Books by Karen English

THE NEW KID by Karen English
Released: Dec. 5, 2017

"Combining inviting storytelling with a warm message of friendship and accountability, this entry is a welcome addition to a pretty near perfect series for independent readers. (Fiction. 6-9)"
English and Freeman's Carver Chronicles kids make the acquaintance of a mysterious and self-assured new kid in town. All goes awry when a prized bike goes missing. Read full book review >
Released: July 11, 2017

"A slice of African-American life seldom explored in stories for young people and a must for readers of middle-grade fiction. (Historical fiction. 10-12)"
Twelve-year-old Sophie is the younger of two sisters in an upper-middle-class African-American family in 1965 Los Angeles. Read full book review >
TROUBLE NEXT DOOR by Karen English
Released: Dec. 6, 2016

"Chronicling the importance of empathy and openness, this fourth in the Carver Chronicles is a pleasing addition to a series in which diverse readers can recognize themselves in starring roles. (Fiction. 6-10)"
Young Calvin Vickers must come to terms with an all-too-familiar new neighbor, the biggest bully at Carver Elementary. Read full book review >
DON'T FEED THE GECKOS! by Karen English
Released: Dec. 1, 2015

"The series continues to present appealing and likable characters gently exploring the moral dilemmas of childhood. (Fiction. 6-9)"
Bernardo, Carlos' cousin whom he hasn't seen in years, is temporarily moving in with Carlos and his family. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 2, 2014

"A welcome series addition that emphasizes familiarity instead of difference and treats its message with an affectionately light hand. (Fiction. 6-10)"
Richard dreams of landing the perfect flat-ground Ollie, but before he can attempt the daring skateboard feat, he must recover from an earlier trick that he played on his parents by concealing a teacher's note informing his parents of lackluster effort. Read full book review >
DOG DAYS by Karen English
Released: Dec. 17, 2013

"This outing lacks the sophistication of such category standards as Clementine; here's hoping English amps things up for subsequent volumes. (Fiction. 6-9)"
A gentle voice and familiar pitfalls characterize this tale of a boy navigating the risky road to responsibility. Read full book review >
WEDDING DRAMA by Karen English
Released: March 20, 2012

"Readers of this series will long for some character development; it would be nice to see the girls grow more empathetic along the way. (Fiction. 7-10)"
Third grade continues to be a series of ups and downs for best friends Nikki and Deja. Read full book review >
NIKKI & DEJA by Karen English
Released: July 4, 2011

"While beginning chapter books with African-American characters are rare and usually welcome, this particular installment in a usually sunny series falls flat. (Fiction. 6-9)"
Best friends Nikki and Deja are back in a tale of school elections and friendship. Read full book review >
NIKKI AND DEJA by Karen English
Released: Jan. 1, 2010

Third graders Nikki and Deja have a lot to learn about journalism. Looking for a way to make a little extra money, learn about their neighbors and get an early start as news reporters, these best friends start a neighborhood newsletter. They publish their first edition with solid news: A man is locked out of his house while wearing a bathrobe, a boy breaks his arm while skateboarding and a neighbor wins a blue ribbon for her roses. Unfortunately, there is not enough news to keep the publication on schedule. Things end badly when the girls put together the second edition, crossing journalistic lines and reporting overheard gossip and supposition. English draws characters with complexity and honesty: Nikki is careful and thoughtful but unable to stand up to Deja; Deja's decisiveness does, at times, lack good judgment. The adults in the girls' lives are refreshingly open, creating an anchor for them as they move toward independence. A solid addition to a welcome series for new readers, especially for children who want to read realistic stories about kids of color. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
NIKKI & DEJA by Karen English
Released: Jan. 19, 2009

Little girls, little girls…they can be mean sometimes. Deja's birthday is coming up, and she is filled with all the anticipation a soon-to-be-eight-year-old can hold. Will her absent father come? Will she get the special ring from her Auntie Dee? Things fall apart when Antonia, Deja's nemesis, decides to have a "just because" sundae-and-trampoline party at the same time, with the result that everyone chooses Antonia's party. This straightforward plot explores Deja's reaction to the unexpected turn and makes few judgments of who is right and wrong. Perhaps Antonia is jealous of Deja and Nikki's close friendship? Maybe she didn't sabotage Deja's party? In the end, when Deja finds out how much she means to her Auntie, she gets the best present of all. A clear typeface, ample white space and Freeman's occasional black-and-white illustrations make this accessible to new chapter-book readers, although a note printed in unlinked cursive might confuse some. Likable and independent African-American girls are a rare find in early chapter books—let's hope these two can start a trend. (Fiction. 6-10)Read full book review >
NIKKI & DEJA by Karen English
Released: Jan. 21, 2008

Nikki and Deja are best friends, next-door neighbors and schoolmates. They do almost everything together, from watching cartoons and sitting on the porch, to going shopping, making cookies and playing at recess. But when a new neighbor moves in down the street, things may be about to change. Antonia has enviable possessions—a canopy bed and a trampoline—and is in their class at school. When the three play jump rope together, Antonia's too bossy, but then a misunderstanding occurs at the flea market and Nikki and Deja struggle over the formation of a drill team. It looks as though the friendship may be over, but in an elementary-school world of clubs, competition and jealousy, it's up to Nikki and Deja to sort things out. Accessible writing, authentic characters, an easy-to-identify-with plot and Freeman's appealing black-and-white illustrations come together smoothly in this straightforward friendship tale. English nicely fills an underdeveloped area—this is a first-chapter book featuring African-American girls, and race is presented as an attribute of the characters rather than as an issue. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
THE BABY ON THE WAY by Karen English
Released: Oct. 6, 2005

A child's question to his grandma opens a window to another time and place in this intimate, intergenerational conversation. Grandma answers young Jamal's question about whether she was ever a little girl by going back even further than that, first to when she was the tenth "baby on the way" for a rural family, then, after her birth, describing how she was carried around the house in "takin' up ceremonies" ("somethin' probably passed down from slavery times. People don't do that no more"), and as the "lap baby," how she displaced the next eldest sib to the status of "knee baby." Using a palette of pale, thickly brushed blues and greens to give his flat-perspective scenes a subdued tone, Qualls alternates between Grandma's spacious-looking urban kitchen and the more crowded country setting, where family and neighbors gather round to provide help following the birth; his figures, young and old, bear quiet, reflective expressions in keeping with the general tone. In the end, suggesting that Jamal may one day himself be asked the same question, Grandma offers to tell him about when he was the baby on the way—and what young listeners won't want to hear their own versions of that story? (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
SPEAK TO ME by Karen English
Released: Aug. 13, 2004

English captures the voices of six African-American children as they chronicle one school day. Malcolm is the dreamer, the image-maker, as he notices and pretends and wishes. Lamont is righteous, but he's also the one who gives his teacher a flower and wants to sit next to the "reading boy," perhaps to catch some of his talent. Tyrell is angry and troublesome and yearning to be good. Rica and Neecy are best friends, while Brianna is heartbroken at being left out of their tightness. English employs the simplest of language in perfect evocation of the children's thoughts, confusions, small hopes, and large dreams. Most of the poems can be read as universal moments in the lives of elementary-school children of all ethnicities and backgrounds, or one can "listen between the lines" to find the unique characters of these six individuals. Bates does just that as she enhances each poem with a beautifully powerful illustration, capturing every mood, every feeling, and breathes life into each distinct personality. Just wonderful. (Picture book/poetry. 7-10)Read full book review >
Released: May 24, 2004

It's a hot day—it's also a "best-friend-breakup day." As Miss Johnson works her crossword puzzle and dozes, as Mr. Paul weeds his flower bed, Kishi and Renée remain resolutely apart: it appears that Kishi bought the very last blue ice pop, even though she knows that's Renée's favorite. It's a "never-speak-to-her-again-even-if-she-was-the-last-person-on-earth day." But then the siren song of jump-rope chanting calls and the girls are reunited in double-dutch—finding final resolution in one last, shared blue ice pop. English has childhood spats down pat, the apocalyptic sundering of a friendship miraculously healed by play. Steptoe's textured collage illustrations feature tissue-paper clothing over paper skin, all set against a background of rough wooden boards. He renders facial features in a highly naturalistic manner, with outsized lips and flat noses; it's an effect that may initially be off-putting for readers accustomed to smooth prettiness, but the total effect is both original and emotionally effective (particularly when the girls are squinty-mad, the ugliness of their emotions showing up clearly on their faces). The final scenes, of play and ice pops, are full of movement and energy and joy. "So good!" (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
STRAWBERRY MOON by Karen English
Released: Oct. 11, 2001

Pity the poor papa penguin as he perseveres in protecting his precious progeny. He has to care for the emperor penguin egg by himself through two months of windy winter weather ("Screech, whoooo!") while the mother penguin is off searching for food. Guiberson (Tales of the Haunted Deep, 2000, etc.) has crafted a nonfiction narrative that imparts general information about the birth cycle of emperor penguins in combination with the more engaging story of a specific mother and father penguin caring for their own egg and the resulting chick. This gives more dramatic impact to the text, but is a little confusing at times with intertwined discussions of both the larger penguin group and references to the father and mother. Interesting factoids and interspersed parenthetical references to penguin sounds or movements ("Waddle, waddle.") add extra punch to the text. Paley's (Little White Duck, 2000, etc.) stellar watercolor collage illustrations in vibrant double-page spreads steal the show, with midnight blue skies, downy gray penguin chicks, and graphically striking adult penguins. Although The Emperor's Egg, by Martin Jenkins (1999), covers similar territory, school and public libraries will find this title useful for elementary school science reports and nature lovers will love the pictures. (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-9)Read full book review >
FRANCIE by Karen English
Released: Oct. 13, 1999

In pre-Civil Rights rural Alabama, Francie goes to school and works, helping her mother as a maid for white families in town. Her father has gone to Chicago to find work and has promised to send for them, but he keeps postponing it. Meanwhile, Jesse, a boy whom she has tutored in school, is unjustly accused of attacking a white man, and Francie's efforts to help him endanger her family and the other families around her. Francie's life is portrayed as one of cruel poverty, and her patient, stalwart mother is devastated when the latest letter from her father disappoints them yet again. After the family's long, agonizing wait, repeatedly emphasized, it's quite a surprise—to readers, too—when her mother suddenly comes up with the money, not only to move the whole family to Chicago, but to buy them new clothes before they leave. This inexplicable ending mars an otherwise compelling story about the sheer exhaustion, fear, and frustration suffered by many poor African-Americans in the rural south. (Fiction. 10-12) Read full book review >
NADIA'S HANDS by Karen English
Released: Feb. 1, 1999

Nadia, a Pakistani-American girl, has been chosen to be the flower girl for Auntie Laila's traditional wedding. Nadia will wear shalwar, or silky trousers, with a matching kameez on top. She'll have her hair curled, and she'll walk down the aisle, strewing flower petals left and right. Before the wedding, however, she'll have her hands decorated with the mehndi, a dark red henna paste swirled into intricate designs, flowers, and stars. Everyone assumes that Nadia is thrilled, but she's worried about Monday, when she'll have to go to school with the indelible designs still on her hands. How the strength of time-honored traditions and the warmth and love of a large extended family transform Nadia's feelings about her hands make an affecting—though somewhat abruptly resolved'story. Weiner's pastel illustrations amplify the text; he shows Nadia's ambivalence in her face and posture, and conveys both her pleasure at her important role in the wedding, and her reluctance to be different at school. When she comes to terms with those fears, her smile is radiant. (glossary) (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
JUST RIGHT STEW by Karen English
Released: Feb. 1, 1998

This charmer of a story revolves around the construction of an oxtail stew as witnessed by Victoria, a loving granddaughter who knows how to keep a secret. Big Mama's daughters are attempting to make her stew, without her help, for a party in her honor that evening. But the stew's just not right, and Victoria watches as her mother and aunt decide first that dill, and then lemon pepper is needed. Before the stew is served up, others will have arrived with cumin, garlic powder, and red pepper. Then Victoria and Big Mama, alone in the kitchen, add one essential ingredient, sugar. English (Neeny Coming, Neeny Going, 1996) does a fine job of getting right into Victoria's head as she experiences the push and pull of being a youngster among many adults, and she also conveys the pleasures of the banter and squabbling of a large family. Rich's illustrations add immeasurably to the mix, vividly depicting the gathering of big, bold personalities as the family converges on the pot of stew. (Picture book. 5-9) Read full book review >
BIG WIND COMING! by Karen English
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

A hurricane is coming: Grandpa knows it because something about the air feels strange, Grandma knows it because her cake falls, and the animals know it, too. Bessie the cow ``stood so still as if she was holding her breath. But the chickens kept squawking and wouldn't stop.'' A rural African-American family gets ready for the storm, boarding up windows and storing drinking water. Neighbors who live near the river come for the duration, bringing along their most valued possessions. When Sarah Ann can't find her doll, she runs out into the rising wind to look for it. She is dragged back just in time. Using concrete details and well-placed dialogue, English (Neeny Coming, Neeny Going, p. 225) conveys the suspense surrounding really big storms. Lucas's moody, windswept watercolors are a perfect match for the text. Most have textured streaks suggestive of wind and rain, but the illustration of children playing checkers while the eye of the storm passes has a smooth black background that captures the unearthly calm in the middle of chaos. A beautiful book. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1996

English's first book employs a seamless blend of American and West African language and custom in a story about the pull of family, set in the 1950s on Daufuskie Island, off the coast of South Carolina. The story is simple—Neeny, who lives with her mother in Charleston, is returning to the island to visit her cousin, the nameless narrator who repeatedly announces the visit to others. When Neeny arrives, what a disappointment! She's no longer interested in activities the girls enjoyed before—early-morning searches for sweetgrass for use in basketmaking, crabbing, or picking berries for Dada's cobbler. On the last night of her visit, however, the island family throws a party and ``Neeny have a good time, I think.'' Neeny has come ``like a visitor who didn't want to visit,'' but the narrator is still sad that she is leaving, so makes a gift to her cousin of a quilt made of family clothing. The shapes and forms of island life appear in minimalist blocks of primary color by Saint James that add pure sparkle to an already affecting, bittersweet text; it will encourage readers to recollect their own family members who have been, come, and gone. (Picture book. 5-9) Read full book review >