Books to Devour

It's one of my favorite weeks of summer- Shark Week. 

Last summer Cassie featured PBs about my favorite carnivore. This summer I chose 10 books for middle grade and teen readers. If you only read one of these books, make it The Line Tender! A beautifully written book about a girl struggling to move beyond her grief-have the tissues ready.

With the release of The Meg last year, my eighth graders gravitated towards nonfiction books about this ocean predator. The Devil's Teeth, Emperors of the Deep, and Fatal Voyage are technically written for adults, but they're compelling books that my students love. 

Happy reading!


IMWAYR-July 22, 2019

I still have a long list of items to cross off of my summer to-do list...a whole lot of books in my TBR pile. Last week I knocked off some adult titles like On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous and The Unhoneymooners, and now I'm back to all MG and YA! 


Author Interview: Victoria J. Coe

Q. Tell us about your book, specifically the story behind the titles.

A. FENWAY AND HATTIE (Putnam 2016)
A dog named Fenway and a girl named Hattie move from their apartment in the city to a home in the suburbs where everything is different. And while they both face problems, you only get Fenway’s side of the story because the whole book is told from his point of view. So readers have to figure out what’s happening from Hattie’s side of things, which I think/hope makes it super fun to read!

In this first sequel, both Fenway and Hattie struggle with friendship triangles. And even worse, a neighbor’s pet bunny – who may or may not be part of the evil gang who destroyed the garden - threatens to come between THEM!

Hattie’s magician Nana is coming to visit and Hattie wants to learn her own magic tricks to impress her. But when Fenway gets hurt, she starts playing tricks on HIM! Poor Fenway begins to wonder if he can still trust his beloved girl...

Fenway and Hattie are excited to go on a group camping trip as part of a back-to-school tradition. But as they meet all the new kids and dogs, they find that some of them are not very nice. And when there’s trouble at their campsite, they realize that surviving the wild might be as tough as wanting to fit in.

Q. What is your inspiration behind the Fenway and Hattie series?

A. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that there are at least two sides to every story. From the time I was in elementary school, I LOVED reading books told from different perspectives or multiple perspectives. It’s so cool to realize our own perspective isn’t the only one out there and there’s no “one way” to make sense of the world.

Having said that, I didn’t think I could write a book like that because it would be too hard. But I decided to pursue the idea of writing from a dog’s POV when our own dog freaked out as we were moving, and I started to wonder what was going through his mind.
Turns out that my fear about its being too hard was very well-founded! But like my main character, I never give up. Happily, two years and four major rewrites later, the manuscript that became Fenway and Hattie finally emerged.

Q. What are some challenges unique to writing animal fiction?

A. How long is this blog?!  Really, I usually feel like I’m trying to write with both hands tied behind my back. There are SO many things about humans that animals – even those who live with people – don’t understand or that wouldn’t register with them.

So the challenge is to create scenes that most readers will be able to figure out from clues. It’s kind of “show, don’t tell” to the extreme.

And then, all the usual elements of writing fiction still apply – both the animals and humans need to have problems and story arcs along a relatable theme like love, jealousy, trust, or how to be a good friend, and the story needs to come to a satisfying conclusion. It’s a lot like making a really complicated puzzle!

Q. What makes your books a perfect fit for middle grade classrooms?

A. So many things! I’ve heard over and over that the Fenway and Hattie books strike a good balance.  The stories are so fun and funny and lively that they easily engage those on the younger end of the middle-grade range, while the inference aspect and of course the humor make them appeal to older readers, too.

Plus, kids love dogs. And Fenway’s a pretty loveable dog!

Q. What does your daily writing life look like?

A. From the time a story idea sparks to the time it’s completely finished, I never stop thinking about it. I do set daily goals for myself and I also like to mix them up. I find that variety stretches my creativity. So sometimes I’ll go for a certain number of pages each day; other times I’ll set a timer and write for a certain number of minutes.

I also like to bring my laptop on the subway or to places where I know I’ll have to wait like airports. It sure makes the time fly!

Q. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

A. My favorite part of writing is getting to the end. And yes, that’s a serious answer! Getting the whole story out of my head and onto the page is an amazing feeling of accomplishment. Plus, it’s so gratifying to see my characters end up where they need to end up. I’m like a proud mama!
My favorite part of being an author is visiting elementary schools. So much of writing is solitary – even if I’m writing on a crowded airplane. I just love getting out and connecting with readers, listening to them, feeling their energy – it’s always the best day ever. I might get even more out of school visits than the kids do.

Q. Future projects you are working on?

A. I have a couple of projects in the works right now. Too early to know if they will become books someday, but I’m working my tail off to make sure it happens!

Q. What else would you like us to know?

A. Fenway and Hattie was a Global Read Aloud book in 2017, and I’m always excited to hear that teachers are reading it aloud and having lots of great discussions about POV and inference.
Today, Fenway and Hattie is a popular One School, One Book, and a Read To Them “Sweet Spot” selection. You can find out more at, and if you do choose my little pup for a community read, please let me know!

Many teachers and librarians have asked me if Fenway and Hattie is coming out in Spanish, and now I can finally say YES! It will be published in paperback by Penguin on 12/31/19 and is available for preorder now. All the info is posted at

Almost everything you could ever want as well as many things you didn’t know you wanted can be found at, and on the Fenway and Hattie resource padlet, Seriously! There’s 25-part series of writing videos for all ages, book trailers, activities and games including write about,, and buncee, interviews, podcasts, complete school visit info, a “how-to” for adapting #booksinthekitchen for your classroom using flipgrid, and of course, news and book ordering information.
If we’re not already connected, I hope teachers and school librarians will consider staying in touch by signing up for my periodic newsletter where I share news, special offers, secret info, and contests. Last year, two classrooms won the chance to name characters in my new book! Find the sign-up form at:

I love hearing from educators, parents, and readers! Aside from my mailing list and, you can find me on twitter or instagram @victoriajcoe, and on my web series with Elly Swartz, #booksinthekitchen at Let me know what you’re up to!

I’m so in awe of all the educators and librarians who nurture and inspire kids every day. You are changing lives and making the world a better place. Thank you for allowing me to be part of the great work you do. You are my heroes!

Your fan,

Victoria xox


Jarod Rosello - Red Moon and Panda Bear Review

This will be a perfect addition to the graphic novels in my classroom. I found myself laughing out loud at many parts. I can see my students now loving the adventure, the monster fighting, and the relativeness of being kids going to save the world. I can't wait to put this book on my shelves! 

Two Latinx kids battle supernatural threats to their working-class neighborhood with the power of science, magic, and a pair of very special hoodies.

Red Panda and Moon Bear are the defenders of their community! Together, these brave siblings rescue lost cats, scold bullies, and solve mysteries, all before Mami and Papi get home. But lately... the mysteries have been EXTRA mysterious. All of RP and MB's powers may not be enough to handle spooks, supervillains, alien invaders, and time warps! It'll take all their imagination -- and some new friends -- to uncover the secret cause behind all these events before the whole world goes crazy.

In his first book for young readers, Cuban-American cartoonist Jarod Roselló presents a whimsical and tender-hearted adventure, packed with Saturday-morning action and glowing with Caribbean sunshine.

Q: Tell us about your book, specifically the story behind the title.
A: Red Panda & Moon Bear is a middle-grade graphic novel about two
Cuban American siblings who put on magic hoodies and protect their
neighborhood from evil. There’s no real good reason why the characters
have the names they have, except that when my son was born, we
inexplicably called him Moon Bear, and when my daughter was younger,
we thought she kind of resembled a red panda. Storytelling isn’t
always a logical endeavor, but one that’s often inspired by feelings that
don’t always make a lot of sense. 
Q; How would you describe the process of creating a graphic novel? 
A: It’s pretty messy and chaotic. There’s a kind of dialogic movement
between drawing and writing. I usually start with some character ideas,
things that just emerged in my sketchbook. If I stick around with a
character enough, a story begins to emerge from that character:
who they are, what they way, what they’re afraid of. And that’s how
a story begins. I try to sit down and write out a very brief synopsis,
just something to organize my thoughts on what kind of story I might tell.
Then I create thumbnail sketches, or a visual storyboard for how I
might tell this story. This is where the real writing in comics happens,
where the design of the panels and pages takes place. I’ll usually do a
couple revisions of these thumbnails, then I draw it all out in pencil on
large sheets of bristol board. Once I’ve drawn the entire book, I go back
and ink it. Each time I revisit a page, I revise it a little bit, tweaking the
images and the text. Then I scan it into the computer, and clean it up and
color it digitally, and prep the pages to be printed. It’s a long process, and
it requires rewriting or revisiting the book over and over again, in its various
Q; How big of a part does your culture play in writing? 
A: Who we are as people is integral to our writing process. I was
born in Miami, raised by my Cuban family. I grew up on the border
between cultures, histories, and languages, and so I see and
understand the world in this way. Borderlands can be dangerous
and fraught places, but they’re also places with incredible potential:
where worldviews overlap, where knowledge and understanding is
expanded and tested. There’s a kind of magic to weaving between
and among cultures. And this setting is present in just about everything
I write. I’m really interested in what it means to live in places like these,
how to survive and how to flourish there. Red Panda & Moon Bear takes
place in a fictional town, Marti, that’s a lot like Miami, and the book draws
much of its magic and power from the setting. 
Q; What are some challenges unique to create graphic novels? 
A: I started my creative journey as a prose writer, and moved over into
making comics. Or, I guess, I came back to drawing as an adult. One
of the greatest challenges for me is I have to be able to physically draw
what I’m imagining. When I’m writing, as long as I’ve got the words and
the names for what I want to say, I can figure out how to tell that story.
But drawing requires my hands and body to participate in more involved
ways. Creating comics is a negotiation between the story I want to tell,
and the story I’m capable of telling. I don't’ just illustrate what I’m thinking,
but I let my hands and drawing tools show me the stories to tell. I think
that’s why my comics always start from the sketches in my sketchbook,
and grow out of that space. With every comic I make, my drawing abilities
get better, and I’m able to tell more stories in new ways. 
Q; What makes this book a perfect fit for middle grade classrooms?
A: Red Panda & Moon Bear is a Saturday morning cartoon in book form.
It’s about kids playing and having fun, about the bonds between siblings,
and about defeating monsters and solving crimes. I wasn’t a huge reader
when I was in middle school, but I really loved animation. I was drawn to
the silly and absurd and the charm of the cartoon character. I know a lot
of kids, especially in middle grade classrooms, feel this way. This book
emerges from that space and uses the visual language of childhood to
tell a story. 
Q; What is the biggest takeaway you want kids to get from your stories? 
A: My daughter is 8 years old, and she always says that in the books
and movies she watches, the adults never listen to the kids, and the kids
are always right. I think when it comes to stories about monsters and
cartoon characters and about impossible things happening, adults really
ought to listen to kids. This is their world, one we’ve conditioned ourselves
to try to explain away or resist. I hope kids read Red Panda & Moon Bear
and feel affirmed. This is a book where not only the kids are right, but the
adults go to them for help. I hope Latinx kids see themselves represented
in these pages, and not as disadvantaged or struggling, but as happy kids
who are strong and capable. I hope kids are inspired to use the visual
language of comics (that already belongs to them) to make their own stories,
however silly, strange, or sad they might be. 
Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A: As a storyteller, I not only have the ability to reflect culture, but
to help make it.  Stories don’t just show us who we already are,
they contribute to our collective imagination about who we could be.
And this is what motivates me most to write. I believe very strongly
that if we want to make a better world to live in, we have to be able
to imagine what that world might look like first. And I think this is
one of the jobs of the storyteller:  to contribute to that imagination,
to help forge the path forward. It’s wonderful, but it also means
that writers have a responsibility, not just to their readers, but to
the rest of the world, too. If we want to put our stories out in the
world, then we have to be responsible to that world. 

Cuban-American cartoonist/writer. RED PANDA & MOON BEAR (), THE WELL-DRESSED BEAR () PhD. Literacies researcher.


IMWAYR -- July 15

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard. 

With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.

When Frankie’s mother died and her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago, it was supposed to be only temporary—just long enough for him to get back on his feet and be able to provide for them once again. That’s why Frankie's not prepared for the day that he arrives for his weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket.
Now Frankie and her sister, Toni, are abandoned alongside so many other orphans—two young, unwanted women doing everything they can to survive.
And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to Frankie to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America—every minute of every day spent wondering if the life she's able to carve out will be enough.
I will admit I do not know the answer. But I will be watching, waiting to find out.
That’s what ghosts do.

Wherever the sharks led, Lucy Everhart's marine-biologist mother was sure to follow. In fact, she was on a boat far off the coast of Massachusetts, collecting shark data when she died suddenly. Lucy was seven. Since then Lucy and her father have kept their heads above water--thanks in large part to a few close friends and neighbors. But June of her twelfth summer brings more than the end of school and a heat wave to sleepy Rockport. On one steamy day, the tide brings a great white--and then another tragedy, cutting short a friendship everyone insists was "meaningful" but no one can tell Lucy what it all meant. To survive the fresh wave of grief, Lucy must grab the line that connects her depressed father, a stubborn fisherman, and a curious old widower to her mother's unfinished research on the Great White's return to Cape Cod. If Lucy can find a way to help this unlikely quartet follow the sharks her mother loved, she'll finally be able to look beyond what she's lost and toward what's left to be discovered.

★"Confidently voiced."—Kirkus Reviews, starred
★"Richly layered."—Publishers Weekly, starred
★"A hopeful path forward."—Booklist, starred 
★"Life-affirming."—BCCB, starred
★"Big-hearted." —Bookpage, starred
★“Will appeal to just about everyone.” – SLC, starred
★"Exquisitely, beautifully real."—Shelf Awareness, starred

In book three of the popular Jumbies series, Corinne must use her emerging supernatural powers to battle the angry god who would destroy her Caribbean island home.

When an out-of-season hurricane sweeps through Corinne’s seaside village, Corinne knows it’s not a typical storm. At first Corinne believes Mama D’Leau—the powerful and cruel jumbie who rules the ocean—has caused the hurricane. Then a second, even more ferocious storm wrecks the island, sending villagers fleeing their houses for shelter in the mountains, and Corinne discovers the storms weren’t caused by a jumbie, but by the angry god Huracan.

Now Corinne, with the help of her friends and even some of her enemies, must race against time to find out what has angered Huracan and try to fix it before her island home is destroyed forever.

NYT Bestselling series! Harlem’s favorite family returns in the third installment in the Vanderbeerkers series, wherein the Vanderbeeker kids find themselves racing to save their mother’s baking business from city closure. Illustrated with delightful black and white illustrations.

For the Vanderbeeker kids of Harlem’s 141st Street, spring break couldn’t be off to a better start. Isa’s back from band camp, Oliver’s building his first-ever treehouse in the backyard of the brownstone, and Laney, Jess, and Hyacinth are excited to help their mother when she gets the once-in-a-lifetime chance to star in a cooking magazine.

But the Vanderbeekers’ plans go off the rails when an unexpected visit from city officials puts their mother’s bakery in jeopardy. Now they’ll have to band together to save the day before they’re out of business. Perfect for fans of The Penderwicks and Front Desk.

This deeply sensitive and powerful debut novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old who must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.

There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.

What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?

*All images are clickable affliate links to Amazon - today during Prime Day you can use code PRIMEBOOKS15 for $5 off $15! :) 


The Oddmire: Book One - Changeling

*Out July 16!!

I knew the minute I saw the cover for Changeling I wanted to read it! I am a sucker for all things magic and adventure, but as I read I realized more and more that this story was about family and what exactly we would do as individuals to be there for our family. The characters, not only the boys - but their mother, were very well-developed, so much that I intend to pull out behaviors and decisions as mentor texts in my classroom. They're very easy to like - or dislike - if the character you enjoy is the one turning, or isn't.

The Oddmire, Book 1: Changeling is a must-read. It is filled with magic, adventure, and curiosity. The storyline follows twin brothers, Tinn and Cole, who set out on an adventure for self-discovery (yes, one of the twins is actually a goblin, but neither truly knows who is the real goblin!). This was a fantastic read and filled with fantasy and folklore; as well as mystery and a some spooky-ness. 

I already decided from the first few chapters in that I would be recommending this to my Harry Potter, Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Serafina, Dark Deep - plot type lovers. 

William Ritter is a YA author who transitioned his writing over to MG - I have to say, I haven't read any of his YA, so I am only judging based off this new MG series, but I already know it's going to be a favorite series for my fantasy and even spooky book lovers. 

*affiliate link

Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the fateful night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted from his task. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart. Not knowing which to bring back, he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. Then when they are twelve years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave behind their sleepy town of Endsborough and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, crossing the perilous Oddmire swamp and journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and discover who they truly are.

William Ritter is an Oregon author and educator. He is the proud father of the two bravest boys
in the Wild Wood, and husband to the indomitable Queen of the Deep Dark.The Oddmire is Ritter’s
first series for middle-grade readers. He is also the author of the New York Times bestselling,
award-winning Jackaby series for young adult readers. Visit him online at and find him on Twitter: @Willothewords.