An unconventional remembrance that will encourage readers to try to create change themselves.

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Barker’s debut memoir showcases a teenager’s personal growth as he strives to help zoo animals.

In 1995, the author was a lonely 13-year-old boy living in Sacramento who filled his days by struggling through school and watching kids’ TV shows, until he read the book Kids Can Save the Animals: 101 Easy Things To Do, which gave him inspiration. He quickly connected with local and national animal rights organizations and set himself a goal to improve conditions at the Sacramento Zoo. Soon, Barker gained media attention and brought about positive changes for polar bears, hyenas, and other animals in small cages. After someone sent him an anonymous letter, he decided to pursue a new project to save two black bears in Roseville, California, from appalling living conditions at an underserved facility. After making hundreds of phone calls, writing letters, and appearing on the local news, the author finally found a place to house the bears at a rescue zoo. However, he needed to raise $250,000 to build a new structure for the animals. Barker diligently worked every angle, from local fundraising to appearing on the NBC TV show Real Life. His message inspired many, bringing awareness to animal welfare. As he discovers his purpose, he also discovers his identity as a queer teen. Over the course of this book, which features a foreword by Jane Goodall, Barker’s casual writing style establishes an easy flow to a narrative that spans years; along the way, it presents detailed snapshots of specific animals’ plights and moments in the author’s personal life, resulting in an unpredictable and original work. Teen readers will be able to relate to Justin’s challenging relationship with his parents, his personal angst, and his determination to find himself. That said, the 1990s pop-culture references to old Nickelodeon programs or the Spice Girls may not resonate with younger readers.

An unconventional remembrance that will encourage readers to try to create change themselves.

Pub Date: June 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73608-432-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Brutus & Ursula

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2021


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Small but mighty necessary reading.

A miniature manifesto for radical queer acceptance that weaves together the personal and political.

Eli, a cis gay white Jewish man, uses his own identities and experiences to frame and acknowledge his perspective. In the prologue, Eli compares the global Jewish community to the global queer community, noting, “We don’t always get it right, but the importance of showing up for other Jews has been carved into the DNA of what it means to be Jewish. It is my dream that queer people develop the same ideology—what I like to call a Global Queer Conscience.” He details his own isolating experiences as a queer adolescent in an Orthodox Jewish community and reflects on how he and so many others would have benefitted from a robust and supportive queer community. The rest of the book outlines 10 principles based on the belief that an expectation of mutual care and concern across various other dimensions of identity can be integrated into queer community values. Eli’s prose is clear, straightforward, and powerful. While he makes some choices that may be divisive—for example, using the initialism LGBTQIAA+ which includes “ally”—he always makes clear those are his personal choices and that the language is ever evolving.

Small but mighty necessary reading. (resources) (Nonfiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09368-9

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Brief yet inspirational, this story will galvanize youth to use their voices for change.

Teen environmental activist and founder of the nonprofit Hannah4Change, Testa shares her story and the science around plastic pollution in her fight to save our planet.

Testa’s connection to and respect for nature compelled her to begin championing animal causes at the age of 10, and this desire to have an impact later propelled her to dedicate her life to fighting plastic pollution. Starting with the history of plastic and how it’s produced, Testa acknowledges the benefits of plastics for humanity but also the many ways it harms our planet. Instead of relying on recycling—which is both insufficient and ineffective—she urges readers to follow two additional R’s: “refuse” and “raise awareness.” Readers are encouraged to do their part, starting with small things like refusing to use plastic straws and water bottles and eventually working up to using their voices to influence business and policy change. In the process, she highlights other youth advocates working toward the same cause. Short chapters include personal examples, such as observations of plastic pollution in Mauritius, her maternal grandparents’ birthplace. Testa makes her case not only against plastic pollution, but also for the work she’s done, resulting in something of a college-admissions–essay tone. Nevertheless, the first-person accounts paired with science will have an impact on readers. Unfortunately, no sources are cited and the lack of backmatter is a missed opportunity.

Brief yet inspirational, this story will galvanize youth to use their voices for change. (Nonfiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-22333-8

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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