In the Unlikely Event


Blume, Judy. In the Unlikely Event. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 978-1-101-87504-9. $27.95. 402p. Gr. 10 and up.

Although written for an adult audience, In the Unlikely Event is a historical fiction novel with appeal to high school readers.  Miri Ammerman, the 15-year old protagonist, leads the cast of characters in this character study as they maneuver life before, during, and after the winter of 1951 and 1952 when three plane crashed in the city of Elizabeth, NJ.  Through the changing character vignettes, and use of the Elizabeth Daily Post news reports, the town of Elizabeth comes to life beyond the tragedies.  Similar in style to J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, the use of the third person limited narration rotating through the various citizens of Elizabeth enhances the reader’s understanding of how tragedy can bring about love, adventure, new life, and unforeseen loss.  THOUGHTS: Although lacking in plot (it is character driven), this is a great addition to high school historical fiction collections.

Historical Fiction                      Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

I listened to In the Unlikely Event.  Kathleen McInerny is a fabulous narrator.  She sucks you in first with her voice, and then the amazing story-telling of Judy Blume takes over, and you’re hooked.  I usually do not like character driven novels, but I really enjoyed this one.  I liked the short sections for each character within each chapter and the way the Elizabeth Daily Post articles are used to wrap up.  Although, I would have preferred less characters with separate sections since some only came in once or twice in their own section (even though they appear throughout the story in various situations and conversations about and with other characters).  Several sections and situations of the novel angered me.  I truly hate the principal at Hamilton Junior High and his attitude towards Miri and her writing (and family), and I found Natalie to be ridiculous and exhausting (although Steve’s actions and reactions were just as bizarre because of the timing).  Finally, I felt that the story itself was fine and did not need the “Las Vegas” section in the end or the end in general of the 35th commemoration.  I liked the “now” portions much better than the “after” sections.  Overall, this is a quality novel, and Judy Blume can still write some great scenes 🙂

This Way Home


Moore, Wes and Shawn Goodman. This Way Home. New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0-375-99019-9. 245 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Elijah Thomas is a high school basketball star, and he and his two best friends are competing in the neighborhood adult league championships for prize money as well as recognition. They become entangled with a violent gang, Blood Street Nation, when the gang leader offers to supply them with new shoes and jerseys. When the boys, with encouragement from their mothers, decide to not wear the jerseys that bear the gang logo, the gang retaliates by killing one of the trio of best friends. The contrast and conflict are palpable – Elijah is grief stricken at the same time as he should be celebrating for not only winning the tournament but also for being recruited by a university basketball coach. The side story is one of Elijah connecting with and learning from a retired army officer who teaches him responsibility in his father’s absence. THOUGHTS: Although several elements in the story line are unrealistic, including the teenage boys’ acquiescing to their mothers’ wishes and the ending with the demise of the gang, I would recommend this book to teenage students who claim to hate reading, particularly to urban youth who will recognize the neighborhood violence that threatens their life dreams.

Realistic Fiction; Urban       Annette Sirio, Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies

Elementary Picture Books – Frogs; Cat; Freckleface Strawberry


Bishop,Nic.Frogs. New York: Scholastic, 2015. 978-0-5456-0570-0. 31p. $8.99. Gr.K-2.

This is the latest from award winning photographer and biologist Nic Bishop.He introduces facts about frog habitats, bodies, and life cycles. He includes a picture index and glossary. THOUGHTS: The pictures do reinforce the text and assist all beginning readers, especially the visual learner.

Frogs    Caroline Romano, Wallenpaupack Area



Underwood, Deborah. Here Comes Valentine Cat. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016. 978-0-525-42915-9. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. K-3.

Deborah Underwood’s delightfully spunky Cat is dreading “mushy” Valentine’s Day. The narrator suggests that Cat send a Valentine to a friend, but he can’t think of anyone…until the new dog next door howls a hello over the fence. Cat is unsure about making friends with a dog, but he’s especially confused when bones and balls start flying over the fence and hit Cat on the head. He considers sending an angry Valentine until he gets one from Dog. It turns out that Dog is trying to be friends by sending gifts over the fence, so Cat decides to befriend the adorable Dachshund next door. As always, the narrator communicates with Cat through a series of exchanges in which the narrator talks and Cat answers with comedic signs and facial expressions. THOUGHTS: Kids will enjoy reading about Cat any day of the year, not just Valentine’s Day.

Underwood’s newest Cat offering is just as enjoyable as the first three (Here Comes Santa Cat, Here Comes the Easter Cat, Here Comes Tooth Fairy Cat). Claudia Rueda’s illustrations contain a lot of white space that allows readers to focus on Cat and his funny faces and ideas. Search the blog to read a review of Here Comes Tooth Fairy Cat.

Picture Book; Easy Fiction      Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools




Moore, Julianne. Lunch, or WHAT’S THAT? New York: Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2015. 978-0-385-39192-4. 32 p. $12.99. Gr. K-3.

Freckleface Strawberry and her friend Windy Pants Patrick love to eat, but they do not love to eat cafeteria food. One day, Freckleface Strawberry and Windy Pants Patrick get into the lunch line, and she gets some green noodles for lunch. “What’s that?” her friends ask. “I don’t know!” she responds, but bravely tries some and realizes that she likes it. THOUGHTS: Simple sentences with lots of repetition will help early readers enjoy reading about darling Freckleface Strawberry and friends.

This story is one of several written by actress Julianne Moore about Freckleface Strawberry. These easy readers feature bright illustrations by LeUyen Pham that highlight the main character’s beautiful red hair and freckles. These stories are popular with both boys and girls as Windy Pants Patrick features prominently in the stories, as well.

Easy Fiction; Picture Book      Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools

These Shallow Graves


Donnelly, Jennifer. These Shallow Graves. New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0385-906791 487 p. $19.99 Grades 8-12.

Jo Monfort is rich, clever and trapped. In 1890s New York, upper crust young ladies seek and receive only early marriage proposals, the richer and more stable, the better. They do not seek to showcase their opinions, writing skills or investigative interests, as Jo wishes to do. Jo and her friends know that their parents will seek for them the best match based upon family history, source of wealth, stability of name, etc. For Jo, that means she and her good friend Abraham “Bram” Aldrich will likely marry. By all accounts, he is quite a catch: kind, intelligent, handsome, and rich. But as much as she likes him, she doesn’t love him and doesn’t even know what that means. In fact, heavy issues like business and delicate issues like the body, or, heaven forbid, sex, are not discussed and not understood (Jo’s friend Trudy honestly thinks that a stork brings a child and only after you’ve married.)

When her father is found dead in his study, the police rule it an accident (he was cleaning his gun), but Jo knows he was too smart to make that mistake. When investigating on her own, she meets Eddie Gallagher, a handsome reporter for the newspaper, The Standard, owned by her family. Through him, she learns that the evidence points to a suicide, and her trusted uncle likely paid for the “accident” ruling to save the family name and business. Shocked, Jo is driven to know what would lead her father to suicide. Excited, Eddie is driven to break a huge story that will make his career. Attracted, they both fall in love and unearth some astonishing answers and deep mysteries around the shipping business shared by her father, uncle, and several other men. Eddie is more able than Jo to believe ill of her family and its business. As naïve, but driven Jo sneaks out (night and day) to seek answers, she risks her reputation (girls don’t walk alone, let alone go to the morgue or a graveyard). Fortuitously for her, she’s understood and trusted by several new friends: Eddie, his mortician friend Oscar, and street criminals Tumbler and Fay. Fay teaches Jo some needed self-defense skills, and saves her life more than once before the story is done.

The story gives a realistic look at the disparity between classes and sexes in 1890s New York, but strains credulity on many occasions—as when Jo repeatedly succeeds in avoiding repercussions, and she finds just who or what she needs when she needs it. The denouement, when the evil man finally answers, at great length, the entire history, after being shot in the kneecap, is nearly unbelievable (the “ouch” he utters, and his clarity of mind, do not match the pain or shock of this injury). But by then readers just want all the details and a happy ending for Jo, too. And it’s a happy ending we do receive.

THOUGHTS: Given its length and focus, this is for advanced readers who love a deep mystery sprinkled with a little romance. Indeed, this could begin a series for Jo and Eddie working together. The complicated world of 1890s New York provides excellent fodder for numerous murder mysteries and a furthering of Jo and Eddie’s relationship. Oscar in particular, as mortician, adds an incredible amount of interesting information to the tale.

Historical Fiction; Mystery       Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

Elementary Series NF – All About Animals; Football’s Greatest Stars


Kalman, Bobbie. All About Animals Close-Up (series). New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2015. 24p. $24.00. Gr. 1-5.

How and why do animals adapt? 978-0-7787-1463-7.

What kind of coverings do animals have? 978-0-7787-1466-8.

How and why do people copy animals? 978-0-7787-1465-1.

How and what do animals learn? 978-0-7787-1462-0.

How and why do animals communicate? 978-0-7787-1464-4.

Why and where are animals endangered? 978-0-7787-1469-9.

Photos and descriptions clearly explain how and why animals do what they do in these new titles from Crabtree. Each book has a table of contents, glossary, index, and a bibliography including websites. “What do you think?” boxes invite students to reflect more deeply on the subject at hand. THOUGHTS: These books go beyond the how and why. Our science teacher is very enthusiastic about these books and believes this series will reinforce the Common Core curriculum. Highly recommended.

Animals    Caroline Romano, Wallenpaupack Area



Scheff, Matt. Football’s Greatest Stars (series). Minneapolis: ABDO, 2016. 32. p. $18.00. Gr. 4-8.

Andrew Luck. 978-1-62403-825-9.

J.J. Watt. 978-1-62403-828-0.

This new series from ABDO features some of the current greatest football plays.  Each text includes information about the player’s life and career and features a biographical timeline, glossary, and “Fast Facts” that go more in-depth about the player.  Photographs give readers the sense of being in the game with the player.  Additional titles include: Aaron Rodgers; Tom Brady; Peyton Manning; Russell Wilson.  THOUGHTS: I would purchase this set for my K-2 school. Our gym teacher is excited to read them to his Guys Read group because these two players came from such different backgrounds and made it. He feels that they are good role models.

Sports    Caroline Romano, Wallenpaupack Area

Elementary Fiction – Lucky Strike; Dragon Masters


Pyron, Bobbie. Lucky Strike. New York: Scholastic, 2015. 978-0-545-59217-8.  272p. $18.99. Gr. 4-7.

Nate Harlow is extremely unlucky.  He’s never won a prize and always gets picked last.  His best friend, Genesis Beam does not believe in luck, and instead puts all her trust in science and logic.  Nate gets struck by lightning on his birthday and by some miracle survives.  This lightning strike has changed Nate’s luck.  Nate is suddenly the most popular kid at school and the star baseball player.  But how long can his luck last? THOUGHTS: This is a very enjoyable, fast-paced story written in a style similar to Andrew Clements.  Students will enjoy the themes of friendship and loyalty found in this book.

Realistic Fantasy          Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School



West, Tracey. Dragon Masters: Secret of the Water Dragon. New York: Scholastic, 2015. 978-0-545-64623-9. 90p. $10.00. Gr 1-3.

This book is part of a series of five so far, from Scholastic’s early chapter book line, Branches. In this story, someone is trying to steal the dragon stone, and the dragon masters must protect it.  It is fast paced and of high interest for fantasy readers and includes illustrations on every page.  It is very for early readers and includes questions and activities at the end.  THOUGHTS: There is a king, wizard, magic stone, dragons, and dragon masters in training; what more could a fantasy lover want!

Fantasy     Caroline Romano Wallenpaupack Area School


New Elementary Graphic Novels – Squish; Mad Scientist Academy


Holm, Jennifer L. & Holm, Matthew.  Squish Deadly Disease of Doom (#7)   New York:  Random House, 2015. 978-0-307-98305-3. 91p. $7.99. Gr. 2-6.

A deadly disease is spreading through Small Pond, and it looks like Squish is next.  Will this terrible disease be the end of Squish, the amoeba?  Read this hilarious graphic novel to find out.  This book also includes a “Fun Science” spread with ideas for science experiments, and a “How to draw Squish” section.  THOUGHTS:  Squish is a big hit in my library.  The graphic novel sensation has really taken off.  Hand this book to those reluctant readers.  All readers will enjoy the humorous antics of Squish.

Graphic Novel        Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School


McElligott, Matthew. Mad Scientist Academy: The Dinosaur Disaster. New York: Crown Books For Young Readers, 2015. 978-0-553-52374-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-5.

When a group of kid monsters meet their teacher, Dr. Cosmic, on their first day at Mad Scientist Academy, the adventure begins and never stops!  They spend the day learning about fossils, extinction, dinosaurs in the Mesozoic periods, and the pterosaurs.  They are able to avoid a flaming meteor, oozing lava, and a moving group of robotic dinosaurs. The students are helped by their “Mad Scientist Handbooks” which fold out as helpful screens, touchpads, tools and gadgets.  THOUGHTS:  McElliott provides brilliant illustrations.  The comical characters and entertaining plot are sure to fascinate even the most reluctant reader.  

Graphic Novel          Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School

New Picture Books – Dr. Seuss; Lillian; a Tea Party; Small Elephant


Seuss, Dr. The BIG Orange Book of Beginner Books. New York: Random House, 2015. 978-0-553-52425-3. 240p. $15.99. Gr Pre-K-2.

This book includes six individual titles by Dr. Seuss: Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!; The Shape of Me and Other Stuff; In a People House; Hooper Humperdink…? Not Him!; Ten Apples Up On Top! Because a Little Bug went Ka-CHOO!.  The large print and illustrations help emergent reader guess the words they may not know yet while developing reading skills through rhyme and classic, beloved Dr. Seuss characters.  THOUGHTS: Buy if you do not have enough individual copies.

Picture Book Collection      Caroline Romano Wallenpaupack Area School District




Winter, Jonah and Shane W. Evans. Lillian’s Right to Vote. New York: 2015.978-0-385-39028-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr 1 -4.

As hundred year old Lillian journeys to the top of a very steep hill to vote, she is reminded of what it took in order for all African Americans to get the vote: from slave ties to freedom; from an impossible test to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The colorful art and well crafted sentences create a read aloud that will spark a discussion on the hard won right to vote. THOUGHTS: This is an excellent text for extending a study of Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, or Election Day.  It is highly recommended.

Historical Picture Book      Caroline Romano, Wallenpaupack Area




Miyakoshi, Akiko. The Tea Party in the Woods. New York: Kids Can Press, 2015.  978-177138-107-9. Unpaged. $16.95. Gr. K-5.

One wintery, snowy day, a young girl named Kikko realizes her father has forgotten the pie he was supposed to take to Grandma’s house.  When she tries to catch him in the woods, she accidentally follows a bear instead.  She finds herself by a house she does not know but is too curious to leave.  As she looks through the window, a lamb wearing a coat and carrying a purse asks her, “Are you here for the tea party?”  Keikko joins the many animals for a splendid and magical tea party.  Akiko Miyakoshi has beautifully illustrated this tale.  The illustrations are mostly black and white with an occasional stroke of yellow and red.  The story ends with the animals disappearing back into the woods, and one must question whether the story is really happening or a figment of Kikko’s imagination.  Thoughts:  I would recommend this book for any children’s or elementary library.  This story promotes much discussion with students and is a great read aloud.

Picture Book                             Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School




Feeney, Tatyana. Small Elephant’s Bathtime. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.  978-0-553-49721-2. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. PK-2.

Small Elephant likes water, but not being in it.  His mother tries to make bath time fun with toys and games, but Small Elephant does not want to get in the bath!  Small Elephant’s father thinks of a way to get Small Elephant in the bath, but will it work?  THOUGHTS:  This is a very cute book with enjoyable illustrations.  Young students will be able to relate to Small Elephant.  It’s a great addition to storytime!

Picture Book         Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School

MS Fantasy


Ferraris, Zoe. The Galaxy Pirates: Hunt for the Pyxis. New York: Crown Books, 2015. 978-0-385-39216-7. $16.99. 310 p. Gr. 4-7.

When Emma was little, her parents filled her head with stories about other galaxies full of millions of animals and people and magical things.  She simply didn’t believe them at the time.  Then her seemingly ordinary parents are kidnapped, and Emma must find them.  Her search leads her to another universe, strands that take her, and her best friend Herbie, on the adventure of a lifetime.  During the journey, she learns her mother is the notorious Pirate Brightstoke, who rebelled against the nefarious Queen Virgo.  She foiled the queen’s plan to control all the memory water, and now the queen is seeking revenge.  Emma and Herbie meet up with the Argh, another ship full of orphans and a prickly captain with a generous heart.  Together they will tackle the queen’s Navy and try to rescue Emma’s parents.  THOUGHTS: An action-packed adventure that will keep readers turning the page and looking for the next title.

Fantasy     Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

YA Nonfiction – The Shift; Judge This


Brown, Theresa.  The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives.  Chapel Hill: Algonquin. 2015. 226p.  $24.95. Gr. 9 and up.

We all know that nursing is hard; that nurses are often overlooked, underpaid, and way underappreciated.  New York Times Opinion Columnist Theresa Brown, sets out to change that perception in The Shift.  Brown gives an inside look at her day; from when she rises before the sun; to when she arrives at home after her twelve hour shift at a Pittsburgh hospital.  Her day begins with three patients, all with varying types and stages of cancer, and continues as she’s given a fourth patient with an unusual, unpredicted infection.  The reality of how busy nurses are, how little doctors respect the nurses on their floor, and how demanding some patients are, is vivid in this honest portrayal of one day in a nurse’s life.  Thoughts: This is great work of narrative nonfiction.  Although heavy with medical lingo at times, Brown makes sure to define everything for those readers not familiar with medical terms.  This is a perfect book for a student interested in a career in medicine.  

616; Health Care; Memoir          Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School



Kidd, Chip. Judge This. New York: TED Books, 2015. 978-1-4767-8478-6. 125 p. $16.99. Gr. 7 & up.

This adorable little book presents examples of design in multiple mediums and weighs the functionality of each.  Chip Kidd is primarily a book jacket designer, but he includes examples of advertising, signs, packaging, and more.  He rates each example on its clarity vs. mystery.  “Clarity gets to the point … mystery gives us hope,” is how he sums up the difference.  Designers often strive for a balance between the two.  He notes that some mystery in design is often a good thing, but other times it’s just confusing.  On examples of poor design, Kidd offers tips to improve. Kidd’s approach is functional and humorous, easily accessible by readers who have no design experience.  THOUGHTS:  This is a great book to include in a graphic arts or design course.  I would present examples from this book and ask students to find their own examples of good and bad design to add to the collection.  Students who are familiar with Kidd’s TED talk or design work will pick this up, especially because he does a lot of work with comic books and graphic novels.  Students who don’t know who he is will still enjoy his unique perspective on our everyday visual encounters.  Reluctant readers may pick this up because of the eye-popping visuals, small size, and sparse text.

Graphic Art, Design              Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School