Elem. – Herstory; Midnight Teacher; The Wild Robot Escapes; Holes in the Sky; Island War

Halligan, Katherine. Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook up the World. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-534-43664-0. 109 p. $19.99. Gr. 1-5.

Another addition for those fans who can’t get enough of powerful women! Herstory is thoughtfully organized by topics such as “Believe & Lead” and “Think & Solve,” and provides both background biographical information regarding the woman and girls it highlights as well as valuable context regarding the significance of their contributions. The glossary in the back is an added bonus for younger readers.

THOUGHTS: I like this book a bit more than other similarly themed books because of the additional context and backstories. It also includes photographs of the women or of items and events directly related to them, increasing the realism for readers. At this point, however, some of the selections are getting rather repetitive — do we really need another collection featuring Queen Elizabeth and Marie Curie? — and I’d like to see a broader range of overlooked women whose lives and work have impacted the world around us.

920.72           Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Halfmann, Janet. Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and her Secret School. Lee & Low Books, 2018. 978-1-328-78160-4. Pages 32. $18.95. Gr. 1 – 3.

Lilly Ann Granderson was a slave woman who learned to read and write. Even though it was illegal, she believed in teaching others and would hold secret classes at night for her fellow slaves. Teaching all night and working all day, this amazing hero risked a devastating punishment of 39 lashes every time she taught, but she persevered, enriching the lives of countless others through her bravery and dedication.

THOUGHTS: A perfect accompaniment to the popular collections of influential women from history, this book provides an opportunity to explore in slightly greater depth a largely unknown hero. I encourage all libraries to get this book!

Picture Book          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Brown, Peter. The Wild Robot Escapes. Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 978-0-316-38204-5. 276 p. $16.99. Gr. 3-6

The sequel to, The Wild Robot, this book continues Roz’s story after she is forced to leave her beloved wild island. Roz (the name our robot calls herself instead of ROZZUM Unit 7134) has been separated from her son, Brightbill the goose, and is put to work on Hilltop Farm. Roz realizes that she is not a normal robot and must pretend to be one in order to survive. Will the kids of the farm Jaya and Jad realize that the stories she is telling them are all true? Roz discovers she is homesick for her son and wild animal friends, yet they need someone on Hilltop Farm too…

THOUGHTS: Definitely read The Wild Robot first before you move on to this book. It’s a great continuation of the story, with heart and epic adventure. Roz has to contend with both animals and humans blocking her dream of getting back home with Brightbill. *The audio book has a great narrator!

Science Fiction          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Polacco, Patricia. Holes in the Sky. Putnam, 2018. 978-1-524-73948-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 2-5.

Miss Eula returns in this newest book by Polacco. This semi-autobiographical story is about Trisha’s move from their farm to California after her beloved Babushka dies. Her grandmother told her that the stars are like “holes in the sky” and that those who pass away give their family a sign that they are watching from the other side. Trisha loves her new neighborhood and finds it very different with its diversity of people. She also meets a new friend named Stewart, whose grandmother, Miss Eula, reminds Trisha of her own grandmother. Even though California is experiencing a drought, Miss Eula maintains a beautiful garden by using the gray water left over from the washing machine to keep it alive. The children, Miss Eula, and the entire neighborhood then work together to rebuild a grieving neighbor’s garden. Later Trisha gets her own sign from her Babushka, as she realizes that Miss Eula, who also wears vanilla as perfume, may well fill the void left by her own grandmother. Polacco uses a wonderful metaphor of the gray water creating beauty to show that love can grow even in the midst of grief. Polacco uses markers and pencils to create her signature art.

THOUGHTS: All libraries will want to add this one to their collections. The important and relevant message of community, diversity, and love makes this a great story to read aloud. Polacco fans will enjoy learning how Miss Eula of Chicken Sunday fame came to be such an important part of Trisha’s life.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Giff, Patricia Reilly. Island War. Holiday House, 2018. 978-0-823-43954-6. 201 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

This is the latest book in Giff’s collection of World War II stories. Set in a remote Aleutian island far from the Alaskan coast, this story is told from the viewpoints of two children – Izzy and Max. The year is 1941, and Izzy has accompanied her widowed mother to the island, which was a favorite of Izzy’s father. Max reluctantly comes with his father and is surprised to learn that his father is a secret radio operative for the US government. Not long after the families reach the island, they learn about the attack on Pearl Harbor, and soon the island is invaded by Japanese soldiers. By chance, Max and Izzy avoid being found by the soldiers and are left behind when the Japanese put the island’s inhabitants, including their parents, on a ship bound for Japan. Max and Izzy must overcome their mutual dislike in order to survive the cold and lack of food, while hiding from the Japanese soldiers who remain. The short chapters are told in the first person point of view and switch back and forth between the main characters. Izzy’s character appears to be better developed than Matt’s, and there could be a better explanation of the reasons why his father would take him to such a remote and dangerous place. Still the book has moments of tension and even surprise when the children receive aid from an unexpected source.

THOUGHTS: This book will appeal to Giff fans and anyone who enjoys historical fiction. The short length makes it a good choice for reluctant readers. Purchase where Giff’s books are popular.

Historical Fiction          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

MG – Lu; Two Roads

Reynolds, Jason. Lu, 2018. 978-1-481-45024-9. 218 p. $16.99 Gr. 5-8.

The fourth and final installment in Jason Reynold’s popular Track series features Lu, the blinged-out, lightning fast (and fast-talking) team co-captain. Lu has albinism, but his insecurities about that (or anything else) are well-masked.  “I am/ the man/ the guy/ the kid/ the one/ the only/ The Lu/ Lucky Lu” (1), he tells himself, rightfully taking pride in his identity and abilities. Lu has a lot going for him, not the least of which is that his homelife is more secure and stable than that of his teammates featured earlier in the series (Ghost, 2016;  Patina, 2017; Sunny, 2018). However, Lu’s seemingly unshakeable self-confidence begins to wobble a bit when his coach decides that Lu should try running hurdles. These literal obstacles in his path serve as a gentle metaphor for the other new things in Lu’s life that are stopping him short and tripping him up. His mother is pregnant after years of infertility, and Lu isn’t sure he’s ready give up his only-child status. Meanwhile, some threatening ghosts from the past–his own and his father’s–have resurfaced, forcing Lu to dig deep inside himself for strength and courage.  

