Book Review: OCDaniel by Welsey King

Cover of OCDaniel. Blue background with numbers, some crossed out with the letters OCD vertically-placed, Daniel spelled out acrostic style. Author Wesley King's name at the bottom right. There is a Q-Tip with yellow scribbles representing hair in the middle of the O.

Daniel has OCD…except he doesn’t know. He just knows about the “zaps” and other sensations he feels that compel him to flicker the lights or count his steps. He also knows he doesn’t want to be seen as anything other than a normal kid, and attempts to distance himself from anything that could make him look weird. That means no matter what, he never tells his family or his friends what he’s really thinking. That’s one of several conflicts in Wesley King’s OCDaniel, a middle grade novel about a quirky kid with a bunch of normal kid problems and a big secret.

This isn’t unusual for someone with OCD. Despite showing OCD traits as a child, it wasn’t until my 20’s until I got a firm diagnosis of OCD, similar to King’s own story he includes at the end of the book. Many people with OCD hide their symptoms, which is major reason why this book is so special.

But don’t be fooled into thinking King’s book is only about OCD! Daniel’s story is interwoven with the pressures of being the water boy on his school’s football team, figuring out girls, and a mysterious letter he receives from a “Fellow Star Child”. It’s also funny and charming, the title cover’s Q-Tip a nod to how Daniel is described by his coach.

For those looking for an empathetic and adventurous middle grade novel, OCDaniel should be on your to-read list. More ahead, but beware: spoilers are in the next section!

Spoilers Ahead

Daniel’s perception of normal is challenged when he receives a note from a “Fellow Star Child”, who turns out to be the girl others at his school call “Psycho Sara”. Sara has anxiety and schizophrenia and barely talks, often seen alone or with a TA. But Sara recognizes that Daniel is different. Once Daniel figures out the author of the note is Sara, she asks him to help her find out why her father disappeared. Daniel ends up being one of the only people she talks to, recognizing his OCD early in the novel. She doesn’t tell him it’s OCD until much later, finally giving Daniel answers about his quirks.

Daniel also grapples with the relief of knowing that OCD is a condition shared by many and the stigma of being seen as “crazy”. His friendship with Sara challenges his perception of normalcy and the value of being himself. At the same time, Daniel juggles being temporarily promoted to kicker on the football team, his crush on Raya Singh (and maybe even Sara), writing his own book, and investigating the alleged murder of Sara’s father at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend.

His friendship with Sara helps him to embrace his true personality, someone who loves writing and talking about global politics. Daniel realizes he doesn’t need to “play it cool” anymore.

Daniel also helps Sara discover what her mother and her boyfriend have been hiding from her: her father died from an overdose, partially spurred on by his own mental illness that is similar to Sara’s.

Despite the heavy topics, King writes a very real depiction of two characters struggling with their own battles and embracing their strengths at once. The mystery and romance storylines also keeps readers engaged up until the very end, when Daniel embraces his new nickname: OCDaniel.

Further Reading

In 2020, a prequel about Sara called Sara and the Search for Normal was published.

OCDaniel is one of several books included in my “Books About OCD Written by Authors with OCD” blog post. Look there for more suggestions of what to read next.

5 Book Series for Kids Who Hate Reading

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Throughout several decades, the world has seen a decline in the number of children reading for fun. As a matter of fact, the amount of kids reading for pleasure has fallen to their lowest since the 1980’s. In a survey conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, children ages 9 to 13 were asked about their reading habits, particularly if they enjoyed reading for fun. 42 percent of 9 year-olds said they read for fun almost daily, but this is down from 53 percent in 2012. For 13 year-olds, only 17 percent reported they read for fun daily, a sharp decline from the 27 percent in 2012. While the study for 17 year-olds was unable to be conducted due to the pandemic, it isn’t hard to imagine that many kids’ reading habits have declined over the years.

The pandemic has made everyone’s concentration and mental health decline, the decline we are seeing in children is particularly worrisome. Besides the “learning-gap” caused by the abnormal years, kids are missing out on developing essential skills. Reading fiction alone has been proven to enhance a person’s social cognition abilities, or the part of the brain responsible for interpreting feelings.

Finding books for your kids to read can be tough, but not impossible. It normally comes down to having your kids pick their own books and finding suggestions of popular book series many kids easily relate to. The books in my list are a great starting place, as many of these series were books that interest my own students or even some of my closest friends growing up.

Diary of A Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney

Despite being so close to adulthood, so many of my reluctant high school readers will fight over who gets which Wimpy Kid book next. The series, with over 250 million books sold to kids of all ages, follows Greg Heffley and his hilarious misadventures as an every day kid. The series is targeted at ages 8 through 12, but anyone can relate to the struggles relating to family, friends, and changes happening during those dreaded middle school years.

The books also include illustrations to demonstrate Greg’s various predicaments. Never underestimate the power of a few black-and-white illustrations to get students interested in the material.

If your child or students have already gone through all of the Wimpy Kid books, Kinney has also written a spin-off series with Rowley Jefferson, one of Greg’s friends. The Awesome Friendly Kid series is still humorous, but with Rowley’s more wholesome, if not naïve, perspective.

The first three books have been turned into movies, so make it an incentive to watch the movie after reading the books to see all of the differences.

Big Nate by Lincoln Pierce

If your kids or students have already gone through every Wimpy Kid book, Big Nate has another middle school protagonist just trying to survive his “tweenage” years. These books are mostly made up of comic strips of Nate’s adventures at school, so it is more of a comics collection than a traditional book. Even so, these books helped inspire the Wimpy Kid books, so you know they’re doing something right.

There are now books with words and pictures in the style of the Wimpy Kid books for even more adventures with Nate and more content for kids to enjoy.

PErcy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

I have proof of this series turning non-readers into devoted bibliophiles. My best friend of 15 years first got into reading when our history teacher read us The Lightning Thief as we learned about Ancient Greece. Without that opportunity, her love of reading may have blossomed much later, maybe never at all. Thanks to the series, I’ve maintained an interest in Greek mythology and use it to write poetry, create fun lesson plans, and to simply read even more interpretations of various ancient stories.

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan uses modern interpretations of the Greek gods, exciting lore, and relatable kid characters allows for readers’ imaginations to flourish. They are also action-packed, leaving no room for boredom. The six books won’t seem like enough to the first-time reader.

Riordan has since expanded the series into an empire of books: The Trials of Apollo, The Kane Chronicles, The Heroes of Olympus, Magnus Chase, and Daughters of the Deep. Riordan has also invited other authors to write on their own history’s folklore and mythology with his imprint Rick Riordan Presents. From Aru Shah to Tristan Strong, kids can meet even more characters from other cultures while still getting the exceptional action of the Percy Jackson series.

I SURVIVED Series by Lauren Tarshis

My classroom library doesn’t have I SURVIVED books for that long. That’s because students are always clamoring to get them. This series tells short, gripping tales of kids who survive historical events. Some of the books are also available as graphic novels and translated editions to reach even more kids. A few of the historical events included in the series include:

  • 9/11
  • The Eruption of Mount Saint Helens
  • The Galveston Hurricane
  • The American Revolution
  • The Nazi Invasion
  • The Joplin Tornado

Pair these books in a history unit or suggest them to readers who enjoy short and fast reads.

Ranger in Time by Kate Messner

While Ranger in Time is marketed for kids ages 6 to 10, kids of any age can appreciate a time-traveling golden retriever. Like the I SURVIVED series, Ranger in Time centers on a unique time period to educate readers about what it was like living during those events…with a dog. Ranger is a relatable character to kids who are struggling because he is constantly getting distracted during his training. But his distractions normally turn into action-packed accidents. When chatting with Messner at NCTE 2019, she mentioned how even high schoolers gravitate towards the books, making these a good pick for picky readers. Besides, who can say no to a cute dog?

Looking for More Ideas?

If none of these books are a match, fret not. Finding the right book can take time. I’ve posted this list on other blog posts, but they’re still just as helpful and relevant here.

ELEMENTARY AGE BOOK BLOGS

CeCeLibrarian’s Book Blog

This Picture Book Life

Blazer Tales

MIDDLE GRADE BOOK BLOGS

Teachers Who Read

Books in the Middle

Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed.

YOUNG ADULT BOOK BLOGS

The YA Shelf

Girl + Book

INCLUSIVE KIDS BOOKS BLOGS

We Need Diverse Books

Colours of Us

Disability in Kit Lit (no longer posting new blogs, but still a great resource!)

Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Books: 5 Middle Grade and YA Fiction Books About Grief

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Grief is messy, complicated, and hardly a predictable cycle. For children and teens, navigating grief and growing up at the same time is a unique grief experience. Sure, there are nonfiction books about grief to guide kids and teens, but sometimes storytelling is better medicine.

No one story of grief is the same, which is why it is important to have options when finding books on grief. I have five middle grade and young adult book picks as a good starting place.

Keep an eye out for more choices to appear in the future. This list is updated as of 1/25/2022.

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

A speculative fiction young adult book that juggles internalized racism, grief, and traumatic experiences through a unique immigration narrative. The protagonist Marisol attempts to seek asylum in the U.S. for both her and her sister following the death of her brother. In exchange for safety, Marisol agrees to become a “grief keeper”, an experimental program where the trauma of others is transferred into another person’s body. Marisol also meets Rey, an American girl who grapples with the loss of her twin brother. For more about this pick, check out my book review from 2021.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Brought together by their father’s death in a plane crash, two sisters must not only grapple with the grief of losing a father, but the realization that their father lived a double life. Feelings of grief and betrayal mash together for a stunning YA novel. For more about this pick, I wrote a review of it back in August of 2021.

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

I had the opportunity to listen to this book as an audiobook, and wow. What a wonderful book from the perspective of a boy juggling grief over a friend’s death, a learning disability, bullying, and judgement from his community over a suspected murder. Mason is a charming, positive character, and while the book doesn’t shy away from his hardships, the story demonstrates how grief is a day-by-day process with small improvements and setbacks along the way.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

A unique blend of realistic fiction and science writing, The Thing About Jellyfish explores the difficulty of facing death by sudden and tragic circumstances…especially when a last interaction with the person didn’t go positively. Suzy grapples with how her friend, a strong swimmer, could have accidently drowned. Convinced her friend was the victim of a jellyfish sting, she sets out to find the real answers, even when there doesn’t seem to be any.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

After the death of his older brother Shawn, Will is determined to make things right according to “The Rules”. But he spends the next 60 seconds in an elevator with the ghosts of his past, rethinking everything he ever knew.

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

What I adore about this book, as well as so many of my students, is the exploration of generational trauma. The majority of Will’s family members were killed by gun violence, therefore Will feels obligated to keep the tradition of “The Rules”, or killing the person believed to have murdered your loved one. Deciding to avenge Shawn’s death, Will gets on the elevator in his apartment complex. One by one, floor by floor, his dead family and friends reveal secrets to him in the confines of the elevator.

Further Resources on Navigating Child and Teen Grief

Here are some helpful websites and resources for grief tools. Check your local community for grief counseling groups or individualized therapy.

Experiencing Grief as a Teenager | VITAS Healthcare

Helping a Teenager Deal with Grief | What’s Your Grief?

Death and Grief (for Teens) | Nemours KidsHealth

Book Review: I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Majorie Agosín

Image Courtesy of Simon and Schuster

If you’re look for your next middle grade read, why not try one that’s perfect for Hispanic Heritage Month?

I Lived on Butterfly Hill is a gorgeous realistic fiction book for middle grade children. Marjorie Agosín’s background as both Chilean and Jewish makes eleven year-old Celeste’s horrific experiences more authentic. Though what is happening in the book is scary, Celeste’s perspective helps to introduce the Pinochet takeover in a way children can understand without downplaying the seriousness of the situation. 

The focus of the first section of the book is the abrupt transition from a peaceful experience under Presidente Alarcon to the takeover of the Pinochet dictatorship.Though I was personally unfamiliar with the events, Agosín uses older characters to delicately explain the parallels between Nazi Germany and Chile to Celeste and to the reader.

Celeste’s family as well as several families around her neighborhood (Butterfly Hill)  are considered as “subversives”, or those threatening the integrity of the new government’s authority. Celeste loves poetry and her parents are doctors who believe in universal healthcare and other human rights, which threaten the new government’s sense of order. Celeste’s friend Cristóbal carries a pendulum around with him that he claims can predict the future. At the beginning of the book, he uses it in front of his friends, but is forced to hide it from guards as soon as the takeover begins. Just like how Cristobal must hide his interests, Celeste’s parents decide to go into hiding after receiving death threats. Eventually, Celeste is told she must move in with her Tía who lives in Maine and learn and adapt to American culture. 

The book, which is a winner of the Pura Belpre Award, also has beautiful black and white illustrations by Lee White to accompany Celeste’s journey. This book masterfully depicts the hardships and triumphs of those living abroad to escape oppression. 

I Lived on Butterfly Hill 

Written by Marjorie Agosín

Illustrated by Lee White

Ages 10 to 14 | 454 pages

Publisher | Atheneum Books for Young Readers

$9.99 US