Strength of Story

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera is a beautiful novel conveying the power of story and humanity.

Petra and her family are selected to begin life on a new planet because Earth is about to be destroyed by Haley’s comet. They will “sleep” for several hundred years during the voyage. During this time, they are at the mercy of their caretakers.

When Petra awakes, she realized that plans changed. She is one of only a few other originals. They are named Zita and are expected to work only for the good of the Collective. The Collective seeks complete uniformity and will go to any measure to prevent original thought or discord. This will be difficult for Petra considering that she remembers her previous life, which is unlike the others.

Petra makes it her mission to save the remaining Zita. She will need intelligence, bravery and confidence similar to the characters in stories she’s carried with her all these years. The stories from her grandmother are the strength that get her and the others through.

Boulder Therapy

Wink by Rob Harrell is an Intermediate Nutmeg nominee, and the most recent of three books finished during my December break.

Ross is a seventh grader who strives for normalcy and not standing out, but this becomes impossible once he finds out that he has a rare, cancerous tumor near his eye. The book follows his journey from his diagnosis through his treatment. All the while he meets some interesting people who make a major impact on his life, while finding out who his true friends really are.

His radiation technician introduces him to rock music, and begins teaching him how to play guitar. Meanwhile, his best friend Abby is supportive while their friend Isaac completely ghosts them. Ross faces undesired attention once he has to start wearing a hat, rubbing “goop” on his damaged skin, and losing his hair. The attention turns negative when someone begins circulating cruel memes about his situation.

Events build toward the big school talent show before their December break, in which Ross will perform alongside Abby and unexpected new friend (former bully) Jimmy. This event is momentous as it marks the end of Ross’s treatment and Abby moving away.

This story is full of raw emotion and fun additions in the form of Ross’s sketches and “BatPig” comics throughout.

The Right Note

Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido is another 2022 Intermediate Nutmeg nominee. This was a nice read, written in narrative verse, with great word choice to mix music and coding.

Emmy is new in her California school. She spends her first several days trying to figure out how and where she fits. For starters, she has very musical parents and she has always tried to follow their footsteps. Music isn’t natural for her though. She decides to join a coding class, which gives her a new language to learn and grow. This class is her key to finding a friend, Abigail. They bond over their shared love of coding, and their respectful relationship with the teacher. Events build amidst other plot developments until reaching their coding project.

Overall, this is a story of change, friendship and following one’s interests. Readers can learn a lot about music and coding from the story too.

Road Trip South

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone is a 2022 Intermediate Nutmeg nominee. William “Scoob” is on a road trip with his grandma “G’ma” in order to escape his dad’s disappointment with him for a school incident.

Scoob’s grandma is white and his grandfather was black. The two of them took the same road trip years back during times of segregation. His grandmother is able to fill him in on what it was like then and how difficult it was for them as a mixed race couple.

During the trip, Scoob begins to notice that his grandmother may not be completely in her right mind. She refuses to contact his dad, and seems to have more secrets than Scoob could have imagined. Eventually, he comes to realize the truth about his past and his grandfather’s tarnished reputation. The time away also makes him realize how much he misses his dad.

There are mentions of horrible historic moments from our nation’s past throughout the story events, making this book a conversation starter about segregation, racism and making a change.

Pet Trouble

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks is yet another 2022 Intermediate Nutmeg nominee. It is a sci-fi graphic novel taking place in a space station that is home to friends, Sanity and Tallulah.

Sanity has developed her own three-headed cat along with a special protein to feed it. Things go awry when her creation gets loose and seems to be wreaking havoc in the space station. The girls set out to find Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds (the cat’s name), and end up finding that there are other rogue animals on the loose too. Meanwhile, Tallulah’s dad and brother encounter their own troubles while making a delivery.

Can they save the space station and its inhabitants without getting into further trouble?

Signs of Growth

You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino is one of this year’s Intermediate Nutmeg Nominees. Jilly is a pretty typical twelve-year old; she enjoys participating in a chat group, and joking around with her parents and friends. Her chat group is based on a novel series that is very popular. When her new baby sister is born without hearing ability, Jilly gets advice from one of her fellow gamers who is also deaf.

Understanding a disability such as a hearing impairment is only one of the many discussion-based topics that the author has included in this book. There are also issues of racism, discrimination, police brutality, and inclusion of same gender and inter-racial relationships (Jilly’s aunts).

Jilly learns more about herself and her family, and she grows in character throughout her interactions with all of the important topics in the story.

Taking Off

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos is Nova’s story. Nova is autistic and mostly nonverbal.

Nova and her older sister Bridget have spent most of their lives in and out of various foster families. They are between families when Nova is taken in by the West family. It seems that Bridget has run off with a boyfriend, but promised Nova that she would return to watch the Challenger take off. Nova is extremely interested in everything to do with space travel, and it is a special bond shared between the sisters.

The story follows Nova’s adjustment to a new school, friends and family. Each chapter is followed by Nova’s letter to her sister which essentially recaps the events in her voice (this was a bit redundant for me). Nova has always been underestimated and misunderstood because of her disability, but now she has a supportive family and an appropriate school placement on her side. Bridget is the only missing piece.

Spoiler: Events countdown to the ill-fated Challenger launch. The aftermath of the launch forces Nova to face the fact that her sister will never come back. This is a touching story that can build empathy and understanding about autism.

Harmonic Convergence

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson was a pleasant surprise from next year’s Nutmeg nominee list, reminiscent of The Freedom Writers with a twist of The Breakfast Club

Haley is about to begin seventh grade, yet the story follows her memories of sixth grade. She was part of a small specialized class with only five other students: Amari, Holly, Ashton, Esteban, Tiago and their teacher Ms. Laverne. Their teacher decided to give their class time alone in an unused Art classroom every Friday to build connections with one another. This was a very successful experiment. Haley brought in her recorder and each student took turns sharing his/her stories. 

Students share their experiences with racism, police brutality, jail and immigration. The students support each other and forge an unbreakable bond. Harmonic convergence is defined in the book as “when people come together and they all care about the same things…all that energy together can shift a whole planet” (140-1).  This feeling is a powerful entity in the story, promising what we can accomplish with time, care and attention to others.

Stepping Out

I’m finally back at it, and looking forward to getting my hands on as many books as possible this summer!

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling takes readers into thirteen-year-old Aven’s story. Life can be quite challenging for Aven as she was born with no arms. Her adoptive parents have pushed her to be self sufficient with the day to day tasks of eating, dressing and the like. Her biggest challenge is getting others to see and know her beyond her disability. This becomes extremely true when her family moves to Arizona to take over a failing tourist spot named Stagecoach Pass. She must start in a new school while adapting to their new setting. There is a lot to figure out about Stagecoach Pass and how her family ended up there.

Aven stays true to herself which allows her to befriend Connor, a boy with Tourette’s, and an overweight boy (forgetting his name). These friends support each other to be brave and to step outside their comfort zones. In the midst of their growing friendship is their work on solving the mystery of Stagecoach Pass, namely figuring out who the unseen owners (the Cavanaughs) really are, and more importantly, where they disappeared to.  

This is a sweet story of overcoming obstacles, the necessity of kindness and the power of friendship. 

Treehouse Ten

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff is my final Intermediate Nutmeg read!

Winnie’s parents are so competitive and spiteful of each other, that they decide to handle their divorce by splitting Winnie’s time equally between them. This leaves an odd day every week in which Winnie lives in her incredible, apartment-like tree house between her parents’ homes.

Her parents start trying to outdo each other during their days with Winnie, leaving her no time for schoolwork. She is in danger of failing fifth grade. She decides to make a stand by not leaving her tree house and soon her nine best friends join her for their own reasons. It is a standoff between parents and their children.

Everything seems great until they reach almost twenty days at a stalemate. Winnie decides to do what’s best for her friends, and ultimately herself. She finally attempts to get her parents to listen to her side.

The story is written as a collective “memoir” by Winnie and her friends. There are cute touches throughout the book which keep it engaging and fun, such as artwork, post-it notes, how-to sections (everything from how to build a sock lizard to how to make Cheetos marshmallow squares), news clippings and more. Elements of the story were a bit far fetched for me, but I guess there is nothing impossible these days! This story will appeal to young readers who crave independence and taking a stand against their parents.