YA – Be Dazzled

La Sala, Ryan. Be Dazzled. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-492-68269-1. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.

If ever there was a meet-cute, Raffy and Luca are it. They meet in the gem aisle of Craft Club, the local craft megastore, both boys zeroing in on Sea Foam Dream #6 gems. Dark-haired, dark-eyed Raffy is a supremely talented cosplay crafter/video streamer, with a devoted internet following; Luca, a smokin’ hot Italian American soccer player. Raffy can’t believe Luca was (he was, wasn’t he?) flirting with him. Raffy introduces Luca into the nerdom of cosplay and conventions. Luca introduces Raffy to fun. Raffy, 17 year old, is so focused on impressing the judges at the various Cons he attends, hoping to gain sponsorship for his crafting, and scholarships to art school, that he has lost the joy of crafting. Teaching Luca brings back the fun. But when Raffy’s maniacal intensity collides with Luca’s laissez faire approach, the inevitable breakup occurs. Yet now Raffy’s success at Controverse depends on working with the boy who broke his heart. Adding to the storyline is Luca’s inability to tell his family he is bisexual, as well as coming out as a closet nerd, and Raffy’s intense, “ARTIST” mother, who scorns sequins, satin and sewing. When all the worlds collide, will Raffy and Luca be able to survive, the second time around? This dazzling nerd romance is heart-meltingly cute. The behind-the-scenes look at cosplay crafting is fascinating, and Raffy is an expert guide to the design and creation of costumes. Both boys have loyal friends to support them, and while family issues are resolved quickly and neatly, it makes for a satisfying conclusion to a fun read.

THOUGHTS: There is nothing not to love about this bedazzling nerd romance with a happy ending.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – A Fun Day at the Fun Park

Schaefer, Lola M. A Fun Day at the Fun Park. Simon Spotlight, 2021. 978-1-6659-0329-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1. 

A Fun Day at the Fun Park is the first book in the Sprinkles and Swirls graphic novel series designed for early readers. The protagonists of the series, Sprinkles and Swirls, are two adventure loving cupcakes. In this first volume, they escape the bakery to enjoy a day at the amusement park! At the park they enjoy activities such as riding the bumper cars, a flight simulator, a zip line, and go-karts. At the conclusion of their excursion, they touch up their wind-blown hair (aka frosting/toppings) with some spare frosting and sprinkles that Sprinkles carries in her handy fanny pack, and they return to the bakery just prior to closing. They fall asleep with dreams of their next adventure swirling through their heads. 

THOUGHTS: This enjoyable read is a great way to introduce young readers to the concept of graphic novels. In fact, the book starts with a few panels in which Sprinkles and Swirls explain to readers how to read the graphic novel format. The panels and text are large and use simple text, ideal for young readers. A worthwhile purchase for schools serving younger elementary students. 

Graphic Novel            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Captain Cat and the Pirate Lunch

Virjan, Emma J. Captain Cat and the Pirate Lunch. Simon Spotlight, 2021. 978-1-534-49571-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1. 

When three yellow birds land on a ship, they soon learn that it is a pirate ship captained by a cat in this short story told in rhyming verse. Two of the birds fly into the cabin with the cat. When the third bird looks in through a window, he sees the cat getting ready to cook lunch while the two birds sit and watch. Could his friends be on the menu? Worried, the third bird recruits a whale to help him rescue his friends. An end of story twist reveals that the bird has made some incorrect assumptions and misunderstood the cat’s intentions. Ultimately, a new friendship is formed between all the animals. 

THOUGHTS: This delightful story is an excellent choice for beginning readers and would also be a good selection for shared reading or read alouds. Though the story is short and the text simple, the author is able to incorporate a lesson about friendship that readers (and educators) will appreciate.

Picture Book                 Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA – The Queen Will Betray You

Henning, Sarah. The Queen Will Betray You. Tor Teen, 2021. 978-1-250-23746-0. $17.99. 368 p. Grades 8-12.

Princess Amarande and her true love, Luca, have finally been reunited. However, in order to save the Kingdoms, they must part. Luca, no mere stable boy anymore, must fulfill his role and lead a rebellion against the tyrant war lord. Meanwhile, Amarande returns to her kingdom to find that her mother, the runaway queen, has taken control through her brother, the newly crowned King Ferdinand. Desperate, Amarande unwillingly accepts the help of her enemy, Prince Tallifer, in order to escape her mother and defy the queen’s plotting for control over the kingdoms. Her love for Luca and for her people motivate her to keep going, even when all seems lost and betrayal lurks around every corner.

THOUGHTS: The Queen will betray you, but which queen? This was an immensely enjoyable and action packed follow up to The Princess Will Save You, loosely based upon The Princess Bride, and the story does not end here! The cliff hanger will leave readers impatiently waiting for the release of The King Will Kill You to find out the fate of the Kingdoms of Sand and Sky and if true love really does prevail.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Sing Me Forgotten

Olson. Jessica S. Sing Me Forgotten. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-14794-3. $19.99. 336 p. Grades 8-12.

Isda has lived inside an opera house since she was a baby. She was born with a magical ability to extract the memories of others, and since these magic wielders are feared and easily recognized by their facial differences, she was left in a well at birth to die, standard practice for any baby born with this rare, but dangerous gift. Isda was saved by Cyril, and the only world she knows is the one that he tells her he saved her from. If she was ever discovered, both her and Cyril would be executed. Isda longs to share her own voice and music with the world, just as the opera singers are able to do, and when she meets Emeric, an aspiring performer, she decides to befriend him and become his tutor, hiding her own identity behind a mask. While he sings, Isda is able to use her ability to explore Emeric’s memories and soon discovers that the world may not be as Cyril has told her. Her friendship with Emeric motivates her to explore and expand her abilities and plan for a potential escape from her lonely and unfulfilling existence in the darkness, but a life in the light may require Isda to become the monster the world fears that she is.

THOUGHTS: Sing Me Forgotten is a twist on The Phantom of the Opera, but it also reminds me of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In this retelling, the “phantom” is a young girl who has lived alone her entire life, but when she learns the truth about the world around her, this angel of music quickly becomes a monster and walks a fine line between being a hero and becoming a villain. Readers will finish this one with tears in their eyes, a craving for warm caramel candies, and perhaps a desire to watch an adaptation of the original tale that inspired this new, stand alone fantasy.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem./MG – Living with Viola

Fung, Rosena. Living with Viola. Annick Press, 2021. 978-1-773-21548-8. 267 p. $22.95. Grades 3-7.

Many people have experienced an occasional internal voice saying: You are weird, bad things happen because of you, no one likes you … for Canadian 6th grader Olivia, this anxiety manifests as a shadowy “twin” named Viola who hovers nearby, pulling Livy out of the moment with reminders that validate her deep self-doubts. Livy worries that her lunch smells strange, that she’s “too Chinese” or not Chinese enough, and that she is a disappointment to her family (her parents are immigrants). As Viola gains strength and volume, the negative dialogue seriously affects Livy’s confidence and friendships. It also undermines her enjoyment of her hobbies, including drawing, reading, and making dumplings with her mom. Fortunately, with a solid support system, Livy learns that “sometimes, the very strongest and bravest thing you can do is to ask for help.” Debut author Rosena Fung depicts Livy’s anxiety, depression, and panic attacks through dusky, bruise-purple panels and flowing rivers of negative thoughts. Happier, lighthearted moments and school scenes occur in a warm, autumnal color scheme.

THOUGHTS: This excellent middle grade graphic novel creatively delivers the most important message of all for young readers: You are not alone! Livy always may have anxiety, but she also can thrive. Fans of Guts by Raina Telgemeier will love it!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Mr. Watson’s Chickens

Dapier, Jarrett, and Andrea Tsurumi, illustrator. Mr. Watson’s Chickens. Chronicle Books, 2021. 9781452177144. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Mr. Watson and Mr. Nelson live in a big house with a small yard that’s home to two dogs, three cats, and a handful of chickens. Mr. Watson loves his chickens, but when their numbers grow to 456 even he must admit that things are getting out of hand. One, Aunt Agnes, even has her own song and warbles it nonstop! The pair packs up and heads for the county fair to find loving homes for their chicks, but not before further hijinks ensue. One action-packed illustration offers a fun Where’s Waldo vibe as readers hunt for Aunt Agnes on the fair’s bandstand. 

THOUGHTS: This wonderfully inclusive picture book will delight young readers with the chickens’ escapades and bright colors! Mr. Watson’s Chickens also could serve as a gentle introduction to a life cycle or animal care unit.

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Colbert, Brandy. Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Balzer + Bray, 2021. 978-0-063-05666-4. 216 p. $19.99. Grades 7-12.

Brandy Colbert, acclaimed author of teen fiction, turns her seamless storytelling skills to the “story and legacy” of Tulsa’s thriving Greenwood District, a.k.a. America’s Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Colbert opens with a chapter on Oklahoma’s history, focusing on the Indian Removal Act, Trail of Tears, discovery of oil, and all-Black freedmen’s towns that were established after the end of slavery. This history sets the stage for the ways Black Oklahomans found to “not only survive but also thrive” as Reconstruction transitioned into the era of Jim Crow laws, the KKK, and lynchings. Colbert cleverly interweaves these chapters with a day-by-day account of May 30 to June 1, 1921, so that readers understand the events in Tulsa within a broader historical context. For example, the “Red Summer” of 1919 saw more than three dozen “race riots,” an indicator of escalating racial violence and white fear that spread to Tulsa and planted the seeds for the Greenwood massacre. Colbert also argues that, along with an alleged assault of a white woman by a young Black man on May 30, “jealousy and resentment cannot be overlooked as significant motivators” leading to the destruction of Greenwood and the deaths of dozens of its residents. Well-placed, pertinent sidebars add depth to Colbert’s coverage of people and events (e.g., Ida B. Wells-Barnett), especially as they relate to the history of violence against Black Americans. 

THOUGHTS: June 1, 2021, marked the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and a number of books for young readers have been released to commemorate the too-little-known event. Among the best is Black Birds in the Sky by Brandy Colbert. 

976 American History          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

TA – Perfectly Parvin

Abtahi, Olivia. Perfectly Parvin. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-0-593-10942-7. 310 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

On the cusp of starting ninth grade, Iranian-American Parvin Mohammadi has a lot going for her: her BFFs Ruth and Fabián, an aunt (Ameh Sara) in Iran who helps her apply make-up via video chat, and a cute boy who has just asked her to be his girlfriend. But days later, Wesley unceremoniously dumps her at their high school orientation. His reason? She’s just “too much.” After (literally) peeling herself off the linoleum to binge-watch her favorite romantic comedies, Parvin hatches a plan to secure a date to Homecoming. By modeling her behavior after the demure leading ladies of The Princess Bride, The Little Mermaid, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Parvin is sure she can get a new boy to like her. No more outlandish outfits, pranks, Hot Cheetos, or being too loud. In other words, none of the things that make her (yes) perfectly Parvin. But can she lock down a real relationship with a fake personality? A compelling subplot about Ameh Sara securing a visa to visit the States (and deliver make-up tutorials in person) adds timeliness and tension.

THOUGHTS: This effervescent, laugh-out-loud debut perfectly captures Parvin’s humor, hijinks, and occasional humiliations. It matches the tone and depth of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever and Sandhya Menon’s Dimple and Rishi series. 

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Three Lines in a Circle: The Exciting Life of the Peace Symbol

Long, Michael G. Three Lines in a Circle: The Exciting Life of the Peace Symbol. Flyaway Books. 2021. $18.00. Grades K-4.

It was only three lines in a circle. One line straight down, one line to the left, one to the right, with a circle around it. This is the picture Gerry drew as he sat at his drawing table. This was the symbol of his dream: His dream of a world without bombs. Although mocked, his symbol eventually caught on, drawing people together around the world. Between the ‘March from London to Aldermason’, to ‘Making Peace Not Hate,’ this symbol became famous for representing peace for all people.

THOUGHTS: A simple story that shares the movement of the peace sign and what it stands for. The back of this book contains detailed information on the peace sign, its creator, and influence throughout the years.

303.48 Social Change           Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD