolo Books, St. Petersburg, FL

Game Changer

By Neal Shusterman

(Quill Tree Books, 9780061998676, $17.99)

"Readers who were obsessed with the Scythe series will not be disappointed by Game Changer. Ash is a high school football player who is oblivious to the world around him until he takes a big hit on the field. He enters another dimension where everything is off, from the school mascot to how his friends are treated. If you loved Scythe because of the way it took you into another world with powerful messages, you will be sure to enjoy this."
--Deanna Bailey, Story on The Square, McDonough, GA

The Gilded Ones

By Namina Forna

(Delacorte Press, 9781984848697, $18.99)

"An interesting, immersive fantasy where women are treated as second-class citizens and killed if they are deemed to be impure. This all changes when Deka, deemed impure, survives death and joins the alaki, where she is trained to be an elite warrior in an army of women. With wonderful world-building and adventure, this book is perfect for fans of Children of Blood and Bone."
--Cara Dyne-Gores, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

Love in English

By Maria E. Andreu

(Balzer + Bray, 9780062996510, $18.99)

"This a beautiful YA novel, written from a teenage Argentinian immigrant's point of view, skillfully represents the idiosyncrasies of Americans and sometimes-painful teenage interactions. In addition to the first-person narrative, there are also whimsical 'handwritten' notes Ana takes in her journal as part of her assignment for her English language class. Her musings about being transplanted to a new country and reuniting with her father, who came to America three years before she and her mom could join him, give a wonderfully nuanced perspective."

--Emily Autenrieth, A Seat at the Table Books, Elk Grove, CA

Love Is a Revolution

By Renée Watson

(Bloomsbury YA, 9781547600601, $18.99)

"When Nala Robertson meets the perfect guy at an activism event, she does everything she can to get to know him--including telling a few white lies that slowly but surely spiral out of control. This heartwarming story about honesty and self-love will inspire every young, plus-sized Black woman in the world to own their unique inner strength. Also, the romance is delightfully wholesome and adorable enough to satisfy any fan of the genre!"
--Jason Mills, The Book Bungalow, St. George, UT