YA – Six Crimson Cranes

Lim, Elizabeth. Six Crimson Cranes. Hodder & Stoughton, 2021. 978-1-529-37026-3. 454 pg. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Shiori has a secret – she has forbidden magic. As the only princess of Kiata, if her secret came to light it would have disastrous implications.  Usually Shiori keeps her secret concealed except on the day of her betrothal ceremony. That day, her stepmother Raikama notices and banishes the young princess with a curse, turning Shiori’s brothers into cranes and for every word she speaks one of her brothers will die.  Shiori is left alone and unable to speak; she sets off to find her brothers and figure out a way to save them. While she is looking for a solution, she discovers there is more to her stepmother’s deceit than meets the eye. Will Shiori be able to save herself, her brothers, and her kingdom?

THOUGHTS: This was amazingly well written, with memorable characters and great pacing throughout. Elizabeth Lim does a great job of weaving in the elements of the original fairy tale while also making the reader feel that they are reading something new. This is a must own for every high school and public library collection, as well as a must read for any fan of fantasy.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – The Bright & the Pale

Rubinkowski, Jessica. The Bright & the Pale. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-063-07712-6. 328 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

When Valeria was 17 years old, her village was encased in a magical frost that froze everyone and everything in her village. She is the only survivor. Ever since that happened, she has been hiding from the Czar, who wants to throw anyone who survived, in jail. When the book starts, Valeria is working for the Thieves Guild with her best friend Alik and doing what she can to survive, which all comes crashing down when Alik is murdered. A year later, Valeria finds out that Alik is alive. Now she needs to lead a group of criminals into her home town in order to buy Alik’s freedom.

THOUGHTS: This is a great read for fans of the Grisha trilogy, as it has a similar feel in the mythology and folklore. This is also a great book to read during the winter, with the majority of the book taking place outside with snow.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – A Little Spot of Frustration: A Story About Self-Control

Alber, Diane. A Little Spot of Frustration: A Story About Self-Control. Diane Alber Art LLC, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-951-28764-1. $11.99 (paper) Grades K-2. 

The book opens with Flexible Thinking Spot and Calm Spot introducing themselves to two children, explaining that they can help when a Frustration Spot shows up. Frustration Spot shows up when something happens that we can’t control, and it can be good, because it can show that we are learning or being challenged. But because it can turn into an Angry Spot so quickly, it’s important to know how to help a Frustration Spot. Flexible Thinking Spot and Calm Spot show the two children a token with a special message on each side. One side, labeled “Frustration Flip,” lists some things we can’t control: “what others say, what others do, the weather, the future, and others’ mistakes.’  The other side, labeled “Calm and In Control,” lists some things we can control: my words, my actions, my attitude, my expectations, my choices, and my effort. With a diagram of the body, the two Spots share four warning signs of: Feel hot! Feel like yelling! Upset stomach, or Pounding heart. They explain that if we feel any warning signs, it’s time to do a Frustration Flip. While holding the Frustration Flip in one hand, count to four and repeat a rhyme to give your mind a chance to calm down. The Spots then practice the Frustration Flip in several situations.  The final page has a Frustration Flip that can be cut out, or accessed and printed from the author’s webpage (with lesson plans). 

THOUGHTS: This book gives specific details to identify feeling frustrated, and a specific response to help calm down or think flexibly about a situation. It would be ideal for social-emotional learning in the classroom or individually.  

Note: A colleague with young children told me about this resource and shared with me how helpful it had been in talking with her own children (one teen, a 5-year-old, and a two-year old) because their questions brought out more examples and understanding. Diane Alber writes and illustrates this large series of “Little Spot” books, which began with eight “Little Spot of Emotion” books (Anger; Confidence; Happiness; Peaceful; Sadness; Anxiety; Love; Scribble Spot). The series has expanded to three more sets of eight books (and still growing). “A Little Spot Takes Action” set includes: Respectful; Responsibility; Kindness; Patience; Diversity; Organization; Honesty; and Safety. “A Little Spot of Life Skills” Set includes: Perseverance; Teamwork; Optimism; Courage; Thankful; Giving; Talent; Creativity. “A Little Spot of Feelings” Set includes: Empathy; Frustration; Calm; Belonging; Worry; Boredom; Flexible Thinking; Feelings Detective). Educator’s Guide, Plush Toys–it encourages mindfulness and may be worth sharing with your teachers and counselors.  

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Xtreme Armed Forces (Series NF)

Xtreme Armed Forces. ABDO Books, 2021. 48 p. $22.00 Grades 5-8.

Hamilton, John. Green Berets. 978-1-532-19455-9.
—. Navy SEALs. 978-1-532-19456-6.
—. United States Air Force. 978-1-532-19457-3.
—. United States Army. 978-1-532-19458-0.
—. United States Marine Corps. 978-1-532-19459-7.
—. United States Navy. 978-1-532-19460-3.

This series focuses on the special forces of the military. Despite their average size of 48 pages, much helpful information and interesting photos are packed into the books. Green Berets (available for this review) covers history of the elite group, training and special survival skills, headgear and weapons, and typical assignments. The Green Berets use their skills all over the globe primarily to meet their mission to “free the oppressed.” Their skills and stealth are admirable, and largely kept quiet, earning them the nickname ‘the quiet professionals.’ They carry out reconnaissance missions, train foreign troops to defend their homelands, and fight against drug trafficking. They are often used to rescue downed pilots, or in counterterrorism measures. The efforts of this elite group are largely unknown publicly, but lead to greater worldwide peace and safety. The book includes a quiz, glossary, index, and QR code for online resources. This QR code leads to three active links, one of which proved to offer even more interesting details about the group. 

THOUGHTS: An impressive series choice for middle and high school libraries.  

356 Military           Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Your Heart, My Sky

Engle, Margarita. Your Heart, My Sky. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 208 pp. 978-1-5344-64964 $18.99 Grades 9-12.

Engle focuses on a difficult time in Cuba’s history lived through by her own relatives. Euphemistically named by the government as “the special period in times of peace,” the 1990s are in reality a time of starvation. Strict rules keep Cubans from growing their own food; U.S. embargo limits trade; and most recently, Russia has dropped its promised support of the Communist nation, leaving commoners struggling for daily food and afraid to speak out, knowing that retribution comes in the form of limited opportunities, fewer rations, prison or death. Two young people, Liana and Amado, find their hunger gives them strength to defy the government-required summer volunteer work, even as they dread the consequences. Amado’s older brother is in prison for speaking out against the government. Liana is befriended by a ‘singing dog’ Paz who becomes her daily companion in search of food, and the dog brings her and Amado together. The two fall in love and consider their limited future options. Leave the island for the dangerous attempt to reach Miami? Or remain in their homeland to share and fight the deprivation with loved ones? Engle’s beautiful verse, and switching between Liana, Amado, and Paz’s voices, gives this novel depth and richness. 

THOUGHTS: Moving words bring to life this time of desperation.       

Historical Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Build It Yourself Science Biographies (Series NF)

Build It Yourself Science Biographies. Nomad Press, 2021. 128 p. $22.95 (HC) $17.95 (paper). Grades 5-8.

Klepeis, Alicia Z. The Science & Technology of Ben Franklin. 978-1-647-41018-6.
Knutson, Julie.The Science & Technology of Marie Curie. 978-1-647-41022-3.
Pagel-Hogan, Elizabeth. The Science & Technology of Leonardo da Vinci. 978-1-647-41014-8.

Knutson’s book on Marie Curie showcases Curie’s intelligence and scientific contributions, while encouraging readers to try their own scientific experiments. Despite social and economic restrictions on women, Curie persevered in her scientific endeavors, working with her husband Pierre, and continuing their work after his death. Her work earned her a Nobel Prize.  When World War I began soon thereafter, Curie easily could have worked to build better weapons to win the war, but instead she decided to use her knowledge to promote health and peace. When she learned that doctors at the front were often amputating injured soldiers’ limbs simply because they could not pinpoint the location of shrapnel, she used all her clout and contacts to get small X-ray machines to the front. These ‘petit Curies’ were small vehicles staffed by three medical persons, and their x-rays saved untold lives. A later affair with a married man brought disgrace upon Curie (but not the man), but she continued throughout her life to work for greater scientific knowledge for peace. This book includes black and white photos, humorous comic style sidebars, and frequent experiments for readers to try.

THOUGHTS: This is an engaging look at Marie Curie’s life and scientific work. This book is part of the many popular “Build It Yourself” biographies by Nomad Press, and the most recent three focus on Marie Curie, Ben Franklin, and Leonardo da Vinci.      

540 Chemistry          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Biography

MG/YA – Affecting Lives: Drugs & Addiction (Series NF)

Affecting Lives: Drugs & Addiction. Child’s World, 2021. 32 p. $21.00 Grades 5-8.

Artanne, K.A. Methamphetamines Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844957.
Ayarbe, Heidi. Tranquilizers and Depressants Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844896.
Bjornlund, Lydia. Steroids Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844964.
Ford, Jeanne. E-Cigarettes Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-84487-2.
—. Prescription Opioids Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844902.
Havemeyer, Janie. Marijuana Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844858.
London, Martha. Adderall Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844889.
MacCarald, Clara. Heroin Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844919.
Martin, Holly B. Cocaine Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844926.
Rea, Amy C. Alcohol Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844865.
—. Inhalants Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844940.
Storm, Ashley. Hallucinogens Affecting Lives. 978-1-503-844933.

This Hi-Lo series is intended for grades 3-6, and would work for middle and high school collections. Each book opens with a two-page Fast Facts about the drugs, defining them, stating how they are used, and the physical and mental effects. Four chapters each begin with a personal story of a person who used the drug, or a family member. These will draw in readers who will be introduced to or can relate to the scenarios and emotions involved. Posed stock photos help to show appropriate situations, such as worried family members or helpful medical staff. Each personal story shares the beginning of the drug use to the complications and follows through to help received through social workers, counselors, and rehabilitation. These positive outcomes communicate hope even in difficult situations. Each book closes with questions to think about, glossary, extra resources, and an index. Online resources via a ChildsWorld.com/links lead to kidshealth.org and drugabuse.gov, suitable for older children and teens. Titles seen for this review: Tranquilizers and Depressants and Prescription Opioids.

THOUGHTS: Well-done resources suitable for helping younger students to understand the dangers of addictions and options for recovery.        

610s Drug Abuse          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – The Infinity Courts

Bowman, Akemi Dawn. The Infinity Courts. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-45649-5. 465 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

The Infinity Courts starts with Nami who is sure that her life is finally beginning at the age of eighteen; however, those dreams are halted when she is murdered. When she comes to, she realizes she is in a place called Infinity. Infinity is ruled by a queen called Ophelia who was a virtual assistant to the human race when Nami was alive. Now, Ophelia is determined to eradicate humans, and she is very close to completing that mission. Nami has a choice to join the resistance and help eliminate Ophelia, or just ignore everything and let Ophelia take over and complete her mission.

THOUGHTS: This is a great science fiction book that doesn’t get bogged down in science facts. The pacing is well done, and the main characters have decent character arcs throughout the story. This is the first book in a trilogy, so readers have something to look forward to.

Science Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Ace of Spades

Abike-Iyimide, Faridah. Ace of Spades. Feiwel & Friends, 2021. 978-1-250-83488-1. 440 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

In Ace of Spades readers enter the private world of Niveus Academy where everything is expensive and perfect, until it isn’t. This YA thriller follows two characters, Chiamaka and Devon, who could not be more different; however, they are both struggling with the same issue. They both are being harassed by a mysterious person known only as Aces. Chiamaka and Devon are worried about what this person could reveal for different reasons, but they decide to team up to figure out who is behind all of the text messages.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing, well told thriller that will keep the reader hooked from the beginning to the end. The set up for the reveals throughout the book are so well crafted, and the ending just leaves the reader wanting more. Highly recommended for any YA reader, or any thriller fan!

Thriller/Mystery          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat

Rockliff, Mara. Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat. Illustrated by Giselle Potter. Beach Lane Books, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-534-46007-2. $17.99. Grades K-2.

In 1956, Frieda Caplan went to work at the Seventh Street Produce Market in Los Angeles. The market was full of potatoes, tomatoes, apples, and bananas. Frieda’s interest in new fruits and vegetables led her to sell mushrooms; her promotion led to her being called ‘The Mushroom Queen.” In 1962 she opened her own business and continued to search for, sell, and promote (with tastings, nutrition facts, and recipes) new fruits and vegetables. Anything new was taken to Frieda: crispy jimaca, juicy blood oranges, sweet Asian pears, crunchy sugar snap peas, seedless watermelon, fuzzy kiwifruit, and so many more. Not everything was a success (durian, for example), but Frieda was always willing to give it a try. Puns and alliteration help the text: “mounds of mangosteen,” “quantities of quince,” “cooks peppered her with questions,” and “everybody was all ears (especially about the baby corn!).” Frieda’s two adult daughters joined her, then two granddaughters. Frieda changed the way produce is sold and changed the way we eat. The endnotes explain that when she began, the market had about 65 fruits and vegetables; now, we have seven to eight hundred, many thanks to Frieda.

THOUGHTS: This is a positive and interesting look at a businesswoman who made a lasting difference. Readers will want to know more about the foods new to them, and may even be willing to ‘try it!’ like Frieda, especially with a class fruit and vegetable day. Highly recommended.

338.7 Business & Marketing          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD