MG – World Make Way; Short and Skinny; Rising Seas; Wild Blues; Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt; Body Pro; The Vietnam War; The Night Diary; The Confidence Code for Girls; Property of the Rebel Librarian

Hopkins, Lee Bennett, editor. World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers. 2018. 978-1-4197-2845-7. $16.99. Unpaged. Grades 4-7.

The master of sharing poetry collections with young readers has created a new artistic collaboration in World Make Way. Lee Bennett Hopkins begins the book with a quote and illustration from none other than Leonardo Da Vinci, “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” Indeed, the remainder of the book seeks to bridge those two artistic mediums together by allowing 18 poets (including Hopkins) to find inspiration in various works from the Met. The artwork ranges from familiar paintings (Cassatt and Klimt) to worldly artifacts (Mexican wood engraving and Chinese scrolls) and comes with museum style descriptions. The poets, such as Marilyn Singer, J. Patrick Lewis, and Naomi Shihab Nye, work to bring a voice to the people and creatures represented. This gorgeous side by side practice leads the reader to see, feel, and hear the creative works with plenty of room for personal interpretation. The World should Make Way for the visual and literary achievement within.

THOUGHTS: Students who have any art history background or art teachers wishing to help make world art more accessible will appreciate this work. The poems are not too long or complex, but they do encourage multiple readings to absorb the themes and meanings. As such, the book sits well with middle grade readers and those adults who who share the love of the Met’s broad collection.

811 Poetry          Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD

Tatulli, Mark. Short & Skinny. Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 978-0-316-44051-6. 249 p. $12.99. Grades 4-8.

Oh, slop! It’s the summer of 1977, and 12-year old aspiring cartoonist Mark Tatulli has had it with being short and skinny. The neighborhood bullies view him as an easy target. He’s listed as “unofficial” on the swim team roster because his times are so slow. His best friend, sister, and brother all enjoy a regular laugh at his expense. In a last-ditch attempt to bulk up, Mark orders a bodybuilding kit that’s advertised in the back of a comic book. Maybe by the beginning of eighth grade he’ll have the height, muscles, and confidence to talk to his crush, Lisa Gorman. 1977 is also the summer of Star Wars; inspired by the game-changing film, Mark and his friends join forces to make their own homegrown spoof of the movie called Star Bores. Can discovering his passion – and editing his own Super 8 movie – transform the life of the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Munchkin City?” Mark Tatulli’s bright artwork vividly depicts the 1970s, while the relatable storyline captures the universal preadolescent angst. A variety of panel sizes and layouts gives every page a fresh look. Even better, the story is laugh-out-loud funny while still inviting empathy (and a touch of commiseration).

THOUGHTS: Short & Skinny joins a growing number of outstanding graphic memoirs. It fits in perfectly right between Smile by Raina Telgemeier and Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. It would be a standout selection for a middle grade book club, especially combined with a screening of Star Wars.

92 Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Thomas, Keltie. Rising Seas: Flooding, Climate Change and Our New World. Firefly Books, 2018. 978-0-228-10022-5. 64 p. $19.95. Grades 5+.

This middle grade nonfiction title is a brightly colored, highly readable overview of the hazards of rising sea levels around the globe. Spotlighted cities and countries include Miami Beach, New York, Mumbai, Greenland, Bangladesh, and island nations such as the Maldives. Brief chapters discuss the current situation and outlook for each area, and feature maps, photographs, and fast facts. Each region’s game plan to protect, adapt, or relocate is also covered. The author’s conversational writing style offsets the more dire predictions. Best of all, Rising Seas concludes with ten tips that answer the question “What can you do?”

THOUGHTS: This is a solid choice for both browsing and reading cover-to-cover. The real star of the show are the “photo illustrations” that depict the watery future of several international landmarks. Students are often instructed to open research papers with an “attention grabber,” and Rising Seas offers an abundance of statistics and forecasts that could make perfect openers.

551 Climate Change          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Kephart, Beth. Wild Blues. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-481-49153-2. 323 p. $17.99. Gr. 5 and up.

Lizzie assumes that her summer at her uncle’s cabin in the “six million acre” woods will unfold just as it always has – spending her days “collecting” with Uncle Davy; shooting the breeze with her best friend, Matias; and avoiding her mother’s phone calls. Kidnapping, escaped convicts, and getting dangerously lost in the woods were definitely not on her to-do list. Readers get to know Lizzie in snippets – we discover, along the way, that her mother has been recently diagnosed with cancer, that her mother and her Uncle Davy are not on speaking terms, that her father was a self-centered narcissist, and that she and her mother eventually left him. We also know that she and Uncle Davy share a very special bond – this is a rare thing in middle-grade and YA, to shine a spotlight on a relationships with a secondary family figure; aunts and uncles are universally ignored, and Lizzie and Uncle Davy’s interactions are well-drawn and entertaining. It just so happens that Uncle Davy’s cabin is closely situated to a prison, and it just so happens that right around the time of Lizzie’s visit, two convicted murderers have escaped said prison – information that neither Lizzie nor her uncle are aware of. When Lizzie hikes out to meet her BFF, Matias, at their normal meeting spot, and finds him gone, with only one of his crutches left behind, she knows something terrible has happened. Without a second thought, Lizzie sets out to find him – she’s not alone though; she has her trusty wilderness guide – Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart – which she dubs, “The Art of Keppy,” a gift from her uncle which she carries with her everywhere. Using passages from the book, tidbits that she picked up from her favorite science teacher, and her own instincts, Lizzie treks through the woods, determined to find Matias. There are parts of Lizzie’s story that are very endearing, particularly her conversations with Uncle Davy, and there are parts of the story that would have benefited from further illumination and exploration, particularly Matias – we only see him through the eyes of Lizzie, who gives frustratingly little in the way of characterization. Lizzie, herself, is both an atypical and realistic 13-year-old, who often acts from a place of great naivete, but also great heart.

THOUGHTS: This is a perfect book for young readers who prefer the company of adults to other children their own age, and who are looking for a quirky wilderness adventure.

Realistic Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Bailey, Linda. Hot on the Trail in Ancient Egypt. Kids Can Press. 2018. 978-1-771-38985-3. $11.99. Gr. 5-8.

Bailey, Linda. Stowing Away with the Vikings. Kids Can Press. 2018. 978-1-525-30150-6. $15.99.
Bailey, Linda. On the Run in Ancient China. Kids Can Press. 2019. 978-1-525-30152-0. $15.99.

The first item in The Time Travel Guide series, Hot on the Trail in Egypt explores the life and culture of living in Ancient Egypt. As three siblings are sucked into a book in a spooky looking store, they realize that they are lost in Ancient Egypt and need to complete the guidebook in order to return home. The guidebook explains different parts of the life and culture in Ancient Egyptians, from the clothing, homes, work, parties, rulers, and more. In order to escape the madness and life of an Egyptian, the siblings complete the book and manage to return back to the spooky store, hoping to never return.

THOUGHTS: The cross between a story and real life information provides students with an opportunity to place themselves in the siblings shoes, while learning interesting information about life in Egypt. The guidebook is not filled with an excessive amount of information, but enough relevant and different information that keeps readers interested.

932 Egypt          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Falligant, Erin. Body Pro: Facts and Figures About Bad Hair Days, Blemishes, and Being Healthy. Savvy Books (Capstone Press), 2018. 978-1-515-77878-3. 48 p. $23.99. Gr. 4-7.

A very informative and statistics-filled book for girls about the physical and social aspects of puberty. Body Pro has good images, great infographics throughout and well organized chapters that cover topics from how often to shampoo your hair to info about bras and breasts. There is a chapter on healthy eating and sugary drinks as well as a chapter on being active and staying healthy. Other topics covered briefly are substance abuse, sleep, mental health, and how to talk with adults.

THOUGHTS: I think this is a really good resource for 4th-7th Graders. It’s got relevant data that won’t go out of date soon, so is worth the price. If you’re looking to update your collection, this should be on your list.

646.7 Personal Care          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Diggs, Barbara. Illustrated by Sam Carbaugh. The Vietnam War (Inquire and Investigate). Nomad Press, 2018. 978-1-619-30658-5. $17.95. Grades 6 -9.

Mooney, Carla. Globalization: Why We Care About Faraway Events. 978-1-619-30664-6.
Wood, Matthew Brenden. The Space Race: How the Cold War Put Humans on the Moon.  978-1-619-30661-5.
Taylor, Diane C. World War II: From the Rise of the Nazi Party to the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb. 978-1-619-30655-4. 

This title provides an accessible introduction to the history of the Vietnam War for middle school students.  It discusses the origins of the conflict with the colonial rule of the French, the growing US involvement in the 1950s, the strategies and actions of the United States government as the war escalated, the realities of conflict for American soldiers, the growing anti-war movement at home, and the fall out as the US withdrew troops.

THOUGHTS: A very readable and engaging history, this terrific text includes features to increase understanding such as informational sidebars, photos, cartoons, QR code links to primary source material, and ideas for individual or group research projects.   

Non Fiction 959.7   Vietnam – History          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Hiranandani, Veera. The Night Diary. Dial,  2018. 978-0-735-22851-1. 272 p. $16.99.  Gr. 5-8.

It is 1947, India is splitting into two countries, and 12-year-old Nisha and her family find themselves on the wrong side of the divide. Shy, smart, Nisha and her twin brother are half-Muslim, half-Hindu. Because they are being raised by their Hindu father, they are no longer safe in what has now become the Muslim country of Pakistan. Nisha is inconsolable at the thought of leaving Kazi, her family’s Muslim cook, and the only person she truly feels comfortable talking with. Through letters she writes to her deceased mother, Nisha tells the story of her family’s dangerous journey to their new home.  

THOUGHTS: Gorgeous writing and realistic, relatable characters make this story about the Indian partition and the horror of the mass migration that resulted from it a must-buy for middle school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

It’s 1947, and 12 year old Nisha is chronicling her daily life in India in letters to her mother. Recently, India has gained independence from Britain, and split into India and Pakistan. Nisha and her family live in Pakistan, but feel that it no longer safe to be there. So Nisha and her father, brother, and grandmother become refugees and begin the long journey to a new home. Nisha spills her fears and doubts into her letters: how alone she feels being half-Muslim and half- Hindu and how she fears her family does not have enough fresh water for the journey. After suffering the loss of her mother, who died giving birth to Nisha and her twin brother, Amil, Nisha fears she cannot bear to lose her home, too.

THOUGHTS: A wonderful look at an important part of India’s history, Nisha’s voice is real and fresh and will appeal to younger readers. Add this Newbery Honor Book to your shelves!

Historical Fiction          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Kay, Katty, and Claire Shipman. The Confidence Code for Girls: Taking Risks, Messing Up, & Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self. Harper, 2018. 978-0-062-79698-1. 308 p. $14.99. Gr. 3-8.

This non-fiction, self-help book is research based, but incredibly readable. All the information gathered (and there’s a LOT) is explained in a way that makes sense without sounding demeaning. The book is divided into three different sections: “Risk More!” “Think Less!” and “Be Yourself!” The authors give concrete real-life examples, and reach readers through a variety of different styles of text and images, including cartoon panels throughout that provide examples. The Confidence Code for Girls can be read as a workbook – there are a lot of ways to interact with the text, from creating a “Confidence Notebook” to taking quizzes, deciding what path might be the most confident to take in a scenario, to creating your own confidence code.

THOUGHTS: I wish this book had been around when I was starting middle school. It is incredibly well researched and referenced with a full section of endnotes.

305.2352 Social Groups          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Varnes, Allison. Property of the Rebel Librarian. Random House, 2018. 978-1-524-77147-8. 275 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

June’s parents have always been strict, but when they start controlling her access to books, June is at first confused then angry. Her anger turns to outright horror when her parents demand a mass book-banning in June’s school library. Things get even uglier when the school administration sides with June’s parents, and June’s beloved school librarian, who refuses to comply, loses her job. Instead of giving up, June fight backs by banding together with a group of like-minded students. Hoarding books in an empty locker, she becomes “the rebel librarian,” and soon even the kids who didn’t like to read are clamoring for the latest titles she’s managed to gather. But not all the kids are on her side, and everything comes to a head when information starts leaking out about where all the “contraband” is coming from.

THOUGHTS:  The situation this book presents is ridiculously extreme (or so one would hope). However, it provides an interesting jumping off point for thinking and talking about censorship and banned books, and June is a positive role model for youth activism. A fast-paced, thought-provoking tale that will appeal to fans of realistic fiction.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

June is a reader; the library her sanctuary, and librarian Ms. Bradshaw her idol. When June’s parents discover her reading an “inappropriate book,” they go a little overboard. Taking drastic measures to ensure their daughter is not manipulated by such unacceptable content, her parents (and other parents in their parent organization) convince the school to place the Ms. Bradshaw on leave and close the school library until the entire collection can be reevaluated. Heartbroken by this transgression (are books really that bad?), June hides what little books remain after her parents clear the shelves in her bedroom. Taking the long way to school (because she has free time now that she’s not in the library), June stumbles across a Little Free Library and what follows can only be described as a librarian being born. Suddenly, rule following June is loaning books out on the black market, making new friends, and taking risks she never imagined. 

THOUGHTS: Cute and quirky, hand this one to your readers. Classes can create a list of books that June obtains, talks about, or requests she fills. Discussions can follow about what books students would break the rules to read.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Cookiesaurus Christmas; Hawk Rising; Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets; Made by Maxine; The 5 O’Clock Band; The Manic Panic; Who Eats Orange; Sing a Song of Seasons; Flowers

Dominy, Amy Fellner, and Nate Evans. Cookiesaurus Christmas. Ill. AG Ford. Disney Hyperion, 2018. 978-1-484-76745-0. $16.99. Unpaged. Gr. K-2.

Cookiesaurus Rex wants to be Santa’s cookie and go to the North Pole, but Mr. Spatula has a different cookie in mind.  As Cookiesaurus Rex tries to be the cookie on Santa’s plate, disaster strikes. Although he makes his way to Santa’s cookie plate he realizes that perhaps the cost of showing his Christmas spirit might have been too high.  

THOUGHTS:  Cookisaurus Christmas is a sweet story about the price paid trying to make it to the top.  It shares a lesson on friendship and the importance of be apart of something instead of trying to be something.  The play on words throughout keeps all readers entertained, and the illustrations are bright pencil drawings that incorporate the whole picture (counter) and all of Cookiesaurus Rex’s individual ideas and shenanigans.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Gianferrari, Maria. Hawk Rising. Roaring Brook Press. 2018. 978-1-626-72096-1. $18.99. Gr. K-3.

The story of a hawk family being observed by a young girl in the distance. We watch as Father Hawk travels to perch-hunt for his chicks that are hungry and waiting back in the nest. Father Hawk examines the area and swoops down, only to have his prey escape. As we watch this process, the young girl in the story observes him as well, watching to see where he goes. Father Hawk continues to search for prey and miss, until he is finally successful and captures dinner for his chick’s meal.

THOUGHTS: This early level nonfiction picture book provides beautiful illustrations by Brian Floca on red-tailed hawks. This books is an appropriate description of predator vs. prey in a simple way for children to understand. The book also contains facts in the back of the book for continued knowledge and information on red-tailed hawks, which can provide increased instruction and information for students, teachers, and parents.

