Inspired recommendations for kids from
independent booksellers across the country.

In This Issue...

#1 Kids' Next List Pick...

Dread Nation

By Justina Ireland

(Balzer + Bray 9780062570604, $17.99, available April)

"Dread Nation is not just a zombie story; you could have weeks of book group meetings and still be talking about it. Ireland is an author to keep your eyes on. She writes with meaning, intention, and spark. Her characters leap off the page and demand attention. In Ireland's tale, the world is crumbling, racism is making a fierce comeback (if it every really left), and you won't be able to help drawing connections to recent current events."
--Clarissa Murphy, Papercuts J.P., Boston, MA

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

Independent booksellers across the country have selected Dread Nation, the new YA novel by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray, April 18) set in an alternate version of Reconstruction-era America, as a top pick on the Spring 2018 Kids' Indie Next List.

In Dread Nation, the course of the Civil War is derailed when Confederate and Union soldiers start to rise from the dead--a drastically different American history than the one we know. In the year 1880, Jane McKeene is one of many children of color mandated by the government to attend combat school to learn how to kill zombies for the upper classes. But this world has more in store for the strong-willed Jane, whose tendency to question authority leads her into battle with enemies both alive and undead.

Ireland lives with her husband, child, and dog in Pennsylvania and is the author of two other YA novels, Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows (both S&S Books for Young Readers). We spoke with Ireland about the intersection of history and zombies in her new book, for which she already has a sequel in the works.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

The first draft I wrote was after I read the graphic novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies [by Seth Grahame-Smith, Quirk Books], and I was struck by the idea of these women going and fighting zombies in these very corseted gowns. It made me laugh because that's not how it would be! That's not how it would be in any time period, because if you're upper class, usually you'd have the lower classes to do the menial labor for you.

So the draft was just there on the back burner, and then when Mike Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, I saw how people took sides and how this fissure in our society was revealed for what it was. It was like a wakeup call, and it gave me a whole new direction for the story: to analyze those ideas of race and power and how that manifests in day-to-day life, not just in Jane's world but also in our own.

What was your research process for the historical aspects of the book?

My bachelor's degree is in history, so history has always been a part of my life. I live not that far from Gettysburg, so I did a lot of research on the Civil War and how people were spread out during that time. I looked at population maps from that time period to understand what would actually happen if there was this massive plague or zombie apocalypse.

I also read a lot of documents from the Freedmen's Bureau [the government agency that provided resources for former slaves], which was active during Reconstruction, and about the Native American boarding schools established by the federal government's Bureau of Indian Affairs in the late 1800s [which separated children from their tribes and sent them to special government schools]. This structure was promoted as a way to benefit Native Americans but really benefitted the people who ran the schools. Churches got federal funding; local people got free labor. There was a lot of abuse that happened as well. I wanted to take something that from the outside might look like a good idea but from the inside was rotten at its core and build upon that parallel. That's how I came up with the idea of this high-end finishing school for black girls to kill zombies, because it fit into what we know of our own history at that time.

Was this the first time you've written about a historical topic?

My first two books use the lens of Greek mythology to look at different ideas, but I think in those books I was trying to hew closer to commercial ideologies and make something that I thought people would want to read. With this book, I felt like I wrote something that people needed to read. I did try to tackle important ideas in the book, but mostly I'm hoping that people bring their own experiences to the story and learn to think about something in a new way.

Now, especially, as we look at how socially active teens are, like following the Parkland shooting and with Black Lives Matter, I think we do need to give younger readers a way to take these big ideas and ingest them and look at them critically. I'm hoping that by adding zombies and putting these ideas in a historical context, they're removed from that kind of rawness and immediacy and people get some perspective. People can be really defensive when we talk about power structures and systemic racism, but through the lens of fiction, it's a little easier to get them to stick their toes in the pool of those ideas.

In pop culture, zombies often serve as a metaphor for larger ideas or social issues. Is this the case with Dread Nation?

Yes, in this book, the monsters are definitely that legacy of chattel slavery and of the Civil War. There was just an NPR survey that found only eight percent of high schoolers think slavery was the cause of the Civil War, and as recently as last summer, when they were talking about taking down Confederate monuments, there were people saying that the war wasn't about slavery, that it was about all these other things.

We're still kind of dancing around this topic of our greatest sin: that America was built on the backs of other people through a series of conquests either over native tribes or black people. So zombies are a great visual metaphor for something that just won't go away. I do think we have to reckon with the legacy of slavery in this country, and our own colonialism and the way we interact abroad. As long as we're not having those conversations, we can't be better as a society and as a country--we're just doomed to repeat these cycles.

How did you create the character of Jane? Were you thinking about her role more broadly as a strong female protagonist in the mold of a Katniss or a Hermione?

I actually based Jane off of Huck Finn. I think a lot of times female protagonists, especially in YA, tend to fall into a trap of being this or that: a female character can be badass or she can be feminine; she can be very introspective or she can be very outspoken. We don't do a good job of that in YA, so I think sometimes the best way to build a great female character is to look at male characters that have gone before and see how the writer was able to give them their humanity.

In the context of its time, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was questioning some very big ideas about American society, but at the end of the day it didn't necessarily change anything. I wanted to write a character that did the things that I think Huck Finn failed at. One thing Huck Finn does well is questioning the power structures around him, but he's not necessarily good at taking action. He waits until the end of the book to help Jim get down the river, and he's mostly doing it because it's as much fun as it is the right thing to do.

When it came to Jane, I wanted to first of all give black girls a character so that they could say yes, black women existed in the 1880s not just as slaves or mammies; they had their own adventures as well. But I also wanted to make a character who was going to question the power structures around her in that very picaresque style. And, of course, you can't come into any YA novel without knowing the current literature, the Hermiones and the Katnisses.

What has been the role of indie bookstores in your life?

I'm actually one of those people who live really far from an indie bookstore, but I'm doing my preorder campaign through The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, which I love. I also wrote half of this book at the Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg. I think having an indie in your area is such a privilege. If you don't, book discovery can be really difficult. I think any author who is not a big fan of indie bookstores is really missing an opportunity. Mostly any time I do an event, it's with an indie bookstore.

I think it's great that people can buy a book off of IndieBound and still support their independent bookseller even if they can't get to a bookstore. I do think indie bookstores support authors in a way that is more tangible than any chain. --Liz Button

Top Picks

The Astonishing Color of After

By Emily X.R. Pan

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 9780316463997, $18.99)

"From the first pages of The Astonishing Color of After, you know that you're reading something special. It's a strange and beautiful story of a Chinese-American girl whose mother's ghost appears to her in the form of a fantastical red bird. Chasing family secrets, she travels to Taipei to meet the grandparents she's never seen, while trying to forget about the boy she left at home. It's lovely, real, and unforgettable."
--Christie Olson Day, Gallery Bookshop and Bookwinkle's Children's Books, Mendocino, CA

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

Hurricane Child

By Kheryn Callender

(Scholastic Press 9781338129304, $17.99)

"Being a hurricane child myself, I instantly connected with Caroline and her bad luck. Caroline is used to being the outsider who can see ghosts, but she can't accept that her mom left her one day and never came back. When a new, charismatic girl who may see ghosts, too, starts at her school, Caroline desperately wants to befriend her. Soon the two are inseparable, and together they search for Caroline's mother. This wonderful, mystical tale takes the reader on a journey filled with grief and loss but also love, friendship, and hope."
--Holly Alexander, Magic Tree Bookstore, Oak Park, IL

Indies Introduce -- outstanding debuts as selected by independent booksellers

Hello Hello

By Brendan Wenzel

(Chronicle Books 9781452150147, $17.99)