THOUGHTS: The book’s ending is a little over-the-top dramatic; nevertheless, it is satisfying. Lu is a winner, as is the entire Track series.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Bruchac, Joseph. Two Roads. Dial Books, 2018.  978-0-7352-2886-3.  320 p.  $16.99  Gr. 5-8.

Cal Black and his Pop are hobos during the Great Depression. They’re broke but not unhappy, riding the rails and living on and by Pop’s wisdom, wiles, and ethical code. Cal also has a kind of second sight, which he doesn’t quite understand and doesn’t share with anyone, which allows him to step into the lives of others for brief moments. Then, rocking Cal’s world, Pop decides to join the Bonus March on Washington. He tells Cal two things that shock him: first, that Cal can’t come with him; and second, that Cal, who’s been raised as White, is half Creek Indian. The plan is for Cal to attend Challagi Indian School, where Pop went. Considering that the school’s primary mission is “to educate everything Indian out of” (65)  the students, Cal, at first, doesn’t understand, especially after he has mystical visions of Challagi that terrify him. But Pop explains that Cal will meet Creek boys there and learn about his heritage, and that, too, he will be educated about modern agricultural practices. Reluctantly, Cal agrees to go, and he misses his father dreadfully. The school has undergone some reforms since its worst days, but it still has the same mission. However, through the friends he makes at Challagi, Cal begins to learn the language, rituals, and history of his father’s people, and is positioned to use his gifts to help others.

THOUGHTS:  This book covers a number of historical topics (most notably the Bonus March) that are rarely included in books for young people, all painstakingly researched by author Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), a longtime, well-respected Native American scholar. At times, the story feels a bit didactic and overly detailed. While the plot and characters are interesting, it is definitely history, not story, that takes center stage here–but it’s fascinating, under-reported, and important history. Recommended for middle school libraries.

Historical Fiction (1930s)          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – So Tall Within; Look at Me; Avalanche; Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers; Winter is Here; Dreamers; Winnie’s Great War; Perfectly Norman; Poppy and Sam and the Leaf Thief; Am I Yours; Stumpkin; Goodbye Brings Hello; Pirate Jack Gets Dressed; The Girl in the Locked Room; Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise; Can I Be Your Dog; Santa Bruce; Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian; Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies; No Swimming for Nelly; An Inconvenient Alphabet; Got to Get to Bear’s

Schmidt, Gary D. So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom. Roaring Brook Press, 2018: 978-1-626-72872-1. 48 p. $18.99. Gr. K-3.

This lyrical recounting of Sojourner Truth’s many accomplishments begins when she is a young slave girl named Isabella. Growing up, she watches as her brothers and sisters are sold away, and she too is sold time and time again. As a young mother, she finally runs away and gains her freedom. The book also details how Isabella changed her name, successfully sued her former master for the safe return of her son, and how she was reunited with her brothers and sisters. It also describes her decision to begin walking across the country, sharing the truth about slavery to people everywhere. From meeting with President Lincoln, to collecting food and clothing for freed slaves and soldiers, to teaching former slaves how to live on their own, Sojourner Truth stood tall and spoke of all kinds of freedom. This poetic text is complemented by beautiful paintings accented by recurring motifs, including trees, roots, and shadowy figures.

THOUGHTS: This will be a wonderful addition to biography collections. A lengthy biographical note at the end of the book highlights some of Sojourner Truth’s accomplishments not included in the text, such as her famous “Ar’n’t I a Woman” speech and the publication of her story, “Narrative of Sojourner Truth.”

326          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Jenkins, Steve. Look at Me! How to Attract Attention in the Animal World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018: 978-0-544-93553-2. 32 p. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

Sometimes animals want to blend in to their environments, and sometimes they want to stand out! This nonfiction title focuses on the many ways animals attract attention when they want to be noticed. Each double-page spread highlights two different animals and describes ways they draw attention to themselves. Some animals, like the Indian bullfrog, inflate sacs on their neck when they want a mate to notice them. Others, like the royal flycatcher, raise a colorful feather headdress to attract a mate. Many sea slugs are vibrantly colored, letting predators know eating them would not be a good idea. Male hippos protect their territory by opening their mouth wide and showing off their tusks. And, pufferfish inflate their bodies to appear larger, sending a signal that they may be difficult to swallow. Jenkins’s signature cut-paper collage illustrations present an incredibly detailed look at a wide variety of animals. Most collages are mounted against bright white backgrounds, allowing the details to pop even more. Four pages of endpapers provide additional information about each animal featured in the book.

THOUGHTS: This will be a well-received addition to elementary nonfiction collections. Students will enjoy pouring over the facts about each animal, learning all about eyespots, stink fights, throat pouches, and glowing tentacles. This title will also provide a nice contrast to books about animal camouflage.

591.5          Anne Bozievich,  Southern York County SD 

Johnson, Terry Lynn.  Avalanche! (Survivor Diaries). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.  104 p. 978-0-544-97039-7. $8.69 ea. Grades 3-5.

—.  Overboard!  978-0-544-97010-6.
—.    Lost!  978-0-544-97118-9.
—.   Dust Storm!  978-0-544-97098-4.

Twins Ashley and Ryan are skiing with their family when they decide to take a detour to see Colt Summit with its untouched snow.  Their arrival on the slope triggers an avalanche, which engulfs the pair. The siblings must use their survival training in order to overcome the bitter cold, strong winds, and an encounter with a bear and a wolverine. The author is a survival expert in real life, and this is evident in the book. The plot moves along quickly with the avalanche occurring in the second chapter. At times, the story reads more like a survival guide than a work of fiction. In fact, there is a list of avalanche and wilderness safety tips in the back matter. Black and white illustrations, some full page, are found throughout the text. The author provides a link to an interactive survival quiz and a card game based on each book. While the story is slight, it is full of action and will appeal to reluctant readers and to those who enjoy the I Survived series.

THOUGHTS: This series is a good choice for libraries where shorter, high interest adventure stories are in demand.

Adventure Fiction          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Henkes, Kevin.  Winter is Here.  Greenwillow, 2018. 978-0-062-74718-1.  Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek have collaborated once again on this latest offering in their series of seasonal titles (In the Middle of Fall and When Spring Comes). With spare text and full bleed illustrations, the duo explores the wonder and beauty of winter. To begin the story, Henkes describes the snow that can be found on houses and in trees throughout the neighborhood. The author then goes on to create a series of sensory contrasts, such as the soft snow and the hard ice, the quiet of falling snow and the noise of busy snow plows, and the blue versus gray landscape. Henkes packs a lot of figurative language into this short volume, like personification (“Winter is reaching through the branches and crouching in doorways”) and similes (“leaves underneath are like stars in glass”).  Dronzek uses acrylic paint to create the charming illustrations, which add a very wintry feel to the story. At the end of the text, the advent of spring approaches and the story segues into When Spring Comes.

THOUGHTS: With older students, this book can serve as a mentor text for figurative language. A fabulous readaloud, it is the perfect choice for a winter-themed story time for the younger crowd. Deceptively simple, this winter tale is a must-have for every elementary collection.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Stewart, Melissa. Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs. Peachtree Publishers, 2018. 978-1-561-45936-0. $16.95. Unpaged. Grades K-3.

Underdogs in the animal world can be just as clever, cute, and talented as the cool cats. However, they often adapt for survival by being smelly, slow, and small. Melissa Stewart poses the questions and wonderings while keeping humor and narrative nonfiction light and easy to enjoy. Learn why the hoatzin reeks and the okapi hides, why the koala sleeps and the naked mole rat is, well, naked! The illustrations by Stephanie Lambert are expressive and detailed; making the us root for the underdogs all the more!

THOUGHTS: This text would pair well with any of the adaptation books by Steve Jenkins or others. Using an online source or an animal encyclopedia to further explore the animals listed in here would be an apt extension. Finally, students could debate between the Davids and the Goliaths of the animal world and argue facts about why they are best suited to survive.

591, Animals          Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD

Morales, Yuyi. Dreamers. Neal Porter Books, 2018. 978-0-823-44055-9. $18.99. Unpaged. Grades 1-4.

“We are stories…. We are dreamers, soñadores of the world.” Yuyi Morales tells the  story of a mother and her niño daring to travel across the border and into a foreign land to start this brave adventure (based on her own story). Life as immigrants isn’t easy, especially with language barriers at every turn. Through mistakes and exploration, the travelers seek their home. Finally, a miraculous place full of stories and ideas and dreams draws them in: a public library! “We learn to read, to speak, to write, and to make our voices heard,” she says with the succinct poetic voice that fills the book. The amazing collage artwork with characters, book covers, and colorful memories will bring readers back to dream for generations to come.

THOUGHTS: Dreamers is getting plenty of awards season buzz this year, and justifiably so. A comparison of this to her other award winning work (Viva Frida; Niño Wrestles the World) would make for a wonderful Hispanic art class. Of course, looking at the list of inspiring literature that she provides in the end notes would also be a valuable exercise.

818, Autobiographical Literature          Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD

Mattick, Lindsay. Winnie’s Great War. Little, Brown, and Company, 2018: 978-0-316-44712-6. 227 p. $16.99. Gr. 3-6.

In this companion to the Caldecott-winning picture book Finding Winnie, readers learn more about the life of Winnipeg, the black bear cub who became the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. Winnie’s tale begins in the Canadian woods, which she loves exploring with her mother. But, after her mother is caught by a trapper, Winnie is taken in by the trapper’s kind-hearted grandson. When it becomes clear Winnie won’t make a good housepet, the trapper takes her to the train station in hopes of selling her. This is where she meets Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, a soldier in the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. Alongside Harry, Winnie becomes the unofficial mascot of the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade. She stays with the soldiers and their horses during their training in Valcartier, crosses the Atlantic Ocean, and drills with them on the Salisbury Plain in England. Winnie’s sense of adventure and big heart help her make friends wherever she goes, and she realizes her duty is to make others feel better. Although it’s difficult, when it’s time for Harry and the soldiers to see action, Harry drives Winnie to the London Zoo where he knows she’ll be taken care of during the War. Even though she misses Harry constantly, Winnie still manages to spread hope and cheer to the Zoo’s many visitors, including Christopher Robin Milne. This beautifully written story is bookended by the author’s conversations with her young son, both of whom are real-life relatives of Harry Colebourn. Excerpts from Harry’s diary lend historical context to the story as well help ground Winnie’s tale in larger events unfolding on the world’s stage. Sophie Blackall’s detailed double-page and spot illustrations charm readers and perfectly complement Winnie’s remarkable tale.

THOUGHTS: This book is a thoughtful celebration of bravery, friendship, and loyalty, and it champions making the best out of life’s difficult situations. Share this title with animal lovers and students who enjoy stories rooted in history.

Fiction          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Percival, Tom. Perfectly Norman. Bloomsbury, 2018: 978-1-681-19785-2. 32 p. $16.99. Gr. K-3.

Norman has always been a perfectly normal boy – until the day he grows a huge, colorful pair of wings. He immediately tests them out and discovers how much fun it is to fly and soar through the air. But, Norman isn’t sure what other people will think of his wings, so he decides to cover them up under a puffy jacket. Norman soon discovers that wearing the jacket all the time negatively affects his daily routines. From bath time to bed time to swimming time, everything is more difficult with the jacket. Norman begins wishing he never grew the wings at all, but he ultimately realizes it’s the jacket that’s making him unhappy, not the wings. At his parents’ urging, he peels off the jacket, spreads out his wings, and leaps into the air. While he’s flying around, he notices a few other children with jackets on too. After seeing him flying around, they too remove their jackets, and the world is filled with soaring children! Norman finally understands that there’s no such thing as normal, but there is something to be said for being yourself. In the digitally-rendered illustrations, Norman appears in vibrant color, and the rest of the world and the people in it are shades of black and white. Only the final double-page spread, when all the children spread their wings and show their true personalities, appears in full-color.

THOUGHTS: This is a charming story championing acceptance and individuality. Share this title with guidance counselors, or use it to jump-start class discussions about what “normal” really means.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Cathon. Poppy and Sam and the Leaf Thief. Owlkids Books. 2018. 978-1-771-47329-3. $16.95. Gr. K-2.

Poppy and Sam are out in their strawberry field waiting for the strawberries to ripen when they hear a scream. Poppy and Sam run to find out that someone had taken a bite of Mrs. Basil’s leaf! As she exclaims that someone is eating her precious leave, Poppy and Sam decide that they will help Mrs. Basil find out who this mysterious eater is. The pair begin to ask everyone where they were at the night before, and everyone seems to be innocent. As Poppy and Sam begin to make plans to solve the case, they continue to be stumped by the culprit. Can they figure out who is eating Mrs. Basil’s leaves?

THOUGHTS: This picture book is an excellent introduction to the mystery genre for young children. The book is full of new vocabulary words and the characters are all different components of a garden. A cute read for a young mind looking for a mystery book.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Latimer, Alex. Am I Yours? Peachtree Publishers. 2018. 978-1-682-63044-0. $16.95. Gr. K-3.

Millions of years ago a breeze blew across the land and blew an egg out of a nest. This little egg rolled and rolled until it landed on level ground. As the cold night ends, the little egg hears feet and calls out, “Am I yours?” Dinosaurs travel to the egg, describing themselves and asking if the little dinosaur inside matches. As several dinosaurs come and meet the egg, the egg grows sadder realizing that it does not belong to anyone. Night draws to a close, and the sun shines on the egg, creating a silhouette, allowing the dinosaurs to find the little egg’s match!

THOUGHTS: This is a cute dinosaur book for young children. This book uses accurate names that many children will recognize, with rhyming text to help find the mother and father of the little dinosaur inside the egg. The illustrations are colorful and accurate in making connections to dinosaurs that children know.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Cummins, Lucy Ruth. Stumpkin. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 2018. 978-1-534-41362-7. $17.99. Gr. K-3

A few days before Halloween, a group of pumpkins are placed on a shelf in a store. The pumpkins are scared when they see their one of their friends taken away, but are delightfully surprised to see him reappear across the street in a window as a jack-o-lantern. The pumpkins are all excited to be taken away, except for one who notices he’s a little different. Where his stem should be, he has a stump. Stumpkin. He continues to watch all of the other pumpkins be taken away, including a gourd! Stumpkin hopes for his time to come to have a home in the window across the street and wonders if that will ever be.

THOUGHTS: The design and coloring of this book are beautifully done, with simple black and white pictures and a small splash of orange. The story line is a sad one, with a sweet ending of acceptance and understanding of one’s place in life. A cute Halloween read!

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

White, Dianne. Goodbye Brings Hello. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2018. 978-0-544-79875-5. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

With each goodbye in life, we are introduced to a new hello! As the world is changing, we see how sometimes an end can create a brand new beginning. Sometimes things are scary, such as hugging your teddy before leaving him behind for school, but there is a great beginning on the other side, such as making a new friend! From changing shoes, crayons, and even your hair, each goodbye brings a hello.

THOUGHTS: This picture book is a good read for all ages, as it can help us get through some of the hard times in life. A goodbye doesn’t always mean the end but can often lead to a hello of something new. This is a great book that illustrates this concept to children, using simple language and situations that they will understand.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Day, Nancy Raines. Pirate Jack Gets Dressed. Beach Lane Books. 2018. 978-1-4814-7664-5. $17.99. Gr. PreK-2.

Pirate Jack needs to wake up and get dressed! Pirate Jack takes each of his unique articles of clothing and makes sure that the colors are all different, making him look ready for his pirate crew! Each article of clothing is something important he needs, but each needs to be different in order to be colorful and ready for his adventure!

THOUGHTS: This unique pirate color book is a great choice for young children. The book is illustrated in a unique way, allowing children to learn colors and articles of clothing. A story my first graders really enjoyed!

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Hahn, Mary Downing. The Girl in the Locked Room. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 193 p. $16.99. Gr. 3-6.

Jules and her family just moved to old, rundown Oak Hill–once a beautiful, grand farm and mansion, Oak Hill has fallen into disrepair. It’s owners, Henry and Laura Bennett, were mysteriously killed over a hundred years before, but no one knows what happened to their young daughter Lily. Jules immediately begins to see and feel strange things that no one else can see. After some research with a new friend, she discovers that Lily’s ghost still lives at Oak Hill, never leaving her father’s third floor painting studio where her parents ordered her to hide on the fateful night that they were killed by angry hired help. Jules and Maisie, both bookworms, get an idea from their favorite fantasy series about a way that Lily may be able to change the fate of her family on that night over a hundred years earlier. Students likely won’t pay much attention to a few tidy coincidences that allow the story to move easily. Jules and Lily alternate chapters, each telling part of the story, and nothing terribly scary or graphic happens, but it’s a very satisfying creepy story which will please any reader who loves a good ghost story.

THOUGHTS: Another great middle grade ghost tale by Mary Downing Hahn. Pick it up!

Mystery/Horror          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Stein, David Ezra. Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise. Candlewick Press, 2018. 978-0-7636-8842-4. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. K-2.

Chicken just learned about the “elephant of surprise” from her teacher and is anxious to find the “elephant” in each story during storytime with her papa. He gently tries to help Chicken understand that she probably learned about an “element of surprise,” but if you know Chicken you know that she is quite strong-willed! She and Papa make their way through The Ugly Duckling, Rapunzel, and The Little Mermaid, and Chicken manages to find an elephant in each story. Stein’s story is similar to Chicken’s first tale, with Chicken popping into each story and making it her own, and his illustrations are just as whimsical as those in the Caldecott Honor-winning original Chicken story Interrupting Chicken.

THOUGHTS: Fans of Chicken and new readers alike will enjoy this clever and silly story.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Cummings, Troy. Can I Be Your Dog? Random House, 2018. 978-0-399-55453-7. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. K-2.

Homeless dog Arfy lives in a box on Butternut Street, and he’s desperate to find a loving family. He sends a letter to the Honeywell family explaining his excellent qualifications as a family dog and asks if they will adopt him…no luck. He moves on to the butcher shop, fire station, junk yard, and deserted house on Butternut Street, each time sending a slightly more sad and desperate letter delivered by an increasingly alarmed mail carrier. After several rejection letters, Arfy receives a lovely letter with an offer for him! Mitzy Whipple, letter carrier, writes Arfy and asks “Can I be your person?” Arfy is overjoyed, and he and Mitzy live happily ever after. Eagle-eyed readers will enjoy Cummings’ colorful illustrations and will notice Arfy and Mitzy’s matching distressed expressions as Arfy receives rejection after rejection. Front endpapers showcase dog-themed stamps, and back endpapers show a birds-eye view of Butternut Street along with a note about how readers can help homeless animals.

THOUGHTS: A delightful story, sure to be enjoyed by dog lovers young and old.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Higgins, Ryan T. Santa Bruce. Disney Hyperion, 2018. 978-1-484-78290-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-2.

Bruce’s life is certainly different than it used to be. Not only is he a goose mother, he’s family to a trio of plucky mice who refuse to leave their former hotel (known as Bruce’s home). Bruce fondly recalls his days of hibernating and skipping right past the holidays, but “…his family wanted to enjoy a cozy, now-filled Christmas together.” While the geese and mice are decking the halls and making eggnog, Bruce dons his red long underwear and warm hat to shovel snow and is once again mistaken for someone else…this time, Santa Claus! Poor Bruce, once again the victim of mistaken identity. His mice family is happy to support the idea and even tell the parents of woodland children that Bruce will happily deliver gifts that night! Bruce, of course, grumpily agrees, all the while wishing he was in his bed. Higgins’ Bruce is a delightful scrooge, always frowning and grumping at everyone while somehow still agreeing to do all the things that delight his family and friends.

THOUGHTS: Another enjoyable installment in the life of curmudgeonly Bruce and his family.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Weinstein, Jacob Sager. Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian. Clarion Books, 2018. 978-0-544-80122-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-2.

Criminal mastermind Dr. Glockenspiel has escaped and is demanding “one billion trillion dollars,” or all the world’s books will be eaten by his army of giant moths. Oh no! The world’s top secret agents are captured by Glockenspiel’s henchmen, and it seems that the end of books is near…enter Lyric McKerrigan, secret librarian! Lyric has a knack for both disguises and pairing readers to just the right books, and she uses both talents to foil Dr. Glockenspiel and his team. The story itself is creative and enjoyable, but it’s Vera Brosgol’s graphic-style illustrations that really steal the show. While thought of by many as a picture book, I decided to put this book in my easy graphic novel section because it’s truly a perfect introduction to graphic novels. Brosgol’s style combines multi-panel pages (usually 2-4 panels) and basic use of speech bubbles with some two-page spread illustrations and boxed text. It’s a very easy-to-read graphic style that can introduce young readers to graphic novels with a super fun, action-packed story. I hope that Weinstein and Brosgol team up for more adventures of Lyric Kerrigan–she’s a new favorite of mine!

THOUGHTS: An enjoyable, action-filled story combined with fantastic graphic-style illustrations–something for many readers to enjoy.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Trimmer, Christian. Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

Must read! As you may have guessed, Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies is a horse-filled retelling of the classic Snow White fairy tale, although this version has tons of great changes. Snow Pony is a beautiful horse, beloved by children and fellow horses alike, with a particular child friend (Charmaine) and her dog (Hunter… “don’t be fooled by his name–the only thing Hunter hunted was belly rubs”). One day, jealous pony Queenies lures Snow Pony away from the farm with a trail of delicious apples, and she finds herself in the woods with no idea how to get home. She stumbles upon a small stable that’s home to seven miniature ponies, each with a special name and job (such as gathering water, taking care of bees, or delightfully enough, being a tax attorney). Snow Pony’s story ends with a happy reunion with Charmaine and Hunter, rather than a more traditional meet-up with a prince, with miniature ponies in tow.  Trimmer writes with humor for both children and adults, and this retelling will be enjoyed by boys and girls of many ages. Jessie Sima brings her signature illustration style (Not Quite Narwhal, Harriet Gets Carried Away) to Snow Pony and the result is a fabulous mix of cartoonish ponies, fairy tale trimmings, and clever humor.

THOUGHTS: Trimmer and Sima are a perfect pair–this one will fly off your shelves.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Gorbachev, Valeri. No Swimming for Nelly. Holiday House, 2018. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. PreK-2.

A short and sweet tale about Nelly and how she overcomes her fear of water. While she adores her new swimsuit and enjoys wearing it to play basketball or go out to dinner, she’s afraid of waves and getting water in her nose and decides that swimming is not for her. Luckily, Nelly’s grandma is a champion swimmer and a very patient grandma. She never pushes or forces Nelly, but simply shows her how much fun swimming can be and supports her small steps towards swimming success (easing into the water, blowing bubbles, etc.). Valeri Gorbachev creates a story perfect for little ones just learning to swim or any kid needing some encouragement in a fearful situation, especially when a supportive adult is there to help out.

THOUGHTS: A fun summer read aloud for little ones.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Anderson, Beth. An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution. Simon & Schuster, 2018. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. 2-4.

If ever an author/illustrator team could take a dry topic and turn it into something fun and interesting, Beth Anderson and Elizabeth Baddeley are it! An Inconvenient Alphabet tells the true tale of Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s effort to reform the English language in America. Why do 26 letters make 44 sounds? People spelled and pronounced words incorrectly every day thanks to our “inconvenient alphabet,” and both Ben and Noah worked hard for years to make American English a more accessible, easy language. After several failed attempts, the two teamed up for a joint effort, but “…after eight years of war, people had no patience for changing the alphabet every which way. They just wanted life to return to normal.” Ben continued to encourage Noah’s efforts and Noah eventually went on to create his famous American dictionary. Though most of these entries still contained the same old “inconvenient alphabet,” Noah did contribute several lasting changes to American English (such as eliminating the letter “u” in “colour” and “honour”). The story is told in upbeat, accessible language and supported by an extensive Author’s Note and a section with notes on research (including a lengthy Bibliography of primary and secondary sources). Baddeley’s illustrations are exceptionally colorful and eye-catching; they often show Ben or Noah physically interacting with language by rearranging the letters of words or handing letters to colonists. Humorous illustrations add a tremendous amount of meaning to the text. An Illustrator’s Note explains Baddeley’s use of pet “sidekicks” to keep the story interesting and to help with pacing. Beautifully done.

THOUGHTS: Exceptional partnerships are found in the history and creation of this story. A great book to share with students learning about language.

428.1 Spelling          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Lies, Brian. Got to Get to Bear’s! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. PreK-2.

“Heartwarming” perfectly describes this woodland friendship tale. Brian Lies, well-known for his Bat stories, sticks to his strengths and tells the beautiful story of little creatures struggling through nature, trying to make it to friend Bear’s home in a blizzard. Bear sent chipmunk Izzy a note, “Please come at once!” Izzy knows that Bear “…never asks for anything,” and sets off despite the snowflakes. When the going gets too hard, friend Scritch the squirrel offers to give her a ride, which eventually becomes treacherous as well. Eventually, four friends including Bingle the duck and Snaffie the raccoon stand atop one another in a perilous but determined attempt to make it to Bear’s to ensure that she is alright. Bear is surprised but delighted that they all arrived for Izzy’s surprise birthday party! The five friends enjoy a celebration together and Bear helps everyone home the next day as the friends sing, “No matter how steep or tough the climb, a friend is worth it, every time!” The story is sweet, but the real strength of the book falls in Lies’ gorgeous acrylic paintings. Every animal’s face is wonderfully expressive and textures seem to jump off the page (the tiny hairs on Izzy’s tail, the snow-covered birch tree, Bingle’s cozy hat).

THOUGHTS: A fun winter read aloud, especially when celebrating friendship or the cold weather birthday of a special child.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

MG – Harbor Me; Winterhouse; Front Desk; The Third Mushroom; Someone Like Me

Woodson, Jacqueline. Harbor Me. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018. 978-0-399-25252-5. 176 p. $17.99. Gr. 4 and up.

Hayley has a secret that she’s not quite ready to share, but she soon learns, so do all of her classmates. When Ms. Laverne, their teacher, introduces the class to ARTT (A Room to Talk), Hayley learns about her classmates, Esteban, Tiago, Amari, Ashton, and Holly, and the struggles they deal with each day. Struggles with race, immigration, economics, bullying, family, grief, and loss. As each student shares his or her story, Hayley realizes that she is not alone. Everyone struggles and has fears. It’s not about the individual struggle but about how one finds strength to overcome the struggle and be a harbor, for those struggling.  Soon she understands what Ms. Laverne means when she tells the students to “be a harbor” and protect someone else. ARTT and each other are her harbor, and she is theirs.

THOUGHTS:  This book could not be more timely. From the perspective of fifth and sixth graders, the stories of deportation, bullying, fear of being shot, family dynamics, death, and not fitting in are heart-wrenching and too true.  Woodson masterfully shares real stories from a child’s perspective, a perspective that does not usually have a voice. This is a must-have for all school libraries. Although recommended for middle grades, it is a worthy read by all ages. Woodson puts it perfectly when she writes, “I know in my heart, Tiago whispered, the language we like to speak is music and poetry and even cold, sweet piraguas on hot, hot summer days. But it feels like this place wants to break my heart. It feels like every day it tries to make my mom feel tinier and tinier, like the size of Perrito’s head in my hands” (129). These kids will not be broken, and this novel gives everyone strength to persevere.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Guterson, Ben. Winterhouse. Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt, 2018. 978-1-250-12388-6. 370 p. $22.50. Gr. 4-6.

Elizabeth Somers is not happy when her aunt and uncle inform her that she must spend the Christmas holidays on her own at an old hotel called Winterhouse. To her surprise, Winterhouse is a beautiful rambling sort of place full of secrets. She makes a friend of her own age, a boy called Freddy, and the pair pass the time solving puzzles, exploring and competing in word ladder competitions. It soon becomes clear that not all is as it seems in the old hotel as they find the owner Norbridge Falls in the library searching through books as if looking for something in particular. Added to this mix of interesting characters is a helpful librarian and a scheming bookseller couple, who are also seeking this special book. Elizabeth believes she has found this sought after text, which appears to have magical qualities when a hidden message is revealed on its pages. This message is one that means life and death for one character and a new beginning for another. This book is part adventure, mystery, fantasy, and even ghost story all in one. While the initial pacing of the plot is slow, readers who persist with this title will be rewarded with an exciting climax and resolution. The whimsical illustrations by Chloe Bristol add an Edward Gorey-like atmosphere to this work. The attractive cover contains a drawing of the house with its windows cut out to reveal the book characters and a glimpse of the hotel’s interior. Guterson has penned a sequel called The Secrets of Winterhouse, which is scheduled for release in December, 2018.

THOUGHTS:  This book will appeal to middle grade readers who like a longer book. Those who enjoyed the Floors series by Patrick Carman will want to read this one. 

Mystery/Fantasy Fiction          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Yang, Kelly. Front Desk. Arthur A. Levine, 2018. 978-1-338-15779-6. 304 p. $16.99 Gr. 4-7.

The rollercoaster ride of hopes, dreams, and disappointments that characterizes the lives of so many immigrants is at the heart of Front Desk, a book informed by Yang’s own childhood. 10-year-old Mia Tang’s parents jump at the chance to manage a hotel in Southern California, only to find that they will be on call 24/7, and the job isn’t as lucrative as promised. Mia, who’s more than willing to help out at the front desk, is disappointed to learn she’s banned from the hotel pool and that her parents won’t earn enough for trips to Disneyland. Although the novel’s tone is breezy, neither the reader nor Mia is sheltered from learning the harsh realities of life for Chinese immigrants in the 1990s, which include racism, loan sharks, and homelessness. Mia dreams of being a writer, but her mother discourages her because she’s not a native English speaker. However, Mia’s talent becomes evident when she writes letters for family friends in desperate situations, saving the day with her boldness and ingenuity.

THOUGHTS: Mia is a funny, feisty heroine whom kids will love. Recommended for upper elementary and middle school libraries; the fact that it is an “own voices” book about the Chinese immigration experience is a bonus.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Holm, Jennifer. The Third Mushroom. Random House, 2018. 978-1-52471-980-7. 217 p. $16.99 Gr. 4-7.

Holm’s satisfying sequel to The Fourteenth Goldfish reunites Ellie with Grandpa Melvin, a cantankerous 77-year-old living in the body of a teenager, thanks to the miracles of science. This time around, Ellie talks Grandpa Melvin into entering the science fair with her, and the the duo work with fruit flies to pursue the possibility of growing new body parts. The project leads to a surprising (and welcome) development for Melvin. Meanwhile, Ellie deals with typical middle school friendship issues: She and Raj go on a date, and their easy relationships takes an awkward turn, but she also learns the value of shared memories and reconnects with an old friend. On a somber note, Ellie must come to terms with the fact that science cannot fix everything, as she deals with the loss of a beloved pet. Themes of taking chances, making mistakes, and reveling in the unexpected are woven throughout the novel and connected to STEM topics, but never in a didactic or preachy manner. Backmatter provides additional resources for students interested in further exploring the scientists and concepts introduced in the book.  

THOUGHTS:  Like its predecessor, this science fiction story will also appeal to fans of realistic fiction and can stand on its own. Highly recommended for late elementary and middle school libraries. The Third Mushroom is that rare book that is easy to read, easy to relate to, and highly thought-provoking.

Science Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Change is never easy or expected, even for Ellie who lives with her teenage grandfather! In the sequel to The Fourteenth Goldfish, we revisit the blended and ever interesting family as they try a new experiment and face many of life’s challenges. Melvin is the grandfather who is learning to adapt to his reverted age while also knowing the facts of life ahead. He and Ellie engage in a science experiment that could be the next great discovery for regeneration. Ellie also deals with changes to her mom’s world, her pet’s life, and her best friends’ relationships. Nothing is easy for a teenager, but trying new things (like the titular mushrooms) could lead to unexpected results!

THOUGHTS: Jennifer Holm hits the feelings of Ellie and her world with captivating ease. The bonus is her ability to bring in famous scientists and some scientific inquiry concepts. Though not plot-perfect or entirely plausible, The Third Mushroom makes a suitable sequel and gives resolution to some inevitable discoveries.

Realistic/ Science Fiction           Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD

Arce, Julissa. Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream. Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 978-0-316-48174-8. 223 p. $16.99. Gr. 5 and up.

Having been born in Mexico in a bathroom stall two months early, Julissa’s indomitable spirit carries her throughout her life. She begins telling her story on her presentatcion de los tres años, the day she turned three years old. Throughout her childhood, Julissa’s parents travel to festivals all over Mexico, selling cantaritos. In the close knit town of Taxco, Julissa and her two older sisters have many relatives to help watch after them; though, they primarily are cared for by their beloved nanny Cande. Eventually, Julissa’s parents gain work visas and begin traveling to the States to sell their Taxco’s sterling silver. While Julissa’s parents spend most of their year in America, Julissa and her sisters visit for summers on tourist visas. When Julissa’s sisters return to Mexico at the end of the summer before she enters middle school, her mom informs Julissa that she’ll be staying in Texas with them. Thrilled to be with her parents and her baby brother Julio (born in America), Julissa is enrolled in a Catholic school, though there is no ESL program. With an understanding teacher and one classmate who speaks Spanish, Julissa begins her American education. Met with many challenges and frustrations over the next several years, Julissa perseveres with hopes of eventually achieving her American Dream. 

THOUGHTS:  Through descriptions of her life in Mexico and America, Julisssa’s story helps readers understand why families want to achieve an American Dream, even when they’re not born in America. This “own voices” story is an excellent addition for middle or high school libraries where heartfelt memoirs are popular. 

305.48 Memoir          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Blanca and Roja; Hey, Kiddo; Sawkill Girls; My Whole Truth; Little White Lies; How She Died, How I Lived

McLemore, Anna-Marie.  Blanca & Roja. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2018. 9781250162717. 375 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Everyone knows the del Cisne sisters – beautiful, blond, selfless, compliant Blanca, and small, dark, manipulative, witchy Roja – and everyone knows that one of them will be transformed into a swan; that’s just how it has been for generations of del Cisne girls – there are always two daughters born, and one of those daughters, after the youngest turns fifteen, is always transformed into a swan. Both Blanca and Roja have spent their childhoods believing that Roja will be taken, and they decide to outsmart the swans by becoming so much alike, the swans won’t be able to tell them apart. However, as readers of fairy tales know, there’s no outrunning a curse. When the swans do come, two boys who are trying to outrun their pasts also arrive on the del Cisne doorstep – blue-eyed, blue-blooded Barclay Holt, and his best friend, awkward yet charming, Page Ashby. The lives and destinies of these four teens become inextricably intertwined; Roja believes that Barclay, whom she calls Yearling (for reasons too complicated to reveal here) is the key to saving herself from the swans, and Blanca, who should be focusing her energies on saving her sister, can’t stop thinking about Page. Due to a catastrophic failure in communication, Roja is convinced that Blanca is trying desperately to save herself, when really, Blanca, without disclosing any of her plans to Roja, is secretly scheming to get herself taken, rather than Roja. McLemore’s characters usually have an entire cadre of familial supporters behind them, but in this story, Blanca and Roja are entirely on their own, which provides a deep tension and sense of urgency to their predicament. Similarly, Barclay and Page choose to be on their own, believing, for very different reasons, that it’s far better than being with their families. There is a complex web connecting all of these stories together, with family secrets galore, and the balance if sometimes off-center, leaving more questions than answers. Blanca and Roja are not as well developed as some of McLemore’s characters, leaving the readers less attached than they might want to be.  However, the writing is what we’ve come to expect from McLemore – beautiful, whimsical, precise, and spell-binding.

THOUGHTS: The secondary female characters – namely Page and Barclay’s grandmothers – are perhaps the most memorable, the most fierce, and the most likeable of all of the characters in the book. They provide much needed guidance and no-nonsense attitudes to the sometimes melodramatic situations in this book.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction. Graphix, 2018. 978-0-545-90248-9. 320 p. $14.99. Grades 8+.

As a child, Jarrett “Ja” Krosoczka was taken in by his grandparents because his single mom, a heroin addict, was unable to care for him. Over the years, Jarrett would occasionally see his mother, Leslie, but she was usually absent from birthdays and special occasions as she moved in and out of jail, rehab, and halfway homes. His true support system was his grandparents (the very colorful Joe and Shirl), aunts and uncles, and a handful of close friends. When his father reaches out via a letter, Jarrett must decide whether or not to pursue a relationship with the man who has always been just a name on his birth certificate. Through it all, Joe and Shirl are stalwart, loving guardians who support their grandson’s interest in art and comics. Krosoczka’s artwork is rendered in shades of burnt orange, grey, and brown. Soft lines and shading lend a nostalgic mood to memories both cherished and painful. Actual letters from Jarrett’s parents, his childhood drawings, and other family artifacts make this graphic memoir especially personal.

THOUGHTS: Readers will embrace Ja’s journey from confused little boy to teenager finding his voice through art. Don’t skip the Author’s Note, which provides further context and an epilogue of sorts. Also check out the book trailer and Krosoczka’s 2013 TED talk for even more insights into how addiction and art have impacted his life.

92, Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Full of heart and heartbreak, this biographical graphic memoir tells the author’s story of growing up in a family of addition. Taken from his mother at a young age, Jarrett “Ja” Krosoczka is raised by his grandparents (who struggle with addition issues of their own). Seeing his mother sporadically throughout his life leaves Jarrett full of unanswered questions about who he is. Jarrett’s only solace is in his art, and his grandparents recognize and encourage this through his life by ensuring Jarrett is enrolled in a variety of art courses and camps. This love is demonstrated even more by the inclusion of original art and letters spanning Jarrett’s life. 

THOUGHTS: Hand this one to readers looking to be inspired by one man’s struggle to overcome his situation. Krosoczka’s honesty will change the way readers define family and view addiction. A National Book Award Finalist, this graphic memoir is a must-have for high schools. Middle school libraries should preview due to language and mature situations. 

 92, Graphic Memoir          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Jarrett J. Krosoczka was adopted and raised by his grandparents because his heroin addicted mother could not care for him. This graphic memoir explores his childhood with his grandparents, his search for his biological father, and his relationship with his mother, who weaves in and out of his life like a fever during the flu. His complicated relationship with his grandparents is riddled with verbal abuse, alcoholism, and crime. Jarrett’s one outlet during this time is art, and he incorporates actual drawings done from preschool through graduation into the memoir. The artwork is often somber, colored in dark greys and black, reflecting the ripple effect that his families addiction can have.

THOUGHTS: This is a stunning, vulnerable look at addiction. The authors choice to create a graphic memoir will appeal to teens, and should not be overlooked. Recommended for older teens due to drug use and violence.

Memoir          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Legrand, Claire. Sawkill Girls. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. 978-0-062-69660-1. 447 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Something strange and sinister is afoot on Sawkill Rock. For years, girls have vanished without a trace in the night, but life continues apace among the staid citizens of Sawkill. As always, someone knows something … and maybe the time has come for three girls to banish Sawkill’s unseen menace. “Queen Bee” Val Mortimer, a lifelong resident of Sawkill Rock, is part of the influential and untouchable line of Mortimer women. Zoey Harlow, the police chief’s daughter, is still mourning the loss of her best friend, first to Val’s circle of mean girls and then to the island’s “Collector.” Finally, the arrival of Marion Althouse and her sister Charlotte — eventful from the first moment — stirs something deep within Sawkill Rock itself. The girls are initially adversaries, then tentative allies, then soldiers-in-arms (and more) as they battle demons both internal and quite real. Claire Legrand puts a feminist spin on classic horror conventions, including hidden rooms, a book of Latin incantations, a secret society dedicated to eradicating the Collector, and imperiled girls walking home through the woods.

THOUGHTS: This is a very solid teen horror selection. In an essay for Bookish.com, Legrand herself described Sawkill Girls as an “angry, queer, feminist YA horror novel.” It is these things, and a pageturner with some truly scary moments as well. I read this book with my 9th grade book club, a group of about 20 girls. It was the perfect choice for the Halloween / dark-at-4:30 season. The atmosphere of Sawkill Rock, the horses, and some of the creepy elements reminded me of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, one of my all-time favorites.

Horror Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Thrace, Mischa. My Whole Truth. Flux, 2018. 978-1-635-83024-8. 256 p. $11.99. Grades 9-12.

“I need help,” seventeen year old Seelie Stanton whispers to the 911 operator after escaping her attacker. Brutally attacked while alone at work, Seelie saves herself and in the process kills Shane Mayfield, son of a well-connected family. When she wakes up in the hospital and is questioned by officers, Seelie isn’t even sure if Shane is living. All she knows is that she had to save herself. While one officer seems to empathize with Seelie, the other twists her words. Upon Seelie’s release from the hospital, she’s arrested and is being charged as an adult for murder. Seelie thought the loft of the barn was her worst nightmare, but really it was only the beginning. 

THOUGHTS: Fans of thrillers will appreciate the mystery that the title implies. Clearly, readers do not have the whole truth from the beginning. Due to the graphic nature of her attack, this is recommended for mature high school readers. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. Little White Lies. Freeform, 2018. 978-1-368-01413-7. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

The hardworking daughter of a flighty single mom, eighteen year old Sawyer Taft does not expect to become a member of high society. When her estranged grandmother makes an offer she cannot refuse, Sawyer steps into her mother’s former world to participate in debutante season. Initially caught up in the life she hasn’t had, Sawyer eventually realizes that there is more than meets the eye. If she wants to get the answers she’s looking for, Sawyer will have to join the others and play dirty. 

THOUGHTS: Readers will adore and root for Sawyer, respecting her search for the truth about her family origins. The complex and twisted friendships and family ties will leave readers unsuspecting of the eventual outcome and highly anticipating its sequel. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Sawyer Taft knows little about luxury and even less about her family.  So when Lillian Taft, her grandmother, appears and offers her half-a-million dollars to come live with her and fulfill a debutante contract, Sawyer can’t refuse.  Soon she finds herself in a new world, full of debutantes, wealth, Southern hospitality, and family secrets that was only 45-minutes away her entire life. As Sawyer befriends her cousin, Lily, and her friends, she also learns secrets that lead to blackmail, arrest, and enemies coming together for a common good.  But with secrets, comes curiosity too. Sawyer knows her mother left this life when she got pregnant during her debutante year, and one of four men must be her father. With the help of a friend, she begins to eliminate potential dads until she unleashes a secret that could tear apart her new life and her new-found family.  

THOUGHTS:  Told through first-person narration and alternating between present and past events, Little White Lies is an entertaining romp through secrets, wealth, Southern hospitality, and debutantes.  

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Crockett, Mary. How She Died, How I Lived. Little, Brown Books, 2018. 978-0-316-52381-3. 416 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

“Want to hang out this afternoon?” One simple message has an irrevocable ripple effect; five girls received it, and only the one who responded – beautiful, sweet, innocent Jamie – was brutally murdered. Coming up on the sentencing hearing one year later, each girl is (or isn’t) coping in her own way. Though readers know the other survivor’s names, the narrator remains anonymous. Through her eyes readers are taken on a journey of pain, grief, and survivor’s guilt, as she tries to make sense of the senseless and move on from this tragedy. Together with Charlie, Jamie’s boyfriend at the time of her death, and Lindsey, another of the targeted girls, these teens process their emotions and the role this event has played in their lives while trying to figure out how to live. 

THOUGHTS: The unique point of view of this novel helps readers understand how trauma survivors (and friends and family of those impacted by trauma) cope, process their emotions, and learn how to live. The author’s note adds some insight into how Crockett was inspired by a violent act in her own community and used writing to process her own anger (listen to this podcast for more). Recommended for fans of character driven, realistic novels. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD