Growing Up


Here’s something we all know: it’s not easy growing up. Change is all around, we lose friends and make new ones, our families grow, we move to new neighborhoods and schools . . . all while discovering who we are and who we want to be. One thing that makes this easier is knowing you’re not alone, that others are also going through the same changes; and that’s where books can be such a comfort. Below you’ll find recommendations for books about friendship, family, change, and being true to yourself.


Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire  (Candlewick Press 2014; ISBN 9780763672201) Grades 6-12

This book is about two young girls who accidentally trade lives. Cat, the socialite, is on her way to be presented to the Tsar’s godson when she falls out of the train and Elena, the peasant, falls into it. As Cat tries to find her way back she is herded into Baba Yaga’s hut. Elena decides to take advantage of her new position and journey to St. Petersburg to ask the Tsar for assistance: return her missing brother, help her ailing mother, and help her dying village. In St. Petersburg, the girls come together causing mayhem and confusion. They eventually work together towards the common goal of setting Mother Russia straight. The story flows easily although it includes uncommon vocabulary and an uncommon setting. However, the characters of Russian folklore are what captivates and holds the reader; especially Baba Yaga, who is ancient, modern, and futuristic, at the same time. (Reviewed by Maria J. Sexton)


Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg  (Amulet Books 2011; ISBN 9780810984240) Grades 3-5

Bibi, Eleanor’s beloved lifelong babysitter is moving away to take care of her sick father, and eight-year-old Eleanor is crushed. Even when Natalie, the new babysitter, tries to do the things Bibi did, Eleanor doesn’t want to do them anymore. Natalie is able to slowly help her mourn the loss of Bibi while encouraging her to do things, like write to Bibi, set up a lemonade stand, and learn how to photograph flowers. These activities help Eleanor pass the time while she is awaiting a letter from Bibi and for the new school year to start. When Eleanor receives a letter from Bibi, it gives her the ability to move forward and accept the changes in her life. The charming illustrations scattered throughout the story enhance the text. Written in free verse, this sweet realistic story is one that many young readers will be able to identify with, especially if they lose someone special in their life. (Reviewed by Amy Parker)


Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart  (Delacorte Press 2016; ISBN 9780553536744) Grades 6-12

This novel is on the cutting edge. This book is for young people who are struggling with gender identity issues, mental illness, bullying, and simply fitting in. First and foremost, the main characters, 13-year-olds, are the same age as readers and wrestling with these topics themselves. Lily was born as Tim, and takes us through the process of gender reassignment and dealing with a father who is not in support of this decision. Dunkin, as Norbert is nicknamed, is bipolar and just moved to a town where he does not know anyone. Lily and Dunkin befriend each other and show the reader how to overcome problems with the help of someone you can trust. The reader is exposed to both points of view on all topics. The chapter headings contribute to making this a fun read. (Reviewed by Stacy Rosenthal)



Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan  (Scholastic 2016; ISBN 9780545846608) Grades 3-8

When his family moves to the United States from India, fifth grader Ravi Suryanarayanan struggles to fit in at his new school. Ravi is used to being a superstar student, but he quickly learns that his American classmates think his accent, clothes, and lunches are unusual and not impressive, even giving him horrible nicknames like “curry head.” Little does Ravi know that his classmates also group him with Joe Sylvester, a struggling student who is bullied and feels like an outsider because his family has financial problems. When Ravi and Joe are sent to the same special education teacher’s classroom, an unlikely friendship slowly takes off and is solidified as they find a common enemy in Dillon Samreen. The reader sees Ravi and Joe’s unique perspectives through alternating chapters and even finds a glossary for each character in the back of the book. This heartfelt novel would be a great addition to any library collection, especially one seeking more diverse books. (Reviewed by Tracy Scaglione)


Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin  (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 2012; ISBN  9780316125956) Grades 3-12

This is another mesmerizing fantasy from Newbery Honor author Grace Lin. This is a companion novel to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown, 2009). It isn’t necessary, but advisable, to read the previous book first. Rendi is a runaway, working at an inn in the Village of Clear Sky. No one else seems to notice that the moon is missing and that the sky moans in pain all night long, until the mysterious Madame Chang arrives. Storytelling is the vehicle for healing, friendship, and inner peace. The writing and themes are lovely and readers feel the story long after it has ended. In the spirit and tradition of American Born Chinese (First Second Books, 2006) and The Underneath  (Simon & Schuster, 2008), with the layers of myth, folklore, and superb storytelling, readers will be moved. Read this book; share this book; send Grace Lin a thank you card for sharing this story. (Reviewed by Constance G. Pappas)



Join the Discussion