YA Sci-Fi – Burning Midnight; On the Edge…; We Are the Ants


McIntosh, Will. Burning Midnight. New York: Delacorte Press, 2016. 978-0553534108. $17.99. 320 pp. Gr. 7 and up.

People all over the world are captivated by mysterious spheres that have suddenly appeared  on Earth. The colorful orbs are rated by their rarity and effects.  Those that are very rare with the most valuable effects are worth thousands, if not millions of dollars. If a person has two of the same kind, the spheres can be “burned”,  which will allow the owner to acquire the spheres’  special properties. In the years since they first appeared, people have been on a mad dash to find or purchase and burn the spheres in order  to enhance their personal abilities. Now the possibility of finding new ones is diminishing.  Sully, who  struggles to help his single mom pay the bills, and Hunter, an orphan trying to make it on her own, team up to search for any valuable spheres still at large. Before long they discover the rarest one yet. Next thing they know, billionaire businessman Alex Holliday and his ruthless team of professional collectors are on their trail and will stop at nothing to get their treasure. The story brings in some interesting themes: the division between rich and poor; the possibility that a rare find could completely change a person’s life, and the unknown long-term effects of the miracle spheres.  THOUGHTS:  Overall, Burning Midnight is a page turner, a sci-fi adventure that would have special appeal for gamers, reluctant readers, and Pokémon Go aficionados.

Science Fiction    Nancy Summers, Abington Senior HS



Duyvis, Corinne. On the Edge of Gone. New York: Amulet Books, 2016. 978-1-41971-903-3. $17.95. 456pp. Gr. 9 and up.

In 2043, a comet is hurtling towards Earth, and it’s impact is expected to be devastating. Hours before it hits, sixteen year old Denise is anxiously trying to get her drug-addled mother out of their apartment and into an underground shelter. Although her family has been assigned a shelter on the outskirts of their hometown, Amsterdam, Denise’s’ sister Iris is missing. A random encounter outside their apartment leads Denise and her mother to a generation ship; one of a few left on Earth, grounded due to mechanical issues. The ship will leave in search of new planets to settle on after the comet hits. While Denise worries her mother will not stay clean or follow the rules to keep them on board while the comet hits; she is also determined to become useful enough to convince the crew to allow her and her mother a lifetime spot on the ship. While the crew works to repair the ship, Denise works on and off board to prove her worth, all while searching for her missing sister. Since Denise is autistic, she must break out of her comfort zone in order for her family to survive. THOUGHTS: A good story with a lot going on, readers may be overwhelmed at first by the many overlapping themes, but those who stick with it will find a satisfyingly heartfelt story in the so often bleak and depressing universe of dystopian/sci-fi.

Science Fiction          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School



Hutchinson, Shaun David. We Are the Ants. New York: Simon Pulse, 2016. 978-1481-449632. 451 pp. $17.99 Gr. 9 and up.

Henry is a lonely teen struggling to deal with the recent suicide of his boyfriend. Henry is bullied at school and bullied at home by his older brother, a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend.  His mom is a harried single mom and his grandmother is slowly fading away from Alzheimer’s.  He’s fallen out with his best friend and his secret school boyfriend is toxic. He has a lot on his plate, without counting the periodic alien abductions he has endured since he was thirteen. The aliens have now given him the choice to save the world with the push a button, and Henry is trying to figure out if it is worth it. When a new student with a troubled past joins his class, Henry finds a supportive friend and potential romance which helps him to see his life in a more positive light. We Are the Ants is a strong portrayal of a character going through the grief process and working his way through his difficult family and school situations. Virtually all of the characters are well drawn and genuine; each flawed, and there are a couple who not that likeable. But, even the negative characters, Henry’s brother and Marcus, the sometime bully, sometime friend and romantic partner are shown to have more depth than many story villains.  Henry’s wry, introspective and frequently hilarious voice are central to this tale. The alien abductions and Henry’s ruminations provide some much needed levity to the serious subject matter.  THOUGHTS: A strange story that blends together the sci-fi fantasy with a very raw and real coming of age tale. Rough language, explicit scenes and mature themes make this a choice for older teen readers.

Science Fiction   Nancy Summers, Abington Senior HS

Adult Crossover (HS) – Only Love…; Wrecked; You Will Know Me


Tarkington, Ed. Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2016. 978-1-61620-382-5. 307 pp. $26.95. Gr. 10 and up.

As a young boy growing up in late 1970s small-town Virginia, Rocky Askew idolizes his rebellious older half-brother, Paul. Rocky is also infatuated with Paul’s beautiful but secretly troubled girlfriend, Leigh. Following a rift with their father (“the Old Man”), Paul kidnaps Rocky from elementary school with a subtly threatening but unclear motive. After delivering a cigarette-sick Rocky home, Paul runs away with Leigh and literally disappears. Leigh returns home months later but doesn’t seem sure of where Paul is, or if he’s even alive. Meanwhile, Rocky is seduced by an older neighbor named Patricia, and the far-reaching ripples of Black Monday lead to the Old Man’s downfall. Debut author Ed Tarkington then throws a catastrophic wedding, a high school production of Equus, and a ritualized double murder into the mix of this virtuosic literary achievement. Narrated with a reflective tone by an adult Rocky looking back, it has echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird, true crime, the music of Neil Young, and recent crossover standout My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh. At its core, Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a book about love: love between brothers, fathers and sons, first loves, and people and places. It’s also about how love can be manipulated to make people do inexplicable, terrible things. THOUGHTS: Reading Only Love Can Break Your Heart is just like hearing a forgotten favorite song from adolescence: every word is perfectly right and every note rings true.

Historical Fiction; Adult Crossover      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley HS

Because of this adult novel’s sexual content (namely Rocky’s relationship with Patricia), I recommend reading it before deciding whether to add it to your library’s collection for teens. Even if you opt not to recommend it to students, all of the literary allusions and nostalgia make it a wonderful choice for a teacher book club. Alex Award winners are really tough to predict, but Only Love Can Break Your Heart‘s fraught coming-of-age storyline could make it a contender!



Padian, Maria. Wrecked. New York : Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 9781616206246. 357 pp. $17.95. Gr.10 and up.

In her powerful and thought provoking novel, Wrecked,  Maria Padian examines the complexities of an on-campus sexual assault. The events of the night in question are revealed in flashbacks interspersed throughout the novel. But, the focus of the story is on Haley and Richard, the roommates of the victim and the perpetrator who become embroiled in the school’s investigation into the incident. Their budding romance is tested as they are immediately thrown on opposite sides of the story. Though neither Haley nor Richard are close friends with Jenny and Jordan, they become uneasy participants in the unfolding inquiry and drama. The truth of what occurred is hard to determine; each character in the book perceives the truth through the lens of their own personal views and experiences. The novel sheds light on the pervasive self-absorption of many of the characters which reveals their lack of empathy for their fellow student. And, the situation is further complicated by the campus culture of binge drinking and easy hookups. The specter of social media harassment adds fuel to the drama.  This novel is recommended for older teen readers due to the mature themes, but it does present an important topic for discussion for students of both sexes.  THOUGHTS: A compelling look at a very serious topic and a timely read, especially in light of recent news coverage of campus sexual assault cases.  The author manages to convey a powerful message about consent that all young people must understand.

Realistic Fiction      Nancy Summers, Abington Senior HS



Abbott, Megan. You Will Know Me. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2016. 978-0-316-23107-7. 345 pp. $26.00. Gr. 10 and up.

To fill the Olympic-sized hole in your life, look no further than You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott. It’s an adult crossover thriller set in the world of competitive gymnastics. Fifteen-year old Devon Knox has set her sights on Senior Elite status and, potentially, the Olympics. Her parents, Katie and Eric, are ultra-involved in both Devon’s training regimen and the gym where she trains: the boosters, the equipment, the coaching staff, and the gossip. Just weeks before Senior Elite qualifiers, Ryan (the boyfriend of beloved but volatile assistant coach Hailey) is found dead in an apparent hit-and-run. It’s both a tragedy and a huge disruption to Devon’s training plan. As her parents wrestle with how to proceed, police involvement suggests that maybe Ryan’s death wasn’t so accidental. Told from the point-of-view of full-time gymnastics mom, Katie, and set in the tense days following the accident, You Will Know Me has all the elements of a page-turner: a dazzling but largely opaque sport, a very cute but very dead guy, and the secrets of a teenager nicknamed “Ice Eyes.” THOUGHTS: With the amazing success of Simone Biles and the entire U.S. Gymnastics team, now is the perfect time to get this crossover thriller into the hands (and onto the devices) of teen readers!

Realistic Fiction; Mystery/Suspense; Adult Crossover     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley HS

Picture Books – My Favorite Pets: by Gus W.; Rules of the House; Diana’s White House Garden


Birdsall, Jeanne. My Favorite Pets: by Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski’s Class. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 978-0-385-75570-2. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. K-3.

Gus would rather read comics and write in his sheep diary than do homework which is why the assignment about “My Favorite Pet” is perfect for him. Cleverly, the entire book, minus a page at the beginning and end, is Gus’ school report. The report, written in Gus’ handwriting, shares the silly ways Gus interacts with the family’s flock of sheep. Despite the failed attempts at skateboard training and tree climbing lessons, Gus still has a preference for lambs over his little brother. This humorous picture book will make adults and kids alike smile, embellished by illustrations from award-winning Harry Bliss.  THOUGHTS: This book is very amusing. It teaches facts about sheep, the plural of sheep is still sheep, and the crazy things this kid thinks up will make readers laugh. The clever use of the red “s” in the title shows itself to be the teacher’s corrections.

Picture Book   Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School



Barnett, Mac and Matt Myers. Rules of the House. Los Angeles: Disney Hyperion, 2016. 978-142318516-1. 44 pp. $17.99. Gr K-2.

“Follow the Rules: Brush your teeth. Make your bed. And never EVER open the red door.” For a rule follower like Ian, this is all reasonable; alas, his older sister feels otherwise. She starts ignoring the rules on the sign in the vacation cabin, and things go really wrong when she dares to open the red door. Suddenly the offended objects come alive for vengeance! Should there be a rule that says, “Always save your sister from being eaten by monsters,” and are there times when a lie might be ok? Mac Barnett continues to build a repertoire of odd, humorous tales to engage young readers and capture their imaginations. Matt Myers plays along with emotional and colorful illustrations that bring the children’s decisions and consequences to life in eerie and startling fashion.  THOUGHTS: I see many discussions about rules, actions and consequences, and sibling relationships through this entertaining read. Mac’s work is ideal for read alouds, and his sense of humor hits the right notes with adults as well as kids.

Picture Book; Fantasy    Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District



Carbone, Elisa. Diana’s White House Garden. New York: Viking, 2016. 978-0-670-01649-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. 1-3.

Diana Hopkins was a ten-year-old girl who lived in a very big house… The White House! Her father was chief advisor to President Roosevelt during war-time. Diana had fun being a kid and playing with the Roosevelts’ dog. But, she felt it was important for her to help with the war. She tried several different tactics, all getting her more frowns than smiles. One day, as she was playing with a bear named “Uncle Teddy” on President Roosevelt’s desk she knew something the president said would be the perfect job for her! He suggested that all Americans turn their lawns into gardens to grow food, that way the food in the grocery stores could be sent to soldiers. Diana was so excited!  Armed with a pair of overalls and a lot of sun, Diana was ready to change the world.  THOUGHTS: This is a delightful book about how children can be inspirations. It is based on the true story of Diana Hopkins who inspired citizens around the country to grow their own gardens during war-time. Diana has to overcome obstacles in finding the right way to help (including sticking a White House guest in the bottom with a pin!) and even having to start her garden a second time because of rabbits. She preservers and in the end is set forth in the media as an example of patriotism. I love the Author and Illustrator’s Notes at the back with a photograph!

Picture Book    Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

MS/HS Nonfiction – Bubonic Plague; White Rose Movement


Jarrow, Gail. Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America. Honesdale, PA: Calkins Creek, 2016. 978-162091-7381. $18.95. 197 pp. Gr. 6-12.
First recorded in the year 542 A.D., bubonic plague has resulted in decimations of cities and countless gruesome deaths by “buboes,” large lumps beneath the skin.  Jarrow tracks the disease from its first recorded history and explains the disturbing differences in bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic plague.  Each was ugly and deadly for at least 40 to 60 percent of victims.  It infected rich, poor, humans and animals and was widely feared.  It came to be associated with rats, though it took until 1898 for two men (Masanori Ogata in Japan, and Paul-Louis Simond of France) to discover separately that rats’ fleas were spreading the disease.  Still, they were dismissed.  A vaccine and serum could help to prevent and cure it, but nothing had stopped the spread of the disease.

In 1899 the disease hit Honolulu, in Chinatown.  With its horrific background, it is no surprise that Surgeon General Walter Wyman feared bubonic plague would reach the mainland.  And in 1900, in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the disease arrived.   “Disinfect. Isolate.  Quarantine.”  This process was repeated amid public uproar claiming discrimination or “plague rumor.”  Bacteriologist Joseph Kinyoun served as quarantine officer for the city, and soon, as the scapegoat for a mayor and residents unwilling to sacrifice their business and trade.  But how could a disease be stopped in a city unwilling to believe it?  Excellent in layout and in use of photographs and primary sources, this book includes thorough FAQs, glossary, index, timeline, author’s note and source notes.  THOUGHTS: Jarrow painstakingly follows the disease’s history in a suspenseful story.  This is a fantastic end to Jarrow’s trio of Deadly Disease books; see Red Madness (2014) and Fatal Fever (2015).  The trilogy could be used in health classes and history courses to discuss medical tracking and management of a disease as well as its social consequences.  Bubonic Panic also weaves well into investigations of the 1906 San Fransisco earthquake and comparisons with the city’s 1989 earthquake.
614.5 Diseases        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Freedman, Russell. We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler. New York: Clarion Books, 2016. 978-544-223790. $17.99. 104 pp. Gr. 5-12.
Freedman presents a comprehensive look at Hans and Sophie Schloss, two university students in Munich, who fought against the changes of the Nazi regime and paid for it with their lives.  By creating and distributing anti-Nazi leaflets and leading a group known as the White Rose, the pair spread a dissenting view in an increasingly dangerous time.  “We are your bad conscience” they titled one pamphlet targeting Hitler (46).  In powerfully written prose, Freedman communicates the Scholls’ much-deserved hero status.  Chief interrogator Robert Mohr, himself a Nazi, wrote that “Sophie and Hans Scholl managed a bearing that must be called unique…[They] were convinced that their sacrifice was not in vain” (72).  Accompanying photos provide insight into their personal lives and the difficult political and social environment they faced.  Today in Munich, a memorial for the two lies near a museum for the White Rose.  This is a superb addition to the literature of World War II and the Holocaust.  It includes source notes, a bibliography, and index.  THOUGHTS: Though the actions are grim, the message of freedom is overwhelming to the reader, allowing this to be used by middle and high school students.  Its short length (87 pages of text) and copious use of well-captioned photos draw in readers.  This pairs well with non-fiction or fiction about the Holocaust and World War II (one teacher is pairing it with The Book Thief in our 7th grade Advanced Reading course). It could also be used in conjunction with other books about the resistance movement, notably Philip Hoose’s The Boys Who Challenged Hitler (2015) and Deborah Hopkinson’s anthology Courage and Defiance (2015).  This is sobering and encouraging reading.
943 World War II     Melissa Scott, Shenango High School


MS/HS Nonfiction – Every Falling Star; Coral Reefs; Uncovering the Past


Lee, Sungju and Susan McClelland.  Every Falling Star. New York: Amulet Books, 2016.  978-1-4197-2132-8. $16.95. 320p. Gr. 5 and up.

Every Falling Star is the story of Sungju Lee’s privileged life as the son of a high ranking army official during North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung’s, reign.  Sungju lives in a luxurious apartment, takes Taekwondo lessons at a top school, and dotes on his rare purebred dog.  Shortly after the leader dies, the family’s fortunes change under the leadership of Kim Jong-il.   Sungju’s father announces that the family will be going on an extended “holiday” near the sea (in reality, his parents were being deported).  North Korea experienced severe famine during the 1990’s and each of his parents ultimately left to find food for the family.  With his parents missing, Sungju must fend for himself on the streets.  He forms a “gang” (partnership) with friends from school in order to survive.  Lee’s stories of survival are harrowing: violence, substance abuse, constant hunger, and death surround him as he travels from place to place.  Fortunately, Sungju Lee’s story ends happily, although he mourns dead and missing friends/family to this day.  THOUGHTS:  Lee wrote this story with Susan McClelland, the author who worked with Mariatu Kamatu to write The Bite of the Mango.  Much of the success of this story can be attributed to McClelland, who edited Sungju’s story to make it emotionally affecting without too many “adult” details.  This is an action-packed story that provides a rare inside peek at life in North Korea, and I would purchase it for middle and high school libraries.

Every Falling Star reads like a work of fiction,  The narrative moves along quickly, and the boys in the “gang” lead a life of adventure which would seem fun if it weren’t true.  The seven boys in the gang refer to themselves as brothers, and the relationship between the boys is heartfelt.  The fact that Sungju’s story is written in an autobiographical format reassures the reader that all ends well for him, but we wonder what has happened to the other people in the story (and how widespread these stories are in North Korea).  This book would be an excellent addition to any study of North Korea or Asia because it helps the reader have empathy for those living under communist regimes.  This book is highly recommended.

950 or 92 (Memoir)        Susan Fox, Washington Park School



Wicks, Maris. Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean. New York: First Second, 2016. 978-1-62672-145-6. $19.99. Gr. 5-8.

Maris Wicks, author of the wonderful Human Body Theater, explores the underwater world of coral reefs in this vibrant, descriptive, and entertaining graphic novel. Readers are guided through the coral reef’s vast ecosystem by a small, bespeckled yellow-prawn goby, who covers an array of topics from biodiversity to pollution, making a few corny jokes along the way. Illustrations are extremely detailed, especially when showing plant and aquatic life within the reef. Wicks does an excellent job of making somewhat scary creatures seem friendly; weary readers won’t need to shy away. A glossary, list of additional resources, and bibliography are provided and help aid younger readers or those wishing to learn more about coral reefs. This title is part of a broader series, Science Comics, which includes Dinosaurs and Volcanoes, and more volumes to come! THOUGHTS: For anyone looking to expand their nonfiction graphic novel section, this is a great addition that will attract many readers through it’s impressive, easy to read text and colorful illustrations.

577 Ecology    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School



Uncovering the Past: Analyzing Primary Sources. New York: Crabtree, 2016. $31.32 ea. $313.20 set of 10. 48 pp. Gr. 6 and up.
Hyde Natalie. Black Tuesday and the Great Depression. 9780778717089.
Hyde, Natalie. The Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. 9780778725701.
Peppas, Lynn. The Displacement of Native Peoples. 9780778725718.
Peppas, Lynn. Women’s Suffrage. 9780778717201.
This eye-catching series offers a fresh spin on both analyzing sources and evaluating pivotal historical events using primary sources specifically. The first half of each book covers the importance of studying history, identifying primary and secondary sources, and analyzing evidence with an eye toward bias and context. The second half delves into the event itself, revisits evidence to explore different viewpoints, and wraps up with modern examples that seem to repeat/parallel history. The timeline and glossary are especially strong components of each volume’s back matter. These titles provide a solid middle-grade introduction to identifying, evaluating, and interpreting elements of the historical record: photos, magazine articles, political cartoons, speeches, and more. THOUGHTS: Though not a series students will gravitate to for enjoyment reading, it fills a need in most collections for current, balanced coverage of key historical events. The focus on types and quality of sources distinguishes it from other strong series such as Compass Point’s Snapshots in History.
COMMENTARY: Pages 12-13 of The Displacement of Native Peoples discusses evaluating the reliability of both primary and secondary sources. “The best primary or secondary sources,” author Lynn Peppas states, “are those created closest tin time to the historical event under consideration.” I disagree with her example that posits James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans as a “better secondary source” than Michael Blake’s 1988 novel, Dances with Wolves. As a general rule, a secondary source created closer to the time of a historical event may be more reliable, but evaluating fiction in this way (or even using fiction as a historical source) seems ill-advised, especially for young researchers.
900 (various historical topics)    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School