Howe, Katherine.  Conversion.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.  978-0-399-16777-5. 402 p.  $18.99.  Gr. 7 and Up.

Colleen Rowley is a senior at prestigious St. Joan’s Academy in Danvers, Massachusetts. She and her classmates are involved in the usual senior year academic rituals: AP classes, the battle over class rank, and the college application process.  The pressure to succeed at such a competitive school can be overwhelming, and some of the students begin to fall apart.  One by one, a number of students begin to experience strange physical symptoms.  Some of the girls develop tics, seizures, coughing spells, and hair loss.  The entire town of Danvers begins to spiral into panic; is this a previously unknown disorder?  Is it the result of pollution or toxic waste contamination?  Could it be a reaction to the new HPV vaccine?  Or are the girls faking illness to experience a brief moment of fame, as media attention grows?

Colleen, who is doing an extra credit project on The Crucible, connects the events in 17th century Salem with what is occurring at St. Joan’s (Salem Village was once part of modern day Danvers).  She concludes that the “hysteria” going on in Danvers is similar to that in Salem during the witch trials, but the causes of this hysteria are unclear. After extensive investigation by journalists, doctors, and environmentalists, the State Department of Health finally diagnoses the students with Conversion Disorder.  Conversion Disorder occurs when stress and psychological problems manifest themselves as physical problems, and it is treatable.  Life for St. Joan’s students finally begins to return to normal, as the students acknowledge the effect of stress on their lives.

This was a truly enjoyable book.  Chapters written from Colleen’s perspective alternate with chapters written through the eyes of Ann Putnam, Jr., one of the primary accusers during the Salem witch trials.  The different viewpoints show how girls’ lives have changed over the centuries (and how, in many ways, they have stayed the same).  Conversion is based loosely on real life events that happened in Le Roy, NY in late 2011; the story of this medical mystery is fascinating. Clearly, there are a number of ways this book can be studied in conjunction with the school curriculum.  Students of biology, psychology, colonial history, and current events would all enjoy this novel.  I highly recommend its inclusion in any secondary library collection.

Realistic Fiction          Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School

Voices from the March on Washington


Lewis, J. Patrick, and George Ella Lyon. Voices from the March on Washington. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong, 2014. 978-1-62091-785-5. 114 p. $15.95. Gr. 8 and up.

The authors offer up this wonderful volume of poems as their answer to these questions, posed in their Introduction: “Who were the marchers? Why did they risk their lives to be there? How were they changed by that day?” Some names are well known in connection with the August 28, 1963, march: Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, and A. Philip Randolph, to name a few, but they were a few famous faces among 250,000 people, “a tiny island in that multicolored sea.” The testimony of the unknown marchers is represented through poems in the voices of fictional characters such as 23-year old Iowa farm hand Emma Wallace, and 15-year old high school student Renée Newsome, and others. With Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the emotional core of this book, the poems describe the anticipation, apprehension, and inspiration of the marchers on that historic day. This book may be enjoyed as a whole, or poems may be selected for classroom use (the opening concrete poem “Reflection,” shaped like the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, is a personal favorite). It is a valuable addition to any Civil Rights collection.

Poetry (811); Civil Rights      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

This volume of poetry will be an excellent mentor text in Creative Writing classrooms. Students could refer to it as an example of how to interpret a life-changing event through poetry. It would also make a natural companion read with John Lewis’ graphic novels March: Book One and Book Two, which provide another perspective on nonviolent Civil Rights demonstrations.

How It Went Down


Magoon, Kekla. How It Went Down. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2014. 978-0805098693. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 9+.

Kekla Magoon tackles the difficult subjects of racism and gun violence in her intense and engaging novel. The plot is one that is familiar to anyone who has been keeping up with the news lately: a black teen is shot by a seemingly well-meaning white man, who is let go after police deem the shooting as self defense. Uncertainty and hearsay surround the story as no one really know whether or not Tariq had a gun or a Snickers bar, and whether or not he was a member of the Kings, a local gang. Magoon chooses to tell the story from the perspective of all of the people affected by the tragedy, which is an ambitious and powerful method of storytelling. Each character’s voice is unique and compelling. They range from Tyrell, Tariq’s best friend, to his little sister, the white man harboring the shooter, a black minister turned politician trying to capitalize on the tragedy to bolster his own career, the leader of the Kings, and many others. Magoon succeeds in telling the story of an urban area embroiled in violence and poverty, with characters who want to escape but have many factors working against them. Tyrell stands out as one who is struggling to remain true to his goal of attending college while resisting the pressure to join the Kings. I highly recommend this book for high school book clubs that enjoy deep discussion on current events and topics.

Realistic Fiction         Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School

This book captivated me from the beginning, and caused me to reflect on my understanding of the current issues with violence and racism that are permeating the media. In the beginning I did have to remind myself of the many different characters as they appeared, since each character usually only has one or two pages devoted to their story at a time. The distinctive voices, however, do shine through and by the end I felt that I knew each person intimately, and identified with their hopes and dreams. All of the characters are dynamic. Moogan could have fallen into the trap of making the characters reflect stereotypes, but she gives each character a backstory that completely changes the reader’s judgement of the character. Since many of my students have been discussing the various cases in the news, I am nominating this book to be read in our student book club. I am going to also share it with our sociology teacher, as I think that selections of the text would be perfect to read and discuss in her classes.

March Book Two


Lewis, John, and Andrew Aydin. March Book Two. Art by Nate Powell. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2015. 978-1603094009. 192 p. $19.95. Gr. 9+.

Last year, I had the opportunity to read and review March: Book One, and ever since then I have eagerly anticipated the second installment in this engaging memoir about the life of Congressman John Lewis. The second book does not at all disappoint, and furthers the story of an important figure in the Civil Rights movement. The first book in this trilogy highlighted the lunch counter sit-ins, and the second moves on to the Freedom Rights and ends with the March on Washington. As in the first book, scenes from the first inauguration of President Obama are interspersed throughout, and illustrate Congressman Lewis finally witnessing some success for his years spent fighting for equality. The second book seems to move more quickly, since the first spent time laying the groundwork and describing Lewis’ life prior to his activism. Book Two details event after event in which Lewis participated, and is a bit darker since the movement encouraged more violent responses from racist groups in the south. The artwork continues to be a powerful force throughout the book. Nate Powell’s depictions of the KKK standing outside a bus station evokes chills in the reader, much more so than simply reading about it. I highly recommend this title to librarians looking for ways to incorporate new texts and readings into American History classes. This should be required reading by all high school students as they learn about the Civil Rights movement.

92 Biography        Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School   

This is an excellent and intriguing way to write a memoir, and I am so glad that I accidently picked up the first book last year. The fact that Lewis chose to write this memoir in graphic novel format shows that he wants to reach a different audience and appeal to Young Adults and others who appreciate this powerful genre.  I am not one to normally read graphic novels, but I absolutely loved this one. The artwork and text come together beautifully and hauntingly to share an important story in our history, and one that is often overlooked in favor of Martin Luther King, Jr. While King does make an appearance in the novel, the story belongs entirely to Congressman Lewis. Recently, I took advantage of the fact that our Honors American History classes are currently studying Civil Rights, and invited myself to their classes for a brief book talk on the first two books in this series. Students were extremely receptive and showed interest in reading the book, and the teacher even included information from my book talk on her upcoming test. I am excited about the possibility of sharing this with the rest of our social studies department and discussing with them how this text could fit into their curriculum. I cannot wait until the final installment is released next year!

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman who Challenged Big Business and Won!


McCully, Emily Arnold.  Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman who Challenged Big Business- and Won!  NY: Clarion Books, 2014.  978-0-547-29092-8. 279p.  $18.99.  Gr. 7-12.

In a departure from her work as a well-known author and illustrator of children’s books, Emily Arnold McCully has written a solid YA biography about investigative reporter Ida M. Tarbell.  This book cover’s Tarbell’s life from beginning to end and provides a great deal of insight on a woman who was ahead of her time.

Ida M. Tarbell was born in 1857 in the village of Hatch Hollow (Erie County), Pennsylvania.  Ida’s father had a number of different jobs, but his work as an independent oil producer/refiner seemed to have the most impact on her.  Ida attended Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, and majored in biology.  The research skills Ida learned at Allegheny helped her to become an able reporter.  After teaching and travelling for a period of time, she was hired by McClure magazine and wrote multi-part features on famous figures, including oil baron John D. Rockefeller.  Ida’s dislike of Standard Oil, Rockefeller, and Rockefeller’s business practices (which had adversely effected her father’s business) led her to write a very thorough and critical piece- and led her to be christened one of the first “Muckrakers”,  journalists whose sole purpose was “dig up dirt” on other people.

The most intriguing aspect of Tarbell’s personality was that she was difficult to classify.  Although she was very concerned with fair business practices, she supported Taylorism (the idea that a manufacturing job should be broken up into small repetitive steps), which was anathema to labor unions. She was also very opposed to women’s suffrage and believed that the most important thing a woman could do was be a mother and wife.  It seems that she did not apply these rules to herself; she circulated freely in the male world of reporting and never married.

Although this was a detailed account of Ida Tarbell’s life, it might have been a more appealing work if muckraking or women’s suffrage were given more coverage or put into a contemporary context.  This is a work that will be difficult for all but your most persistent readers to complete, although it will be very useful for student researchers.  Emily Arnold McCully’s discussion of the oil industry in Pennsylvania helps this book to be an essential element of any State library collection.

92 Biography        Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School

Evil Librarian


Knudsen, Michelle. Evil Librarian. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2014. 978-0-7636-6038-3. 343 p. $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Cyn Rothschild is a pretty typical high school junior. She swoons over Ryan Halsey from afar, and tolerates merciless teasing from her BFF, Annie, as a result. She’s in charge of set design for the fall musical, Sweeney Todd, and she’s cooking up a design for a killer barber’s chair. Everything is going fine until Annie falls head over heels for dreamy Mr. Gabriel, the new twenty-something librarian who has a somewhat stupefying effect on the students. All of the students, that is, except for Cyn. She soon sees him for what he really is – a demon using the life force of the student body to build up his power (the bloody ritual she witnesses in the library is a bit of a giveaway). She teams up with Ryan to stop Mr. Gabriel’s plan to abscond with Annie to the underworld and claim the demon throne. Demonic alliances, secret deals, and an epic battle ensue. This fun, fast read will appeal to fans of tongue-in-cheek horror stories in the vein of Catherine Jinks’ The Reformed Vampire Support Group (Harcourt, 2009) or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Horror (Humorous)            Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

This book, Knudsen’s first for a YA audience, had me scrolling through the channel guide looking for syndicated episodes of Buffy! It would make an excellent tie-in to spark interest in Evil Librarian.

Science Behind Sports


Science Behind Sports (series). Detroit: Lucent, 2014. 100-120pgs. $37.45 ea. Gr. 8 and up.

Abramovitz, Melissa. Skiing. 978-1-42051-182-6.
Allman, Toney. Equestrian. 978-1-42051-180-2.
Brownell, Richard. Wrestling. 978-142051-123-9.
Craig, Lizbeth. Skateboarding.
Currie, Stephen. Cycling. 978-1-42051-120-8.
MacKay, Jennifer. Taekwondo. 978-1-42051-121-5.
Nardo, Don. Surfing. 978-1-42051-156-7.
Sheen, Barbara. Car Racing. 978-1-42051-179-6.
Uschan, Michael V. Golf. 978-1-42051-181-9.

Lucent expands their Science Behind Sports series with the addition of these nine titles.  The purpose of the series is to educate readers about the scientific ideas and concepts behind many of today’s most popular sports.  Each volume opens with background information on the history of the sport (and equipment used in the sport).  Additional chapters cover topics such as biomechanics, and health and medical concerns relating to the sport (including nutrition and sports-related injuries).  Physical science concepts (velocity, acceleration, kinetics, etc.) are explained and related to the each sport.  Diagrams, charts/graphs, and sidebars are utilized to supplement the text. 

796; Sports          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

I had the opportunity to review the Cycling volume, which discussed physical science concepts such as momentum, aerodynamics, balance and steering.  One chapter discussed bicycle components such as the bike frame, brakes, tires, rims, etc.  Additional chapters presented information on muscles used when biking, the importance of proper nutrition/diet, and the topic of performance enhancing drugs and cycling.  Overall, I was impressed with the quality and comprehensive nature of the volume.  The text was very readable and the scientific concepts were presented in easy to understand language and supplemented by clearly-drawn diagrams.  This series could be of interest to the casual reader as well as the student researcher.

Privacy in the Online World…new series nonfiction


Privacy in the Online World (series). San Diego: Reference Point, 2014. 80p. $28.95 ea. Gr. 9 and up.

Abramovitz, Melissa. Online Privacy and Health Care. 978-1-60152-652-6.

Allen, John. Online Privacy and Hacking. 978-1-60152-728-8.

Henderson, Harry. Online Privacy and the Government. 978-1-60152-726-4.

Mooney, Carla. Online Privacy and Business. 978-1-60152-724-0.

Mooney, Carla. Online Privacy and Social Media. 978-1-60152-730-1.

As more and more of citizen’s private information is moved to online and the electronic world, the security of one’s personal information has never been more important.  This five-book series aims to inform readers about the many issues and trends surrounding online privacy.  Each volume connects the topic of online privacy to a single issue.  The books open by presenting basic historical information about the topic being discussed and then expand to discuss current issues and/or controversies surrounding the topic.  Numerous real-life examples (many involving young adults) are used to illustrate some of the privacy pitfalls internet users can experience.  Each book concludes with a section entitled “Online Privacy Tips” which summarizes the information presented throughout the text and gives the reader brief bullet points of information to remember.

300s, 600s (various); Internet      Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

Overall, this series is perhaps best suited to the student conducting research, rather than the casual reader.  The volumes are fairly text heavy and the reader can sometimes get bogged down.  The facts, figures, and examples presented would definitely be of use to a student working on a research assignment, speech, etc.  Librarians and educators who teach lessons relating to internet safety and/or online security may also find some of the topics and examples presented to be of use in the classroom.

The Music Library…three new titles


The Music Library (series). Detroit: Lucent, 2014. 112p.-136p. $37.45 ea. Gr. 7 and up.

            Kallan, Stuart A. The History of R&B and Soul Music. 978-1-4205-0899-4.

            MacKay, Jenny. The Art of Songwriting. 978-1-4205-0943-4.

            Woog, Adam. The History of Gospel Music. 978-1-4205-0945-8.

Lucent adds more titles to their popular non-fiction series The Music Library with the addition of these three titles.  Books in the Music Library series focus on the history of various popular musical genres, as well as music-related topics like songwriting and instruments.  Included in each title is extensive historical background about each topic, as well as sidebars that profile notable performers, composers, musical institutions, music sub-genres, etc.  In addition, each book contains a list of recommended albums/songs that exemplify the topic being presented.  Additional recommended readings and websites are also included.  The text is clearly written and easy to understand.  Recommend to casual readers with an interest in music as well as researchers.

700s (various); Music           Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

The Truth about Twinkie Pie

Yeh, Kat. The Truth About Twinkie Pie. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2015. 978-0-316-23662-1. $17.00. 339p. Gr. 5-8.
Gigi, short for Galileo Galilei, has a top notch recipe for a successful school year.  After her sister wins the top prize of a million dollars in a cooking contest, she uproots the family and moves to a posh New York neighborhood.  This steamy new school year will be garnished with noteworthy changes for Gigi.  First would be her new name, Leia; then a chic haircut and trendy wardrobe.  Her sister is quite astonished with the refined and improved Gigi.  She has grown accustomed to the reliable, straight-A, focused student who eats lunch in the library and studies in her room most evenings.  Now G – I mean Leia has a delectable young crush, a pressing social calendar, and loyal friends.  In the midst of her exciting year, she unassumingly dredges up a secret about her missing mother that sends Gigi on a harrowing adventure to the trailer parks of South Carolina with her adversary, now deemed savior, by her side.  With a dash of laughter, a sprinkle of courage, and a pinch of determination, Gigi might just live up to the high expectations of her name, and finish her Truth Poem in the process.
Gigi is a quirky, entertaining young narrator.  Living in the age of healthy, nutritious school lunches, Gigi shows up with her EZ Cheeze Crunch sandwich on white bread, while the boys drool unabashedly, hoping for a crumb or scrap.  Intermittently scattered throughout the book, Gigi includes her mama’s recipes; even her favorite – My Famous Twinkie Pie.  Readers will enjoy her smart quips when dealing with mean girls and her refreshing honesty to “Saying It Like It Is”.  This story has lots of potential as a book club choice for mothers and daughters.  The little surprises and plot twists will leave readers wanting to discuss the details over homemade treats.

Realistic Fiction       Christine Massey, JWP Middle School