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2018 Bank Street Best Books
Amazon Best Book of 2017
Book Riot Best Book of May 2017
ABC Best Books for Young Readers
A Mighty Girl Best Book of 2017
Nominated for the 2019 Mississippi Magnolia Award
Finalist for the 2018-19 Georgia Children's Book Award
Nominated for the 2018-19 Keystone to Reading Book Award
Translations: Persian

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Matylda, Bright & Tender

Sussy Reed and Guy Hose are like spaghetti and meatballs, fourth graders who share their silliest thoughts and deepest hopes, side by side. One afternoon, after a game of Monopoly, the two of them convince Sussy's dad that they need something of their own to love, that it's part of growing up—and that something is a Leopard Gecko..

Soon after, they're at Total Pets, looking in the tank. One of the lizards nods at them, the one with the ancient face and starfish toes, who's covered with spots. She's clearly meant for them, and they name her Matylda (with a y so it's all her own). Sussy and Guy get right to work, first helping Matylda adjust to the hand, then catching her live crickets so she can stalk her prey. They even give her an origin story, fit for a great warrior lizard.

But a few weeks later, on a simple errand to the pet store, there's a devastating accident . . . As hard as it is, Sussy is sure she can hold on to Guy if she can find a way to love Matylda enough—ready or not. Their story is a brave one, showing us how very far we can justify going for a real and true friend.

"In her own words, Sussy poignantly describes her emotional journey from grief and despair to healing and hope as she learns how to love Matylda in her own way and move on without Guy. McGhee does not flinch from Sussy’s overwhelming grief . . . A bright and tender novel of love, loss, and survival."

—Kirkus Reviews

"Intense themes of love and loss are well handled."

—Meredith Kiger, Ph.D, Children's Literature

Are the characters believable? “Yes. Readers will surely recognize the daily struggles the characters face and sympathize with them. Throughout the story, the characters cope with real issues that many readers can relate to, from dreading the first day of school to having to make new friends.”  On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate this book?  “I would rate this book a 9. The engaging plot twists keep readers in suspense and curious about what will unfold on the next page. The book leaves readers with a life lesson that will stay with them even after the last page has been turned."

—Time for Kids Reporter Caroline Curran

"At its core, this is a sincere, tender story of friendship: Sussy recounts memories of adventures and conversations with Guy, drawing parallels between the friend she desperately misses and the steadfast Matylda . . . Sussy’s deep sorrow hovers at the edges of each page, but McGhee (the author of Dessert First and other books, writing as Hallie Durand) handles the story’s heavy emotions with a light touch, using Sussy’s changing relationship with Matylda and a classmate to provide balance."

—Publishers Weekly

"The narrative is told from Sussy’s point of view, and it is a treat to experience the world from her poetic and imaginative perspective. McGhee’s depictions of grief and loss are authentic, as are the responses of Sussy’s parents, who are unsure of how to comfort their daughter. The emergence of the “stealing girl,” who motivates Sussy’s uncharacteristic actions, lends itself to thought-provoking discussions, making this a good read-aloud or book club selection. VERDICT: This honest and sensitive offering about grief touches on many difficult topics that, while resolved by the conclusion, may require follow-up conversations with a trusted adult."

—School Library Journal

"Matylda, Bright & Tender is a heartbreaking story about loss and grief narrated by Sussy with childlike honesty and openness. Sussy’s response to her grief is to funnel her anger and guilt over Guy’s death into the care of this lizard, which consumes her. Although Guy’s accident is neither graphic nor drawn-out, parents will want to read this book along with their child to aid discussion and to respond to questions about life and death.
This is a beautiful story told with hope and light exploring how life endures despite loss."

—Kimberly Giarratano, BookPage

"One sitting is all it took for me to “devour” this story.  What a complete joy this novel was.  I found the plot to be fresh, unique, and “tender”.  The characters of Sussy and Guy were over-the-top endearing and wove their way into my heart.  Being a fourth grade teacher, I would love to have had these two characters in my own classroom.  They were strong, independent, and so loyal to each other.  I enjoyed that they stood on their own two feet and didn’t care that what other people thought.  They followed their own dreams, passions, and interests.  I’m a “life-lesson” kind of guy, and this story was full of them.  So many teachable moments.  I can’t wait to share this book with my own fourth grade class."

—Patrick Andrus, ReadWonder

"This novel is one of those small books that feels vast in its encompassing of tragedy, longing and, ultimately, redemption. How do you go on in the face of something unbearable? Something that no matter how much you wish you could undo, you can’t? Something that, no matter how surrounded you are by love and support, you have to go through alone? The day she lost Guy plays over and over in Sussy’s head. Reconfiguring her life in the face of this new reality is a task she doesn’t know how to do.  Adults who read this book will remember in their bones the long-ago day that time turned for them in just this heartbreaking way. And children will find, in Sussy’s honesty and grief, a memory of courage and love to store away in their own hearts for the future, when they will need it. This is a beautiful book."

—Alison McGhee, NYT bestselling author