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Books About Self Esteem

 | May 29, 2013

self esteemAs teachers and librarians, we often are put in the position of finding books for struggling readers or readers who are struggling with other issues in their lives. These new books dealing with shyness, superficiality, jealousy, identity, and other self esteem issues were selected by IRA's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group to help adults teach students that reading can provide an escape and sometimes revelations.

ReadWriteThink offers several lesson ideas across the grades for issues on self-esteem in the reading classroom.


Bar-el, Dan. (2013). Not your typical dragon. Illus. by Tim Bowers. New York: Viking Press.

Waiting on his seventh birthday, little dragon Crispin Blaze is anxious for this particular birthday celebration so he can begin to breathe fire like the rest of his proud dragon family. “Every Blaze breathes fire,” explained his father. (p.1) However, when he goes to light the candles on his birthday cake, whipped cream comes out instead of fire! His father rushes him to the doctor the very next day to see what is wrong though his little sister Abby liked the whipped cream. However, at the doctor’s office, Crispin breathes Band-Aids, and then at fire-breathing practice marshmallows come out of his mouth and when he encounters the knight, Sir George, only bubbles burst forth. George and Crispin become friends at this point and Sir George offers his help. They try hot spicy foods, thinking mean thoughts and even relaxation exercises. When nothing works, Sir George takes Crispin home. When the fathers of Crispin and George meet, they at once set to fighting and it is Crispin’s special new talent that saves the day. Being different is often a good thing, and full of surprises, too!

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Bracken, Beth. (2012). Too shy for show and tell. Illus. by Jennifer Bell. Picture Window Books.

“Sam the giraffe was a quiet boy. Nobody knew much about him.” (p.1) Sam loved trucks and chocolate cake and he thought dogs were just the greatest animals ever. But Sam didn’t talk much so no one knew what Sam liked or didn’t like. People did not know much about Sam at all. Sam did not like talking in front of people and that is why he hated show-and-tell. When his teacher, Miss Emily, announced that Friday would be show and-tell day, Sam started to worry. He knew he had a great thing to share but he was afraid to stand up in front of everyone. He attempted several ways to get out of show-and-tell like pretending to be sick on Friday or telling his teacher he forgot about it and did not bring anything to share. As Sam watched the other kids share their things on Friday, he did work up the courage. He showed the picture of his new dog that he had named Chocolate because that was his favorite kind of cake. Everyone clapped and Sam was already thinking of the truck he would show next time for show-and-tell.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Brennan-Nelson, Denise. (2013). He’s been a monster all day! Illus. by Cyd Moore. Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.

A mother describes her son as the monster he has been all day. When he hears his mommy say that he decides to REALLY become a monster and begins his tirade (rumpus?). At this point, the illustrator depicts the young lad as a scaly green, wild haired, toothy monster as he begins to prove his mother’s observation rings true. He yells and yowls, plays in the mud, revs up his monster trucks and runs wild all night. He discovers it is not quite so fun to be a monster alone. Exhausted, he falls into bed and returns to the sweet, but sleeping, little boy that mother loves. This book begs to be read or compared to Sendak’s Max from Where the Wild Things Are. Read more about author Denise Brennan-Nelson in this interview on the Engage blog.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Chorao, Kay. (2103). Bad boy, good boy. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Written as four short stories entitled, “Found,” “Snack,” “Leaves,” and “Nest” author/illustrator Kay Chorao’s watercolor, gouache, and ink illustrations portray young Sam trying to do good things, only to be misunderstood and told he has been bad. Sam runs through Grandma’s tulips and bangs into Grandpa in his hammock and knocks over the trash as he is trying to catch his friend’s hat while the wind pushes it just out of reach. At school his teacher puts him in a corner and in the last chapter he runs out into a storm. Chorao’s panel illustrations portray the adult characters as they progress from anger to understanding when they see that Sam is trying to do good things, but perhaps in an awkward way. His good-hearted intentions are recognized and rewarded at the end with “Good Boy.”

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Higgins, Melissa. (2012). We all look different. Capstone Press.

Starting with “I Like How I Look” (p.1) and using sharp photographs, this book is for the yongest primary age readers with its large and simple text. The photographs throughout the book show children of many backgrounds and ethnicities. One page has a boy playing soccer in his walker. Reading this book at the beginning of the school year will invite acceptance of all types of children in the classroom setting.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Lewin, Betsy. (2013). You can do it! New York: Holiday House.
From the publisher’s I Like to Read picture book series for primary readers, this delightful first reader offers simple text in speech bubbles coupled with Caldecott-Honor illustrator Betsy Lewin’s humorous watercolor illustrations. Young gator reads the sign: Big Race Sunday. He decides to take up the challenge and swim for first place in this big race. Of course, he is challenged by the big gator in the red cap who bullies little gator into thinking he can’t win the race. In spite of the bigger gator, little gator is encouraged and supported by his friend, and so, works hard at practicing to get ready for the race. When he takes first place and shouts “I did it” all ends well. Teachers will enjoy a set of flashcards based on the book found at the publisher’s website.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Rottner, Shelley and Sheila Kelly. (2013). We all do something well. Capstone Press.

Written for primary aged children with simple enlarged text and beautiful color photographs, this book should make kids feel good about themselves. “Do YOU know someone who does SOMETHING well?” (p.1) opens the book to have readers stop and think about this question for a good discussion after reading the text. In the following pages the children pictured offer ideas like painting well, or observing a boy who can climb very high, or swimming well or skiing. Doing something well makes people happy but sometimes we don’t do things well, but would like to. One young boy states, “Reading is easy for me, but I’d like to be better at math.” The next picture has a young girl saying she would like to be a better reader or another child says, “I haven’t discovered what I’m good at yet.” (p.13) Asking for help and offering help is included in the final pages of the book ending with, “What can YOU do well?”

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Nelson-Schmidt, Michelle. (2012). Jonathan James and the whatif monster. Tulsa, OK: Kane Miller Publishers.

The author says on her website, “Prepare for the worst, expect the best” which is the theme for her new book starring Jonathan James, a young red-haired boy, and his little green monster sidekick. Jonathan James tells readers that some Whatif Monsters like to hang around and cause kids to worry and doubt themselves. In rhyming text, Jonathan James begins his worries: “What if you tumble/ What if there’s wind/ what if you slip, and your knee/gets all skinned?” Each double page spread has an illustrated scene that readers will observe yet is not mentioned in the actual text. The page just quoted, Jonathan James is up in a tree. Later, he is at the beach worrying about jumping into the water, and then on the baseball field worried about getting a hit, or again in art class fearing that everyone will laugh at his picture. All of the “whatif” scenarios are ones that are present in the lives of all children and they will certainly identify with some of the fears presented here. At one point, however, Jonathan James pulls himself up and questions whether he is wrong about all these fears and they don’t turn out as he expected. With a quickened pace, Jonathan James revisits all those earlier scenarios and rethinks how they might just turn out okay. Hear the author read this book at her website that also includes additional background information.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Sundgaard, Arnold. (2013). The lamb and the butterfly. Illus. by Eric Carle. New York: Orchard Books.

This newly redesigned edition presents a story about being different and accepting another point of view. Lamb and butterfly meet in the meadow for the first time. Lamb observes Butterfly flying and flitting from flower to flower and enjoying the freedom of the meadow. Lamb is a cautious soul and is never far from his mother so observing this freedom in the butterfly causes Lamb to consider this different behavior. On the other hand, Butterfly cannot understand why Lamb does not want to romp and play all over the meadow rather than staying by his mother’s side all day. When a storm blows up and Butterfly is injured, Lamb and his mother take care of Butterfly and nurse his injuries until he is able to fly again and journey on. Each creature has learned a little something of the other and accepted the differences between them.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Thomas, Isabel. (2013). Dealing with feeling…Proud. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.

Part of a useful series on emotions commonly experienced by just about everyone, this simple title offers tips for how to handle those moments when someone feels especially proud. Not only does the author explain reasons someone might feel a sense of pride, but she also offers ways that readers can develop pride from doing good work or helping others. The suggestion of a Pride Toolbox filled with tips to foster pride every day is an especially helpful one. Young readers will find it interesting to realize that too much pride may translate into arrogance, which may annoy others and leave the person feeling proud but completely alone. Although the book is written for a young audience, even adults can find something useful in this title.                

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Thomas, Isabel. (2013). Dealing with feeling…Shy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.

Another helpful title in the Dealing with Feeling...series, this one tackles a problem commonly experienced by youngsters: feeling shy. After explaining that everyone experiences different emotions each day, the author then provides some of the reasons behind shyness and why someone might feel a bit shy. The author provides ways to overcome shyness as well as how to draw in others who seem to be shy. The advice is simple but quite practical, and anyone look ing for a way to overcome shyness can find help in the Shyness Toolbox suggested on page 22. The suggestion to "Smile! A smiling face always looks friendly" (p. 22) is certain to attract others to their more introspective classmates. A glossary and friendly faces in the illustrations make the information even more palatable for young readers.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman




Ain, Beth Levine. (2013). Starring Jules (As herself). Illus. by Anne Keenan Higgins. New York: Scholastic.

