Footer Davis Probably is Crazy


Vaught, Susan. Footer Davis Probably is Crazy. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015. 978-1-4814-2276-5. $16.00. 229p. Gr. 5-8.

Nine days ago there was a fire at the Abrams farm.  Mr. Abrams was shot and killed, and Cissy and Doc, his grandchildren, are assumed dead.  Eleven year old, Fontana “Footer” Davis, is determined to figure out what happened at the Abrams farm.  With the help of her best friend, Peavine, and his sister, Angel, they set out to interview neighbors and “witnesses” of the fire.  Footer, though, is worried about more than just figuring out what happened to Cissy and Doc; her mother is back in the hospital in Memphis battling her bi-polar disorder.  To top it all off, Stephanie Bridges, from the Mississippi Children and Family Services office, is now interfering in Footer’s life after she gets into a fight at school and is caught reading (and writing) about serial killers.  As Footer tries to manage Steph, misses her mother, and tries to figure out the Abrams’ mystery, she continues to visualize the night of the fire, smelling smoke and seeing images of Cissy Abrams and her mother with a shotgun.  Footer wonders if she is going crazy like her mother or if she was actually at the Abrams’ the night of the fire.  Susan Vaught captures the trials of coping with mental disease, family relationships and family services, and the impact of a traumatic event on a young mind through the innocence of an eleven year old.  Although Footer Davis Probably is Crazy lacks in development and tries to balance a bit too many sub-plots, this is an enjoyable read for middle grade students and provides students with a strong female protagonist.

Realistic Fiction         Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

Footer Davis reminded me of Sheila Turnage’s character, Mo LoBeau, from her Tupelo Landing series but is not nearly as well developed a character.  Vaught tries to cover too many issues in Footer Davis Probably is Crazy, and therefore loses focus.  I was expecting Footer to be as amusing as Mo, but she wasn’t.  Her questioning of everything is very realistic (and I loved the fear of Walruses), but the novel shifts too much which causes gaps in the story and some confusion at times.

Discovering Art


Discovering Art (5 volume set).  San Diego, CA: Reference Point Press, 2015.  80p.  $31.32  Gr. 7+.  

Allen, John.  Anime and Manga.  978-1-60152-696-0.

Hirschmann, Kris.  Impressionism.  978-1-60152-700-4.

Kallen, Stuart A.  Animation.  978-1-60152-664-9.

Kallen, Stuart A.  Sculpture.  978-1-60152-678-6.

Stewart, Gail B.  Graphic Arts.  978-1-60152-698-4.


Each of the books in the Discovering Art series examines the history of a given art form and looks at the techniques used to produce the form.  These books are well-written and will be readily understood by most young adults.  They make frequent use of informative text boxes, photographs, and diagrams.  Each book also has an index, endnotes, and suggestions for further research (including books and websites).

The volumes on sculpture and impressionist art are not groundbreaking in any way and libraries may want to acquire more comprehensive books on these subjects.  However, the books on graphic arts, animation, and anime/ manga are especially well done.  Each of these books discusses and informs about subjects that interest young adults:  Anime and Manga contains a good look at Hayao Miazaki’s work (Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service).  Animation takes a look at traditional animation, computer animation, and claymation (Wallace and Gromit).  Graphic Arts does an excellent job of raising awareness about the extent to which graphic design is a part of our daily lives.  The discussion of how graphics become iconic (the product can be recognized without words describing it) is especially interesting.

Libraries may want to consider purchasing volumes of this set according to their needs.

740: Drawing and Decorative Arts        Susan Fox, Washington JSHS


Displacement…new from Lucy Knisley


Knisley, Lucy. Displacement: A Travelogue. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, Inc., 2015. 978-1-60699-810-6. 156 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Lucy Knisley, queen of the graphic travelogue, returns with this earnest account of accompanying her 90-something grandparents on a cruise in 2012. She manages her grandmother’s dementia and her grandfather’s physical limitations (including incontinence) with outward calm and cheerful patience. Internally, though, she wrestles with anxiety, frustration, and sorrow over their declining health. She brings along a copy of her grandfather’s unpublished World War II memoir as a conversation starter and connection to her grandparents’ youth. At the end of each chapter, she includes an excerpt and illustrates the scene, cleverly reminding readers that old people weren’t always old. As Knisley writes, the trip she chronicled in The Age of License was about independence, sex, youth, and adventure. This trip is about respect for her elders, sympathy, mortality, and familial love. It’s very different, to be sure, but it depicts an equally important aspect of growing up. It’s a welcome addition to Lucy Knisley’s outstanding coming-of-age travelogues.
914; Travelogue            Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

The contemplative full-page panel on page 61, in which she reflects on how her family shows affection, would work well as part of a mini-lesson on reading comics. And, is it too soon to start looking forward to Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride, coming in May?



Sheinmel, Courtney. Edgewater. New York: Amulet. 2015. 978-1-419716416. 336p. $17.95. Grades 8 to 12.

Edgewater, a beautiful coastal town for the rich and the famous full of mansions and pristine beaches; a small town feel with all of the upgrades. Lorrie has lived here all of her life. She goes to the prestigious Hillyer Academy during the school year and an expensive equestrian camp in the summers. But, Lorrie Hollander is different from her wealthy, entitled neighbors. Her mother left her 12 years ago in the “care” of her mentally unstable Aunt Gigi. Although Gigi makes some effort to keep up pretenses by doling out Lorrie’s trust fund, their once beautiful estate has become a pitiful shell of its former self. Lorrie begins to realize that not everything is as it seems. Bills begin to go unpaid. The house is in even worse shape than usual. The last straw is a letter from her school saying that her spot at Hillyer has been given to another student since her tuition has not been paid. Lorrie learns that her mother has a secret past that connects her to one of the wealthiest and most important families on the island. How does Lorrie fit into the tangle of lies and deceit? How can she take care of her and her sister by herself?

I wasn’t sure about this book at the start. It read like a typical teen-angst novel. It took me a few chapters to really get into the groove of this book, but I soon began to respect and eventually love Lorrie. Her grit and determination to take care of her sister made me cheer for her all the way to the end. I was also emotional when Lorrie had to make tough choices and sell items that were very dear to her in order to pay her bills. I wanted things to end well for her (although I won’t tell you whether or not they did). Teens will connect with this book on many levels. I always have students looking for horse-themed books, and this one has enough to hook them and keep them reading. The celebrity angle will also hook teens, as well as the romance theme. Once I connected with these characters, I really liked this book and recommend it highly.

Realistic Fiction        Corey Hall, Elizabethtown Area MS/HS

The Boys of Fire and Ash


McIsaac, Meaghan. The Boys of Fire and Ash.  New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0385744454 327 p. $16.99 Gr. 5-12

Urgle lives with his “brothers” in the Ikkuma, a hot volcanic ash pit surrounded by wilderness and deadly creatures.  Each boy was abandoned as a baby (they have a hatred of mothers as a result) and is given a “big brother” to teach him, until each one has his own “leaving” from the pit.  Urgle is watchful of his annoying little brother Cubby, but due to his own lack of hunting skills he largely believes his nickname “Useless.”  No brother has ever returned after leaving, until one day a man crashes into their pit, chased by awful creatures.  Just after the brothers save his life and realize “Blaze” was once a brother, too, the creatures attack again and take two little brothers.  One of them is Cubby which leads Urgle out of the pit, with two friends and Blaze as a guide.

The Ikkuma have a code of looking out for one another, which not all boys do well.  Thus, Urgle’s devotion to his brother is admirable, and the minimal fleshing-out of characters’ motivations and fears is interesting.  Much here seems uneven—a decent concept that has not been thoroughly developed to answer nagging questions, characters with potential but no shown growth, and language that seems tacked on.   The underlying creation myth that leads the mothers to abandon their sons is both confusing and difficult to believe.  For instance, avoiding men, how do these women get pregnant or sustain their society? Isolated for years from society (so that they have never seen a female, or anyone older than sixteen), how do the Ikkuma boys have no translation/dialect issues?  Also, Blaze’s reason for returning is never explained.  The story tiptoes around but avoids delving deeply into most problematic issues (religion, profanity, abuse, sex), making it an easy recommendation for younger readers.  Urgle is a loyal underdog to root for, and younger fans of dystopian literature will enjoy this stand-alone title, previously self-published in Britain as Urgle.


Yes, it’s another dystopian book.  This one nicely features mainly male characters and action scenes throughout.  Some thought has been given to quirkiness of the created world: “By Rawley!” the boys say when cursing; and Urgle’s first view of older adults is that their skin as “melted” (i.e. wrinkled).  But, McIsaac fails to convince on Urgle’s abilities, even when other characters look to him as someone special.  Toward the end, Urgle’s “I was sure of this” moments contradict themselves, leaving the reader at the mercy of the author’s whim to make the character fit the moment.  For anyone aware of Tolkien’s rich understanding of language, the names of people and places gratingly show no sense of place or culture; they are simply tacked on: Cubby, Lussit, Benedon, Blaze, Krepin, Cheeks, Baublenotts, Farka, on and on.  This book can fill a void for readers who have run out of dystopian or adventure fiction and keep begging for more.  Otherwise, look to series like: The Maze Runner, Septimus Heap, Ranger’s Apprentice, or titles by Margaret Peterson Haddix or Neal Shusterman.
Dystopian, Fantasy      Melissa Scott, Shenango High School


The Boys Who Challenged Hitler


Hoose, Phillip. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pederson and the Churchill Club. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015. 978-0374300227 198 p. $19.99 Gr. 7-12.

In April 1940, the German army invaded Denmark.  The Danish government, seeking a minimum of control, did not fight back.  Winston Churchill described Denmark as “Hitler’s tame canary” (45).  Many Danish citizens were ashamed, but what could they do?  Fighting back, as the invaded Norwegians were doing, would result in the establishment of a Nazi government and the same horrific executions and city burnings that were happily reported by the Germans.  Fourteen-year-old Knud Pederson of Odense, Denmark, was ashamed of his country and that shame turned to anger.  As he and his friends discussed the changes, they began to scheme about sabotaging the Nazi plans.  If no one else would fight back, they would.  Their “Churchill Club,” named after the honored English leader, was soon born.  The boys twisted or smashed directional signs, then vandalized or torched German vehicles on a daily basis, always leaving their signature: a spray-painted blue mark.  Soon Knud’s family moved far north to Aalsberg, for his father’s work, and he and his brother built a second trusted group to be the Churchill Club.  Members of the Odense group remained in contact, and they encouraged each other, eventually stealing a variety of weapons, and becoming well-known as well as well-hunted.  The boys were caught, interrogated, tried and jailed.  Their determination was not swayed, and they found they had helped to ignite greater Danish opposition.  Emboldened by the teenagers’ actions, Danes nationwide fought back, sabotaged Nazi work, and refused to abide by their government’s compliance.
This remarkable history reads like an adventure tale with danger at every turn.  Knud, in his late-eighties, worked tirelessly to accurately share the details and answer questions from American author Hoose two generations later, not familiar with Danish culture or language.  Hoose’s writing and research shines through the pages.  This is  a well-documented, first-rate and engaging nonfiction title that is not to be missed.  Highly recommended for all middle and high school collections.  Photos, epilogue, bibliography, and chapter notes add to this incredible story.
I undertook the reading of this book out of interest in the well-known Danish resistance of Nazi command of their government.  What I learned was that a group of teenagers was one match that sparked more to resist.  Initially, many (not all) Danish politicians and adults acquiesced to Nazi demands out of understanding of the high cost of resistance.  However, when the teenagers of the Churchill Club were caught and jailed, the shame felt by those same adults led them to action.  As a result, Denmark became a nation known for its refusal to allow Danish Jews to be removed to concentration camps.  Notably, in 1943, 7,200 Jews were wisely ferried out of the country by boat.  These actions and more might never have happened if not for these brave young men.  The details of their story are wonderfully shared by Knud Pedersen, and his pride in each member of the group is apparent.  Knud died in 2012, just as the manuscript was being completed for publication.  He died a recognized Danish hero, and he will inspire many young people to come.

940.54: World War II; Danish Resistance       Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Crowder, Melanie.  Audacity.  New York: Philomel Books, 2015.  978-0-399-16899-4. 389 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

Clara Lemlich is a Russian-Jewish immigrant living in the Lower East Side of New York City during the early 1900s.  Forced to work in garment factories in order to provide for her family, Clara is appalled by the horrendous working conditions for young female immigrants.  Although she has always dreamed of going to college and becoming a doctor, she soon finds herself torn between this goal and her new dream of improving working conditions for all factory workers.  Written in verse and based loosely on the life of Clara Lemlich Shavelson, a leading figure in a massive strike of NYC garment workers in 1909, this story celebrates the tremendous power of people working together towards a common goal.  To further ignite discussion, the book includes a historical note about the real Clara Lemlich, an interview with some of her living family members, a glossary of Jewish and Russian terms, and a list of selected sources for further study.

Historical Fiction    Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

This book touches on a broad range of topics in U.S. history and could therefore be used to supplement curriculum in areas such as the persecution of Jews, workers’ rights, women’s history, labor unions, immigration, and Ellis Island.  It could be paired with a nonfiction title such as Albert Marrin’s Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and its Legacy.  Although the uprising of the 20,000 referred to in Audacity happened in 1909 and the Triangle fire was a few years later (1911), it would be a great lead-in to this topic.  It could also be paired with Michelle Markel’s Brave Girl, although this picture book is targeted more towards lower elementary students.  Because there are not many titles for young adults on this topic, this is an excellent addition that will help fill in gaps in any historical fiction collection.


Hold Me Like a Breath


Schmidt, Tiffany. Hold Me Like a Breath. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-0-8027-3782-3. 390 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Penelope Landlow has grown up knowing that she is the most precious, and the most fragile, person on her family’s luxurious estate. Penelope has a blood disorder that causes low platelet counts, severe bruising, and spontaneous bleeding. Like any 16-year old girl, she longs to explore life beyond her strict boundaries. Unlike any other 16-year old girl, though, the Family Business is trafficking in black market organs and arranging illegal, but life-saving, transplants. When her older brother is viciously murdered, and then a violent raid targets her parents, Penelope goes into hiding in New York City. There she falls into a fairy tale love story with a boy named Char, but time is running out for her to discover who wants all of the Landlows dead … and all the while her platelets are dropping to dangerously low levels. This first installment in the Once Upon a Crime series is an intriguing mix of fairy tale, organized crime, and medical thriller. The pace drags a little during the development of Penelope and Char’s romance, but then picks up dramatically as secrets are revealed in the final third of the book. Penelope is an endearing heroine, and her efforts to break out of her “glass princess” role will resonate with teens who feel overly sheltered.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

Tiffany Schmidt is a Pennsylvania author whose novels just keep getting better. Hold Me Like a Breath will be great fun to booktalk, playing up different aspects depending on your audience, and there is a sharp book trailer out on YouTube:–ouZM.

Out of Darkness


Perez, Ashley Hope. Out of Darkness. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Lab, 2015. 9781467742023. 408p. $18.99. Grades 8 to 12.

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

Naomi learns this rule quickly when she moves to East Texas in 1937 with her younger siblings to live with her step-father. With the recent death of her mother, Naomi struggles to find her place in her new family. She is Hispanic, but her stepfather and siblings are white. In a very segregated community, Naomi faces discrimination at every turn, in school, at the store, and even at church. She finds a friend, and eventually love, in Wash, a black teen who understands discrimination and racism all too well. Their secret relationship is found out in the explosive conclusion of the story.

The author based this book on the true events that happened at the New London School in 1937, in which almost 300 students died in a natural gas explosion. Although I found this book to be poignant and beautiful, it was also very difficult to read. There were points in the story that I had to skim past because they were so dark and ugly. Perez takes on difficult issues such as incest and rape, lynch mobs, miscarriage, and brutal racism. She does it in a way that makes the story very real and very emotional to read. I recommend this book for advanced readers, but with caution. This is a tough book to read and is was very emotional to the last page.

Historical Fiction     Corey Hall, Elizabethtown Area MS/HS

The Revelation of Louisa May


MacColl, Michaela. The Revelation of Louisa May. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015. 978-1-4521-3357-7. 246p. $16.99. Grades 7 to 10.

All Louisa really wants to do is write her novel. But when her mother leaves for three months to find work in the city, and her philosopher father refuses to find paying work, Louisa finds herself responsible for keeping her household together and taking care of her sickly sister. She also inherits her mother’s duties as part of the Underground Railroad. Louisa meets George, a fugitive slave, and hides him from a dangerous bounty hunter. When the bounty hunter winds up dead under unusual circumstances, Louisa must work fast to clear her father’s name and find the real killer. Is it her dear friend Henry Thoreau? Or her mentor, Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson? Or maybe George, the runaway slave? Or is it her newly discovered first love, Fred?

As a lifelong fan of Louisa May Alcott and Little Women,I enjoyed this book tremendously. The book is loosely based on the real-life events of Alcott’s life, with some creative liberties thrown in. Louisa’s father really was a Transcendentalist and close friend of both Thoreau and Emerson. Louisa really did grow up near Walden Pond, and much of Little Women is based on her life. The Revelation of Louisa May is a really fun look at Louisa’s world, and why she became the famous author that we all know and love.

Historical Fiction     Corey Hall, Elizabethtown Area MS/HS