A preteen foster-family entrepreneur, an Indiana Jones-style adventurer and a group of best friends are all coming to Austin this month — courtesy of the authors for young people who are making tour stops here. Here’s a sneak peek at this winning trio of new books:
Pavi knows the Front Door Face is a game-changer. Not too sad, not too happy, hints of resiliency tossed in. “Trust me,” she tells us in the opening pages of Bridget Farr’s tremendous middle-grade debut, “Pavi Sharma’s Guide to Going Home.” (Little, Brown, $16.99) “After four foster families and a sixty-day shelter stay, I know it works. But nobody was there to teach me the first time.”
Now that’s she’s been permanently placed with a family, Pavi helps the foster kids still hunting for a forever home. In exchange for school supplies and Hot Cheetos, the seventh-grader consults on deportment skills, does online recon on potential placements and keeps a running assessment of foster families based on her clients’ ratings.
When she discovers 5-year-old Meridee will go to the worst family she ever lived with, Pavi adopts the case pro bono. She enlists her foster brother Hamilton and new eighth-grade client Santos to help derail Meridee’s placement, with a series of capers that span from funny to heartbreaking.
Pavi is entrepreneurial and a star student, yes, but Farr— an Austinite who has taught in the city’s elementary and middle schools — eloquently illustrates how her drive stems from the years she spent in foster care.
“For a long time, I hoped my mom would change. That she’d show up with her face clean and her clothes ironed, her once-vacant eyes actually seeing me again. … Then, I hoped Ms. Bell would adopt me. Or my first-grade teacher, Mr. Kim.
“Soon, my hopes got smaller. I hoped that I could stay one night with Ms. Bell, maybe for my birthday or a holiday. I hoped for the dogs to stop barking, to stop getting sent to the school counselor for a change of clothes since mine hadn’t been washed all week. My hopes got so small that I couldn’t see them, even though I knew they weren’t gone.” (Ages 8-12)
Hannah’s made her peace with her parents’ disappearance. After all, it happened when she was 11, and she’s about to turn 16. She’s carved out a happy existence living with her uncle, a Harvard linguistics professor, and hanging with best friend Lucas, an artist.
All that changes on her birthday, when a letter from her mother inexplicably arrives. The cryptic missive references a secret that her parents wanted to keep hidden, even though it might have saved a young boy’s life.
So begins Austin author P.J. Hoover’s “The Hidden Code” (CBAY Books, $18.95 hardcover, $9.95 paperback), a fascinating young-adult adventure that’s part “Da Vinci Code,” part “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and all brainy entertainment. Hannah’s determined to find out the truth behind her mother’s letter, which sets her at odds with a Big Pharma company and the (disturbingly cute) son of her parents’ former best friends.
Hoover is a mistress of plot whose “Tut” books reimagined the Egyptian boy king as a modern eighth-grader in Washington, D.C. She’s created a winning heroine in Hannah — smart, feisty and fiercely independent. Don’t miss the coordinating “Hidden Code” Escape Room adventure online at pjhoover.com. (Ages 11-18)
“Princess in Black” creator Shannon Hale teamed with LeUyen Pham in 2017 for “Real Friends,” a graphic memoir that saw 10-year-old Shannon and her BFF Adrienne tested by super-popular Jen. Jen leads a cabal of girls known as the Group, and the exploration of shifting alliances in “Friends” went on to top bestseller lists and win critical accolades.
Hale and Pham pair again on the follow-up, “Best Friends” (Macmillan, $12.99), which finds Shannon now in sixth grade and wrestling with the vagaries of middle school, even though she’s now part of the Group. Belonging is a game, young Shannon realizes, but “as soon as I figured out the rules … they’d change again.” Heartfelt and personal, “Best Friends” maps the emotional terrain of middle school in ways that should serve as a balm for those who struggle. (Ages 8-11)
Explore time in new picture book
Five minutes can pass justlikethat. Or they can stretch out foreverrrrr. Our shifting perceptions of time occupy center stage in the playful “Five Minutes” (Putnam/Penguin, $16.99), a new picture book from Austinite Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, with illustrations from Olivier Tallec.
Scanlon and Vernick place their young time traveler in everyday situations, from the bank (“an eternity”) to the zoo (“only five minutes?”). Naturally, the getting-out-the-door rush is here, as well as the glacial pace of the dentist’s chair. Tallec’s illustrations capture the leap-out-of-your-skin feeling when a wait seems to be taking too long as well as the flow of being utterly absorbed. Even adults will be reminded that time is how you perceive it. (Ages 3-7)
P.J. Hoover, “The Hidden Code,” 2 p.m. Sept. 14
Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, “Best Friends,” 2 p.m. Sept. 15
Bridget Farr, “Pavi Sharma’s Guide to Going Home,” 6:30 p.m. Sept. 19
BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.
Free, but you must buy the author’s book at BookPeople in order to get it signed. A preorder of “Best Friends” includes a required ticket for the signing line.
bookpeople.com/event or 512-472-5050