Fresh Ink: An Anthology edited by Lamar Giles

Books – Twelve authors. Twelve diverse stories. As editor Lamar Giles, cofounder of We Need Diverse Books wrote, “In these pages are all sorts of heroes.” From a one-act play about gun violence by Walter Dean Myers, a first-love story by Newbery Medal winner Jason Reynolds, a graphic story by cartoonist Gene Luen Yang, to a superhero story by Nicola Yoon, there is something for everyone here.

This book is part of We Need Diverse Books’ mission to ensure that young people find authentic stories that resonate with their lives and experiences. This book is for people who identify as minority–whether in race or sexual identity or popularity–to find positive representations of themselves. It is also a book for readers who want to try to gain a better understanding of the perspectives and experiences of others.

There are love stories. Some of the stories offer social commentary. Some may hold your attention; others may not. I found the collection very readable, but if I’m being honest, I did skip one story because the genre didn’t interest me. Months later, several of the characters stick with me. I highly recommend young adults and adults check out this collection.

Over The Hedge (2006)

Cover image for Over the hedgeDVD – What happens when an urban animal family hibernates for the winter in a big log surrounded by their lush and well-stocked forest, then wakes up to find this huge green monstrosity running down the middle of the forest as far as the eye can see? Pure panic ensues when they need to figure out what this thing is, why is it there, and how will they gather food because their forest has largely been torn down. Enter RJ the raccoon. He owes a big black bear a huge cart of human food and thinks he can get a gang to help him steal it all from the inhabitants of the new subdivision. Will they help him, will he make the deadline, will he learn and grow to know what it means to be part of a family?

I absolutely love Over The Hedge. Although it is animated (hello young ones!), there is plenty of adult humor throughout to make it entertaining for all. The animation, graphics, and insight of the natural behaviors of the animals is spot on. A superb cast of actors lend their voices to the film. Wanda Sykes as a skunk? This alone should make you want to watch this!

The River by Peter Heller

Book- The River is the latest from Peter Heller, author of the bestselling novels The Dog Stars and Celine. The River follows Jack and Wynn, two college friends on a canoe trip in northern Canada. Both are outdoorsmen, but different in many respects. Jack, stoic with a realistic worldview, grew up in a ranching family. Wynn, while nearly as well versed in the great outdoors, is more optimistic and romantic. Although the two young men seem more than prepared for an extended trip through the wilds of Canada, a sense of foreboding looms from the beginning. A fast-approaching forest fire rages miles behind them, and is not the only unexpected challenge the two friends face. As Jack and Wynn distance themselves from the fire and toward civilization, they encounter obstacles that test their survival skills and friendship.

Other reviews summarize the plot in greater detail, but I recommend avoiding them, to fully grasp the suspense of this novel. The River is equal parts thriller, character study, and outdoor adventure, which is tightly plotted and beautifully written. Nothing feels extraneous. Peter Heller’s extensive knowledge of the outdoors lends itself to the authenticity of the novel.

The Game Plan (2007)

DVD –  The Game Plan is fun and family friendly. Joe Kingman, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the top scoring quarterback for his professional football team. He is living the high life of a single playboy- sporting a penthouse, owning fancy cars, and enjoying fame. The morning after the biggest play of his game, 8-year-old Peyton arrives on his doorstep claiming to be his daughter, and never knew existed. Many silly things happen as their relationship evolves, from Leaving Peyton behind at a restaurant, to wearing bedazzled clothes to her ballet performance, to rushing to a medical emergency. This movie runs through the gamut of emotions, but relies heavily on the ability to garner laughter.

I found The Game Plan funny and charming. Although categorized as a comedy, the film includes serious scenes that explore family dynamics, trust, friendship, and love. If you are looking for a simple giggle for movie night, I definitely recommend this older gem.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

BooksWishtree is narrated by the oak tree Red. He is more than 200 years old, home to raccoons, opossums, owls and Bongo, an entertaining crow, who together form a delightful community. Red also is interested in the humans around him–in no small part because each year people come to tie their wishes on his branches.

When Samar, the little girl who lives across the street, ties a wish for a friend, Red feels compelled to intervene. He and Bongo concoct several schemes to help Samar and her next-door neighbor Stephen become friends. But everything becomes complicated when Francesca, the owner of the land Red stands on, decides to have him chopped down.

This is a fairly simple story, and I loved reading it. The personalities given to Red and the animals are amusing. The themes of friendship, inclusion, kindness, and appreciation of nature are ones many will enjoy. I highly recommend Wishtree as a family read-aloud because, even if your kids are old enough to read this by themselves–why let them have all the fun? Even if you don’t have children, you may just want to just read this sweet, little, well-written story for yourself. I certainly did.

Our collection has a number of books by Katherine Applegate, including her Newbery Award-winning The One and Only Ivan.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Book–In John Green’s first novel since standout hit The Fault in Our Stars six years ago, Turtles All the Way Down follows 16-year-old Aza Holmes. She and her fearless best friend Daisy hear that the criminal billionaire father of Davis, one of Aza’s childhood friends, has gone missing, with a $100,000 reward offered for finding him. Daisy ropes Aza into trying to find him for the reward money. The actual heart of the book, though, is Aza and her struggles with mental illness, anxiety and intrusive thoughts.

Despite the mystery around which the plot revolves, all of the tension and interest in the story derive from Aza’s thoughts and her interior life. If you like John Green’s signature blend of philosophy, eloquence and navel-gazing, this is a great thing: you will love this book. If, like me, you prefer your books to be a touch more plot-driven and full of dialogue, you might prefer John Green’s other books, or possibly another author entirely. What I can say is that Aza has a strong narrative voice and her difficulties with mental illness feel utterly real. If you enjoy this book or want to read more YA books with mental illness themes, I recommend Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Books–When Ms. Bixby’s cancer progresses faster than anticipated and she has to leave school before her Going Away party, three of her sixth-grade students—Topher, Brand, and Steve—hatch a plan to skip school, go to her hospital, and provide her with her Perfect Day. They face a steady stream of entertaining obstacles during their quest, but the true depth of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is in the flashbacks that fill in how the boys became such good friends and why they each individually bonded so strongly with Ms. Bixby.

Chapters are told from the characters’ varying viewpoints. Topher is overly imaginative, Steve is extremely book smart, and Brand is the one with common sense. It’s fun to see how the boys get out of each of the sticky situations they get into during their day—What will they do when they bump into a teacher? How will they stretch their money far enough to buy all the things they want for Ms. Bixby’s Perfect Day? Who will be brave enough to use a toilet painted like a shark?

I listened to this book on Hoopla, and I highly recommend it either in audio or book format. It’s a great “boy book” for upper elementary students, but this grown up girl really enjoyed it too. Its themes of friendship, kindness, appreciation, and grief and really for everyone.
Other Juvenile Fiction books by John David Anderson include Posted, Insert Coin to Continue, The Dungeoneers, Minion, and Sidekicked.

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

Book–Amateur comic book artist and high school student Jess Wong is painfully, unhealthily in love with her best friend Angie. Jess is content to obsess over Angie secretly until Angie enters into a relationship with Margot Adams, a beautiful student from the nearby posh boarding school. Naturally, Jess thinks Margot is no good for Angie, but is this just sour grapes on Jess’s part or is Margot really bad news? When tragedy strikes at an off-campus party and everyone is a suspect, Jess must face up to what really happened that night. Or must she?

This is a dark, twisty thriller, like Pretty Little Liars meets Gone Girl meets The L Word. The book is split in two parts: the beginning is told in first person from Jess’ POV and the end is made up of police interviews and third person limited POV following multiple characters. This allows Lo to build up the tension without giving it all away too quickly. If you enjoy A Line in the Dark, you might also like twisty young adult books like We Were Liars and Last Seen Leaving.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Book – I love author Sophie Kinsella, my favorite books by her being The Undomestic Goddess, Remember Me? and I’ve Got Your Number. They’re great romance reads with just the right amount of comedy and cute. But young adult novel Finding Audrey is definitely at the top of my list, still containing some of that romance, but centering on a young teen. Fourteen-year-old Audrey rarely leaves her house, and wears sunglasses everywhere she goes, even indoors. Since an incident occurred at her school, Audrey has become homeschooled and agoraphobic. She suffers from depression and anxiety that cause her to hide from everyone but her family. She avoids all eye contact and wears her dark sunglasses at all times. This is how Audrey lives, in fear of the next thing that will set off her nerves. That is until she meets her brother’s best friend, Linnus.

Linnus sees Audrey and he doesn’t follow the rules. He walks unknowingly into her sacred safe space that no one is allowed into. He takes Audrey by surprise but she finds herself curious to understand Linnus’ intentions. Slowly their comfortability grows, and the two become friends.  Linnus pushes Audrey to move out of her comfort zone. But finding her way in this new world of possibilities is overwhelming for Audrey. Her past has lead her to a life behind closed doors, fearful to venture into the outside world, scared of judgement and the unknown. Linnus doesn’t judge her; his friendship helps Audrey to come out of her shell and give the outside world a second chance.

This is one of my favorite young adult books. Also on my very specific booklist of agoraphobia/anxiety-related fiction is Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (2017)

Movie – Valerian and Lauraline are a team of special agents assigned to keep order and peace throughout the human territories in space. They are sent on a mission to Alpha – the city of a thousand planets, where new experiences and evil await.

Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets takes place in the distant future. Alpha, populated with a diverse species – inhabitants take the time to learn about each ones cultural background, and share knowledge, all of which contributed to building their amazing city. One of the most notable aspects of the film, is how one’s racial and genetic makeup did not get in the way of Alpha’s inhabitants from working together with one another in meaningful, peaceful, and constructive ways.

I chose to watch this movie based solely on the previews. The colors, animation, and creativity of the creatures caught my attention immediately. While that was my initial reason for picking this film, the storyline did not disappoint. I definitely recommend giving Valerian and The City of A Thousand Planets a shot!