National Book Festival 2022

Yesterday, I attended the National Book Festival in DC. This festival is local for me, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to see countless extraordinary authors over the years. I began attending when the celebration of books took place outdoors on the National Mall, but it has since shifted to the Washington Convention Center. The past two years have been virtual due to Covid-19, but the 2022 Festival moved back to in-person at the Washington Convention Center. (Side note: I have not been around so many “mask wearers” in months. My ‘guesstimate’ is that 80% of attendees were masked. Which I consider proof that readers are some of the most empathetic people you’ll meet, and I was glad to be among “my people.”) Below I’ll share brief highlights of the sessions I attended, but I will also link the full video from the Library of Congress’ YouTube Channel. All sessions were streamed live, making the event a ‘hybrid’ for those who wanted to watch at home. Note, these pictures are mostly my own, captured on my old iPhone 8. Pardon the photo quality. Jason Reynolds’ photo was captured by my friend and co-worker, Liz Campbell.

Panel: Meet Me in the Winner’s Circle: Award-Winning Writers with Donna Barba Higuera, Darcie Little Badger, and Malinda Lo

This panel was expertly moderated by fellow author, Dhonielle Clayton. All of these recent award winners shared what inspired these stories and whether bans/censorship has affected their desire to tell the stories they want to tell. I personally loved the portion of the talk where Higuera discussed science fiction as a genre. Her sci-fi book, Newbery winner The Last Cuentista, will be in my September recap as I am reading it now!

Panel: You’re Such a Nightmare: Horror Novels with Tiffany D. Jackson and Ryan La Sala

This panel was such fun! I have not (yet) read books by either author, but went home with a book by each of them! Both authors touched on the concept of horrors happening by the light of day. But these two authors were the opposite of scary, and had the audience repeatedly laughing. I highly recommend watching their session (which I will link at the bottom of this post), and I am so looking forward to discovering their books!

Panel: Rage Against the System: Teens Who Don’t Back Down with Samira Ahmed and Sabaa Tahir

The highlight of this panel was the banter between the two authors. They are clearly close friends, and seeing how they can mess with each other and at the same time support each other was delightful. The theme of the panel crossed over to how today’s teens can stand up to power and have an impact on their communities.

Panel: Jason Reynolds Talks About His Latest Books

Jason Reynolds was the final author of the day on the Young Adult stage. He discussed his role as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and his latest book Ain’t Burned All the Bright. But for me, the real highlight was when he took questions from the audience. Each answer was filled with metaphors and gems of knowledge that will stick with the audience well after the 45 minute talk concluded.

Panel: The All-Stars of “Blackout” with Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon

The highlight and my own main reason for attending this year’s festival was this panel, which took place on the Main Stage. Moderated by Librarian of Congress herself, Carla Hayden, was a panel with 5 of the 6 New York Times Bestselling authors of the novel Blackout, celebrating Black teen love. I think the picture to the right captures the pure joy of this panel. It was so much fun to hear their stories of how this book came to life, witnessing their camaraderie, and ultimately coming to the conclusion that we need more of this kind of collaboration in our world.

Here are links to video recordings of the Young Adult Stage and “Blackout” on the Main Stage, as well as a link to the full schedule from the 2022 National Book Festival. There were a lot of authors that I did not get to hear, and I’ll definitely be watching the video recordings over the coming week.

PDF of the 2022 National Book Festival Schedule:

Monthly Recap

August 2022

I finished 3 books this month despite the hustle and bustle of Back-to-School. I enjoyed all three, with my favorite being Book Lovers by Emily Henry. See full reviews below!

Hattie Ever After
by Kirby Lawson

After a reading slump in July, I decided to reread something easy on my bookshelf and picked up the Newbery Honor book, Hattie Big Sky. I’d bought the sequel, Hattie Ever After, way back in 2013 but had never gotten around to reading it. I wasn’t sure if I could picture Hattie in a big city like San Francisco after being so invested in her making it as a homesteader in Montana. However, Hattie’s quest to become a reporter when there were few women working in the industry was just as gripping as her prairie adventures. I have mixed feelings about the ending, so if you’ve read it and want to chat in the comments, let me know! Overall, highly recommend this as a work of middle grade historical fiction!
* 3.5 out of 5 Stars *

Book Lovers
by Emily Henry

This is my first book by Emily Henry and it was delightful! I loved how the author played with tropes within the romance genre. I loved all the characters: Nora, Charlie, and Libby especially. Nora and Libby had some witty dialogue that will trigger memories of Gilmore Girls for millennial readers. I literally giggled at some of their conversations. I especially loved the glimpses of the publishing world through these characters and wished we had gotten more of that world as well as more of New York City. While I predicted one key plot point, the book was well-paced, and I didn’t want it to end. Highly recommend if you enjoy contemporary romance!
* 5 out of 5 Stars *

Iron Widow
by Xiran Jay Zhao

This book was such a fresh and original story! I’d seen it listed on many best of 2021 lists and labeled as sci-fi which piqued my interest. The world is entirely fictional but heavily based on Chinese culture. As I’ve begun receiving acupuncture for nerve pain, the concepts of qi, yin, and yang were fun to see incorporated into a science fiction world. The characters were very likable and well-developed. The world-building was fascinating. I had a few issues with the ending feeling convenient, but there were some foreshadowed twists I liked as well. If I had to describe this book, I’d say it was a feminist sci-fi military “Transformers.” Some mature topics, “off-screen” sex, scenes of torture, and battle violence to be aware of when recommending to younger readers. This is a duology, and I’d probably borrow the second book from the library. Highly recommend if you like sci-fi and want a fresh, feminist story!
* 3.5 out of 5 Stars *

Mid Year Recap

(July 2022)

Amidst trauma, a difficult year of public school teaching, and several reading slumps, I’ve still managed to read some outstanding books this year. Here is a full list of titles with more detailed highlights of my favorites so far in 2022.

Books Read:

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
Grenade by Alan Gratz
The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold
Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller
Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
True Beauty by Yaongyi
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Lawson (reread)
Saga (Vol 1 & 2) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (reread)


The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

In an effort to read books that had been on my bookshelf for awhile, I drew this title (written on a slip of paper) from a jar. This was my first book by Becky Albertalli and it won’t be my last! This book was delightful! I adored Molly and Reid as characters. The Maryland setting was a fun surprise, as that’s where I’m from. The themes of first love, self esteem, and sisterhood were thoughtfully done. Highly recommend!

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

This audiobook was truly outstanding and I can’t imagine reading this book any other way. With three different point-of-view characters, the narrator (Julia Whelan) expertly crafts distinct speaking styles for each character and makes them come to life. This book tackles tough topics such as adoption, teen pregnancy, alcohol addiction, guilt, family, and belonging. There is a reason this is a National Book Award Winner, but I’d encourage you to experience it in audiobook form. I couldn’t wait to have a quiet moment to listen and the characters stuck with me long after I was finished. Highly recommend!

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

I’ve always had a thing for post-apocalyptic survival stories, and this one caught my eye on a school library visit with my classes. Another book with three point-of-view perspectives, I grew to care about each character. My favorite scene took place in an abandoned Books-a-Million store, and I was quite upset that they didn’t just spend the rest of the book camping out there (that’s what I would have done). This book may not be everyone’s cup of tea right now with reminders of recent pandemic experiences. My biggest takeaway was how this book inspired gratitude for small moments in everyday life. I found the ending to be a tad anti-climactic, but if you enjoy this genre and want something weird, give it a shot.

Daughter of the Pirate King and Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

This series was recommended to me by a student, and I thoroughly enjoyed them! Pure pirate fun! The series is a blend of fantasy, action adventure, and romance intended for a young adult audience. The main character, Alosa, is a witty and confident female pirate captain. Loved her! While I predicted a few twists, overall the pacing, world-building, and sharp dialogue were excellent and made for an engaging read! Highly recommend if you are looking for a fun and light young adult read.

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton

This is one that I can’t wait to recommend to next year’s students. Middle grade fantasy is one of my most requested genres and this will certainly feed that appetite. If you’ve read Dhonielle Clayton’s YA title The Belles, you’ll know that she excels at world-building. And while I wouldn’t necessarily want to live in the world of The Belles, the world of The Marvellers is a different story! The Arcanum Training Institute is a magical boarding school in the sky with sensory descriptions that paint a vivid world in the imagination. With a diverse cast of characters from all over the globe and opportunities to have conversations about bullying and prejudice, this is a fantastic addition to classrooms and libraries! Highly recommend!

Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe

While on a trip to Vermont, I visited the most wonderful indie bookstore (Northshire Bookstore). My husband had to drag me out of the store. I could have stayed there all day. I noticed one particular staff member had similar taste in books to me, and she recommended Lore Olympus in the graphic novel section. I bought it. I loved it. And discovered it was a Webtoon. The volume I purchased only had the first 25 episodes, but there were currently over 200 episodes on Webtoon… hence why the Webtoon app is now downloaded on my phone. I was skeptical of reading comics on my phone, but it is gorgeous and intuitive with the full color and scrolling panels. In addition to Lore Olympus, I also read the wildly popular True Beauty. Webtoons are a great alternative to mindless phone scrolling with their quick episodes and appealing graphics. Give the app a try if you haven’t already!

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

I read this book-in-verse for a teaching professional development session. It is a valuable read for teachers to reflect on their role in the school-to-prison pipeline. The book features two characters in teaching roles who are opposites in terms of their approach, and we had a valuable discussion as educators about power: wielding power vs empowering students. This book spurred me to dive deeper into learning about the flaws of our criminal justice system. Yusef Salaam is one of the “Central Park Five” who were wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman in New York City. While this book is a work of fiction, Yusef contributes his experience and perspective as someone who spent six year in prison for a wrongful conviction. (If you are unfamiliar with the Central Park Five case, the Netflix miniseries When They See Us is well done and will break your heart.)

Let me know if you have questions about any of the books I’ve read so far this year! Are there any books you recommend I check out in the second half of 2022? Below are the titles that I am hoping to read soon!

Books featured: Book Lovers, Violet Made of Thorns, Iron Widow, The Last Cuentista, The Midnight Library, A Darker Shade of Magic, A Magic Steeped in Poison

Books as Windows and Mirrors

Windows MirrorsA friend of mine introduced me to the idea of books as windows and mirrors. She introduces the idea to her students at the beginning of the school year as a way of discussing book selection.

A book that serves as a mirror is one that we see ourself in. These kinds of books can help us get a better understanding of who we are, what we value, and how we navigate the world.

For me, a mirror book would be about a white girl who loves books and words. A recent read that was a mirror book for me was A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. While reading that book, I posted something about how the book was “speaking to my heart” because the main character resonated so powerfully with how I see the world.

A book that is window allows you to view a world outside your own. These books are the kind that let you step into another person’s shoes, however briefly, and see the world as they see it. These books promote empathy and understanding for people and situations outside our own experience.

For me, a recent window book was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book allowed me to see and understand the world from a black teen’s perspective. The book gave me empathy and understanding for all that a black teen might be dealing with, from code-switching, to police brutality, to interracial relationships, and more.

As you set reading goals for the new year, I encourage you to think of books as windows and mirrors. We need mirror books to become more self-aware and understand ourselves.

But we also need window books. Oh boy, do we need window books. We need to push ourselves to better understand other perspectives. With the understanding and empathy that window books provide, perhaps we can create a world with more love, more peace, and more kindness.

And if you want to watch a great video on the power of reading and empathy, check out this gem from the channel Just Write:

Series Review: The Selection (Part Two)

Selection Series2

The Heir (#4)
The Crown (#5)
by Kiera Cass
Published by: HarperTeen
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Falling in Love, Identity, Royalty, Competition, Reality TV

Summary from Goodreads (Book Four): Princess Eadlyn has grown up hearing endless stories about how her mother and father met. Eadlyn has always found their fairy-tale story romantic, but she has no interest in trying to repeat it. If it were up to her, she’d put off marriage for as long as possible.

But a princess’s life is never entirely her own, and Eadlyn can’t escape her very own Selection—no matter how fervently she protests.

Eadlyn doesn’t expect her story to end in romance. But as the competition begins, one entry may just capture Eadlyn’s heart, showing her all the possibilities that lie in front of her . . . and proving that finding her own happily ever after isn’t as impossible as she’s always thought.

Eadlyn is not as likable a character as her mother, America, was in books one through three. She is spoiled, self-centered, narrow-minded, and determined. Not all those traits are negative. But it’s the way she treats others that really made me dislike her. She does some callous things that will make you cringe during the Selection process. Eadlyn does grow and change over the course of both books, and makes some wonderful, redeeming choices in the end.

The book has some great positive messages for girls. Both books examine double standards of women in leadership positions. And I wonder whether part of Eadlyn being an unlikable character stems from her being not a traditional, submissive female figure.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy these two books as much as the first three, but I’m still glad I listened to them!

The first three books in this series are more fun. Eadlyn’s story is tough to get through at times because of her unlikable nature, but there are great feminist messages for girls who want to be leaders someday. Three stars.