Bump by Matt Wallace - MG Review

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Have any of your students ever felt like they were participating in something for someone else's benefit? Like they didn't truly belong where they were? MJ was on the gymnastics team and the girls are nasty to her since she isn't participating anymore. Struggling at school, and with issues at home (father leaving), she is finding it harder and harder to fit in at school and find friends. THEN her attention is focused on this wrestling ring in her neighbor's yard. Luca Libre wrestling is something that MJ has watched for a very long time and soon learns that her neighbor runs a wrestling school called Victory Academy. (This soon reminds me so much of Miguel on Cobra Kai, if you have seen the show) MJ's mother is not excited about her desired endeavor, but eventually allows. MJ finds herself immersed in a sport that was everything she needed in that moment, and with a coach that pushes her and she loves it (even the constant bruises and sore muscles from "bumping" - falling onto the floor to avoid injury). MJ lands her first fight and a lot of worry comes in from all directions - even Mr. Corto who has been after the gym for quite some time trying to shut it down (SEE so many Cobra Kai connections your students could be making). MJ has to find strength and courage to battle her own demons while trying to keep the gym from getting shut down. 

Themes for the classroom: family dynamics, sports (wrestling), grief, mystery, "mean girls", persistence, community, finding yourself 

I will absolutely book talk Bump to my students and I know with my demographics I will have a lot of students who are interested. A lot of girls here participate in "boy" type sports. Also, a wide range of my students have knowledge of lucha libre wrestling and I know would love to read just to have something to talk about with their parents. 

Matt Wallace is the Hugo–winning author of Rencor: Life in Grudge City, the Sin du Jour series, and Savage Legion. He’s also penned over one hundred short stories in addition to writing for film and television. In his youth he traveled the world as a professional wrestler, unarmed combat, and self-defense instructor before retiring to write full-time. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Nikki. You can visit him at www.matt-wallace.com.

Wallace notes that BUMP is “the most personal book I’ve ever written.” In the ARC’s author letter, he shares that as a white man, he was inspired by his three Mexican-American nieces and wanted “to write a story in which they could see themselves…a story in which they were the hero.”

Praise for BUMP


"Matt Wallace makes every pro-wrestling fan's dream come true in Bump. Not only does he know his way around a wrestling ring—he'll have you booing at the heels and cheering for the faces, just like you would ringside—but he knows how to tell a story. Middle-school gymnast turned wrestler MJ isn't just trying to find herself, but the courage to be herself, in a world where cliques, cruelty, unfairness, and grief beat you down. But Bump teaches you that, in life and Lucha, there's always a surprise move that can save you from defeat and pin your opponent—and your fears—down."    (Carlos Hernandez, Pura Belprรฉ Award-winning author of the Sal and Gabi series)


"This book did a pile drive on my heart. I was so quickly captivated by MJ as she navigated grief and excitement, fear and joy." (Mark Oshiro, author of Anger Is a Giftand Each of Us a Desert)


“My favorite books have two things: A world I’ve never seen before and a great character to experience it with. Bump delivers both in a heartfelt, powerful way. I loved stepping into the world of small-time professional wrestling with M.J. I winced every time she took a hit inside the ring and out, and I cheered every time she got up. What a great middle-grade debut. I truly cannot wait to see what Matt Wallace does next.”  (Greg van Eekhout, author of Voyage of the Dogs and Cog)


“I love kids with big dreams, and MJ is a heroine to root for. Bump introduces readers to the world of professional wrestling while also telling a story about grief, friends that become family, and finding your voice. An entertaining and heartwarming read!” (Janae Marks, author of From the Desk of Zoe Washington)


Praise for Wallace’s latest release, Savage Legion (July 2020)
"Smart characters and brutal action create an intriguing story about power and the decisions made to keep it." (Library Journal, starred review)

“Cunning plotting and brisk action elevate this impressive tale of swords and super-science... Wallace masterfully subverts readers’ expectations... Readers will be left thoroughly satisfied and eager to know what’s to come.”(Publishers Weekly, starred review)

    With her mom working two jobs, no friends at school, and the loss of her father, MJ finds comfort in her love for wrestling, especially her admiration for the luchadores. When she discovers her neighbor runs a nearby wrestling school, she embarks on the journey to train hard, join the school, and fulfill her dreams. When it finally seems that things are going her way, her talent draws the eye of her neighbor’s enemy at the State Athletic Commission, who threatens to shut down her school. MJ will be put to the test in a fight she hadn’t trained for– one to save the school and her new family. 


Clues to the Universe - Review and Author Interview

 Clues to the Universe

  • ๐Ÿ“š A timely read for today's middle-grade readers, covering tough topics like loss, differences, and imperfect families.
  • ✏๐Ÿ“– Fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Rebecca Stead will love Clues to the Universe.
  • ❄️☃️๐Ÿ‘“ A middle grade must-read for Winter.
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This #ownvoices debut about losing and finding family, forging unlikely friendships, and searching for answers to big questions will resonate with fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Rebecca Stead.

The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.

Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.

Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?

As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.


"Clues to the Universe shines with larger-than-life characters, the power of science, and a friendship greater than any force in the universe. Heartwarming, imaginative, timeless!" (Katie Zhao, author of The Dragon Warrior)

"An achingly beautiful and thoughtfully written debut that will find its way into the heart of readers seeking heart, hope and a sense of wonder."  (Karuna Riazi, author of The Gauntlet)

"With an engaging voice and perfectly lovable characters, Clues to the Universe is a heart-filling journey of hope, healing, and friendship." (Cindy Baldwin, author of Where the Watermelons Grow and Beginners Welcome)

“Christina Li’s Clues to the Universe is a triumphant story of friendship, loss, and the journey of finding your place in the world (and among the stars). A reminder that we sometimes have to travel great distances to find the secrets of what makes life beautiful. A remarkable debut!” ( Pablo Cartaya, award-winning, bestselling author of The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora)

“Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.” (Kirkus Reviews)

An amazing debut that is absolutely beautiful. Such a heartwarming, heart tugging story of two kids searching for different things while slowly finding themselves. Being lost and struggling with that lonely feeling is tough, but to do it in middle school - whew - that can be even tougher. There is a lot of emotion in this book, but it is NOT heavy for middle grade readers. I really loved the deep diving it did into the grief - it was an amazing explanation done differently than any other story I have read. As someone who has lost their father and explored all of those realms, I do like reading stories where kids are exploring their grief and trying to understand and accept. 
Topics/themes covered: STEM, art, grief, friendship, alliance, loyalty, and family 

Highly recommend for your middle grade classes. Would be an amazing read aloud and the content connection with science and art. 



Christina Li is a student studying economics at Stanford University. When she is not puzzling over her stats problem set, she is daydreaming about characters and drinking too much jasmine green tea. She grew up in the Midwest, but now calls California home. Clues to the Universe is her debut novel. Find her online at www.christinaliwrites.com.


Root Magic - Book Tour


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Teacher Review and Classroom Activities
Root Magic was one of the best magical realism/historical fiction stories I have read in a very long time, possibly ever. I was so interested with the story line from the very beginning. Twins Jezebel and Jay are living in South Carolina in the Gullah in the early 1960s. They just lost their grandmother who seemed to have been the root of the family - holding everything together, good and bad. Their father left when they were little and you don't hear much about him until further throughout the story. Their Uncle Doc is now a prime member of the family after their Daddy left to help out their Mama, and offers to teach them root magic after their grandmother's passing. At first it seems to be menial tasks, but as time goes on Jez starts to really learn and dive in to the importance of Root Work and what their family actually does for others - all while simultaneously battling some racist situations with the local deputy who seems to be antagonizing the family more than doing his job. The police often threatened Jez's family, searching property without warning, and generally making them feel unsafe. Jez struggles to find her way in school with root work being a family heirloom, yet Jay doesn't have any trouble keeping friends. 
I really enjoyed the characters, and the climax of the story I started to question and consider prior to the reveal. This is a story that celebrates the life of a Black family, being a part of a community (the good and the bad that come from living in the 1960s), and carrying on folklore traditions. The Gullah folklore mixed in with the historical fictional elements had me hooked. I would not have minded having more of the 1960s incorporated into the text, but as an educator if I were to use this book as a read aloud, that would just open the door to do that research and build upon those situations. This is a great book to discuss how authors write to a specific audience with a general theme/genre in mind - thinking of the magical inserts, the reality that is Jez and Jay's life in school and at home, and growing up as a Black family in the 1960s. 
Highly recommend as a read aloud for 5th-8th. 

About Root Magic


Debut author Eden Royce arrives with a joyous story of love, bravery, friendship, and family, filled to the brim with magic great and small.


It’s 1963, and things are changing for Jezebel Turner. But the biggest change comes when Jez and her twin brother, Jay, turn eleven and their uncle tells them he’s going to train them in rootwork—African American folk magic that has been the legacy of their family for generations.

And it’s not a moment too soon. Because when evil both natural and supernatural comes to show itself in town, it’s going to take every bit of the magic Jez has inside to see her through.


Praise for Root Magic


“Eden Royce’s debut is a spellbinding southern gothic tale of bravery, family, and historic truths that need to be told. Black Girl Magic has never been more powerful.”

Ronald L. Smith

author of Hoodoo


“A terrific, wondrous glimpse of Gullah Geechee culture, richly detailed and inviting. Blending familial and ancestral lore with folk magic, Royce’s novel set in a racist South, resonates powerfully. An original, compelling must-read.”

Jewell Parker RhodesNew York Times bestselling author of Ghost Boys


“A poignant, necessary entry into the children’s literary canon, Root Magic brings to life the history and culture of Gullah people while highlighting the timeless plight of Black Americans. Add in a fun, magical adventure and you get everything I want in a book!”

Justina IrelandNew York Times bestselling author of Dread Nation


“Royce pulls back a curtain and invites the reader to a world within a world, a place in time full of both danger and magic. You won’t just read it; you’ll live it.

Saundra Mitchell, author of Shadowed Summer and All the Things We Do in the Dark


ร™“This richly detailed narrative offers elements of magical realism against a backdrop of social change.”                    Kirkus Reviews

"South Carolina comes to life in this middle grade debut filled with magic and heart."

Publishers Weekly


"There is power in allowing people to tell their own stories and not only power, but nuances that could never be captured by an outsider. Eden Royce gives us a radiant example of this needed phenomena in ROOT MAGIC."

FIYAH Literary Magazine


About the Author

Eden Royce is from Charleston, South Carolina, and is a member of the Gullah Geechee nation. Her short stories have appeared in various print and online publications, including Fiyah, and she is the recipient of the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Diverse Worlds grant. Root Magic is her first book. Eden now lives in England with her husband and cat. You can find her online at www.edenroyce.com.


ROOT MAGIC by Eden Royce



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IMWAYR: 1.11.21


Amari and the Night Brothers Review

Thank you B.B Alston for the opportunity to preview your upcoming novel Amari and the Night Brothers


Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

(Snips of reviews from Goodreads)


From the beginning, the cover grabbed my attention immediately. The radiating of black girl magic coming though is truly amazing. I could not wait to get my hands on a copy of this book. 

Amari is a very strong will character and she is determined to find her brother, Quinton, who has gone missing. She believes he is still alive and she will not rest until she finds out what happened to him and why he is missing. That's where the magic comes in when Amari finds out that her brother has left her a secret message that could only be delivered if something happened to him. Quinton ends up recommending Amari as a recruit for the top secret magical agency he works for called the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. When Amari is accepted as a trainee, she struggles as an outsiders. She doesn't come form privilege or a long line of previous agents. I had all the feels for Amari as time and time again she faced prejudice from adults and peers. Luckily others doubts didn't stop her from doing her best to live up to her brother name and fame as she learns all about the history of the bureau. 

Amari is now one of my favorite characters. She doesn't let her circumstances get in the way of her success and that will definitely be inspirational to all readers.  Her personality shines especially when she makes friends with her roommate who also at times is excluded by peers. Overall Amari is strong-willed, courageous, and a good person that everyone will want to be like. Amari is a character I would want to meet in person. Outside of all the turmoil that Amari experiences throughout the book, she is able to create the most amazing friendships. As you read...one of them may be too good to be true! This shows she does have peers and even adults (agents at the bureau) that are looking out for her best interest. 

I really loved reading this book and I was so sad for it to come to an end. I will be anxiously waiting the arrival of book 2 (next year probably!) As soon as you open this book, it's magic grabs your attention and keeps you wanting more with every turn of the page. You will not be disappointed after reading B.B Alston's debut novel Amari and the Night Brothers!

What inspired you to write a young, female, black protagonist?

As soon as I decided I wanted to write about a kid from my own background (Black & from modest means), Amari popped into my head pretty much fully formed. I instantly knew what she looked like, what she sounded like, and how she sees the world. It was like she had been there all along, just waiting for me to have the courage to put her front and center. She’s got a lot of me in her, but also a lot of the girls I grew up with too.


Why did you decide to tell Amari’s story as a supernatural fantasy?

Fantasy books are easily my favorite reads. Those are the stories that have always captured my imagination and sparked my sense of wonder. But when I was growing up, there just weren’t any fantasy books about Black kids. And so, I began to believe that I didn’t belong in my own imagination. By putting Amari into a story like this, it’s my hope that kids get to see that anyone can be the hero of their own stories—even magical ones.

Did you know this was going to be a series when you started writing it?

I did! I envisioned Amari’s journey as a big, magical tale playing out over multiple books but it was just as important to me that the first book told a complete story with a satisfying ending. The fun thing about the sequels is that you get to see Amari continue to grow as a character while also getting the opportunity to further explore all the strange and fantastical ways the known world and the supernatural world interact.  

You introduce a lot of wonderful creatures and magical elements in your book – what was your favorite part about the world-building process?

The supernatural world in Amari and the Night Brothers is one in which all supernatural creatures exist. And while that premise is pretty exciting to write in itself, what made it really fun was to put my own spin on these supernatural creatures that people are already familiar with. So for instance, the Sasquatch isn’t just a furry monster that roams the forest, in Amari and the Night Brothers, he’s actually a woodland real estate agent to the stars with an impeccable taste in fine clothing.


AMARI addresses important themes of racism, classism, and discrimination – flipping the script on the “chosen one” plots we normally see as she is ostracized in both the real and magical realms. How did you come up with the parallel set up?

The idea of otherness—how we treat people we deem to be different than us—is a major theme in the story. And just being a minority, especially a poor minority, means you’re automatically an “other” in so many settings and situations. Add to that the common trope of the “chosen one” being an outsider, and it was an easy parallel to make. The biggest message I hope people take away from the book is to be kind to one another and to be kind to yourself. Amari learning to both believe in and accept herself is the major emotional arc of the story.


You were planning to pursue medical school when on a whim you pitched your book on Twitter through #DVPit and AMARI took off from there. What advice do you have to fellow fledgling authors out there who doubt the possibility of writing as a career?

My biggest advice would be to never give up. That can be easier said than done, especially when those rejections start piling up, but you’ve got to remember that it only takes one yes for your dream of being a published author to come true. Even if you get to a point where it’s no longer possible to make writing your primary focus, carve out as much time for it as you can. Getting published isn’t a race and you’re never too old. Just keep writing.

The book immediately sold film rights with Universal Pictures, Don Cheadle and Marsai Martin on board. Did you envision AMARI getting the silver screen treatment when you were writing it?

Amari and the Night Brothers becoming a movie was always one of those things I dreamt about, but never actually thought would come true. Some dreams just feel too big! And this was one of them. I’m eternally grateful for the Hollywood interest the book has generated and I’m excited to get a behind-the-scenes look at how a movie gets made.


Since this is a trilogy, we know Books 2 and 3 are coming but do you already have other stories in your head that you hope to pursue?

I’ve got so many stories I want to tell! Definitely more middle grade fantasy, but I’d love to do some YA too. I’ve become a big fan of the YA thriller genre recently, with all the twists and page-turning suspense. That’s got to be incredibly fun to write.


About the Author:

B. B. Alston started writing in middle school, entertaining his classmates with horror stories starring the whole class where not everyone survived! After several years of trying to break into publishing, he had just been accepted into a biomedical graduate program when a chance entry into a twitter pitch contest led to his signing with TBA, 20+ book deals worldwide, and even a film deal. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweets and exploring country roads to see where they lead.


B. B. was inspired to write AMARI AND THE NIGHT BROTHERS because he couldn’t find any fantasy stories featuring Black kids when he was growing up. He hopes to show kids that though you might look different, or feel different, whatever the reason, your uniqueness needn’t only be a source of fear and insecurity. There is great strength and joy to be found in simply accepting yourself for who you are. Because once you do so, you’ll be unstoppable.


This books is currently available for preorder and will be published on January 19, 2021!


Eyes that Kiss in the Corners - Review


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January 5 


A young Asian girl notices that her eyes look different from her peers'. They have big, round eyes and long lashes. She realizes that her eyes are like her mother’s, her grandmother's, and her little sister's. They have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons, and are filled with stories of the past and hope for the future.

Drawing from the strength of these powerful women in her life, she recognizes her own beauty and discovers a path to self love and empowerment. 

This powerful, poetic picture book will resonate with readers of all ages and is a celebration of diversity


  • A picture book that is both stunning and lyrical, telling a story about diversity and loving yourself as you are.

  • Shares the same spirit as Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

  • This book is a perfect for teaching young readers to be confident and to not judge others who look different.


This is a beautiful book celebrating Asian culture. The book hones in on the beauty that is the character's eyes, how they are just like her other family. members. The close relationships between her and her family members brings a lot of warm fuzzy feeling. The words are irresistible and the illustrations paint a story of love that is emulates such brightness and empowerment. The book is relatable in so many ways to students, but as an #OwnVoices title it will bring so much comfort to those who need it. This book is an affirming story for Asian American children. I love the idea of pairing with Where Are You From? and Hair Love that Jillian Heise suggested.

About the Author:

Joanna Ho is passionate about equity in books and education. She has been an English teacher, a dean, and a teacher professional development mastermind. She is currently the vice principal of a high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. Homemade chocolate chip cookies, outdoor adventures, and dance parties with her kids make Joanna’s eyes crinkle into crescent moons.

Additional forthcoming titles include:

·        Playing at the Border: A Story of Yo-Yo Ma, illustrated by Teresa Martinez (Picture Book, Fall 2021) – a timely and timeless story that honors immigrants and inspires action, recounting Ma’s performance of Bach’s cello suites at the border between Texas and Mexico in 2019.

·        The Silence That Binds Us (YA, Summer 2022) - After her popular older brother’s death by suicide, racist accusations are hurled against 16-year-old May, her Chinese American parents, and other Asian families for putting too much “pressure” on their kids. May attempts to challenge the racism and ugly stereotypes through her writing, only to realize that she still has much to learn and that the consequences of speaking truth to power run much deeper than she could have foreseen. 

·        One Day, illustrated by Faith Pray (Picture Book, Winter 2023) - a tender ode from mother to son that weaves in nuanced themes of anti-toxic masculinity that will empower both readers and listeners to be more fully themselves. 

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About the Illustrator:

Dung Ho was born and raised in Hue Imperial City, Vietnam, where she studied graphic design at the Hue Arts University. She finds inspiration in nature—the beauty of plants, flowers, and leaves. She also loves to draw interesting characters with unique personalities. Now she lives in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where she continues to learn and develop her art, something she loves doing. When she’s not drawing, she loves spending time cooking (eating), watching movies, and tending her plants

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