A New Take on an Old Love Story


Ius, Dawn. Anne & Henry. New York: Simon Pulse, 2015. 978-1-4814-3941-1. 289 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Inspired by the true story of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, but set in modern times, Henry Tudor is like the “king” of Medina.  He’s the class president, valedictorian, headed to Harvard Law school, and expected to follow in his father’s footsteps with a political career leading to the White House.  Until he meets Anne.  Anne is outspoken and wild, and Henry is extremely attracted to her; maybe because she’s everything he’s not.  They both have their demons; Henry has lost his perfect brother and father, and Anne’s mother seems more interested in using her daughter’s relationship to help herself than actually caring about Anne. This story of love and betrayal will keep you reading!  THOUGHTS:  A fun read for students that like stories written in multiple perspectives.  Each chapter alternates between Henry’s and Anne’s thoughts.  Students who know the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn will also enjoy this modern take on the story, but it is not necessary to know any of the history to read this book.  I was more drawn to Anne and found myself feeling more empathy for her but was completely sucked in the whole book.

Romance       Rachel Gutzler, Wilson High School

New MS Fiction – Another Kind of Hurricane and The Double Cross…


Smith, Tamara Ellis.  Another Kind of Hurricane. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015. 978-0-553-51193-2. $16.99. 326p. Gr. 4-7.

Henry and Zavion both know misery and despair.  While Henry mourns the death of his best friend, Zavion grieves the destruction of his house, demolished by Hurricane Katrina.  But fate, or magic, unite them in an unlikely series of events.  Henry travels to New Orleans with Jack in search of his marble, lost in a pocket of jeans his mom donated to the hurricane victims.  He and Wayne used to pass the marble back and forth for luck, and it’s the last connection he has to his friend.  While searching through donation boxes, he meets Zavion, who returned to pay a debt and find some absolution.  Told in alternating chapters, interspersed by other characters, the boys tell their story, one of torment, desolation, dreams, and of an enchanting magic.  Only the magic of a marble, the attachment that creates a bond of friendship strong enough for both boys, could allow each to find healing.  THOUGHTS: While the boys are very different, they both have the “same sad blue thing” and “the same scared gray thing” that only a friendship supported by a loving family can help them overcome.

Historical Fiction                        Christine Massey, JWP Middle School


Pearce, Jackson. The Double Cross: And Other Skills I Learned as a Superspy. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-161963-4145 291 p. $ 16.99 Grades 5-8.

Hale Jordan is destined to be a spy. His parents are “The Team” working for SRS (Sub Rosa Society) and have been on more successful and secret missions than anyone. No matter that Hale is twelve and younger sister Kennedy is just nine years old, both are committed to passing the junior officer training and becoming spies. Hale has the brains, but his body is holding him back: extra weight makes him slower, earning hurtful “Hale the Whale” nicknames, even from former best friend Walter, who has recently gained big muscles and a big head. When his parents leave for another mission, Hale heard them call it “Groundcover”, they disappear. Hale believes SRS is doing little to aid their safety or return, so he sneaks out of SRS and into headquarters of arch-enemy The League.  

The message of “Villians don’t always look like villains” (and heroes don’t always look like heroes) is nicely shown, not told, in a variety of ways as Hale discovers SRS are not “the good guys” and The League are not “the bad guys” and individuals in both agencies can play many roles, especially if they’re trained as spies. Hale routinely does the right thing and is ready to risk himself for his parents, sister, and even forgive his friend Walter. His sense of humor is refreshing and the highlight of the book. The action and the double-crossing surprises keep readers guessing, and while not everything is perfect by the end (Hale’s parents are alive but believe it is too dangerous to return), Hale is part of a new team of former SRS and League upstarts who are ready to (try to) take on evil. Expect sequels. THOUGHTS: This story rocks the underdog motif with a clever and extremely likeable main character and supporting cast. The action (and at times humor) slows a bit in the middle and again at the end, making the story drag, but it is a story worth promoting and enjoying. Fun AND smart equals a great combination.

Adventure; Humor             Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

New MS NF – Iron Rails, Iron Men and Ten Day a Madwoman


Sandler, Martin W. Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2015. 978-07636-65272 211 p. $22.99 Grades 5-8.
“You can’t stop progress,” so the saying goes, and this was progress, indeed. As early as the 1830s, the idea of a transcontinental railroad appealed to many, and by the 1860s the idea had lost some of its dream quality to become a possibility. Sandler introduces the perfectly positioned individuals who mapped the route, secured the funds, and directed the work of thousands of men, many of them immigrants. As the plan unfolded, the push became stronger for one of the two Railroad companies to win the race—the Central Pacific heading for the East from Sacramento, and the Union Pacific heading for the West from Omaha, to meet at Promontory Summit, Utah. The hurdles were massive: workers, weather, mountain ranges, desert, illness, and fatigue, but the vision and the competition kept them moving. Sandler expertly weaves the stories of the managing men with the progress made. He does not hide the ugly side of the changes: the bigotry against the Chinese immigrants, and the invasion of Native American land and way of life. The text is wisely broken by interesting full-page sidebars on the men, period photographs, and maps showing the progress from both companies. In the end, the railroad reduced the cross-country trek from six months to one week. This is a tale of perseverance, vision, and hard, hard work. Back matter includes an epilogue, timeline, source notes, bibliography, photography credits, and an index (pp. 183-210). A discussion Guide is also available from Follett. THOUGHTS: A strong non-fiction narrative account of a life- and nation-changing endeavor. This will give readers a flavor of the times and the amazing and devastating outcomes of the Transcontinental Railroad project.
385 Transcontinental Railroad       Melissa Scott, Shenango High School




Noyes, Deborah. Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the “Original” Girl Reporter Nellie Bly. New York: Viking, 2016. 978-08037-40174 144 p. $18.99 Grades 5-8.
Elizabeth Jane Cochran, known to family and friends as “Pink” became known to the world through her journalism as Nellie Bly. Noyes opens her book with a focus on Bly’s journalistic stunt that brought her instant fame: be committed to an insane asylum and report on the conditions there. Never one to back down from a challenge—her own or anyone else’s—Bly completed the assignment, not without a good deal of fright, which she easily shared with readers: “Who could tell but that the strain of playing crazy and being shut up with a crowd of mad people might turn my own brain and I would never get back” (19). Her honesty, her daring investigation, and her focus on the personal suffering revealed many cruelties: “…take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-backed benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane” (58). “What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment?” (53). This reporting also catapulted her to fame and wide readership –“a full-time job at [the New York] World and her own byline, quite an achievement at a time when most newspaper reports ran anonymously” (69). A host of imitators sprung up as well. Noyes gives the most time to Bly’s undercover work in Blackwell Island Lunatic Asylum and to her widely followed “round the world in 80 days” work (she did it in 76 days), leaving many other assignments breezily covered (who wouldn’t want to read more of her World War I reporting, or social work uncovering inequality and scams?). Noyes follows Bly’s personal life—her astounding marriage, at 30, to 70-year-old businessman and millionaire Robert Livingston Seaman. After his death, she successfully managed his Iron Clad Manufacturing Company and was proud of it. Reading Noyes’ work, it is easy to believe that Bly is unstoppable, which is all the more remarkable when Noyes relates the sexism of the time. “If you want to do it, you can do it. The question is, do you want to do it?” She did it. THOUGHTS: Well-researched, well-written, and well-packaged, this is a must-have for any middle and high school, especially schools in Bly’s native Pennsylvania.
92 Biography               Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

Sports Realistic Fiction for Grades 7+ – Stick; Losers Take All


Harmon, Michael. Stick. New York: Alfred A. Knoph, 2015. 978-0-385-75436-1. 229 p. $20.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Brett “Stick” Patterson is the high school football star.  He’s got a seemingly bright future ahead of him, but he’s hiding issues at home, like pressure and abuse from his alcoholic father. He’s not even sure he cares about football anymore.  Preston Underwood is the classic genius-nerd of the school.  He faces bullying on a daily basis; most often from kids like “Stick”.  The two are an unlikely pair to be friends, but as Preston ends up tutoring Brett, and Brett makes a decision that will change his life, the two boys realize they have a lot more in common than it may seem.  Both are loners that have parents with issues, and both wear a uniform to hide their losses.  Brett lost his mother, who died, in childbirth.  Preston tries to be a neighborhood vigilante at night, as he is trying to make up for the fact that he did not react and help his father when he was being mugged.   A different kind of sports book, these characters will appeal to many students.   THOUGHTS:  Great read for middle and high school students, just be aware that there is harsh language. I’m always looking for sports related books.  I found that it dealt much more in depth with the friendship and bullying issues of the two main characters, so maybe not exactly the best choice for someone looking for a “football book”.  The dialog is very realistic, and I saw aspects of my students in Preston and Brett.

Realistic Fiction          Rachel Gutzler, Wilson High School



Klass, David. Losers Take All. New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015. 0-374-30136-0. $15.34. 305p. Gr. 7+.

Jack Logan hails from a family of sports heroes, but he has never particularly voiced an interest in athletics, much to his father’s dismay.  But, things are about to change.  When Fremont High’s beloved principal suddenly passes away, head football coach, Muhldinger, is voted in by the school board and slide tackles Jack’s senior year.  One of his first acts as principal is to mandate every student to participate in a sport.  Logan teams up with some other athletic misfits to form a third-string soccer team.  Coached by their Latin teacher, Jack and his friends lose spectacularly to a junior high girls’ team.  When Muhldinger gives the team a verbal lashing on the bus that ends up being recorded, the video goes viral.  Now the beloved losing soccer team has made news and put “Muscle High” in the media spotlight.  As the Losers’ season gains momentum, Jack takes a competitive turn as he dribbles his way toward an unexpected soccer opportunity.  THOUGHTS: You can’t help but cheer for the losers, especially anyone who has ever been pressured to participate in a sport or made to feel inessential simply because sports was not an interest.

Realistic Fiction           Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

New Children’s Historical Fiction


Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. The War That Saved My Life. New York: Penguin Books, 2015. 978-0-8037-4081-5 316 p. Grades 3-6.

Ada, a young girl with a clubfoot, has been resigned all of her life in her apartment in London watching the world from her window. When World War II looms towards London, children are being sent to the country for safety.  Along with her younger brother Jamie, Ada, despite not being able to walk, decides to run away and go with him. Grudgingly adopted by Miss Susan Smith, Ada begins to learn of life outside of her window. From riding a pony to interacting with others and learning to read, she gradually learns to trust herself and others. Meanwhile Susan, a recluse in her own way, saddened by the loss of a dear friend, begins to open her heart again as well. Details of the war weave their way into this story of equal parts loss, love and hope.  THOUGHTS: This is a beautifully narrated character study. Ada is a unique narrator, accompanied by interesting secondary characters in Susan, her evil mother, and new friends. Fans of historical fiction will devour this; those new to the genre will most likely be hooked as well.

Historical Fiction       Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School

Series Nonfiction for Elementary – Science Sleuths


Duke, Shirley, Crystal Sikkens, Reagan Miller and Robin Johnson. Science Sleuths (4 new titles; 8 total in series).  New York: Crabtree, 2015. 24 p. Grades K-3.

Meaure It! 978-0-7787-1540-5.

Plan and Investigate It! 978-0-7787-1542-9.

Model It! 978-0-7787-1541-2.

Prove It! 978-0-7787-1543-6.

The Science Sleuths series is a simple introduction to the scientific method. It focuses on thinking and speaking like a scientist through various topics. Each book covers tools used for different parts of an investigation (such as a graduated cylinder or writing a hypothesis). Topics are addressed in a general way with some specific examples. Modern color photos, captions and other text features such as a table of contents, glossary and index make the informational text easy to understand.  THOUGHTS: While it may help students “think” like a scientist, it may not encourage them to “act” like one since there are few to no actual experiments. (The Model It! book does have directions for making a diorama.) This series is good for young students very interested in science or for classroom use.

500s Science Experiments        Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School

The Prisoners of Breendonk – New Narrative NF for Teens


Deem, James M. The Prisoners of Breendonk: Personal histories from a WWII concentration camp. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 978-0-544-09664-6. 340 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 & up.

Breendonk was never officially designated a concentration camp by the Nazis, but its status made it no less horrifying for its prisoners.  At first, Jews and non-Jews who had committed petty crimes were held in this Belgian prison, forced to perform mindless, backbreaking labor on starvation rations.  Later in the war, resistance members were brought here for brutal torture and executions.  Except for the testimony and writings of former prisoners, little was known about Breendonk until the author began researching its history.  Deen presents a thorough account of prison life and delves into the backgrounds of many of the prisoners.  Background information about the Belgian resistance movement gives context.  The book is interspersed with valuable primary sources, such as photos, letters and drawings.  An afterword tells readers what happened to many of the prisoners featured in the book.  THOUGHTS:  This would be a solid addition to any library with high interest in the Holocaust or where curriculums delve into this subject.  The sketches by an artist imprisoned at Breendonk are most fascinating; I’ve never seen any Holocaust resource with anything so unique.

Holocaust         Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School

New YA Hi/Lo from Epic Press – Time of Death


Anderson, Josh.   The Tunnel  (Time of Death series).  Minneapolis: Epic Press, 2016.  978-1-68076-064-4.  $22.50. 208p. Grades 9+.

Are some things, no matter how terrible, horrific or unbearable, destined to happen no matter what choices you make?  If you could go back in time to alter your future, would you do it?  This is exactly the opportunity Kyle Cash is give in Josh Anderson’s The Tunnel, part of the Time of Death series.  After smoking weed and taking shots of tequila before school one morning, Kyle wrecks into a school bus causing all of the students and the driver on board to die.  When given the chance to travel back to 1998, before he was born, to talk his dad into stopping him from making this fateful mistake, Kyle jumps at it.  But, he soon is forced to ask himself if  it’s worth all of the risk?  Will it work, or will the Kyle of 2015 still end up in in prison?  THOUGHTS:  The Time of Death series is a great set of books for struggling readers who don’t want to show their peers that they struggle.  The cool topics hook readers, and the short chapters with larger print makes the time spent reading fly by.  I would definitely put this in the hands of a student who needs a good book and some confidence.

Realistic Fantasy          Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School

YA Nonfiction – In Controversy series; Master Martial Arts series; Not Funny Ha-Ha Graphic NF


In Controversy (series). San Diego: Reference Point, 2015. 96 p. $28.95 ea. Gr. 7-12.

Parks, Peggy J. How Serious a Problem is Synthetic Drug Use? 978-1-60152-884-1.

Wilcox, Christine. How is Online Pornography Affecting Society? 978-1-60152-882-7.

Reference Point expanded their popular In Controversy series with the addition of these two titles in 2015.  The goal of the series is to more fully explain controversial topics for the secondary reader.  In How Serious a Problem is Synthetic Drug Use?, author Peggy Parks examines the issue of the use of various newer synthetic drugs, best known under their common names: synthetic marijuana, spice, K2, flakka, gravel, and bath salts, to name just a few.  How
is Online Pornagrapy Affecting Society? explores the proliferation of pornogaphy on the web (over 2.5 million websites and counting) and the addiction many develop to these sites.  Both titles explore the history/background of their respective topics, the addictive nature of each, the relationship teens have to these issues, the legal ramifications of these addictions, and what the law and society can do to combat these problems.  THOUGHTS:  These two titles are solid additions to the existing In Controversy series.  Topics are discussed in a straightforward,
logical, and easy to understand manner.  The text is enhanced by the presence of numerous sidebars/fact boxes, quotes, and statistics.  Recommended for purchase as a research resource.  

300s; Social Issues   Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS


Mastering  Martial Arts (series). Broomall, PA: Mason Crest, 2015. 96 p. $24.95 ea. Gr. 7-12.

Chaline, Eric. Martial Arts for Athletic  Conditioning: Winning Ways. 978-1-4222-3241-5.

Chaline, Eric. Martial Arts for Women: Winning Ways. 978-1-4222-3243-9.

Chaline, Eric. Ninjutsu: Winning Ways. 978-1-4222-3244-6.

Chesterman, Barnaby. Judo: Winning Ways.  978-1-4222-3236-1.

Chesterman, Barnaby. Taekwondo: Winning Ways. 978-1-4222-3245-3.

Johnson, Nathan. Jujutsu: Winning Ways. 978-1-4222-3236-1.

Johnson, Nathan. Karate: Winning Ways.  978-1-4222-3238-5.

Johnson, Nathan. Kickboxing and MMA: Winning Ways. 978-1-4222-3239-2.

Johnson, Nathan. Kung Fu: Winning Ways. 978-1-4222-3240-8.

Johnson, Nathan. Martial Arts for Children: Winning Ways. 978-1-4222-3242-2.

The Mastering Martial Arts series aims to inform readers about the major types of martial arts, as well as providing specific titles targeting women, youth, and athletes.  Written in consultation with martial arts instructors, each volume features historical background information on the martial art under discussion, as well as explanations of specific martial arts moves.  Diagrams illustrate the step-by-step techniques needed to complete each move.  Emphasis is also placed on safety when completing moves, and proper warm-up techniques are explained.  Martial arts terms are regularly defined within each chapter.  The mental/spiritual aspects of martial arts and their benefits, not only in martial arts but in everyday life, are also discussed.  THOUGHTS: The title I reviewed in this series (Martial Arts for Athletic Conditioning: Winning Ways) did a commendable job of making the topic of martial arts accessible to secondary readers.  The text promoted martial arts as a way to improve both physical fitness and mental well-being.  Recommend to those with a passing interest in martial arts as well as more advanced practitioners of the sport.
796.8; Martial Arts    Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS




Hayes, Leah. Not Funny Ha-Ha: A Handbook for Something Hard. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2015. 978-1-60699-839-7. 148 p. $16.99. Gr. 9 & up.

This graphic novel walks the reader through two types of abortion: medical and surgical.  The author states from the beginning that she is not taking a stance about whether abortion is right or wrong.  She acknowledges that the decision to have or not have an abortion is complicated, but ultimately it is personal.  The purpose of the book is to give an honest picture of what the procedures themselves are like, and the book does a good job with that.  The text and drawings are stark, reflecting what can be a scary time for women.  It weighs the pros and cons of each procedure, again stressing the decision is personal.  The author doesn’t sugarcoat much; she writes that it can be a painful and emotional process.  This is a straightforward, non-judgmental resource that some girls need.  THOUGHTS:  When I first picked this up, I was worried it would open a can of worms about “promoting” abortion, but it’s not that at all.  It is simply about the procedures.  It does not debate the morals and politics behind abortion, which all of my library’s other books on the topic do.  As the author points out in her afterward, so many books on the subject are about the before and after — whether a woman should make the choice to have an abortion, and the emotions she may feel afterward.  This book is about the middle part, and it’s honest.  Another thing I like is that you can’t tell from the cover that the book is about abortion.  It could be a graphic novel about anything, based on the title, so it may take away from stigma of checking it out.  I would recommend this book for any high school collection.

Graphic Nonfiction; Abortion        Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School

MS series Fiction continuation – Urban Outlaws


Black, Peter Jay. Urban Outlaws: Blackout. Bloomsbury: New York, 2015. 978-1-61963-592-0. 291 p. $16.99 Gr. 4-8.

In the second book of the Urban Outlaws series, a major computer virus has spread. Obi believes that his uncle changed the will of his parents after his parents died in a plane crash and asks his friends for help locating the document. In their quest to capture the crushingly powerful computer virus, the group meets Hector, a young adult who knows a ton about computers and believes that he can trap the virus.  But, the group wonders if they should trust Hector, which leads to conflict.  THOUGHTS: With characters lacking a traditional family, they come together to help solve a major computer virus showing that hard work pays off. This is the second book in the series, and I would advise that students read the books in order.

Action/Adventure      Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School