"Hello Hello is filled with colors, patterns, shapes, and comparisons so beautiful and original you get that elusive feeling of surprise and delight on each page. Brendan Wenzel has created another gorgeous book perfect for anyone who has the innate longing to find a connection in the natural world. Best of all, his illustrations are mostly of endangered or threatened animals, and the book includes a lovely note on how readers can help!"
--Caitlin Jordan, Kepler's Books, Menlo Park, CA

Alma and How She Got Her Name

By Juana Martinez-Neal

(Candlewick Press 9780763693558, $15.99, available April)

"Names can be a powerful reminder of our family history, as debut author/illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal shows in this beautiful story about a little girl with a very long name. Alma complains about her name (didn't we all as kids?) but slowly changes her mind as her father explains which relative each of her names honors. Dreamy illustrations with a limited color palette show Alma and her ancestors with quirky, engaging details. Whether you have a long, short, common, or unique name, this book will make you think a little bit about your name and smile. A treasure."
--Cecilia Cackley, East City Bookshop, Washington, D.C.

Can I Be Your Dog?

By Troy Cummings

(Random House Books for Young Readers 9780399554520, $16.99)

"This is just the sweetest dog story -- without making your teeth hurt. It has a wonderful dog, funny people, and a great ending. I couldn't ask for more."
--Anne Whalen, Barrington Books, Barrington, RI

Hello Lighthouse

By Sophie Blackall

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 9780316362382, $18.99, available April)

"Sophie Blackall is one of my favorite illustrators -- her style is so charming, it makes my heart full every time I see her delicately rendered characters and the love they have for each other. The story of the lighthouse caretaker is so sweet and soulful, with a rhythmic recounting that plays up the wonder and magic of the ordinary. Her patterns and textures are incredible, her color palettes are always perfect, and her waves remind me of why I love the water!"
--Tomoko Bason, BookPeople, Austin, TX

If You Had a Jetpack

By Lisl Detlefsen

Linzie Hunter (Illus.)

(Knopf Books for Young Readers 9780399553295, $17.99, available April)

"Blast off with a bunny and his brother as they explore all the things you could do if you only had a jetpack. Each page is loaded with adorable, vibrant illustrations that will keep you giggling from one to the next. Two bunnies, one jetpack, and endless possibilities."
--Kidron Mariotti, Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles

By Patricia Valdez

Felicita Sala (Illus.)

(Knopf Books for Young Readers 9780399557255, $17.99)

"I'm not sure if I love the illustrations or the text more, but together they're utterly engrossing. I love this book! Such a wonderful story and so well done. Inspiring!"
--Justus Joseph, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA

Moon

By Alison Oliver

(Clarion Books 9781328781604, $17.99, available April)

"Max (of Where the Wild Things Are fame) would be BFFs with Moon from Oliver's new picture book, which is charming and imaginative, with glimpses of sly humor in the illustrations. Like Moon, we should all learn to take more time to be still, be wild, and be free."
--BrocheAroe Fabian, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC

Natsumi!

By Susan Lendroth

Priscilla Burris (Illus.)

(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers 9780399170904, $16.99)

"Natsumi's effervescent personality means she is a bit too energetic for her family's quiet tasks of flower picking, tea pouring, and traditional Japanese dancing. With her grandfather's help, she may just find the perfect activity to match her big personality so she can participate in her village's upcoming festival. Natsumi! is a sensational celebration of culture, identity, and family."
--Emma McAndrew, University Book Store, Seattle, WA

Aru Shah and the End of Time

By Roshani Chokshi

(Rick Riordan/Hachette 9781368012355, $16.99)

"Roshani Chokshi's foray into middle grade books is a fast-paced, thrilling quest bringing together Hindu gods with a character I loved deeply. Aru Shah is the perfectly imperfect heroine every middle grader needs. She's not rich, she's messy, she makes up stories to make her life seem better. But not even she can imagine that lighting the lamp her mother forbade her to touch would send her on the adventure of a lifetime. This is the perfect companion for lovers of Rick Riordan. In the first 100 pages alone, I laughed out loud multiple times. This book is a winner for all ages."
--Shauna Sinyard, Park Road Books, Charlotte, NC

Elementals: Ice Wolves

By Amie Kaufman

(HarperCollins 9780062457981, $16.99)

"Amie Kaufman has created a magical new world full of distant lands and creatures waiting to be discovered. Ice Wolves pulled me in from the first page and left me wanting more at the last. Great news for wolf-lovers everywhere: this book is about actual wolves!"
--Renee Becher, Old Firehouse Books, Fort Collins, CO

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World

By Ashley Herring Blake

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 9780316515467, $16.99)

"Ivy Aberdeen has just suffered two huge losses: Her family's home has been destroyed by a tornado, and her secret notebook where she draws pictures of girls holding hands has vanished--only to reappear as pages left in her locker by a mysterious reader. It's not the best moment to get a crush on her new friend June, but Ivy perseveres through changing emotions and fears to figure out where she belongs in her world. Beautiful prose, characterization, and themes. Highly recommended!"
--Cecilia Cackley, East City Bookshop, Washington, D.C.

The Mad Wolf's Daughter

By Diane Magras

(Kathy Dawson Books 9780735229266, $16.99)

"This swashbuckling tale of rescue, irregular chivalry, and self-discovery is set in an authentic medieval Scotland. Drest, the Mad Wolf's daughter and the youngest member of her father's war band, sets out to save her captured family from the dungeons of Faintree Castle. With tension that accompanies both the narrative and character development, this is a tale that rewards the reader's journey many times over. Mad Wolf's Daughter is a middle grade adventure that we will be recommending both as a read-aloud and as a great gift for readers of many ages and dispositions."
--Kenny Brechner, Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers, Farmington, ME

The Parker Inheritance

By Varian Johnson

(Arthur A. Levine Books 9780545946179, $16.99)

"Absolutely brilliant. A great balance between the satisfaction of solving a mystery along with the stark reality of life in the Jim Crow South, with a side helping of showing how people are able to change--for better or worse--at all stages of life."
--Sarah Rettger, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA

The Unicorn Rescue Society: The Creature of the Pines

By Adam Gidwitz

Hatem Aly (Illus.)

(Dutton Books for Young Readers 9780735231702, $14.99, available April)

"On his first day at a new school, Elliot Eisner makes a new friend. He also joins his classmates on a field trip led by the eccentric Professor Fauna. These two events combine to send Elliot on an incredible adventure during which he learns that creatures he didn't believe in (dragons, for instance) just might be real--and they need help! Newbery Honor winner Adam Gidwitz has launched a wonderfully magical series filled with surprises and humor."
--Christopher Rose, The Spirit of '76 Bookstore, Marblehead, MA

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

By Sheila O'Connor

(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers 9780399161933, $16.99, available April)

"Set during the summer of 1968, a profound relationship develops between Mr. Marsworth, an elderly recluse (and draft dodger), and Reenie Kelly, the young girl who delivers his newspaper. Reenie is trying to save her older brother from being drafted, and through written correspondence seeks Mr. Marsworth's help. There are numerous threads to this story, stunning secrets revealed, and various perspectives on the Vietnam War represented. All of the characters are well-drawn, distinct, and memorable, plus there are very provocative, discussion-worthy themes."
--Mark Adam, Mrs. Nelson's Book Fair Company, Pomona, CA

You Go First

By Erin Entrada Kelly

(Greenwillow Books 9780062414182, $16.99, available April)

"Told in alternate chapters, You Go First is the story of Charlotte Lock and Ben Boxer, who are united by their love of online Scrabble. Lottie's dad is sick and her friend group is undergoing some painful changes. Ben's parents are divorcing, and he decides to run for student government to make new friends and implement changes to his school's recycling program. Their friendship is a point of stability during a period of upheaval for both kids. Kelly nails the heartbreaking isolation of growing up, the pain of bullying, and the complicated nature of familial and platonic relationships. You Go First gives voice to the vulnerability of growing up and offers a hopeful ending for middle grade readers of all ages."
--Sarah Sawyers-Lovett, Big Blue Marble Bookstore, Philadelphia, PA

For Every One

By Jason Reynolds

(Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books 9781481486248, $14.99, available April)

"This poem, dedicated to dreamers, jumpers, and the courageous, is the perfect blend of wisdom and uncertainty. Reynolds' powerful prose is in excellent form here, and his upfront and casual style is appealing to all ages."
--Sami Thomason, Square Books, Oxford, MS

Orphan Monster Spy

By Matt Killeen

(Viking Books for Young Readers 9780451478733, $18.99)

"I opened this book at 9:00 a.m. and closed it at 4:15 p.m. after turning the last page. At times, I felt like my eyeballs just couldn't move as fast as I wanted to be reading. As much of a page-turner as this is, it also delivers a real sense of history and an empowered and empowering 15-year-old heroine who has suffered yet never gives in to fear or hopelessness. It's like Harry Potter meets James Bond in Nazi Germany, starring a Jewish orphan who just keeps kicking butt."
--Nina Barrett, Bookends & Beginnings, Evanston, IL

Not If I Save You First

By Ally Carter

(Scholastic Press 9781338134148, $18.99)

"Ally Carter has done it again! I don't know how she manages to so perfectly balance a kick-ass teenage girl with just a pinch of over-the-top girliness, but she nails it every time. Basically, this can be considered a contemporary retelling of The Paper Bag Princess, where the prince is the U.S. president's son, the princess is the son's former best friend and daughter of the president's former body guard, and the dragon is a Russian operative. Oh, and the setting is winter in Alaska. And because it's Ally Carter, while the girl clearly saves the day and rescues the boy, she also ends up with the boy because teenage love conquers all. I read this in one sitting and recommend you do, too."
--BrocheAroe Fabian, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC

The Poet X

By Elizabeth Acevedo

(HarperTeen 9780062662804, $17.99)

"A book written beautifully in free verse by slam-poet Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X follows Xiomara, a Dominican-American teen questioning her relationship to God and the church rules that her controlling, deeply religious mother demands she follow. Defying her mother and emotionally absent father, Xiomara continues to seek her true self through a slam poetry group and her writing, with the help of her twin brother, her best friend, and a boy she has to hide from her family. With the lies piling up and the stakes getting higher, you'll root for this smart, strong girl who refuses to remain silent and let others define her."
--Kelley Drahushuk, The Spotty Dog, Hudson, NY

The Prince and the Dressmaker

By Jen Wang

(First Second 9781250159854, $24.99)

"A sweet, big-hearted graphic novel with adorable characters, fabulous gowns, and a charming story about two teenagers discovering who they are and what they want from life. I've been looking forward to this story ever since Jen Wang announced it a few years ago, and I am so happy to have finally read a graphic novel so full of acceptance, love, and fantastic fashion."
--Rebecca Speas, One More Page Books, Arlington, VA

The Wicked Deep

By Shea Ernshaw

(Simon Pulse 9781481497343, $17.99)

"Centuries ago, the Swan sisters were drowned for witchcraft. Now, for a few weeks each year, they claim the bodies of three girls and use them to draw men into the harbor to drown. For those weeks, tourists flood the town and the locals dare each other to go near the water. They call it The Swan Season. The Wicked Deep is haunting, sad, and satisfying. The sisters' anger is so thoroughly understandable, it is easy to see how they would want to lure men into the harbor. This is the perfect book for Practical Magic fans or anyone looking for a crisp, immersive read."
--Amy Brabenec, Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA