Self. Destructed…new from Saddleback


Jacobs, Evan. Self. Destructed. Costa Mesa: Saddleback, 2014. Print. 978-1-489-82159-1. 254 p. $14.99. Gr. 8 and up.

The price of love is often the most expensive.  This is true in Michael’s case.  Struggling with his self-esteem and the negative thoughts that find their way into his mind, Michael meets Ashley, a young girl from an affluent family who takes interest in his life.  Intrigued by Michael, they begin to casually date and get to know each other. Michael begins to show his true self to Ashley.  Borderline mentally unstable, Michael talks himself into negative thoughts and pulls Ashley into his spiral. After Ashley recognizes his behavior as unhealthy, she distances herself which sends Michael into depression. Without a stable family structure and an engaged male role model, he makes one bad choice that jeopardizes his future. This high interest, low level novel breaks into the mind of a troubled kid who feels unloved.  Readers will sympathize with his inability to conquer his inner demons and success in recognizing his limits.

Realistic fiction       Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central MS

Educators can engage both male and female students with this novel.  Its low level writing makes for easy reading.  Having the main character engage in behavior that is characteristic of loners, readers can gain insight into the mental working of students on the fringe of social norms. While Michael, the main character, deals with family issues, he struggles socially, making irrational decisions and is often judged and excluded because of them. Counselors can utilize the situations in the book as scenarios in which students can choose to make better choices. Because of school violence, this novel should be reserved for upper grades (8-12).

Video Games and Society…a new series from Reference Point Press


Video Games and Society (series). San Diego: Reference Point Press, 2015. 80 p. $32.00 (hardcover), $28.95 (single-user ebook); $39.95 (unlimited user ebook) Gr. 9-12.

Bjornlund, Lydia. The History of Video Games. 978-160152-7462
Nakaya, Andrea C. Video Games and Youth. 978-160152-7509
Netzley, Patricia D. How Do Video Games Affect Society? 978-160152-7486
Netzley, Patricia D. Video Games, Violence, and Crime. 978-160152-7523
This series aims to shed light on the history and effects of video games, and it does so admirably.  The History of Video Games covers how games developed (Pong, Atari, Donkey Kong and more), changed (arcades to home consoles to Wii to apps), and what the future may hold (virtual reality).  Video Games and Youth considers the costs and benefits of widespread video game use.  How Do Video Games Affect Society? explores popularity of games, research, effects on health and learning, and the regulation of games.  In this book, Netzley summarizes the conflicting research by focusing on the complexity of factors impacting the mind of a violent person, arguing that “most people who play video games do so without problems, complaints, or an urge to commit real-life violent acts.”  Video Games, Violence, and Crime shares research findings that video games can increase violence and crime, especially among individuals with long-standing emotional or behavioral issues.  While not deliberately graphic, the described violence (including mass shootings) is nonetheless chilling.  The short 80-page titles are well-written, with more text than illustrations; photos included are well-placed and not filler material.  Excellent for research or casual reading.  Includes solid resources, source notes, and index.
794.8; Video Games        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

The Rule of Three


Walters, Eric.  The Rule of Three. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014. 978-0374-355029. 405 p. $17.99 Gr. 5-12.
Adam Dailey and his best friend, popular procrastinator Todd, are bantering in study hall one morning, Adam doing most of the work, when the power goes out.  Immediately, everyone notices that cell phones are affected, then basic needs like electric.  School’s out, but few can leave because the computer systems of modern cars have been hit as well.  For once, Adam’s ’79 Omega brings him great pride as one of the few drivable cars.  Adam hates that his dad was traveling since he suspects there’s more to the story than simple power outage, and he’s correct. (By the end of book one, we still haven’t heard from his dad.)  Retired neighbor Herb acts with skills and knowledge that show his government job likely involved more than the “paper pushing” he’s always described.  With Adam’s mom as the police captain and Herb as the forward-thinking planner for basic needs, safety, crowd control, and more, Adam is well-placed to survive and to have an influence on the future of his neighbors and his world.  Adam’s and Todd’s humorous exchanges cover a deep friendship not seen often enough in literature. Adam’s and Herb’s relationship—Adam the youthful optimist and Herb the jaded pragmatist—quickly becomes one of mutual respect (Adam has the pilot’s knowledge for the ultralight he and his dad were building).  Adam’s growth as a young man making life-altering decisions is well-done, as are the detailed steps for rebuilding and securing a world forever changed.  Slow-paced, though with much action by the end, as the neighborhood has mostly banded together and works to resist serious attacks from outside.  Excellent as a survival story without the dystopian effects, of interest to preppers and those interested in military or police response.  Book 2 of the series to be published January 20, 2015.
In our high school, readers were drawn to this book by the cover, and fans of The 5th Wave and dystopian tales have been interested as well.  One reader compared it to Under the Dome and Jericho television series.

