YA – The Agathas

Glasgow, Kathleen, and Liz Lawson. The Agathas. Delacorte Press, 2022. 416 p. 978-0-593-43112-2. Grades 9-12. $18.99.

Once one of the “Mains” – wealthy kids at Castle Cove High who go by their last names – Alice Ogilve has been a social pariah since disappearing for five days last summer, causing her friends, family, and especially her ex-boyfriend Steve a lot of heartache and costing the town of Castle Cove a lot of money. Since then Alice has been homeschooled while on house arrest, and her only friend was the complete works of Agatha Christie. Now it’s Halloween (Alice is under dressed for the occasion.), and the message: “Alice Ogilve is crazy.” greets her on her locker. Alice’s former best friends are less than thrilled to see her. To make matters worse, Alice is called out of class to visit Ms. Westmacott’s counseling office, and she’s assigned a peer tutor. One of the “Zoners” – kids who seem to be thrown together out of necessity because they’re poor – Iris prefers to fly under the radar and focus on her studies. Though they’ve gone to school together since kindergarten, Iris only accepted the tutoring job because of the promise of a nice paycheck, regardless of how well Alice does. Besides, she has other things on her mind like getting herself and her mother “out of Castle Cove and away from the Thing.” When Alice’s former best friend goes missing, the town thinks she’s “pulling an Alice,” but Alice knows Brooke never would run away. Though unlikely, Alice teams up with Iris, and the two have to work together to figure out what happened, especially when the local police and Brooke’s own father think nothing is wrong. But each with their own secrets, it won’t be easy to let someone new in, especially someone so different.

THOUGHTS: There are a few mysteries within this character driven thriller, and readers will root for different people throughout, unsure of exactly what happened until the big aha moment. Recommended for high school collections where compelling mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Answers in the Pages

Levithan, David. Answers in the Pages. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2022. 176 p. 978-0-593-48468-5. Grades 4-8. $17.99.

“At that moment Rick knew just how deeply he loved Oliver, and Oliver knew just how deeply he loved Rick…” One’s interpretation of a single statement can make all the difference. The statement itself might be less noticeable depending on where it is seen or heard and the surrounding context. When the The Adventurers, a book being read by Donovan’s fifth grade class, is picked up at home by his mother, she decides it is inappropriate for him to read. It doesn’t take her long to get on the phone with Donovan’s friends’ moms either and schedule a meeting with the school. Donovan only read the first few pages in class but can’t see what his mom would think is wrong about a book where kids go on adventures. Before he returns to class without his copy of The Adventurers (because his mom hasn’t returned it), Donovan stops by the school library to get a copy so he can see what’s “so bad.” Because his mom drew so much attention to the book, several classmates have finished reading and the kids have honest, open discussions with each other and their teacher Mr. Howe who is openly gay. Told in short, alternating chapters, Donovan’s story unfolds; alongside Gideon’s, another elementary school-aged boy; and Rick and Oliver’s, the characters from the book being challenged. Readers will see what happens when a book’s content is challenged – how it impacts the teacher, the students, and families who may not agree with each other.

THOUGHTS: Timely and full of heart, Answers in the Pages is a book that should be in every upper elementary and middle school library! Highly recommended for readers who will be able to follow three separate narratives.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Rivals

McGee, Katharine. Rivals. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2022. 400 p. 978-0-593-42970-9. Grades 9-12. $19.99.

Returning from what would have been their honeymoon (had they gotten married), Beatrice and Teddy are back after spending a few blissful weeks in the Caribbean. Teddy hopes to define his role as king consort to give the unprecedented position meaning and purpose. Beatrice has a lot of work to do to prepare for the League of Kings conference. For the first time, Beatrice is hosting the conference as Queen of America, and she plans to bring her father’s climate accord to vote, despite the uphill battle she’ll face as a powerful woman. Princess Samantha went on the Royal tour at Beatrice’s request and convinced her best friend Nina to go along. In love for the first time, Sam is figuring out who she is and how to be the heir her family needs. And with the League of Kings taking place in Orange, Sam is looking forward to spending some time with Marshall. Meanwhile, Jeff filled as Regent (with Daphne by his side) in at the capital during his sisters’ absence. As the royals settle into their roles, friendships and old rivals are put to the test. No matter where the Washington family goes, drama seems to follow. Spoiler alert, the League of Kings conference will be no different.

THOUGHTS: Tackling some tough topics like gender roles, privilege, and racism, the characters take on more dimension in this title than the past two, and readers will find themselves rooting for each rival as they get to know them. They also desperately will hope for another title in this series!

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Big Dog, Little Dog

Rippin, Sally. Big Dog, Little Dog. Illustrated by Lucinda Gifford. Kane Miller Publishing, 2022. Unpaged. 978-1-684-64383-7. Grades K-3. $17.95.

With a great friend and a lot of attention, Big Dog enjoys a great life with his person. But sometimes the days can be long and lonely. One day while on a walk, Big Dog and his friend meet another person with a little dog. Then things begin to change. Little Dog and her person move in with Big Dog and his person, and Little Dog doesn’t seem to understand how anything works. Big Dog decides Little Dog needs to go, so he begins to sabotage Little Dog to show their people just how annoying Little Dog is. When Big Dog goes too far and is sent outside for the night, Big Dog realizes he and Little Dog may not be so different. Beautiful watercolor illustrations enhance this story of dealing with life’s changes. Children will adore the dogs and root for them to learn to like each other.

THOUGHTS: Big Dog, Little Dog is great for a lesson on how friends can have big differences. Hand this title to a child who is getting a new sibling or going through a change in family situation. Highly recommended for elementary collections. Note: This title originally was published in Australia in 2021.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – No Bunnies Here!

Sauer, Tammi. No Bunnies Here! Illustrated by Ross Burach. Doubleday, 2022. Unpaged. 978-0-593-18135-5. Grades K-3. $17.99.

It is time for Bunnyville’s Hoppy Day Parade, and in “the land of a thousand bunnies” our narrator becomes quite nervous when he sees an excited wolf. Bunny immediately springs into action to prove to wolf how wrong he is by assuming there are bunnies in Bunnyville. By donning clever costumes, disguising bunny friends, and renaming Bunnyville, Bunny works hard to show Wolf that there are no bunnies here. Despite Bunny’s best efforts, the enthusiasm for the Bunnyville Hoppy Day Parade cannot be stopped. As Bunny tries one last time to get Wolf out of Bunnyville, he realizes Wolf may not be hungry for a bunny after all. Wolf may have an entirely different reason for coming to Bunnyville. If Bunny can learn to listen to Wolf, he may realize what Wolf’s purpose in coming to Bunnyville is. But can a predator and prey coexist? This sweet friendship story will show young readers not to judge a book – or a wolf – by its cover.

THOUGHTS: Readers will laugh out loud at Bunny’s hilarious antics as he tries to avoid the not so big bad wolf. Bold, colorful illustrations will enchant readers. Recommended for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – I’m Not Scared, YOU’RE Scared

Meyers, Seth. I’m Not Scared, YOU’RE Scared! Illustrated by Rob Sayegh, Jr. Flamingo Books, 2022. Unpaged. 978-0-593-35237-3. Grades K-3. $18.99.

Despite his size, Bear is scared of just about everything, including his own reflection. Rabbit, on the other hand, likes to read scary stories. Though they have their differences, Bear and Rabbit are friends, and when Rabbit announces that they’re going on an adventure Bear suggests a book instead because “if anything goes wrong, we can just close the book.” Bear prepares for their adventure with a bike helmet, oven mitts, and bear repellent spray, but Rabbit assures him he’ll need none of those things. As Bear and Rabbit approach a small stream, the edge of the woods, a mountain, and a long rope bridge, Bear looks for ways to avoid his fears. At each obstacle, Rabbit asks, “Bear, are you scared?” and Bear replies “I’m not scared, you’re scared!” At the long, old, rickety bridge, Bear finally acknowledges his fears and heads home. Rabbit remains, determined to prove that Bear ‘s fears are over nothing. But when Rabbit gets into trouble, he’ll need his scared friend to come to his rescue. Will Bear be able to face his fears to help save his friend, or will Bear’s fears prevent him from helping Rabbit? Sayegh’s illustrations, made with digital brushes and scanned textures and photographs, bring the characters to life and highlight the emotions they’re feeling in the various settings.

THOUGHTS: This sweet story by comedian Seth Meyers will resonate with young readers who may have “irrational” fears. Use this title to talk about fear, courage, and being a supportive friend. Recommended for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – The Great Zapfino

Barnett, Mac. The Great Zapfino. Beach Lane Books, 2022. Unpaged. 978-1-534-41154-8. Grades 1-3. $17.99.

In this nearly wordless picture book, Barnett has created a likable character named Zapfino who works as a high diving artist in the circus. As the story begins, the ringmaster announces that Zapfino will dive from a height of ten stories into a trampoline. The performer, wearing a cape monogrammed with a Z, climbs up a very tall ladder, but then seems tentative about jumping and simply disappears. Zapfino is next seen purchasing an airplane ticket to a coastal destination. He finds a job as an elevator operator in an apartment building located on a beach with palm trees. As a perk, he is given a room on the 10 ½ floor. Up and down in the elevator goes Zapfino, who finds himself very tired at the end of the day. While waiting for his toast to pop up, he falls asleep and wakes up to heavy black smoke. Fire engines arrive, and his only way out is to jump from the tenth floor into the fire rescue trampoline. Can he overcome his fear of heights and take the plunge? Marla Frazee’s charming drawings were created with black pencil. The illustrator depicts Zapfino as a small unassuming man, whose smile does not appear until the end of the story. The apartment building is drawn in the Art Moderne style, and the elevator passengers are shown in small multi-panel displays. A drawing on the back cover puts a finishing touch on the story.

THOUGHTS: This is a simple and engaging text about overcoming fears. Children will be fascinated by the tiny panels which reveal the personalities and interests of the residents. The trim size (31 cm. x 18 cm.) is a great vehicle for creating the illusion of height. Highly recommended for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Why Not You?

Wilson, Ciara and Russell. Why Not You? Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-37440-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Why Not You? is a picture book that focuses on boosting a child’s confidence and self esteem by encouraging them to go for their dreams, no matter how big they may seem. This book is told through illustrations and words, showing children how they can achieve their dreams because, as the book says, “why not you?” The illustrations show a diverse range of students, as well as showing a wide range of dreams that each student has. The illustrations show the students encouraging each other’s dreams which is a wonderful addition to the story.

THOUGHTS: Overall, this was a lovely picture book with a really great message! This would be a great addition to any elementary classroom, or a great read aloud for guidance lessons. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – The Library Fish

Capucilli, Alyssa Satin. The Library Fish. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-534-47705-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

The Library Fish by Alyssa Satin Capucilli is about Mr. Hughes, a public librarian who finds a fishbowl outside of his library one day. Mr. Hughes welcomes the fish into the library and puts her in the children’s section. The fish watches as every day Mr. Hughes reads stories, does book checkouts with children and the fish even gets to go on the Bookmobile! One day, there is a snow storm, and the library is closed. The fish takes this opportunity to go exploring in the library to see more of the books that Mr. Hughes reads out loud that she misses. When the night is over, and Library fish has read all of these wonderful books, she climbs back into her bowl and goes to sleep. In the morning when Mr. Hughes gets back, he notices that the fish may have yawned, and the last illustration shows Mr. Hughes looking at the books that are on the floor with a puzzled expression. The illustrations in this book are wonderful, and the reader will want to go back over this book merely to look at the illustrations again.

THOUGHTS: I adored this story!! There is so much diversity found within the book’s illustrations, and I really appreciated that the illustrator made that choice. The story is sweet and charming and would make a wonderful first week of school read aloud with Kindergarten students, or even a great story to share with older students and have them come up with unique pets that can be found in the library. Overall, this is a wonderful addition to any elementary school library collection. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – My Poet

MacLachlan, Patricia. My Poet. Illustrated by Jen Hill. Harper Collins, 2022. 978-0-062-97114-2. $17.99. 32 p. Grades K-5.

The recently deceased master of subtle writing, Patricia MacLachlan, bears tribute to the late poet, Mary Oliver in My Poet. Though Oliver remains unnamed throughout the picture book, the comparison to her is undeniable. For most of her adult life, Oliver resided in Cape Cod; MacLachlan, too, was a citizen of Massachusetts and reports that she had a passing acquaintance with the poet. Covering a span of one day, a young girl, Lily, meets the poet she dubs “my poet” at a farmer’s market, and the two explore the woods and seashore and enjoy different animals together. As Lily searches to develop her writing style, the mentor poet guides her to inspirational scenes of nature. Jen Hill’s loosely drawn illustrations evoke the spray of saltwater, the busyness of the farmer’s market, the secrecy of the woods. “My poet” encourages Lily in her pursuit of the “just right” words to compose her poem and Hill’s illustrations are in perfect concert with MacLachlan’s lyrical prose. Used as a mentor text to encourage creative writing or as a calming read aloud, this nuanced book speaks to the sensitive child. Lily’s use of a notebook walking through the woods imitates Mary Oliver’s favorite pastime as a child growing up in Ohio: to escape a tumultuous home life, she would spend as much time as possible outdoors, jotting down poetry in her own notebook, even hiding pencils in tree trunks.

THOUGHTS: I don’t know if I am enraptured by this book because I appreciate the understated prose of Patricia MacLachlan or because I am in awe of the paradoxically gentle yet powerful poetry of Mary Oliver. Either way, the prose offers many openings into discussion of Oliver’s poems (she wrote of fish playing with her toes and a whole volume devoted to her beloved dogs). Even without the mention of Oliver, the book pursues the work of writing for young children or as a mentor text for older ones. The illustrations remind me of Allan Drummond (Green City) are a refreshing fit for the words. 

Poetry          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Juvenile Fiction