Eight-year-old Jules Bloom does things her own way, including speaking, dressing, and even in her selection of friends. She still enjoys hanging out with her friend Teddy (considered weird by her former best friend Charlotte). Her exuberant personality earns her a shot at a commercial as well as the attention of Elinor, a new girl at school who could be a possible replacement for Charlotte and her ABCs, a trio of girls whose first names start with A, B, and C, respectively. Despite her excitement about the audition for a commercial, Jules worries because the product she has to swish in her mouth is orange, her least favorite taste in the world. Readers will find Jules quite refreshing as well as enjoying the supportive family and friends who stick by her patiently as she figures out who she is and refuses to compromise on her uniqueness. Part of the plot centers around her certainty that Charlotte has dumped her when Charlotte is every bit as certain that Jules is the one who is refusing to talk to her, clearly a conflict over something silly but telling. It’s refreshing to read a book with a character so resolved to be true to herself, no matter how strong the pressure from others may be.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Fusco, Kimberly Newton. (2013). Beholding Bee. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Set in 1942 in Ellis’s traveling carnival, Bee Hockenberry was orphaned and so was raised in the carnival. Sleeping in the back of truck, a young carnival woman, Pauline, takes Bee under her wing to care for her. Bee is withdrawn and hides her face because of the disfiguring diamond-shaped birthmark on her cheek. Pauline and Bee are separated due to some carnival circumstances. When a stray dog comes along, Bee latches onto it and the two of them flee from the carnival and the “freak show” she dreads in her future. She discovers a house where two elderly women live and they invite Bee and her dog, and even the runt piglet she has brought with her, to come and share their home. It was almost as if these women were expecting Bee. As the story progresses and Bee adjusts to school and her new life, the two women help her to find her inner strength along the way. The reader slowly discovers these women are her ancestral grandmothers and strangely, Bee is the only one who can see them. This touch of fantasy bolsters Bee out of her isolation and into becoming an independent and capable young woman. From the author’s website, listen to an audio clip as narrator, Bee, opens this story.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Greenwald, Lisa. (2013). My summer of pink & green. New York: Abrams/Amulet.

Picking up where the previous book, My Life in Pink & Green (Amulet, 2011), left off, this one follows Lucy Desberg through a summer that starts out with such promise and then veers toward disappointment. Although her family members are busy preparing for the opening of an eco-friendly spa, which was Lucy’s idea, it seems as though there is little room for her to make a contribution in the family business, and she feels patronized by the adults around her. That’s not all that isn’t going according to plans. Her older sister arrives home with a boyfriend in tow, her father still hasn't made plans to see his daughters, and she's stuck hanging out with an annoying, clinging girl while her best friend, Sunny, is preoccupied with her boyfriend. To add to the confusion, Lucy isn't sure about the status of her relationship with Sunny’s brother Yasmir. Readers will relate to how Lucy becomes frustrated by these disappointments, even temporarily losing sight of her own goals and individuality, and behaving in questionable fashion. Readers are likely to smile at Lucy’s predicaments while learning something about themselves and dealing with life’s bumps and detours.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Guillain, Charlotte. (2012). 101 Ways to be a great role model. Chicago: Raintree Press.

This fact-filled book is about leadership and heroes and helping other people. Chapter titles include: What Makes a Hero?; Being a Friend; Respect; Taking the Lead; What is a Role Model?; Everyday Heroes; Heroes Who Help; and Just Be Yourself. Text features help focus on the information. Captioned photographs, quiz boxes with upside answers, bulleted lists, quote bubbles, single page case studies, hero profile boxes, Q and A boxes and a detailed index are some of the text features that make this guide book easy to use. Teachers who advise student council groups or other leadership teams in their schools will find these tips helpful in directing student groups.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Kowitt, H. N. (2013). The loser list: Jinx of the loser. New York: Scholastic.

This is not middle grader Danny Shine's year to shine. In fact, after the twelve-year-old is blamed for the school baseball team's loss at the All-City Baseball Championships, he becomes persona non gratis at school and the scapegoat for anything that goes wrong. Inexplicably, Danny becomes considered a jinx, and he endures quite a bit of verbal abuse from his classmates. When his English teacher pairs Danny up with Luke, the school baseball star, to polish up the speeches they will be expected to deliver to their classmates, Danny is determined not to be blamed for Luke's inadequacy as a speaker. This book, the third in the series, has a great message about the positive effects of extracurricular athletics and about how easy it is to blame others for your own failings. Fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books will enjoy the title and Danny’s attempts to lose his reputation as a jinx and snigger at his illustrations of the stoic school principal dressed only in his underwear and farting. They’ll laugh even harder when those images show up at the most unlikely place at the most inopportune moment for Danny.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Martin, Ann M. (2013). Family Tree: Better to wish. New York: Scholastic Press.

The first of four books following four generations of one family, this one centers on Abby Nichols, eight when the book starts in 1930. Her controlling and often-angry father is upwardly mobile and determined to make a better life for his family, but at times he seems more interested in appearances and what the neighbors think than how his wife and children feel. As often happens, the wealthier he grows, the more distance there is between him and them. The final straw occurs when he puts Fred, his special needs son, in an institution without allowing the others to say goodbye. Throughout all the ups and downs in the family's lives, Abby remains solid, constantly studying, earning top marks, and dreaming of a fulfilling life. Sadly, her ambitions clash with those of her father, and she must make a difficult choice. Readers will feel as though they are glimpsing pieces of history through Abby's eyes. Feminist Gloria Steinem once wrote about the personal is political, and this book is a fine example of those sentiments. Readers will be drawn to the spunky, independent Abby and how she handles life’s challenges and heads off into uncharted territory.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Weston, Robert Paul. (2013). Prince Puggly of Spud and the kingdom of Spiff. New York: Penguin/Razorbill.

Perfect for an energetic classroom read aloud because of its humor, rhyming lines, zany characters, and outlandish descriptions, this book carries the important message that we shouldn't judge individuals merely by the way they dress. Prince Puggly of Spud is an unassuming boy who takes on the royal mantle of a rather disreputable kingdom after its king deserts its borders. He forms an unexpected alliance with the daughter of the ruler of the kingdom of Spiff, an aptly-named place whose citizens are more interested in outward appearance than anyone’s inner characteristics. Even her father cares more about how his daughter looks than what makes her happy. Spiff’s princess is a bibliophile who prefers reading Proust and wearing pajamas to dressing up in fancy duds. Fans of underwear jokes and those who enjoy seeing adults get their just desserts are sure to relish this one, filled as it is with all sorts of different font styles and sizes and lines that go, up, down, and ramble all across the pages at points. It’s cool that Francesca is a bibliophile, and that Prince Puggly's grandmother is the tireless keeper of his (and her) family stories. With her around, the princess will never run out of material to read.    

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman




Allen, Crystal. (2013). The Laura line. New York: Balzer + Bray.

Laura Eboni Dyson is staying at her grandmother’s house while her parents are off to fulfill their two-week military training. Overweight, baseball-pitching champ Laura is not happy with this arrangement. She is particularly sensitive about the slave shack on the back of grandmother’s property that she considers “yesterday’s history.” However, her father has created a space for her to practice her pitching which works out well when Troy Bailey, the boy she is attracted to, decides he would like to come over for some pitching tips and practice. Things are looking up until Mrs. Anderson, Laura’s seventh grade history teacher, asks her grandmother if the history class can take a field trip to visit the slave shack. Immediately, Laura is embarrassed and defensive, until her grandmother explains the long line of Lauras in their family, dating back to the Amistad and their position in fighting slavery. A quick minute video book trailer introduces this book to middle grade readers where more information about the author can also be found.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Eulberg, Elizabeth. (2013). Revenge of the girl with the great personality. New York: Scholastic/Point.

Despite her great personality and wit, Lexi is noticed for all the wrong reasons. For one thing, her little sister Mackenzie is the focus of her mother, dotes on the, seven-year-old, and drags her from beauty pageant to beauty pageant across the state of Texas. As the family falls deeper into debt due to pageant expenses and Lexi feels increasingly ignored by her mother, she accepts the challenge of Barry, one of her best friends, to glam herself up and see what happens. When she does, she suddenly gains attention from her classmates, attention that she enjoys more than she expected. As she moves into the popular crowd, she dates one handsome guy while still pining for her long-time crush. But fantasy and reality are often very far apart, and the further she travels along this particular image-obsessed path, the more parallels she sees between high school and her sister's pageants, eventually realizing that she needs to work on discovering herself rather than basing her self-esteem on what others think. Teen readers are sure to relish this one since most teens consider being told that they have a great personality as the social kiss of death. They'll also enjoy the description of Mean Girl Brooke and her comeuppance. Some of the pageant and high school scenes are over-the-top hilarious but also sadly realistic.       

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Jones, Rob Lloyd. (2013). Wild Boy. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

The chances that someone without a name, considered a freak, orphaned, and abused can be accepted in the main stream society are slim. A nameless orphan abandoned at a workhouse in Victorian England gets a name and a chance to fame, albeit as a freak in a travelling circus. Despite his Wild Boy name that matches his furry body and wild looks, the boy’s mind is nimble and sharp. He tolerates the torture and insults of his master, while soaking up the nature of the human mind and understanding what drives people. He is a master observer. When Wild Boy is blamed for a murder, he must run for his life. The presence of Clarissa, a beautiful acrobat, supports Wild Boy as he sets out to solve the murder mystery. Using all his deductive talents, he travels with Clarissa to unusual places as he chases the killer. Although he proves his worth to the cops, the circus folks, and to the world at large, in the end he loses a good friend. Reminding readers that it is what we bring forth from within that matters, Wild Boy demonstrates how to feel good about the talents one possesses and how to develop self-confidence. The character of Wild Boy is strongly developed, and the book’s scenes of abuse are extremely graphic and vivid. Some young readers may be put off by the violence in the book. Short chapters and the book’s fast pace make it an ideal choice for those who like mysteries.

- Rani Iyer, Washington State University Pullman


Knight, Geof. (2011). Hot Topics: Cosmetic procedures. Mankato, MN: Raintree.

Although this book doesn't go into great detail on various procedures that many teens and adults undergo, often to enhance their appearance, it provides just enough information to encourage discussion about the issues surrounding this practice. Although some surgical procedures may be needed to save lives, the author points out that many of them are intended to conform with current ideas about beauty and what makes someone attractive. He even discusses simple types of enhancements such as pierced ears and braces as well as nose and boob jobs and encourages readers to decide for themselves where to draw the line concerning how far to go when it comes to changing what they look like on the outside. Because the book is so accessible and attempts to be as balanced and nonjudgmental as possible, it might be an excellent primer for a debate on the topic of cosmetic procedures and the characteristics of beauty that differ among cultures. 

Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Vawter, Vince. (2013). Paperboy. New York: Delacorte Press.

It is the summer of 1959 in Memphis, Tennessee. Eleven-year-old Little Man has agreed to take over his friend’s paper route for the month of July. This is a brave thing for him to do because he does not talk to people because of his severe stutter. Debut author, Vince Vawter tells this story from his own experience and writes directly from the heart as he presents the narrator/character of Little Man. The month of this paper route present challenges, as he has to ask his customers for payment. He meets Mrs. Worthington, who drinks too much, and Mr. Spiro, a retired seaman who likes to talk and ask questions, but Little Man also encounters the scary junk man Ara T, who is also a thief and a bully. Little Man’s parents are often out of town and so he is left in the care of his beloved housekeeper, Mam. Little Man and Ara T have a confrontation and both he and Mam are in a position of potential danger. Through his stuttered speech Little Man, that readers find out at the end of the book is Vincent Vollmer III, readers will anguish over this young man and take great pride at how he stands up for Mam and himself. An interesting book trailer is available along with a discussion guide for teachers at the author’s website.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant




Bingham, Kelly. (2013)  Formerly shark girl. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Following the first book, Shark Girl, a year has passed and Jane is entering her senior year in high school. She has many decisions ahead about career choices but also has a few items on her list of things to do before she graduates. Written in free verse form through first-person narration, emails, texts, and lists, this contemporary language will appeal to teen readers. As Jane struggles with boyfriends, the prom, a first kiss and the concern that no boy wants to be with a one-armed girl she also faces her career choice of art. Can she create the art in her dreams with one arm? Or should nursing become her career path to give back to the medical community? The author has realistically presented a young teen girl who is strong yet full of doubt and the strength that it takes to point herself in the right direction. Listen to an audio excerpt of this book at the publisher website.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Lopez, Diana. (2013). Ask my mood ring how I feel. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

There are times when someone’s emotions seem to vary so widely and so quickly that the mood rings popular a few decades ago might be the best way to judge how he/she is feeling at any given time. That’s the case for eighth grader Erica (Chia) Montenegro as she copes with the fallout from her mother's operation and treatment for breast cancer. While her father creates rules to keep the household quiet so her mother can sleep and heal, Erica assumes extra responsibility for her younger sibling Jimmy and watches helplessly as her younger sister Carmen obsessively counts everything. The fact that Carmen is a math whiz who has skipped a grade while Erica struggles with math adds to her annoyance at her sister, especially when her teachers expect her to be good at math too. Still, the family pulls together and finds hope for their matriarch’s recover in a famous church known for a miracle that once occurred there. Erica makes a promesa to God in exchange for the hope of her mother's recovery, and begins collecting donations for her participation in a Race for the Cure walk. Readers will enjoy the interactions among the loving, concerned family members and Erica's supportive friends, the Robins, as well as her growing appreciation for one of her friends. The author effectively and sympathetically describes the effects the illness of one family member has on the rest of the family and capturing Erica's often-confusing emotions. Readers will appreciate the frank conversations about breasts and the aftermath of a mastectomy, even describing Mrs. Montenegro’s search for the right prosthesis.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Patrick, Cat. (2013). The originals. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Readers will care about the three sisters in this story and their family secrets and wonder how hard it would be to be an individual when you live with two others who look exactly like you. Until their mother revealed the truth about their birth, the three girls, Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best, thought they were triplets. After moving to another town and starting at a new school, the girls share responsibilities and live one identity: One girl goes to school in the morning, another in the afternoon, and the other attends night school. This plan seems to work well until Lizzie starts wanting more. As all three teens clamor for more freedom and Lizzie falls for Sean, an attractive, sympathetic classmate, the secrets their mother has been holding since their birth are revealed. Cleverly imagined and written, the book tackles issues surrounding genetics, self-concept, and identity. As is always the case, the girls’ battle for independence begin on a small scale, starting with Lizzie's tiny rebellions regarding her hair, and then building to larger ones while interspersing scenes from the girls' growing up years. What makes this one especially fascinating is the knowledge that something like this could happen. Readers will also appreciate the book's reminder that even three girls who are supposedly alike actually have plenty of differences despite their similarities. They may look alike, but all three girls are definitely not alike. But how does someone carve out a unique niche when she is given few choices? How can anyone be original when she sees two other faces just like hers in the mirror? There’s much food for thought here.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Shantz-Hilkes, Chloe. (2013). Hooked: When addiction hits home. Buffalo, NY: Annick Press.

In this honest and insightful book, ten different individuals share their personal stories of living with a parent or sibling with an addiction. The addictions range from alcohol to drugs, from food to medication and from work to gambling. Although the stories are brief, they contain a great deal of useful information alongside heart-rending accounts of abuse and coping mechanisms. There are common themes about shame, secrecy, and blame in several of the stories. In the case of some of the survivors, they actually credit the challenges they endured as children or teens for making them stronger and for motivating them to succeed. Not only will teen readers realize that they are not alone in living with a family member with an addiction, but they will also see that they are not to blame for the problems or responsible for the person’s recovery.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Zarr, Sara. (2013). The Lucy variations. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

This author willingly explores topics often not handled in Young Adult literature. Readers are drawn to her books because of the deft way she handles tough issues and because some of her characters are often so flawed. In the case of this book, told from the third person point of view, Lucy Beck-Moreau once had it all: a promising musical career, travel abroad, acclaim, fame, and attention. But after the death of her grandmother, she literally walks away from it all. When the book begins, she hasn't played a note in eight months. Strangely, it's another death, that of her brother’s piano teacher, that leads her back to the piano. Lucy feels a strong connection to Gus’s new piano teacher, Will, and gradually she begins to rediscover her love for the piano. Along the way, she learns to stand up for herself and figure out herself and her own goals. While the attraction between Lucy and Will may be hard for some readers to understand, others will certainly relate to Lucy’s need for connections even while being disappointed in Will's own motivation in persuading Lucy back to the piano’s keyboard. When Lucy finally begins to play again, this time it is on her own terms, not a bad lesson about how to approach life. Readers are likely to enjoy thoroughly the passages describing how Lucy connects to emotions through music and her attempts to identify the things that she loves. There is beauty all around her, even in the simplest of things, and as Lucy realizes, even beauty in imperfection.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


These reviews are submitted by members of the International Reading Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Reading Today Online. The International Reading Association partners with the National Council of Teachers of English and Verizon Thinkfinity to produce, a website devoted to providing literacy instruction and interactive resources for grades K–12.


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