YA Realistic Fiction – Wink Poppy Midnight; Nice Girls Endure

Tucholke, April Genevieve. Wink Poppy Midnight. New York: Dial Books, 2016. 978-0-8037-4048-8. $17.99. 247 pp. Gr. 9 and up.

A bit of fairy tale, lots of character study, and twists readers may not see coming, Wink Poppy Midnight looks at the interconnectedness of three very different characters.  Wink, lost in fairytales and caring for others, seems naive; lost to the world around her.  Midnight, a true teenage boy with teenage boy things on his mind, is torn between lust for one and growing love for another.  Poppy is cruel; the “mean girl” who leads a crew of followers to complete her bully status.  One is a hero; one a villain, and one a liar, but who can tell which is which.  With fairy tale associations and cruelty abound, Wink Poppy Midnight is reminiscent of J.K. Rowling’s character study, A Casual Vacancy, and e. Lockhart’s storytelling in We Were Liars.  THOUGHTS:  Not for the plot-driven reader, this novel is for the mature reader who understands the intricacies of character development and the importance of understanding a character in order to tell a story.

Realistic Fiction     Erin Parkinson, Beaver Area MS/HS

Much like when I read J.K. Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy, I hated and understood the purpose of this novel while reading.  It took me forever to actually read the novel because I couldn’t get into it.  I hated all of the characters and had no clue what Tucholke was trying to accomplish while reading it; yet, I couldn’t actually stop reading it (even though it took almost two months to finish).  I truly don’t know who I would recommend this title to, but it got starred reviews, so it must have an audience.  It is being compared to We Were Liars by e. Lockhart, and I understand why based on the writing style, but I got We Were Liars and understood what Lockhart was trying to do with the intersection of life, fairy tale, and loss.  I don’t understand Tucholke here except to comment on the cruelty of human character and the idea that cruelty and kindness live in all of us.  


Struyk-Bonn, Chris. Nice Girls Endure.  North Mankato, MN; Switch Press, 2016. 978-1630790479. $16.95. 256 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Struyk-Bonn has succeeded in telling a realistic yet engaging and meaningful story about a young girl looking to find her place in a world that does not seem to want her. Chelsea Duvey has always been overweight, but, as usual, life seems worse now that she is in high school. She struggles to make friends because of her social anxiety and deals with constant bullying. She spends most of her time at home watching musicals with her father, singing along with all of the songs and forgetting her life for awhile. Her mother is not so understanding and tries to sign her up for weight-loss classes. One classmate in particular targets her for constant bullying, and after he assaults her at a dance and posts photos online, Chelsea becomes despondent and struggles to overcome depression and anxiety. She slowly makes friends in her film as literature class, and one girl in particular befriends her and shows that Chelsea can be who she is and still be loved. The inclusion of a therapist is helpful, but the use of anxiety medication could have been better employed and resolved at the end. The depiction of the adults is fairly realistic, as they are given their own flaws and faults to manage. THOUGHTS: This is a good read for teenagers needing a story of strength and resilience. Highly recommended for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction     Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School Library

I did truly enjoy this book, and am excited to recommend it to my students. Chelsea does seem to give up at one point, but her friends and family rally around her to help her move on, and teens need to know that there are so many individuals around them who will help and support them. And, Chelsea is not the only one fighting demons in this story, and this fact illustrates how so many of us are fighting our own negative thoughts and emotions. I look forward to possibly using this title in a book club as well!

Easy/Early Reader – The Great Pet Escape; Hot Rod Hamster; Minnie Hocus Bow-cus

Jamieson, Victoria. The Great Pet Escape (Pets on the Loose Series). New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016. 978-1-62779-105-2. 63 pp. $7.99. Gr. 2-5.

There has been a break out at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary!  G.W. , the second grade pet hamster has finally succeeded in breaking out of his “prison” and is now in search of his long lost friends Biter and Barry who came into this school with him.  Together they were the Furry Fiends.  But when G.W. (short for George Washington) finds his friends, they’ve changed.  They are no longer rough and tough.  Biter has changed his name to Sunflower and has learned all about feelings and sharing in his Kindergarten room.  Barry is enjoying story time in first grade.   GW is sad to find his friends so changed, but together they must team up to defeat Harriet, the evil fourth grade pet mouse and her minions.  In this fun, graphic novel style book, kids will enjoy the adventure and fun of this trio who fight to defeat the bully of the school.  Written and illustrated by the author of the award winning Roller Girl, this book is sure to “escape” from the library shelves regularly!  THOUGHTS:  A perfect choice for the reluctant reader!  The colorful graphics will rope them in, but the great vocabulary and fun antics will keep them reading and growing as readers.  This may also be a good discussion starter about bullying, since the bully of the story plays a main part as they problem solve to defeat her.

