YA – Nick and Charlie: A Heartstopper Novella

Oseman, Alice. Nick and Charlie: A Hearstopper Novella. Scholastic Press, 2023. 978-1-338-88510-1. 176 p. $16.99. Grades 9-12.

Seventeen year old Charlie, Head Boy of Truham Grammar School, is a relatable, insecure teenage boy. Nick, Charlie’s eighteen year old boyfriend of two years, just completed Year 13 and will be heading off to university in the fall. Just completing Year 12, Charlie will be left behind. Though they’ve agreed to keep their relationship going long distance, Charlie can’t stand to hear Nick excitedly talk about uni. The fact that this happens more now that Nick’s Year 13 is coming to an end makes Charlie feel extremely guilty. But the thought of not being in the same place everyday makes Charlie wonder if they’ll make it. Oblivious to Charlie’s insecurities, Nick happily documents his love for Charlie on a disposable camera. Meanwhile, Charlie obsessively checks his Tumblr where everyone seems to think his relationship with Nick will end – what first love, long distance relationship lasts? Charlie wishes Nick would read his mind and realize he’s worried about their future, while Nick wonders what’s bugging Charlie. When news of another long-term relationship ending surfaces at an end of the year party, Charlie drunkenly pushes Nick away, ending in an explosive, public argument. Did they just break up? Neither willing to admit their relationship is over – but also not willing to ask the other – Nick and Charlie need to work through their feelings for each other while revising (studying for exams). A bonus explanation for American readers written by editor David Levithan is at the end and will give some clarity to readers who struggle with the British-isms.

THOUGHTS: Nick and Charlie are lovable characters who – like many teens – let their insecurities get in the way of talking about their feelings. Highly recommended for high school collections, especially where Heartstopper and other Oseman titles are popular.

Romance          Maryalice Bond
Realistic Fiction

MG -Finally Seen

Yang, Kelly. Finally Seen. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-534-48833-5. unpaged. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

When her parents emigrated to the United States with her young sister Millie, Lena Gao stayed behind in the “waiting city” of Beijing with her beloved lao lao (grandmother). In the opening pages of Finally Seen, Lena is on a flight to Los Angeles to be reunited with her family! But five years is a long time, and Lena has a lot to learn about her own family, not to mention the English language and American culture. Lena quickly realizes that nothing has been perfect for her parents in California either. Her dad works very long hours on an organic farm, back rent will be due in a few short months when COVID-19 rent relief expires, and their green cards are hung up in red tape. To make ends meet, Mom and Millie make bath bombs to sell on Etsy, and Lena happily joins in the family business. At school, Lena begins to learn English with the help of an empathetic ELL teacher and Flea Shop, a graphic novel that offers Lena a mirror of her own life. But Lena’s joy at being “finally seen” in a book also finds her caught in the midst of a culture war over what books are appropriate for students to read. 

THOUGHTS: Kelly Yang delivers another charming and relatable middle grade novel rooted in the real experiences of so many young people in the United States and beyond. Her Author’s Note describes the impact of attempts to ban her novel Front Desk, and her steadfast belief in the freedom to read books that offer windows, mirrors, and sliding doors.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Friday I’m in Love

Garrett, Camryn. Friday I’m in Love. Alfred A. Knopf, 2023. 978-0-593-43510-6. 272 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

California teen Mahalia Harris missed out on the sweet sixteen party of her dreams due to finances; she and her single mom just couldn’t cover the cost. She decides on a coming out party instead, planning to reveal her queer identity to her closest friends and family at a big bash instead of one by one. Naturally the cake, invitations, and custom dress will reflect a rainbow theme! Despite Mahalia’s careful budgeting plans, everything is complicated by her mom’s unexpected medical needs, a landslide of schoolwork, tension with her bestie, and a flirty but unavailable new girl at school. Siobahn, who has recently relocated to San Diego from Ireland, seems interested in Mahalia but is currently dating another classmate, Danny. Although Mahalia’s crush is undeniable, she doesn’t know for certain if Siobahn is attracted to girls as well as boys … at first. Camryn Garrett’s third novel (and first romantic comedy) includes plenty of genuinely comedic moments to balance out the relationship angst. The author also realistically portrays the financial burdens that so many teens face. One criticism: throughout Friday I’m in Love, Mahalia references her curves. It’s unfortunate that the cover art, which depicts Mahalia’s fabulously proud 2custom dress, does not accurately reflect the character’s shape.

THOUGHTS: Fans of queer romantic comedies, especially readers of Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in a Crown, will not want to miss this one! 

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Evergreen

Cordell, Matthew. Evergreen. Feiwel and Friends, 2023. 978-1-250-31717-9. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Evergreen is not a brave squirrel. She is afraid of loud noises, heights, swimming, and thunderstorms. Buckthorn Forest, where Evergreen lives in a tall red oak tree with her mother, is full of scary things. But Evergreen’s mother needs her to deliver an acorn full of healing soup to an ailing Granny Oak. Evergreen has never traveled through Buckthorn by herself … until now. Along the way, she encounters a fluffy white rabbit trapped between two rocks, a red-tailed hawk, and an old toad and his great-grandson. Each new character needs Evergreen’s help, and she must find her courage to solve her fellow forest critters’ problems. What will happen when she meets the fiercest of all the animals in Buckthorn, a grizzly bear? Matthew Cordell’s ink and watercolor illustrations are characteristically wonderful. Evergreen’s expressive eyes and tentative posture reveal her anxiety; she practically quivers on the page! Full-page spreads featuring Buckthorn Forest’s predators add high-stakes drama to the story. A color palette of green, blue, and brown represents the natural world perfectly. 

THOUGHTS: Readers of Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen and Cordell’s own Cornbread and Poppy series will love this woodsy adventure story. The ending hints at future Evergreen excursions!

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Promise Boys

Brooks, Nick. Promise Boys. Henry Holt and Company, 2023. 978-1-250-86697-4. 294 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

J.B., Ramón, and Trey are students at the Urban Promise Prep School in Washington, DC. They do their best to follow the ultra-strict rules established by their principal as part of his “Moore Method.” But when Principal Moore is murdered, each of the three boys (who were all in detention and adjacent to the crime scene that day) become suspects. Although they do not trust each other at first, they soon realize that their best chance at clearing their names is to work together to expose the real killer. Debut author Nick Brooks does a great job of developing each character’s unique voice and personality, which is pivotal because the story is told from numerous points of view. Each teen has his own struggles, triumphs, and secrets that play into how they approach the world and each other. In addition to being a propulsive murder mystery, Promise Boys poses some serious questions about the prep school’s toxic culture of excellence. 

THOUGHTS: Readers who enjoy books by Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, and Karen M. McManus will gravitate to this novel, which is both entertaining and rich with opportunities for deep discussion.

Mystery          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Seasons: Summer Shine! (Series NF)

Murray, Julie. Seasons: Summer Shine! Abdo Kids, 2022. $21.95 ea. $131.70 set of 6. 24 p. Grades K-2.

Summer Adventures. 978-1-098-20930-8.
Summer Animals
. 978-1-098-20931-5.
Summer Food. 978-1-098-20932-2.
Summer Holidays. 978-1-098-20933-9.
Summer Plants. 978-2-098-20934-6.
Summer Weather. 978-2-098-20935-3.

Summer Adventures is an early nonfiction book aimed at young readers. Bright photographs and bold primary colors are used throughout the book. Each two-page spread depicts a primary student enjoying a popular summer activity, including the beach, playgrounds, family barbecues, fishing, camping, and swimming and boating. Text is very simple, with only one sentence per page. Table of Contents, Index, Glossary, and suggestions for further summer adventures all are included in this nonfiction selection leveled for Kindergarten readers. A QR code at the end of the book enables teachers or parents to access free worksheets, coloring sheets, games, and more.

THOUGHTS: An excellent introduction to nonfiction text features. Photos depict diverse representations of children and families. Perfect for an early primary or preschool library or nonfiction section. Activities and lesson plans accessed through the QR code are developmentally appropriate and are a nice addition for easy lesson planning.

525.5 Natural Sciences and Mathematics         Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Pizza My Heart

Song, Mika. Pizza My Heart. RH Graphic, 2022. 978-0-593-47972-8. $12.99. 91 p. Grades K-3.

Tired of eating only acorns, squirrels Norma and Belly set out in search of pizza. A new pizzeria has opened in town with a storefront vending machine. Norma and Belly observe a human operating the machine and decide to give it a try. The only problem is they do not have any money to insert into the machine. When Norma scrambles up the machine to try to figure it out, she is sucked in through the bill slot, and finds herself in the pizzeria, and the adventure begins. Hiding in a pizza box, Norma is accidentally packed onto a delivery bike and whisked away. Meanwhile, Belly, who has been desperately trying to break into the pizzeria, hops aboard the delivery bike in hopes of gaining access after the delivery. As it turns out, the delivery bike is headed to the home of Tomato, a mean cat wearing an eye patch. It will take brains and guts to get past Tomato and rescue Norma, but Belly prevails. 

THOUGHTS: A delightful early graphic novel, Pizza My Heart has amusing illustrations and characters that are adorably silly. A great introduction to graphic novels.

Early Graphic Novel          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – The Three Billy Goats Gruff

Barnett, Mac. The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Orchard Books, and Imprint of Scholastic, 2022. 978-1-338-67384-5. $18.99. 48 p. Grades K-3.

This is a beautiful and amusing retelling of the traditional Norwegian trickster tale, brilliantly illustrated by Jon Klassen. A hungry troll lives beneath a bridge that connects the farmland to a grassy hill. Barnett’s classic droll humor makes this troll particularly amusing – he is so desperate he even eats his own ear wax and belly button lint. When a small goat crosses the bridge the troll dances and chants in rhyming verse, explaining all the ways he enjoys eating goat. The small goat convinces the troll to let him go, claiming that his big brother will follow him over the bridge. The big brother has a lot more meat on his bones and will make a much tastier meal for the troll. The troll lets the little goat go and praises himself for tricking the small goat into telling him about a better opportunity. Next, of course, comes the big brother goat. Again, the troll launches into a hilarious, rhyming litany of all the ways he will prepare the big brother goat for dinner. The big brother goat explains he is not the biggest of the goat brothers and would spoil the troll’s appetite. The greedy troll lets this second goat pass over the bridge without harm. As the troll waits in anticipation of his large meal he considers the words he will choose for his next rhyming recipe. The words “strudel” and “escargot” have him particularly perplexed. Along comes the biggest goat. This third goat is so big that we only can see his hairy legs on the full-bleed-spread. This goat is much larger than the troll bargained for; he is so shocked he cannot even form a rhyme. The biggest goat firmly tells the troll he will not eat him, and then proceeds to head-butt the troll off of the bridge. The troll splashes into the water below and falls down a big waterfall, which leads to an even bigger waterfall, which leads to an absolutely enormous waterfall. The three goat brothers are reunited on the grassy ridge, where they live happily ever after.

THOUGHTS: Barnett and Klassen are fabulous as always in this classic fairy tale with a twist. The book works exceedingly well as a read aloud. Children will be delighted in the rhyming antics of the troll, and the reveal of the third goat is absolutely brilliant. An embedded lesson in superlative adjectives is a delightful added bonus.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD
Fairy Tale

MG – Operation Pangolin: Saving the World’s Only Scaled Mammal

Eszterhas, Suzi. Operation Pangolin: Saving the World’s Only Scaled Mammal. Millbrook Press, 2022. 40 p. $23.04. 978-1-728-44295-2. Grades 5-8. 

Pangolins are an endangered species, and they couldn’t ask for a better book than Operation Pangolin to entice humans to ensure their survival. Wildlife photographer Eszterhas uses photographs liberally on wide pages, sure to elicit “oohs and aahs,” as well as “awws” for amazing baby pangolin photos.  Eszterhas begins by focusing on the story of conservationist Thai Van Nguyen, who recalls the day as a child when he saw a pangolin and her baby being captured by poachers (likely for their scales, which are mistakenly believed to have medicinal properties), and how he vowed to “save all the pangolins in the world” (5). He now runs the world’s largest pangolin rescue operation, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. He and his staff rescue and treat injured pangolins, and Thai frequently speaks about and introduces pangolins to humans. The small numbers of pangolins and their shyness means that scientists still have many questions about their life habits, such as life span, mating habits, and duration of pregnancy. Researchers do know that pangolins have poor eyesight and a strong sense of smell; they have special muscles to close their ears and nostrils (in addition to eyes) while eating ants; their sticky tongues can be longer than their bodies; and they swallow sand and small stones to aid digestion. The photos are the focus of this book. Readers see pangolins curled into balls, eating ants, using their fingers to dig or hold onto branches, undergoing medical exams by Thai’s staff, and babies feeding and riding on their mothers’ backs. The remarkably close and clear photos, even of their scales, gives a sense of wonder and understanding of these creatures. 

THOUGHTS: This book is a winner for upper elementary and above, with facts and photographs to enthrall readers and urge them to help.  Don’t miss other recent amazing animal books by Eszterhas, including A Leopard Diary (2022) and The Adventures of Dr. Sloth (2022).

599.3 Pangolins          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Four for the Road

Reilly, K.J. Four for the Road. Simon & Schuster, 2022. 280 p. $18.99 978-1-665-90228-1. Grades 7-12.

One year ago, Asher Hunting’s mom was killed in a car accident by a drunken truck driver, who, due to a technicality, faced no penalties. For him, life continues. But for Asher, guilt over his part in the accident, along with revenge, consume his thoughts. He’s gone so far as to profile the drunk driver online and discover he has a teenage daughter Grace, who Asher ‘catfishes,’ planning to take her to her prom. Asher’s supportive father waits for him to process the grief, even taking him to multiple grief groups. In these groups, Asher meets Sloane, whose dad died of cancer; Will, whose little brother was in the minority of those to die from neuroblastoma; and eighty-year-old Henry, whose wife has died. The prom–and Asher’s revenge–is approaching, leading these four on a road trip from New Jersey to Graceland. Each person is seeking something different to heal their grief–and the success of each depends upon the unknowns of the trip and upon each other. By turns sarcastic and realistically grief-laden, this novel showcases grief and the things we need from each other. Asher’s voice rings true as the modern-day Holden Caulfield with a deep reason to voice his pain, confusion, and desperation. Although humorous at times, the novel does not downplay each character’s pain and growth. And when Asher arrives at Grace’s house, readers are treated to another unexpected character, and she is no shamed, wilting damsel.

THOUGHTS: This is a heart-wrenching and heart-healing book about grief, and readers will root for Asher, Sloane, Will, Henry, and Grace on their journey. It strikes just the right balance of humor, introspection, pain, and healing. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD