Book Bites: Middle Grade Madness

March madness is here at Blue Willow! Not the one you’re thinking of, though—we’re talking about the explosion of exciting new books that are hitting our shelves. This week, we’re feeling especially giddy about our middle grade shelves, where we have four fantastic recommendations for you to check out. If that’s not quite your lane, fret not! We’re based in Houston, after all—if there’s one thing we have lots of, it’s lanes. So merge on over to a must-read YA collaboration between Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Or, speed through a few terrific novels. There’s a great rom-com follow-up that we know you’ll love, and a powerful WWII-era book from Jennifer Rosner. To cap it all off, Alice just loved the new book by the legendary Louise Erdrich. Get comfy, folks—there’s some serious reading to be done.


Ages 8-12

Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Ever since his mother disappeared when he was a baby, Max has lived in tiny Santa Maria with his papá and abuelo. Each evening they tell each other stories and each evening Buelo tells Max the story of a secret bridge guarded by a peculiar gatekeeper, a keeper of lost things. Soon Max discovers that Buelo’s bedtime story is not just fantasy, leading him to secrets of the past and a rich family legacy.
—Jennifer

READ because this is an amazing book by a powerhouse author. Timely themes, self-discovery, and a powerful sense of hope. Doesn’t get much better.
PASS if you’re not looking for a new favorite author.
Order your copy on our website.

Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar; illustrated by Tim Heitz

Wayside School is b-a-c-k and as wacky as ever! Students are learning made-up words in spelling class, preparing for Mrs. Jewls' "Ultimate Test," and collecting ONE MILLION "somethings," all while a mysterious cloud overshadows the school. Third grade and above readers should not be tardy to the latest session of Wayside School!
—Jennifer

READ because it’s been twenty-five long years since we last visited Wayside School, and it’s just as fun as ever.
PASS if you hate fun.
Order your copy on our website.

The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane by by Kate O'Shaughnessy

A heartwarming story of making your own story. Maybelle's single mom must go on the road for a job so Maybelle is under the charge of the sweet but sad Ms. Boggs and with Tommy, a smart but overcharged classmate. Maybelle wants to go to Nashville for a singing contest but her underlying goal is to meet her long gone father who will be a judge for this contest. For contemporary fiction lovers.
—Valerie

READ this sweet debut reminds us of the work of another Kate: DiCamillo. 
PASS if you only read things after they’ve become classics. 
Order your copy on our website.

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter

When 12-year-old April is whisked off by a mysterious woman in white to live with four other orphans at the Winterborne Home, she quickly realizes not all is as it seems. Not only does the key her mother left her match the Winterborne crest, but the long-lost about-to-be-declared-dead heir to the Winterborne fortune may indeed be alive. Clever orphans, unreliable adults, villains, mansions, secret passages, treasure, legend, and legacy combine for a wild ride in this new series for 4th graders and above. Not to be missed!
—Jennifer

READ because “clever orphans, unreliable adults, villains, mansions, secret passages, treasure, legend, and legacy” are some of the best book ingredients that exist.
PASS if you don’t mind missing out. Stu Gibbs described this as “Batman meets Annie.”
Order your copy on our website.
Meet the author when she visits the shop on March 10!

Ages 13 & Up

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi

Straight-talking Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi provide younger readers with a comprehensive historical background of racist ideas, starting in the 1400s through current times. Engaging and honest, this book gives a brief overview of the seeds of racism, the economic impetus and how false perceptions become imagined and unfortunate realities. The men and women who have fought to break racist stereotypes and carved paths of antiracist purpose are also highlighted. With easy-to-read language, Reynolds and Kendi ignite a sense of outrage and purpose in readers young and old alike as they discuss the twisted and slow progress Americans have made in pursuit of the Constitutional decree that "all men are created equal." Recommended for all humans who can read. 
—Raquel

READ it.
PASS it around to your friends.
Order your copy on our website.
Get tickets to meet the author when he comes to Houston on March 12!

Adult Fiction

Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

When pastry chef Liv catches her boss harassing a young hostess, she confronts him and he fires her, blackballing her from the Nashville restaurant scene. Liv vows revenge and, unfortunately, must turn to charismatic night club owner Braden Mack and the Bromance Book Club. Well drawn characters, hilarious situations, and snappy dialogue make this a very fun read!
—Cathy

READ because this is catchy, witty, steamy, fun.
PASS if you haven’t yet read book one—it’s so much fun!
Order your copy on our website.
Meet the author when she visits the shop on March 10!

The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner

Forced from their home during the German invasion of Poland, Roza and her young daughter flee to a farm in the countryside where a family begrudgingly hides in the hayloft. They spend days and then months completely still and silent, learning to communicate and keep their sanity by inventing stories. Shira is five and a musical prodigy. When it becomes too dangerous, Shira is sent to a convent where she is hidden as a Catholic. There, she blossoms as a violinist. Meanwhile we follow Roza as she hides in the forest with partisans. This is a tense book with danger at every turn. It is also a powerful story about music and the tenacity of the human spirit.
—Valerie

READ because this is a beautiful book that you’ll love if you enjoyed The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
PASS if you’re looking for light-and-fluffy this spring.
Order your copy on our website.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

In 1953, the U.S. government decided to void its treaties with the Native American tribes it had signed the previous century. Erdrich uses her maternal grandfather’s experiences in fighting the termination bill as the basis for The Night Watchman. In her trademark lyrical prose, she describes the difficult position in which mid-20th century reservation Indians found themselves: living off the mostly inhospitable tribal land that had been given them in the treaties, in rural communities with few employment opportunities. This is the story of Thomas Wazhushk, who, while working as a night watchman at the jewel bearing factory, has taken on the role of leading the fight against the termination bill. It is also the story of Thomas’s niece, smart young Patrice Paranteau, known as Pixie, the sole breadwinner for her family, who works at the jewel bearing company and lives in a hovel that she has to protect against her wayward alcoholic father. There are many other characters among the Turtle Mountain people of North Dakota whose lives intersect in the short chapters that make up this novel: Pixie’s sister Vera who has gone missing after leaving the reservation to go to Minneapolis; Pixie’s mother Zhannat, who lives closely connected to the earth and her ancestors; Wood Mountain who finds an outlet in boxing and has a soft spot in his heart for Pixie; Louis Pipestone, who raises horses and painstakingly goes after signatures on an anti-termination petition to take to Washington; Vernon and Elnath, two young Mormon missionaries whose constrained lives provide some humor; Mr. Barnes, aka Hay Stack, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who has a crush on Pixie; and many others, all of whom provide a fully fleshed out picture of reservation life at mid-century. Highly recommended.
—Alice

READ because this spellbinding book is based on the life of the author’s own grandfather. She tells his story with elegance, power, and beauty.
PASS if you’re not interested in the best book of the season.
Order your copy on our website.