Realistic Fiction (Adventure/Survival)         Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

Frida and Diego…New in Art


Reef, Catherine.  Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life.  New York: Clarion Books, 2014.  978-0-547-82184-9.  176p.  $18.99.  Gr. 7-12.

Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera were two of Mexico’s most famous artists during the early to mid- 1900’s.  They were known individually for their great talent and, together, for their great passion.  Kahlo and Rivera had an unusual love; they were nontraditional and controversial.  Their marriage was constantly troubled by extramarital affairs, and they both were members of Mexico’s communist party.  Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life follows the couple from the time young Frida first admired Rivera’s work to their deaths.

This book is a feast for the eyes.  It is printed on glossy, colorful paper and features many archival photographs of the couple and their contemporaries.  There are a number of full-color plates of both artists’ works.  The photographs and paintings help to tell the story of Frida’s and Diego’s lives.  Rivera’s artwork reflects his communist beliefs.  He painted grand murals glorifying the worker and communist party heroes.  Kahlo’s intimate paintings give voice to her love for Rivera and the intense physical pain she lived with every day (a result of a serious streetcar accident that happened when she was younger).  There are a number of resources at the end of Frida & Diego: a listing of museums and books that feature the artists’ work, full color plates of some paintings, a timeline of their lives, author’s notes, and an index.

I do have a few concerns regarding this book.  The publisher’s recommended audience, 7th grade and above, seems low.   Frida & Diego’s frank discussion of Kahlo’s abortions, the couple’s extramarital affairs, and communist politics make it a better fit for high school students.  It simply discusses too many “hot button” issues for it to be used with junior high school students in my district.  I also would have liked to have seen Kahlo’s and Rivera’s artwork integrated into the text of the book, and not as an appendix at the end.  Kahlo’s technique changed as her physical health worsened, but it is difficult to see this progression given the book’s format.  Frida and Diego: Art, Love, Life is definitely worth having in your library if you take the above points into account.

759.972 Mexican Painting         Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School

Life in the Fast Lane…New Transportation Books for Middle School

Life in the Fast Lane (series).  New York: Cavendish Square, 2015. 48 p. $22.00 ea. Gr. 5-8
   Inside a Drag Racer.  978-1-62713-049-3.
   Inside a Formula 1 Car.  978-1-62713-034-9.
   Inside a High-Speed Train.  978-1-62713-043-1.
   Inside a Speedboat.  978-1-62713-037-0.
   Inside a Sprint Car.  978-1-62713-052-3.
   Inside a Stock Car.  978-1-62713-040-0.
   On a Jet Ski.  978-1-62713-046-2.

Each of the books in this series takes a look at a fast-moving, action-packed vehicle and discusses both the history and mechanic aspects of each.  They also contain colorful pictures of modern and historical vehicles.  The writing style encourages students to put themselves in the driver’s seat, and throughout the text, difficult vocabulary words are printed in bold and defined at the end of the book.  The topics themselves will garner high interest, though a student could use these books as part of a research project.  The size and amount of text is geared toward a younger audience, but all who read these books will certainly learn something new!

629s, 790s  Transportation          Nicole Starner  Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS

Caminar…a story of war, boyhood, and Guatemala

Brown, Skila. Caminar. Somerville: Candlewick Press, 2014. 978-0-7636-6516-6. $15.99. Gr. 7 and up.
Living in the small village of Chopán, Guatemala, Carlos was only a boy when the soldiers arrived.  Friendly at first, the soldiers soon issued a dour warning: the villagers were not to assist the rebel fighters in any way.  Later when the soldiers return, Carlos is in the forest; he does not see the destruction, the loss, or death.  Running blindly up the mountain, sleeping in trees at night, hiding from the army while attempting to reach his abuela, he stumbles across a band of rebel guerrillas.  He travels with them, enjoying their friendly banter, but he’s too afraid to reveal his secret, carrying a guilt that burns in his soul.  He has lost everything.  When the helicopters return, the sound awakens Carlos.  He dashes into his abuela’s mountain village and leads the people into the safety of the trees.  His courage may save a village if this ingenious young boy can harnesses an inner strength to protect his compatriots in a war that is not his.
Based on true events, Skila has written a compelling story about a young boy attempting to become a man.  For forty years, Guatemala had been trying to resist unfair laws penalizing the poor farmers in rural areas all over the country.  Bands of guerrilla rebels fought back, surviving in the mountains by hiding and accepting any generosity from local villages.  Feelings about the war varied from indifference to a fierce loyalty to the rebel forces or a fear of the army who would crush anyone aiding or assisting them.  Carlos desires to become a man and thinks he should fight alongside the other men, but his mother advises him to run at the first sign of fighting.  When he heeds her advice, he find himself alone, questioning his actions.  Written in a beautiful verse, lines emanate the pain, suffering and ultimate gratification of those who survived.  The casualties of war took many innocent lives and changed the survivors forever.
Historical Fiction (Verse)               Christine Massey JWP Middle School

Not Plath’s…Belzhar…or is it?


Wolitzer, Meg.  Belzhar. New York, NY: Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2014.  272 p. 978-0525-423058.  $17.99.  Gr. 9+.

Jam Gallahue is not pleased when her parents force her to attend a private boarding school for “highly intelligent, yet fragile” teens after she breaks down over the devastating loss of Reeve, her first love. Even worse, she learns that she has been placed in Mrs. Quenell’s mysterious, highly coveted, and highly selective Special Topics in English class.  Jam finds herself thrown into a class with four other students, all of whom have their own tragic past.  Special Topics in English is the only class that the elderly Mrs. Quenell teaches, and she announces to the students that this will be her final semester of instructing, so she wants to make it special.  In the class, the students only read one author; this semester they will be focusing on Sylvia Plath, who like all of the students in the class, suffered from depression.  Later, Jam falls asleep while completing an assignment in a journal given to her by Mrs. Quenell, and she finds herself transported to a place where Reeve is still alive.  She wakes up to discover that she has written all about Reeve and the 41 days they shared.  After some awkward conversations, Jam learns that the other students in the class are transported to their own alternate reality, which they aptly name “Belzhar” after Plath’s autobiographical novel. The group tries to figure out why they have been given this opportunity, what and where Belzhar actually is, and begin to question what will happen when their journals run out of pages.

Fantasy        Melissa Daugherty, Sharon Middle High School

I received an advanced reader’s copy of this at the Book Expo of America last May and read it in a single night.  Wolitzer does such an amazing job at crafting tragically flawed yet realistic characters.  Teens will anticipate discovering the story behind each character’s reason for being in Special Topics in English and will be shocked by Jam’s real reason for entering Belzhar.

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister


Sarn, Amelie. I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister. Trans. Y. Maudet. Delacourte Press, 2014. Print. 978-0385743761. 160 p. $15.99. Gr.11-12.

Amelie Sarn’s short novel about two Muslim sisters living in the projects in France is an engrossing story that will linger in the mind of the reader long after the story has ended. The author notes that it was inspired by the murder of a young Muslim girl in France in 2002.  Written in the first person point of view of one of the sisters, Sohane, the story jumps back and forth between the events leading up to the death of the other sister, Djelila, and the present. Sohane had a typical love/hate relationship with her outgoing sister. Sohane is the quiet and more studious of the two and often cannot identify with her sister. While Sahone tries to embrace her Muslim identity, Djelila seems to want to break free from the life her Algerian-French family wants for her. Sohane is especially enigmatic.  The reader grapples with defining Safone as an individual, which perfectly reflects how Sohane views herself- as an enigma of sorts, with multiple personas based on her current environment, be it  at school, home, or on the bus. Her personal identity struggle reflects what many teenagers experience at various times. Sahone decides that to fully represent her faith she wants to wear a headscarf to school, even though this is illegal in France and causes problems for her. Djelila, meanwhile, becomes a target for young men living in their projects who are offended by how Djelila acts and dresses and begin following her.  Due to the violent nature of Djelila’s death and the serious subject matter, I recommend this title for older, more mature teens who can understand the differences between moderates and fundamentalists in any religion. There is an author’s note and glossary included, and these assist with the understanding of the novel.

Realistic        Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School

When I finished reading this book, a friend asked me what I thought of it. Immediately, I said that while it was a difficult read, it is one that I feel is important to share with teens in the United States. It can sometimes be hard to understand religious persecution in our nation, where we value our freedom of religion. I was, however, apprehensive about sharing this text with teens because I did not want them to come away from it with a negative view of the Muslim faith. It is important for teens to see that there are moderates and fundamentalists in every religion, which is why this text is for teens who have matured enough to realize that fact and understand that one violent group does not represent an entire people or faith. I did book-talk this book for students, but primarily Honors English 11 students. It is an approachable book because the chapters are so short and the novel itself is brief. The plot grabs you from the beginning and the reader finds her heart breaking for the quiet Sohane. She is a typical teenager trying to define who she is and how she fits into her world, and many teens will relate to her story, especially those who are wary of following in the path that has been laid out for them. This would be an excellent story to spark conversation about religious tolerance as well as religiously-based violence against women, which is something the author mentions in her note at the end of the novel. I look forward to hearing what students have to share after reading this text.


Paper Airplanes by Dawn O’Porter


O’Porter, Dawn.  Paper Airplanes.  New York: Amulet, 2014.  978-1-41971-184-8.  254 p.  $16.95.  Gr. 9 and up.

It is 1994, and Renee and Flo are 15-year-old classmates at an all-girls school in Guernsey, a small island off the coast of France.  Although they haven’t spoken much in past years and seem to be complete opposites – Renee outspoken and unconcerned with her studies, and Flo quiet and studious – the two form a strong friendship as the school year progresses.  This friendship is threatened, however, when Renee starts keeping secrets and withdrawing from Flo.  Told through alternating first-person narrations, the story is infused with a bit of humor and plenty of realistic situations that every teenager faces at some point or another.  It is a quick read that will resonate especially with young women.

Realistic Fiction                    Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

This book was a fast, easy, and enjoyable read that accurately portrayed adolescent friendship.  There was, however, a great deal of English slang that might confuse some students.  Cigarettes are referred to as fags, pants as knickers, making out with boys as snogging, and so forth.  This slang and the humorous voice with which the story was told reminded me of Louise Rennison’s works.  Another thing to note about the book is that there are some graphic scenes dealing with both sex and menstrual incidents.  It might be a book more suited for mature readers.

October 2014 BOB Picture Books


Barnett, Mac. Sam and Dave dig a hole. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2014. 978-0763662295. 40p. $16.99. Gr. PK-2.
 Sam and Dave are on a mission: this mission has to have something spectacular. They start to dig and dig and dig and… well you get the picture. Nothing…..nothing in their eyes, yet the day is pretty spectacular after all.  Just got this book in and tested it with my Kindergarteners. They laughed, the yelled at the boys to turn around and just loved it. So I guess it made the grade.
Picture Book      Lourie Stewart, Dunbar and Connellsville Township Elementary Schools


Buzzeo, Toni. My Bibi always remembers. New York: Hyperion Books, 2014. 978-142318385-3. 32 p. $16.99. Gr. PK – K.
Little Tembo, a baby elephant, is thirsty and her herd cannot find any water. But Bibi, grandma, “remembers the way to wet.” As Bibi leads them across the parched savannah, Tembo happily follows, every now and then getting distracted by her own memories of games she loves to play. This book is a wonderful reminder that age and experience is a sure way to find the leader.
Lourie Stewart                                            Dunbar and Connellsville Township Elementary Schools.


Campbell, Scott. Hug Machine.  978-1442459359. New York: Atheneum, 2014. $16.99. 40p. Gr. PK-2.
Campbell has previously illustrated If Dogs Ran Free by Bob Dylan, Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio, and East Dragon West Dragon by Robyn Eversole. In his author/illustrator debut Campbell brings us the delightful Hug Machine, a little dude who hugs EVERYTHING. He sets off to share his incredible hugging magic with joggers, the mailman, folks mowing the lawn, ice cream trucks, fire hydrants, bears, dog walkers and their dogs, trees, and even shows us how to successfully hug a porcupine and a whale. We learn what he eats to refuel and find out what happens when a mega-hugger gets tired from all that hugging. The colorful and engaging illustrations are kooky and so much fun and sure to be a big hit with the little hug machines in your life.

We were super lucky to have Scott Campbell visit our school on his Hug Machine tour thanks to our amazing local book store, Children’s Book World of Haverford! To prep the kids for his visit we used the activity sheet and watched Scott’s hilarious 2-minute hug workout video from the publisher’s page: Scott is a natural with the little ones, and showed us some of his childhood book creations, read aloud Hug Machine, and created Hug Machine masterpieces on the spot by audience request: Hugging the Empire State Building! A volcano! I highly recommend you catch one of his appearances if he swings by your area, and snatch up his other books, they are all high quality.
Picture Book   Kathie Jackson, Plymouth Meeting Friends School


Becker, Aaron.  Quest.  Massachusetts: Candlewick Press,  2014.  978-0-7636-6595-1. 40p.  $15.99. Gr. K-3
The continuation of Journey, an epic fantasy adventure told completely with incredible illustrations.  This wordless picture book will provide every child with a completely different story.  With their markers each character draws their pieces of illustrations to move them further in their quest to rescue the king.  Aaron Becker not only is a detailed and talented artist he also provides educational pieces on his website to build understanding and use of his book.  Every time a child picks up this book they will find a different detail.  A great resource for writing prompts and discussions.
Wordless/Fantasy                Denise Naumann, Eisenhower Elementary


Van Laan, Nancy. Forget Me Not. New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2014. 978-0449815434. 40p. $15. Gr. K-3.
A beautiful book about a young girl named Julia whose grandmother is suffering the beginning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Julia’s describes the many warm experiences of visiting her grandmother: the family meals, joyful games and picking forget me nots from her garden to place on the table. She watches her slowly begin to forget names and memories until she must move out of her house. She vows to help her remember by bringing her forget me nots. It is a compassionate story that gently introduces the young reader to the concept of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease which they may be experiencing with their own elderly relatives.
Picture Book                                                                           Robin Bartley, Davis Elementary


Lynch, Jane. Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean. New York: Random House, 2014. 978-0385379083. 32p. $15. Gr.K-4.
Written in rhyme, this is the humorous story of a bully named Marlene who terrorizes her classmates until one boy sees through her. Freddy exposes her secret. Everyone watches as her anger disintegrates into fear and tears as Marlene loses her power. Since “Being a jerk, will no longer work” she decides to just be herself.  A perfect read aloud and discussion for Kindergarten or first grade or as an introduction to bullying unit for third or fourth grade.
Picture Book             Robin Bartley, Davis Elementary