Early Reader Graphic Novel      Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy


Lord, Cynthia. Hot Rod Hamster Meets His Match. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-82592-4. 32 pp. $16.99. Gr. K-2.

In this episode, Hot Rod Hamster meets an adventurous girl hamster named Holly.  They work together to try to win the race down the water slide and beat the mean dogs from the park.  This early reader series by the author of Rules is perfect for the beginning reader.  The word bubbles and colorful graphics will attract the reluctant reader.  The repetition and simple sight words will give them a sense of accomplishment as they read independently.  Along the way, the reader is given choices to make “Grape pop. Fudge pop. Punch pop. Crunch pop. Which would you choose?” This adds another layer of fun and repetition to the text.  THOUGHTS:  This new early reader series will give emerging readers success as they find sight words and lots of simple sentences to help them develop a love of reading.   This series is a great addition to an early reader basket of fiction books in a kindergarten through second grade class.

Early Reader     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy


Gold, Gina. Minnie Hocus Bow-cus. New York: Hyperion, 2016. 978-1-61479-363-2. 32pp. $10.99. Gr. K-1.

Minnie’s Bow-tique is having a sale.  To bring in customers, they decide to have a magic show starring the great Penguini! Millie and Melody Mouse are going to assist him.  But when Penguini disappears, Melody and Millie try to take over the show, and things begin to go wrong.  This illustrated early reader from Disney Hyperion is a colorful and attractive selection for the emerging reader in Pre-K to Grade 1. The familiar Minnie Mouse along with a cast of some new characters will appeal to the younger set.  The simple text and work repetition will provide early readers with success.  THOUGHTS:  This early reader is a great addition to any fiction reading basket.  Students will be drawn to the fun characters and simple text and hopefully discover the magic of reading for themselves!

Early Reader Fiction   Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy

Elementary NF – Animals; When Whales Cross the Sea; Symbiosis; Safe in a Storm

Kalman, Bobbie. Animals that Live in Social Groups. New York: Crabtree Publishing, 2016. 978-0-7787-2787-3. 32 pp. $16.99. Gr. 3-5.

Did you know that a group of lemurs is called a conspiracy? This beautiful non-fiction book describes several animals that live in groups.  These include dolphins, lions, baboons, elephants and more.  Students will love the bold, real photographs with interesting captions that fill each page.  This book also includes important text features such as a table of contents, glossary, and index to assist students as they navigate through a non-fiction text.  The text is clear and easy to understand with thought provoking questions and quizzes that test how well you read an animal’s non-verbal expressions.  THOUGHTS:  This is a great addition to a non-fiction library or a unit about animals and their interactions.  Students will love the strange names for some of the groups (like a murder of crows) .  This book adds another layer to the study of animals and their habitats and interactions.

Animals     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy


Katz Cooper, Sharon. When Whales Cross the Sea: the Gray Whale Migration. North Mankato, MN: Capstone, 2016. 978-4795-6079-0. 32 pp.  $16.99. Gr. K-3.

When Whales Cross the Sea: the Gray Whale Migration is a picture book account of one whale’s migration from her summer home in the Arctic Ocean to her winter home off of the coast of Mexico.  With beautiful illustrations, the whale’s trip is chronicled as she feeds and prepares, and then embarks on her long journey.  The wording is magical and yet descriptive as in this line describing the whale’s layer of blubber. “It’s like a coat and a restaurant in one. The blubber keeps the whale warm and gives her energy.”  This is a wonderfully simplistic look at the preparations, possible dangers, and sweet birth of her baby in the warm waters of Mexico. This book also includes some “Fast Facts” about Gray Whales, a glossary, Critical Thinking questions aligned with Common Core Standards, and suggestions for more reading about the subject. THOUGHTS:  This book is a great read aloud for a unit on whales for a Kindergarten or First Grade class.  As each step is taken, students can follow and then try to put the steps of the whale’s journey in order at a center or on a smartboard.  Teachers can also use the critical thinking questions provided to guide discussion further.

Whales (Picture Book)     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy


Kalman, Bobbie. Symbiosis: How Different Animals Relate. New York: Crabtree, 2016. 978-0-7787-2785-9. 32pp.  $16.99. Gr. 3-6.

The relationships between some animals are helpful, while others are harmful.  This book explores the four types of symbiosis; mutualism, commensalism, parasitism, and predation.   Using full color photographs and captions, the author describes various types of beneficial and non-beneficial relationships in the animal world. The text often asks questions that remain unanswered, forcing a student to explore or research further to find out.  Critical thinking questions are sprinkled liberally throughout. Even human factors like bacteria and probiotics are discussed.  The text includes a table of contents, glossary and index to help students navigate this information rich text.  THOUGHTS:  This book is a helpful addition to a library collection of books about animals and their interrelationships.  Symbiosis is a complicated concept, but this book begins to help bring a clearer understanding of the different types of animal relationships.  A teacher might use some of the critical thinking questions as writing prompts to encourage students to synthesize information already learned in the unit.  Several examples of each type of symbiosis are used allowing for a variety of discussions over a variety of biomes.

Animals     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy


Swinburne, Stephen. Safe in a Storm. New York: Cartwheel Books, 2016. 978-0-545-86792-4. Unpaged. $10.99. Gr. PreK-K.

Swinburne’s simple story discusses different animals seeking shelter during a storm, with the parent offering reassurances to its youngsters that they are safe. Bell does a lovely job combining the dark skies and angry storm with warm scenes of animal families embracing or snuggling to keep dry during the storm. This is a great book to share one-on-one, snuggled up on a dreary day. THOUGHTS: A sweet story to share with youngsters who don’t like storms or just need a reminder that they are loved.

Picture book     Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools

Early Chapter Books – Geronimo Stilton; Rainbow Magic; Silver Pony Ranch

Stilton, Geronimo. Mouse Overboard! New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-87251-5. 107 pp. $ 6.99. Gr. 2-4.

In another installment of this wildly popular Scholastic series, Geronimo Stilton is invited to Lisbon, Portugal, to retrace the journey of the famous explorer Vasco de Gama.  With a mix of fun fonts, lots of graphics and mystery, Geronimo and his friends set out on their adventure.  Along the way, the reader learns the history of Lisbon, facts about Vasco de Gama and his explorations, and even some geography with maps of de Gama’s voyages.  Of course Geronimo has lots of silliness and sabotage to overcome too!  THOUGHTS: This series is great for the early reader.  The author does include a lot of history and geography and this could possibly be used in conjunction with a unit on early explorers.

Early Chapter Book      Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy


Meadows, Daisy. Julia the Sleeping Beauty Fairy. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-85189-3. 65pp. $4.99. Gr. 2-4.

Rachel and Kirsty are excited for their stay at the Tiptop Fairy Tale Castle.  But when they meet Hannah the Happy Ending Fairy again, they know that their stay will be even more magical!  Hannah turns them both into fairies, and they go to visit the nearest fairy village.  There they meet the Fairy Tale Fairies.  But when they try to read the book of fairy tales the fairies give them as a gift, they realize that it is empty!  Jack Frost and his evil goblins have stolen the fairies’ magical items, and the girls must help them recover them, or the fairy tales will be lost or changed forever!  Can they help Julia the Sleeping Beauty Fairy recover her magic jewelry box and save the story of Sleeping Beauty?  THOUGHTS:  These magical series fiction books will captivate the early reader crowd and keep them reading!  The combination of adventure and fairies will keep them coming back for more. This book is one of seven in a series.

Early Reader Chapter Book      Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy


Green, D.L. Silver Pony Ranch: Sweet Buttercup. New York: Scholastic Branches, 2016. 978-0-545-79770-5. 90pp. $15.99. Gr. 1-3.

Tori and Miranda love staying with their Gran on the Silver Pony ranch.  They especially love to ride their ponies Jewel and Buttercup.  Gran tells them that there will be a horse show in just four days and the girls decide to compete.  As they are preparing for the show, a new girl and her family come to stay on Gran’s ranch.  Ashley is not very nice.  She brags a lot about her riding abilities and her ranch back home.  She is also going to compete and is sure that she will win the ribbon for horsemanship.  Tori must figure out how to deal with Ashley in a way that is kind while still working hard to train for the show.  The girls create their own sparkly costumes and practice every day before the competition.  Will their hard work pay off?  Will Ashley’s criticism and bragging about her abilities win her a ribbon?  THOUGHTS:  This early chapter book is part of the Scholastic Branches series that is a bridge between the easy reader and more difficult and longer chapter books.  Horse books are always in high demand in our library, so I can see this set being popular with those emerging readers.  This is book two in a two book series.  Book one is Silver Pony Ranch: Sparkling Jewel.

Early Chapter Book      Donna Fernandez , Calvary Christian Academy

Picture Books – How Kate Warne…; For the Right to Learn; Two Friends…

Van Steenwyk, Elizabeth. How Kate Warne Saved President Lincoln. Chicago: Albert Whitman and Company, 2016. 978-0-8075-4117-3. 32pp. $16.99. Gr. 2-4.

This historical picture book highlights the career of Kate Warne, America’s first female detective. In 1856, Warne arrived in detective Allan Pinkerton’s office looking for a job. Although Pinkerton had never before considered hiring a woman, Warne convinced him that a female would be able to obtain information in ways men couldn’t. She spent her career attending society parties disguised as a wealthy socialite or sometimes as a fortune teller. Warne earned the trust of both men and women and then used the information she gained to help crack some of the nation’s biggest cases. Her most important assignment involved exposing a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln on the way to his inauguration. Disguised as a wealthy southern woman, Warne infiltrated a group called the Golden Circle and verified the details of the plot against Lincoln. Her information was used to develop a plan that allowed a disguised Lincoln to secretly switch trains under the cover of darkness and arrive in Washington DC unharmed.  THOUGHTS: This title provides a fascinating look at how one woman shattered gender stereotypes and bravely left her mark on a formerly male-dominated profession. The story is told with enough suspense and intrigue to hold readers’ attention, and it will be a welcome addition to women’s history month celebrations and to Civil War units.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County



Langston-George, Rebecca. For the Right to Learn. North Mankato, MN: Capstone, 2016.     978-1-4914-6071-9. 40 pp. $16.99. Gr. 3-6.

In a small village in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai attended school.  Her father was a teacher and felt that all children, even girls, should have the right to learn.  This was not the case everywhere in Pakistan.  In many places in that country, only boys were educated.  As the Taliban rose in power, they also condemned girls being educated.  The Taliban threatened the school leaders, including Malala’s father, to stop allowing girls to come to school. Later, those who opposed the Taliban were bombed as warnings to others.  Malala secretly began to blog about her experiences with a reporter from the BBC.  Finally, a Taliban fighter boarded the school bus and shot Malala for her outspoken stance on education for all girls in Pakistan.  She recovered and gave a speech before the United Nations that propelled her to international fame.  She later won a Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous fight for the right to learn.  This vividly illustrated book is powerful and compelling.  The message that Malala shared is clear and precise.  The incident of the shooting is simply illustrated with a book and three small drops of blood on top of it.  While upsetting, students will be inspired by her persistence and perhaps encouraged to appreciate the gift of education that all children in America may take for granted.  THOUGHTS:  This book is a wonderful addition to a unit on children in the Middle East, human rights, or even an inspiration to students to find something that they are passionate about and act to make a change.

Picture Book Biography     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy



Robbins, Dean. Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. New York: Orchard Books, 2016. 978-0-545-39996-8. 32pp. $17.99. Gr. K-4.

On a snowy afternoon, Susan B. Anthony is setting her table for tea. Two cups, two saucers, two slices of cake. She welcomes her friend Frederick Douglass, and the two sip tea by the fireplace, talking about their ideas for equal rights. This book centers on the real-life friendship these two activists shared and highlights similarities in their campaigns for women’s rights and African American rights. Robbins uses parallel text, repeating the lines, “The right to live free. The right to vote. Some people had rights, while others had none. Why shouldn’t he have them too?” as he describes each crusader’s fight. A brief author’s note provides additional background information about both Anthony and Douglass, and a bibliography offers suggestions for further reading. Mixed media illustrations feature paint, collage, and colored pencil. Swirling cursive script highlighting ideas Anthony and Douglass championed is woven into many spreads, adding to the book’s vintage feel. Overall, this is an age-appropriate introduction to two civil rights contemporaries who respected each other’s ideas and admired each other’s resolve to fight for a better future.  THOUGHTS:  This is a valuable addition to social studies units about equal rights or women’s suffrage. It could also be used to supplement a Civil War unit on emancipation or in celebration of Black History Month.

Picture Book    Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County

HS Sci-Fi/Fantasy – The Forgetting; Scythe; Crooked Kingdom

Cameron, Sharon. The Forgetting. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-54594-521-9. $18.99. 416 pp. Gr 7-12.

Canaan is a sheltered, quiet city, free of technology and surrounded by a large, secure wall. The citizens live in peace, writing about their “truths” in their books, which remains attached to them at all times. They will need these books and their truths after The Forgetting, a day without consequences that occurs every twelve years. All members of Canaan forget, and what isn’t written, isn’t remembered. But Nadia, the Dyer’s Daughter, does not forget; she remembers the chaos of the last Forgetting and how her mother, father, and sisters forgot her name. She remembers a sky the color of fire and the screams as people committed heinous acts without remorse. Since then, Nadia has found it hard to trust anyone. As the town prepares for the next Forgetting, Nadia meets Gray, the Glassblower’s Son, and together they sneak over the wall to explore the beyond. But they uncover a secret that not even the town’s highest council members know which could shake the foundation of Canaan to it’s core. And, as Nadia begins to fall for Gray, she begins to fear the Forgetting like never before and is determined bring the real truth to her city. THOUGHTS: With elements of The Giver and Lost, Cameron weaves an engrossing and thought-provoking story for middle schoolers and teens. A must for any library where science fiction and fantasy reign.

Science Fiction/Fantasy                  Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Cameron, Sharon.  The Forgetting. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2016. 978–0545945219.  416 p.  $18.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Nadia and her family live in the city of Canaan, a walled city where the people carry their life stories around with them, required by law to write down their thoughts and experiences in their books. Every 12 years, the Forgetting comes; people’s memories are wiped, and the only connection they have  to their pasts is the entries they have written down. The lives of the citizens are carefully regulated; there are assigned occupations, set times for waking and resting, rations are doled out by the Council, and no one is permitted outside the walls. Nadia is different from everyone else; she seems to be the only one who actually remembers what happened before the last Forgetting, and she is the only one who scales the walls to venture into the outside world. She guards her emotions and never becomes close to anyone, since she knows all will be forgotten. But when Gray, a neighborhood boy, confronts her as she returns from a night outside the city, he becomes her friend, her confident and more. As the next Forgetting looms closer, the two of them are determined to find out what really happens, and they discover much more than they bargained for. THOUGHTS: Though the writing is very descriptive and the characters are well developed, this dystopian romance and sci-fi adventure is very slow to build and does not really build up steam until the final few chapters.

Science Fiction     Nancy Summers, Abington Senior High School


Shusterman, Neal. Scythe. New York: Simon and Shuster, 2016. 978-1-4424-7242-6. 433 p. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Another compelling dystopian series in the making from Shusterman. In MidMerica, technology and science have advanced so that death is no longer a reality for most people. Illness and injuries can be quickly cured and people can live for centuries, able to reset their clocks to younger ages. But population control remains an issue, so scythes are selected to “glean” individuals to keep numbers down. A scythe is an honored and feared individual who decides who shall die and carries out this sentence using a variety of tools and techniques at their discretion. Scythes are expected to be beyond reproach and the law; they should have compassion and integrity to carry out their task, and every so often a scythe must select an apprentice to train for this awesome responsibility. The serious and respected Scythe Faraday has broken with tradition and selected two, Cintra and Rowan, both seventeen, who begin their training in the arts of killing. When Faraday unexpectedly gleans himself, his apprentices are pitted against each other in a contest in which only one will live.  THOUGHTS : An interesting premise with a look into a world perfected by the “Thundercloud”, the AI super program which has solved all conflicts, cured  all afflictions and governed all nations. But what is the value of human existence when there is nothing to provide purpose or meaning?

Science Fiction/Dystopian     Nancy Summers, Abington Senior High


Bardugo, Leigh. Crooked Kingdom. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2016. 978-1-62779-213-4. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

Kaz Brekker and his crew of misfits: Inej, the silent thief and killer; Jepser the perfect sharpshooter; Nina, the Grisha Heartrender; Matthias, the once cold-blooded Fjierdan and Wylan, the illiterate merchant’s son, have just pulled off a seemingly impossible heist and broken an important Grisha out of an impenetrable jail. This Grisha, Kuwei Yul-Bo, holds the key to jurda parem, a dangerous drug that if unleashed could wreak havoc on Ketterdam and the rest of the world. But the merchant who hired them, Jan Van Eck, has double crossed them, kidnapping Inej and refusing to pay the reward he promised for the job. Kaz and his crew must work together to not only free Inej, but to hold onto the secret of jurda parem in order to prevent war on their streets.  Bardugo once again creates an exceptionally vast world with rich characters and an incredibly tense storyline that will keep readers hooked until the very end. THOUGHTS: Fans of the Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows will not be disappointed; these series have taken YA fantasy to the next level and made it one of the best genres on the market today.

Fantasy     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

MS Fantasy – Shadow Magic; Giant Smugglers

Khan, Joshua. Shadow Magic. New York: Disney Hyperion, 2016.  978-1484732724  $16.99. 321 pp. Gr. 4-8.
Guilt-ridden, peasant Thorn is searching for his father when he is captured by slavers and bought by Tyburn, who is Gehenna’s executioner.  Lilith Shadow is the new ruler of Gehenna since the murder of her parents and favored brother, and she is uncomfortable with that role.  Oddly enough for a people who live by magic, women are forbidden to learn or practice magic, so Lilith is at a loss as to how to protect her people.  As generations pass, the Six Houses (including Solar, Djinn, Herne, Typhoon and Coral) are slowly losing their original magic.  To bring together the powers and prevent war, Lilith is betrothed to Gabriel of House Solar, and she loathes the idea even before she meets the arrogant, beautiful boy.  When Tyburn brings Thorn to Castle Gloom, Lilith’s home, Thorn becomes easy friends with both Lilith and K’Leef of House Djinn, held to keep war at bay.  Thorn isn’t popular with Gabriel and while escaping a beat-down, he unearths a giant bat named Hades, who will allow no one but Thorn to ride him.  Meanwhile, attempted murder of Lilith is discovered (Lilith’s puppy is the unintended unfortunate victim) and everyone is trying to locate the person(s) responsible.  THOUGHTS: An interesting backstory and unique magical power (that can unearth zombies) and gorgeous illustrations by Ben Hibon, set this story apart.  Even with the third person omniscient narration, readers don’t deeply know any of the characters.  Despite this, it has been well-liked by my students who have read it.  With an intriguing history and world as large as Khan describes, many sequels could be produced.  

Fantasy     Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Pauls, Chris and Matt Solomon. The Giant Smugglers. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2016. 978-1250-066527.  $16.99.  278 pp. Gr. 4-7.
Charlie has spent all summer immersed in his favorite video game and enjoying the oblivion.  Now it’s time for school to begin, and he knows boredom is on the way.  Charlie’s older brother dumped college plans for life as a carnival worker, much to the disappointment of their mother, and much to the embarrassment and anger of Charlie.  Charlie’s mom has a well-meaning boyfriend, but it seems like Charlie is mostly on his own.  A nasty classmate, “Fitz,” full of anger who wishes to be the biggest and best, hones in on Charlie immediately.  So when Charlie stumbles upon a giant, a real, live giant, in an abandoned warehouse, he knows he can’t ignore it.  He sneaks in to see the giant, also discovering that an old farmer is looking out for him and moving him when he might be seen.  Charlie has no idea that he’s stumbled onto a ring of giant smugglers, who move the giants out of danger to relocate them with the rest of their kind.  Of course, nothing that big can stay hidden forever, so intermittent sightings have excited scientists who are ruthless in their determination to capture and study a giant “for the betterment of humankind.”  It turns out that bully Fitz’s father is one of those scientists.  Sean Fitzgibbons is fueled by his own failures enough to use his son as a guinea pig for his growth serums, and the possibility of using giant hormones (GGH, giant growth hormone) is enough to drive Fitz and his father crazy with need.  Charlie finds himself in the middle, with little but good intentions to stand in the way of the giant’s capture.  THOUGHTS: The premise sounds intriguing and the story’s pace keeps the book moving, but the character depth is lacking.  Even the supposed friendship between Charlie and the giant (which he names Bruce after Bruce Lee) is hard to believe when the giant can barely communicate, and the two have spent so little time together.  The authors neither show nor tell their relationship which is the crux of the story.  The story would benefit from plenty of interspersed illustrations like its cover, done by artist Matthew Griffin.  This could possibly be enjoyed by upper elementary readers who enjoy lots of action without a lot of depth.  
Fantasy      Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

Picture Books – Annabelle at the South Pole; Mousequerade Ball; Cookie Fiasco; Pigs & a Blanket

Alley, R.W. Annabelle at the South Pole. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 978-0547907048. Unpaged. $14.99. Gr. K-3.

This book is the final book in R.W. Alley’s seasonally themed quartet about four siblings and their imaginative adventures. Annabelle just wants to read her nonfiction book about the South Pole, but her brothers and sister insist on bringing her into their play. She escapes outside to find she is in the arctic and a giant snow monster is heading straight for her! Thinking fast she defeats the snow giant, but takes pity on it and puts it back together again. The abominable snow giant is grateful and carries Annabelle to her desired destination only to find the Wizard (from Mitchell on the Moon) is already there and threatening to melt the South Pole! Annabelle saves the day by grabbing the piping hot cauldron and drinking its contents (which turn out to be chocolate). The last scene is half real life, half imagination as the reader sees Annabelle and her siblings drinking hot chocolate on the front porch, while a penguin peeks out from behind the lamppost. The illustrations are bright and vivid; perfect for bringing young imagination to life.  THOUGHTS: Each book in this series is fine as a stand-alone, but if you read the whole series you get to know the children and recognize recurring elements. I enjoyed Annabelle’s bravery and also the fact that she just wanted to read (when she’s not having adventures in the snow, of course)!

Picture Book     Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School



Mortensen, Lori. Mousequerade Ball. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016. 978-1-6196-3422-0. 32pp. $16.99. Gr K-3.

In this colorful counting book, mice are preparing for the evening’s main event: a Mousequerade Ball! The story opens with one mouse lighting the fire and progresses until ten mouse ladies fan themselves and gasp, “Cat!” when an unexpected visitor crashes the party. The story then counts down from ten back to one as all the mice scamper away and scramble into hiding places. One brave final mouse realizes the Cat has only come to dance, and the pair waltz around the great hall together. Betsy Lewin’s bright watercolor illustrations are the perfect match for this whimsical story.  THOUGHTS:  Hand this title to kindergarten teachers who are focusing on numbers and counting. The large, boldly-colored illustrations will be perfect for storytime sharing.

Picture Book      Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County



Santat, Dan. The Cookie Fiasco. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2016. 978-148-4726365. 50 pp. $9.99. Gr. K -2.  

Hippo, Croc and the Squirrel want to share their cookies, but how will they share them fairly?  So begins the funny adventures that subtly introduce division and fractions to the reader.  With an introduction by Mo Willems beloved Elephant and Piggy, this new series of books entitled “Elephant and Piggy Like Reading” will bring fans of Gerald and Piggy to a new set of crazy fun antics.  With the word bubbles and colorful graphics by Caldecott award winning author and illustrator, Dan Santat, the layout will attract from the beginning.  The fun and silly humor will keep kids coming back for more.  And hey, they will even learn a new vocabulary word to wow their teachers and parents. FIASCO!  THOUGHTS:  This book is a great addition to a unit or introduction to division and fractions for the early learner.  It is a fun and rather “sneaky” way to get students to divide.

Picture Book     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy



Burks, James. Pigs and a Blanket. New York: Hyperion, 2016. 978-1-4847-2523-8. 32 pp. $16.99. Gr. Pre-K-1

Henry and Henrietta pig love their green blankie.  They love how it feels.  They love how it smells.  They plan on it.  They play under it.  Then one day, half a blanket just isn’t enough.  They both want it ALL!  In an argument , the blanket gets ripped.  Now brother and sister each have half.  But, they realize that they are missing something even more important.  Each other.  This sweet, highly graphic picture book by James Burks deals with the dilemma of sharing and getting along with siblings in a way that many children will relate to.  The fun illustrations and universal theme of a blankie will help most children find common ground to realize that being together is more important than the things they own.  THOUGHTS:  This is a great addition to an early learning class unit on sharing or getting along.  Students could problem solve with Henry and Henrietta for ways that they could have resolved their dilemma without ripping the blankie.

Picture Book      Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy

Middle Grades Historical Fiction – Some Kind of Courage; The Inquisitor’s Tale; Isabel Feeney

Gemeinhart, Dan. Some Kind of Courage. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0545-665773.  $16.99. 234 pp.  Gr. 4-9.
In Washington state in 1890, Joseph Johnson has lost his mother and younger sister to typhoid and his father to a wagon accident.  He’s left in the care of a miserable man who underhandedly sells Joseph’s last remaining link to his family, his horse Sarah.  This action emboldens Joseph to take his father’s gun and most of the money from Sarah’s sale to follow Sarah’s trail and retrieve her.  Moral and resolute, Joseph encounters quite a few setbacks in his long journey, but he never wavers.  He frequently remembers wise pieces of advice from his parents, and that advice guides him in his decisions, notably, the decision to bring along an orphaned (it would seem) young Chinese boy in a time and place where racism is relentless.  Despite being unable to speak one another’s language, Joseph and Ah-Kee develop a strong understanding and full respect for one another.  The journey and its resolution are rife with adventure, a longing for home, and heartache.  It is this mixture, lived through the morally steadfast Joseph, that makes the tale such a needed one for young readers. THOUGHTS: A strong second novel that has me seeking out Gemeinhart’s first (The Honest Truth) and third novels (the just-published Scar Island).  Geminhart expertly reveals Joseph’s character and makes believable the people and places he encounters.  Highly recommended.  
Historical Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School


Gidwitz, Adam. The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. New York: Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2016. 978-0-52542-616-5. $17.99. Gr. 6-12.

In 1242, travelers gather over ale at a dark inn to hear the story of three children and their greyhound. Each traveler, from a wizened nun to a thieving jester, relays a chapter (or more) of their run-in with these children, who, during the course of the tale, go from enlightened thieves to cold-hearted criminals. The story begins with prophetic Jeanne and her faithful greyhound, Gwenforte, returned to life 10 years after her death. Accused of witchcraft and on the run, Jeanne runs into William, a larger than life monk-in-training with incredible strength and a kind heart, and Jacob, a gentle, thoughtful Jewish boy who can heal wounds with his hands. On their travels, the children run into malicious knights, a farting dragon, a kind-hearted king, an evil queen, and many others each as unforgettable as the last. While set in the Middle Ages, the story explores issues of race, religion, and sexism that are still relevant today. In a tale not unlike the famous Canterbury Tales, readers young and old will delight in the story of these young adventurers, and are treated to phenomenal artwork by Hatem Aly throughout.  THOUGHTS: This is a delight for readers of all ages. Aly’s illustrations, inspired by medieval illustrated manuscripts, add depth and humor to Gidwitz’s excellent story.

Historical Fiction               Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Fantaskey, Beth. Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 978-0-544-58249-1. $17.99. 334 pp. Gr. 4-7.

Nineteen twenties Chicago; a time of mobsters, prohibition, and murder, and ten year old Isabel Feeney is smack dab in the middle of it all.  A newsgirl for the Chicago Tribune, Isabel aspires to be a reporter, like the infamous Maude Collier, but for now, she must help her mother with the rent by selling newspapers.  One evening, after selling a paper to Miss Giddings, one of her best clients, Isabel hears a gunshot in the alley just past her news corner.  When she arrives, she sees Miss Giddings covered in blood, a gun, and mobster, Charles Bessemer, dead on the ground.  Isabel knows that Miss Giddings couldn’t have killed Charles Bessemer, her fiance, but Detective Culhane sees things differently.  As Isabel sets out to find the true murderer, she befriends her idol, Maude Collier, and the children of Miss Giddings and Charles Bessemer, who help with the investigation, but is also threatened by those who want Miss Giddings to take the blame.  THOUGHTS:  This is a fun historical mystery for middle school and upper elementary students.  Fantaskey does not rely too much on the history of the 1920s, but more on the girl-detective and female independence.  

Historical Mystery      Erin Parkinson, Beaver Area MS/HS

Middle Grades Realistic Fiction – Towers Falling

Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Towers Falling.  New York: Little Brown and Company, 2016.  978-0-316-26222-4. 228 p.  $15.99. Gr. 4-7.

Ten year old Déja Barnes is starting 5th grade in a new school, and she is coming from some difficult circumstances. Her family is living in a homeless shelter; her father is suffering from severe anxiety and a chronic cough; her mom works hard at two jobs but is unable to make ends meet, and Déja needs to step up to take care of her younger siblings.  Déja starts the year with some trepidation and a bit of a chip on her shoulder, but she is quickly befriended by two new classmates Sabeen, a Muslim girl, and Ben, a Mexican American boy recently moved to NYC from Arizona. When their teacher begins a new study unit on the 9/11 tragedy, the three classmates learn much about themselves and their community and how the fallout from the historic event affected the lives of so many. The novel does not delve too far into the details of the terrorist attack, but it explores the tragedy in more human terms. The teacher and the author focus on the ideals and values that bring Americans and people together, not what breaks us apart. The novel also addresses some difficult issues such as homelessness, poverty, prejudice, fractured families, and survivor guilt with sensitivity.  THOUGHTS: Rhodes’ novel is a thoughtful introduction to the historical events that still resonates over many aspects of American life.   This title would make a good choice for a class reading selection to introduce the topic of 9/11 without going into the full horror of the event.  Teachers Guide with curriculum connections for history and social studies available on the author’s website at: http://jewellparkerrhodes.com/children/teaching-guide-towers-falling/.

Realistic Fiction               Nancy Summers, Abington Senior High School