Inspired recommendations for kids from
independent booksellers across the country.

In This Issue...

#1 Kids' Next List Pick...

Firekeeper's Daughter

By Angeline Boulley

(Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers, 9781250766564, $18.99)

"This debut grabbed me from the start and kept me totally immersed in the story of a strong, self-described nerdy young female struggling with the normal problems of belonging, with the added element of being half Native American. This novel offers a rich combination of a young person's struggle with identity plus the unique challenges of being associated with a tribe and the problems of meth use and addiction. Add in a pulse-pounding mystery on top of it, and you have a true page-turner."
--Carol Putnam, Skylark Bookshop, Columbia, MO

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

(photo: Amber Boulley)

Indie booksellers across the country have chosen Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers) as one of their top picks for the Spring 2021 Kids' Indie Next List.

After putting her dreams on hold to care for her mother, 18-year-old Daunis witnesses a shocking murder that thrusts her into the heart of a criminal investigation. But as the investigation gets closer and closer to home, she must decide how far she's willing to go to protect her community.

Boulley is an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and storyteller who writes about her Ojibwe community in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She is a former director of the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education. She lives in southwest Michigan, but her home will always be on Sugar Island. Firekeeper's Daughter is her debut novel.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

The idea came when I was a senior in high school. My friend at a different school told me about a new guy she thought I'd be interested in. I kept asking about him until she told me he didn't play sports and hung out with the stoners. I played four different sports in high school, so he was definitely not my type after all. At the end of the year, there was a huge drug bust and it turned out that the new guy had been an undercover officer. I remembered thinking what if we'd met and had liked each other? Or... what if it wasn't that he liked me, but that he needed my help? Why would an undercover investigation need the help of an ordinary Ojibwe girl?

Can you tell me about your experience writing it? What was your process like, and how did you feel?

When my daughter was a pre-teen I decided to write the Indigenous Nancy Drew story that had been in my thoughts since I was 18 years old. I'd wake up early to write for a few hours before going to work. Waiting for my son at hockey practice or during my business trips, I'd use any free time to write plot details or character insights. I had no idea what I was doing when I started, but I kept at it. I read a lot of YA to learn more about pacing, dialogue, and plot beats. Sometimes I'd need to set the story aside because, well, life. But the ideas would keep coming and finally I'd be compelled to start another draft. This process took 10 years.

This story is centered on Daunis Fontaine, a young girl working to understand her biracial identity, her role in her Ojibwe community, and the direction she wants her life to take. How did you craft her character?

She started out a lot like me. We both have an Ojibwe dad and non-Native mom. We're both light-skinned and have felt, at times, that we were "not enough" because we didn't live on the reservation. But over the 10 years of writing and revising the story, Daunis became her own person. Very different from me in how we process things. She's much better in math and science than I am. She knows her language better than I do. Sometimes I'd try writing her with rougher edges, but it felt like an outfit that was the wrong size. Her decisions would feel independent of me, but perfect for her.

One thing that struck me while reading was the way Daunis anticipates the needs of not only her mom, but her community as well. What drew you to this aspect of her personality?

Daunis has some formative experiences early on where she learns to compartmentalize her identity and code switch. Those hurtful experiences cause her to develop the ability to read situations and protect herself accordingly. That skill, paying attention to how people behave, leads Daunis to recognize other peoples' needs--especially those she cares about.

This book focuses on Ojibwe culture, language, and experiences, but it's also a page-turning thriller that takes some dark turns. What was it like blending these two ideas together?

I had to answer the question, was I writing a thriller with an Ojibwe coming-of-age angle or was I writing an Ojibwe coming-of-age dressed up like a thriller? It was the latter. Once I knew that the core of the story was about Daunis claiming her identity and place in her community, it helped me to see the thriller plot beats as a means to an end.

I was also struck by the way joy was embedded into this book. Daunis survives and reckons with a number of traumas, but they're bolstered by a sense of support, of community. Can you talk more about that?

My mantra while writing was that I was writing about trauma but I wasn't writing a tragedy. There is so much joy in my community, and I really wanted to show that.

Can you talk about the role independent bookstores play in your life?

I used to travel a lot in my former career. What I loved most was exploring new locations and seeking independent bookstores. I'd find the spot where my book would be shelved someday, making space in the universe for it!

Top Picks


By Lisa Fipps

(Nancy Paulsen Books, 9781984814500, $17.99)

"Witty, poignant, and deeply moving, Starfish should be mandatory reading for anyone who has ever been made to feel inferior because of something they cannot change. In a story told in free verse, Lisa Fipps gives her protagonist, Ellie, a voice as big and as boundlessly beautiful as she is."
--Mary Louise Callaghan, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, NC

Kate in Waiting

By Becky Albertalli

(Balzer + Bray, 9780062643834, $18.99)

"Becky Albertalli's heart and sense of humor shines in this delightful new book. She has managed to take a trope that's been done before (where a girl and her gay best friend fall for the same guy) and make it fresh and interesting in a new way. Not only is it funny, it tackles some serious issues without ever feeling heavy-handed. There's a particular scene where Kate, the protagonist, is spiraling in a web of anxiety, and I don't think I've ever read a book with those feelings described so accurately. This will work well for fans and new readers alike."
--Michael Reinken, Kepler's Books, Menlo Park, CA

Lycanthropy and Other Chronic Illnesses

By Kristen O'Neal

(Quirk Books, 9781683692348, $18.99)

"This debut yanked me in and I could not put it down. Poignant and hilarious, this young adult story delves into the mental landscape of chronic illnesses but also brings werewolfism into the storyline. I love Brigid's sense of humor, and her and Priya's friendship is one we all need in our lives. A great recommendation for readers who are looking for a solid friendship-themed book. There is a fun hint of romance, but it doesn't shift the story's focus."
--Candice Conner, The Haunted Book Shop, Mobile, AL

Big Feelings

By Alexandra Penfold

Suzanne Kaufman (Illus.)

(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780525579748, $18.99)

"A great jumping-off point for discussions about all those big feelings! This is a beautiful book about working through whatever is happening and whatever you're feeling. It doesn't minimize one's emotions, but rather shows tools for coping. I love looking at how each individual approaches the different situations--you could write a whole thesis on community and personal relationships with this book."
--Tegan Tigani, Queen Anne Book Company, Seattle, WA

Bear Can't Wait

By Karma Wilson

Jane Chapman (Illus.)

(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 9781481459754, $17.99)

"Another sweet bear book from Karma Wilson, complete with beautiful, vibrant illustrations by Jane Chapman. This one teaches the lesson of patience in a simple, rhyming way little ones will love. Always a bestseller!"
--Dea Lavoie, Second Star to the Right Children's Books, Denver, CO

The Duck Who Didn't Like Water

By Steve Small

(Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 9781534489172, $17.99)

"Duck avoids water at all costs, even the tiniest of drops from the sky. One night, a storm brings a hole to his roof and a new friend to his door--a frog! When they try to find Frog's home, it's nowhere to be found. That's okay, because Duck and Frog get along rather well--even if Frog loves rain! This is a very sweet story about how life is a lot less damp when you've got a good friend with you. I want to give them both a hug!"
--Andrew King, University Book Store, Seattle, WA

The Little Library

By Margaret McNamara

G. Brian Karas (Illus.)

(Schwartz & Wade, 9780525578338, $17.99)

"I love this book with the fire of a thousand suns--I, too, was a slow reader when I was a kid, and it's really nice to see this represented in a picture book in a positive way! Blending reading with woodworking is also a brilliant combination."
--Kelsy April, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT

Regina Is NOT a Little Dinosaur

By Andrea Zuill

(Schwartz & Wade, 9780593127285, $17.99)

"Andrea Zuill captured my heart with her wonderful book Wolf Camp, she kept it safe and sound with Sweety, and she continues to make me feel warm and fuzzy with her newest, Regina Is NOT a Little Dinosaur. I don't know what it is--the words? The personalities of the characters coming through in conversation bubbles? The expressive art? It must be all three, because each of Zuill's books brings me such joy!"
--Liesl Freudenstein, Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO

The Rock From the Sky

By Jon Klassen

(Candlewick, 9781536215625, $18.99)

"With never disappointing, always entertaining, and always lovely stories, Jon Klassen has outdone himself with this one! My children are huge fans of the absurd, dry, and slightly dark humor of his books, and The Rock From the Sky just takes it to another level. Parents and kids will request this one over and over."
--Ryan Kimmett, Kismet Books, Verona, WI

Someone Builds the Dream

By Lisa Wheeler

Loren Long (Illus.)

(Dial Books, 9781984814333, $19.99)

"Representation matters, and this book has it in spades by simply presenting the world as it is and showing that everyone is valuable for their unique skills. Good picture books are a magical blend of simple prose and illustration that, when combined, become greater than their parts. And this is a really good one!"

--Alana Haley, Schuler Books, Grand Rapids, MI

Something's Wrong!: A Bear, a Hare, and Some Underwear

By Jory John

Erin Kraan (Illus.)

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, 9780374313883, $18.99)

"Haven't we all had days where something feels not quite right? Well, Jeff the bear is having one of those days! Unable to identify the problem, he turns to his pal Anders the hare, who quickly figures it out and saves Jeff from feeling embarrassed in front of all the other woodland critters. Hilarious and heartwarming, this is a tale that begs to be read aloud again and again."
--Amy Lane, Bards Alley, Vienna, VA


By Andrea Wang

Jason Chin (Illus.)

(Neal Porter Books, 9780823446247, $18.99)

"As her family drives along a road in rural Ohio, a girl's parents suddenly stop when they see watercress growing by the side of the road. She's embarrassed when she has to help collect it and refuses to eat it when it's prepared for dinner. This prompts a family discussion of her parents' childhoods in China that helps the girl gain appreciation for her parents and for the watercress. A lovely story about family heritage."
--Cathy Berner, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX

Across the Pond

By Joy McCullough

(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 9781534471214, $17.99)

"This a wonderful story that makes you feel like the world is brimming with possibilities even when everything seems to be going wrong. A lovely coming-of-age story about family, friendship, and birding with a little history thrown in, Across the Pond will make you smile so wide your face will hurt and it will warm your heart so much you'll never want to stop grinning."
--Marielle Orff, Towne Book Center and Wine Bar, Collegeville, PA

Amber and Clay

By Laura Amy Schlitz

Julia Iredale (Illus.)

(Candlewick, 9781536201222, $22.99)

"Amber and Clay is magnificent! It is a remarkable visit to the ancient world, where we readers (like the gods themselves) observe the difficult lives of mortals. Rhaskos is an enslaved stable boy who longs to release the art and grand thoughts that fill him. Melisto, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy father, burns with resentment over the love her mother withholds. Laura Amy Schlitz relates their painfully intertwined stories through vivid, urgent, poetic voices of both gods and mortals. The result is a stunning accomplishment, and a truly unforgettable read."
--Christopher Rose, Andover Bookstore, Andover, MA

Golden Gate (City Spies #2)

By James Ponti

(Aladdin, 9781534414945, $17.99)

"The youngest spies at MI6 are embarking on another mission. After thwarting a kidnapping attempt on the high seas, Sydney and Brooklyn are at odds. But they'll need to figure it out if they're going to join the other spies on a mission to uncover a mole and maybe find Mother's children. I loved this second entry in the City Spies series! Once again, Ponti has taken a fantastic idea that could end up rather goofy and made it feel possible...and fun and exciting at the same time!"
--Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser, Roswell, GA

The House That Wasn't There

By Elana K. Arnold

(Walden Pond Press, 9780062937063, $16.99)

"Charming, magical, and sweetly philosophical, The House That Wasn't There is Elana K. Arnold at the top of her game. When Oak Carter's family moves in next door to Alder Madigan and his mom, the first thing they do is cut down Alder's beloved walnut tree. So, becoming best friends with Oak is the last thing Alder plans on doing. But the universe has other plans and so do a pair of adopted kittens, a mystical opossum, and possibly even Faith the school bus driver. The House That Wasn't There is a story of connections and mystery, love and loss, family and friendship. I fell in love with this tender, kind, and wonderful book from page one."
--Joy Preble, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX

The Memory Thief (Thirteen Witches #1)

By Jodi Lynn Anderson

(Aladdin, 9781481480215, $17.99)

"Rosie's mom is incapable of loving her. Rosie tries to make up for it by pretending to write parental notes of encouragement, and writing stories for herself and her best friend, Germ. Imagine Rosie's surprise when she discovers with the help of a ghost friend that her mom has been cursed by witches. Now that Rosie has been thrust into this new world with ghosts and witches and a moon goddess, she begins a quest to find the truth and save her mom. This first in a trilogy is a fun fantasy adventure about the power of story and believing in yourself."
--Melissa Oates, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC


By Claire Legrand

(Greenwillow Books, 9780062696663, $16.99)

"Thornlight is an amazing story of two sisters and their quest to prevent their world from being destroyed by an evil Gulgot. The story is woven throughout with magical creatures, witches, and unicorns. The mission that Thorn and Brier embark on will keep you on the edge of your seat with surprises that would pique any reader's interest."
--Judith Lafitte, Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA

Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money

By Tom Sullivan

(Balzer + Bray, 9780062991515, $12.99)

"Tom Sullivan's Unsolved Case Files graphic novel series is sure to be a hit. First up is Escape at 10,000 Feet, the true story of the skyjacking of a flight to Seattle in November 1971 and the hijacker's jump from the plane into the frigid night with the ransom money. Illustrations include reproductions of FBI records, cockpit transcripts, and text boxes that explain technical details. The target audience is middle-grade readers, but readers of all ages will get caught up in the investigation and the possibility of solving the crime themselves--the $200,000 ransom has never been found and may still be out there!"
--Susan Posch, The Book Shoppe, Boone, IA

Can't Take That Away

By Steven Salvatore

(Bloomsbury YA, 9781547605309, $17.99)

"Salvatore brings every character to life in Can't Take That Away. The characters are flawed and beautiful, and Carey and his friends remind me so much of me and my friends during my high school days. I am so happy young people today have books like this to read, and have the ability to be heard and seen in a way we didn't have when I was growing up. Can't Take That Away is going to be an important book in young people's literature."
--Rayna Nielsen, Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans, LA

The Cost of Knowing

By Brittney Morris

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 9781534445451, $18.99)

"Love, grief, power, and family all come together in The Cost of Knowing as Alex struggles to live his life as a young Black man grieving the loss of his parents and best friend. His grief must also contend with his anxiety and a mysterious power that allows him to see the future of anything he touches. When learning of an event that he would do anything to prevent, he must come to terms with the origins of his power and the consequences of his actions as a brother, boyfriend, and Black teenager. Morris dives deep into an emotionally nuanced story, layering grief, masculinity, and generational trauma that will leave readers with a powerful message about regret, choice, and knowledge. A book to support with full hearts, unashamed tears, and powerful voices."

--Jessica Palacios, Once Upon a Time, Montrose, CA


By Adrienne Young

(Wednesday Books, 9781250254399, $18.99)

"Namesake is a beautiful conclusion to the story begun in Fable. In Namesake, you get to see all the characters grow is such a perfect way. The descriptions are beautiful, and I loved diving below the sea with Fable again. In this book, we follow Fable as she tries to find her way back to the Marigold through new alliances as well as old and new enemies, but we don't know who will come through to help her. I didn't want this book to end."
--Blair Bayless, Copperfield's Books, Calistoga, CA

Perfect on Paper

By Sophie Gonzales

(Wednesday Books, 9781250769787, $18.99)

"In Sophie Gonzales' latest YA contemporary, Darcy Phillips runs a secret business giving students at her school love advice, and she's very good at her job. But when she's found out by the swoony Alexander Brougham, Darcy finds herself helping him win back his girlfriend in order to protect her secret. The ensuing hijinks are packed with humor, romance, and wisdom but most of all a wonderful sense of queer pride. Perfect on Paper reads a bit like what you'd get if you mixed Leah on the Offbeat and Netflix's Sex Education, but Gonzales also captures a charming wit that's uniquely hers. With snappy dialogue, a lovable cast of side characters, and important conversations about bisexuality, this book absolutely won my heart!"
--Julia DeVarti, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI


By Mercedes Helnwein

(Wednesday Books, 9781250253002, $18.99)

"Irreverent and rip-off-the-bandage honest, this book is the coming-of-age story of the moment. It's uncomfortable, messy, and everything a book about two teenagers falling in love for the first time should be. And it's all that while being a beautifully singular reminder of how letting people into your life can heal you, break you, but also reveal you. This book made me frustrated, swoony, nostalgic, and reflective. I'll have Grace Welles in my head for a lifetime."
--Claire Phelan, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA


By Mary H.K. Choi

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 9781534446007, $19.99)

"What a sharp, terrific book. I love how Choi develops the characters with perfect details. The whole world of Yolk is beautifully built, from the vision of New York City through the eyes of both sisters to the return home to Texas, and every space in between. This family, these sisters--I'm rooting for them."
--Rachel Barry, WORD Bookstores, Brooklyn, NY