598.9 Birds          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Khan, Hena. Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes. Chronicle Books, 2018. 978-1-452-15541-8. 32 p. $17.99. Gr. Pre-K – K

This lovely book introduces young children to different shapes and relates them to objects of Islam. A little girl points out the different shapes her Muslim family encounters from things in their home (diamond patterned clothing and hexagonal wall tile) to designs in a Mosque (rectangle door and octagon fountain). People of Islamic faith will feel at home with the vocabulary of this book such as Quran (holy book) and wudu (ritual washing). Readers who are learning about something new will be exposed to foundational terms of Muslims and find the glossary in the back easy to use. The in-depth text is accompanied by beautiful and descriptive pictures, portraying various lives of Muslims all over the world.

THOUGHTS: I strongly believe that children should be introduced to many cultures and religions at a young age. They should have their first, second, third, and fourth introductions to be positive and wholesome before introducing what are viewed as the negative aspects. It is equally, if not more, important that children of minorities should be able to see themselves positively portrayed in books and literature.

Picture Book          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Spiro, Ruth. Made by Maxine. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-0-399-18629-5. 32 p. $16.99. Gr. K – 3.

The rise of the Maker Culture makes this book ideal for young elementary school students. An upcycler and inventor, Maxine, wants her best friend, Milton the goldfish, to be able to participate in the class pet parade. Yet Milton, unable to walk on his own, would have to be carried. Maxine, who’s made loads of successful inventions before (out of old, used things), is sure she can solve this problem! But she can’t… at least at first. Failure doesn’t stop Maxine! She thinks of it as figuring out what won’t work, that way she can find something that does.

THOUGHTS: I love the celebration of failure in this book. Maxine, who is a strong individual and loves being unique, from her colored hair to having an unusual pet, is a wonderful role model for young children. If I did have a complaint about this book it would be that the invention she comes up with isn’t really realistic. But maybe that’s why Maxine, a kid, makes it and not an adult like me.

Picture Book          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Andrews, Troy. The 5 O’Clock Band. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018. Unpaged. 978-1-419-72836-5. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

In this companion book to the Caldecott Honor winning Trombone Shorty, Troy Andrews shares more memories of his life as a child in New Orleans. Told in third person, this text focuses on the famous trombonist’s hometown and his first band, known as the Five O’Clock Band. Troy, whose nickname is Trombone Shorty, was supposed to meet his band friends, but was caught up playing his trombone and missed them. The young musician laments being late and wonders how he will ever become a bandleader if he lets his friends down like this. As Shorty searches for them, he meets some interesting town residents, who give him advice on how to accomplish his goal. Tuba Tremé says that it is important to understand the tradition of New Orleans music, while chef Queen Lola tells Troy that loving what you do is the key to success. Big Chief of the Mardi Gras Indian tribe explains that it is the dedication to and the practicing of one’s craft that makes a leader. Eventually, the band is reunited, and Shorty reports what he has learned. The back matter contains an author’s note, where Andrews discusses the musical legends of New Orleans, the musical parades, and Mardi Gras. The author also explains that he formed the Trombone Shorty Foundation to help young musicians in the community. Collier’s illustrations are just as appealing in this text as in his Caldecott Honor book. Once again he uses watercolor, pen and ink, and collage to create expressive images that allow the reader to almost hear the music reverberating from each page. There are photographs of individuals discussed in the story, including a special one of the band members themselves.  

THOUGHTS: This book is a valuable addition to all elementary libraries. Children will be inspired by this story and may embark on a musical career of their own. After reading this book out loud, librarians may wish to show a video clip of Shorty’s “NPR Tiny Desk Concert” to cap off a fun-filled musical storytime.  

92, 921, 788.9          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD
Biography, Brass Instruments

Jha, Richa, and Mithila Ananth. The Manic Panic. Creston Books, 2018. 978-1-939-54743-9. Pages 32. $16.99. Gr. K – 4.

Originally published in India, this book is timely for many kids around the world. When the internet goes down one day, the world seems like it is ending… for the parents. The girl and her grandmother know what to do, however! The kid takes charge, showing the screen-addicted adults what the world is like when you are not consumed by technology. It takes them a bit, but they learn to enjoy themselves. The daughter and grandmother provide ample activities for the adults, and it ends with the girl sighing about what a perfect day it has been…until she realizes she has a book report due!

THOUGHTS: I love the fact that it’s the parents throwing fits and acting immature, while the child takes charge. A fun book for anyone, but a much needed book for kids who feel that technology is drawing away their parents’ time and attention.

Picture Book          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

White, Dianne.  Who Eats Orange?  Beach Lane Books, 2018.  Unpaged. 978-1-534-40408-3. $17.99.  Grades PreK-2.

The young reader becomes acquainted with the colorful food eaten by various animals in this creative concept book. The text is written in a question and answer format, where the author asks who eats food of a particular color and then gives the answers. The fifth answer is incorrect and answered with a resounding “NO!” and the correct color of food is listed on the next page. The color words are written in their actual colors and are placed at the top left corner of the left page in a large font size. The reader must look to the back matter to identify the names of the foods and to learn more about the animals, which includes some that are lesser known. A page near the end of the book shows a child’s hand grabbing some blueberries, with the author stating that she eats a “rainbow” of fruits and vegetables just like the reader. Robin Page’s signature illustrations are done on a large scale and show a lot of white space, making the animal and its food the main focus. She uses Adobe Photoshop to create drawings that are brightly colored and appealing to the target audience.  

THOUGHTS: This book is a great resource for teaching children about colors, as well as the food habits of animals. The question and answer format makes this text an ideal interactive readaloud that will generate some interesting discussion. Elementary librarians will want to add this one to their collections.

591.5 Ecology of Animals          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Waters, Fiona, Ed. Sing a Song of Seasons:  A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year. Nosy Crow, 2018.  978-1-5362-0247-2   333 p.  $40.00  Gr. K-12.

This heavy tome edited by Fiona Waters, who is British, contains carefully selected nature poems, one–just as the subtitle promises–for each day of the year.  Accompanying the poems are lush, gorgeous illustrations by Frann Preston-Gannon. The poems range in tone, form, and style; some are silly, some serious; many are classics, and all are easily accessible to and enjoyable for children of almost any age.  Poets as disparate as William Shakespeare and Jack Prelutsky are included; many poems are anonymous. However, it is important to note that only a few poems included are NOT by white authors.

THOUGHTS: The book’s impressive design and presentation, in addition to its content, make it worth the price. Any school seeking to bulk up its poetry collection would find this a welcome and popular addition.

Poetry          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Gibbons, Gail.  Flowers.  Holiday House, 2018. 978-0-823-43787-0.  32 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

This is the latest addition to Gibbons’ series of science picture books. In this text, the author-illustrator explores the field of floral botany. The work contains vividly colored drawings, which were created with ink, watercolors, and colored pencils. The illustrations are full bleed, and the text appears at the bottom of the page. Each page contains panels and numerous images, many of which have labels. Gibbons discusses such topics as habitat, anatomy, seed formation, pollination, gardening, and types of flowers. The section on pollination is fairly detailed.  

THOUGHTS: This book is a good introduction to flower units. Due to the number of small images, it is better viewed individually or in small groups.

635.9 Flowers          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Elem. – Awesome Animal Powers; Great Sports Debates; Super Species; Forest Babies; Plant Power; Bear’s Scare; In a Small Kingdom; Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail; I am Human; Little Robot Alone; The Big Umbrella; The Eye that Never Sleeps; Inky’s Amazing Escape; Geology Genius; True Tales of Rescue; The Honeybee; A Busy Creature’s Day Eating

LaJiness, Katie. Awesome Animal Powers. Abdo, 2019. $19.95 ea. $159.60 set of 8. 32 p. Gr. 2-4.

Beavers: Construction Experts. 978-1-532-11496-0.
Bees: Cool Communicators. 978-1-532-11497-7.
Devil Rays: Dynamic Dancers. 978-1-532-11498-4.
Homing Pigeons: Navigation All-Stars. 978-1-532-11499-1.
Humpback Whales: Super Singers. 978-1-532-11500-4.
Lyrebirds: Master Mimics. 978-1-532-11501-1.
Otters: Tool Users. 978-1-532-11502-8.
Ravens: Problem Solvers. 978-1-532-11503-5.

Readers will learn about some unique animal abilities in the Awesome Animal Powers series. Each volume opens with a discussion of of the unique characteristics and abilities of the animal. Subsequent chapters discuss the animal’s habitat, daily life, diet, life cycle, and future outlook for the species. Each spread features text accompanied by an oversize photo. Book features include text boxes, maps, diagrams, and a glossary as well as curated web links.

THOUGHTS: These enjoyable titles will engage students interested in the animal kingdom. While some titles spotlight more common animals (beavers, otters, etc.), other titles focus on animals that may be new to readers (homing pigeons and lyrebirds). A worthwhile addition for libraries looking to update their animal resources.

590s Animals           Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Great Sports Debates. Abdo, 2019. $22.95 ea. $137.70 set of 6. 48 p. Gr. 3-6.

Gitlin, Marty. Great Baseball Debates. 978-1-532-11441-0.
Ybarra, Andres. Great Basketball Debates. 978-1-532-11442-7.
Marquardt, Meg. Great E-Sports Debates. 978-1-532-11443-4.
Wilner, Barry. Great Football Debates. 978-1-532-11444-1.
Ferrell, Giles. Great Hockey Debates. 978-1-532-11445-8.
Avise, Jonathan. Great Soccer Debates. 978-1-532-11446-5.

Sports fans are well-known for their passionate nature and opinionated views on their favorite sports leagues, teams, and players. Each title in this series examines some of the debates surrounding major sports today. This reviewer had the opportunity to examine Great Soccer Debates which contained chapters debating the better player-Messi or Ronaldo, which league and club are the best, if video replay should be used in soccer, and the popularity of soccer in America. The text is supplemented by the inclusion of numerous photos and a glossary.

THOUGHTS: The books in this series are better suited to the sports fan, rather than the casual reader. Those with prior knowledge of the sport will be more engaged and more fully understand the nuances of the topics being debated. A good choice for libraries seeking to foster critical thinking skills.

796 Sports          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Hansen, Grace. Super Species (Set 2). Abdo, 2019. $19.95 ea. $119.70 set of 6. 24 p. Gr. PreK-2.

African Elephants. 978-1-532-10821-1.
Beluga Sturgeons. 978-1-532-10822-8.
Goliath Frogs. 978-1-532-10823-5.
Mola Ocean Sunfish. 978-1-532-10824-2.
Saltwater Crocodile. 978-1-532-10825-9.
Siberian Tigers. 978-1-532-10826-6.

The goal of the Super Species series is to introduce young readers to some of the largest animals in the world. Each oversize spread includes an average of two sentences accompanied by a high-quality photograph. Much of the text focuses on the supersize nature of the animal (length, weight, height, etc.). Other basic facts such as diet, life cycle, and life span are also included. For students interested in learning more (or teachers looking to incorporate the book into a lesson), a link to the Abdo Kids website containing supplemental information, a word find, a video, and a craft activity is included at the end of the book.

THOUGHTS: Students will love browsing through these oversize books and learning interesting facts about some unique creatures. A great introduction to non-fiction text for younger readers. The supplemental materials available online are a cut above what is typical for many books. Recommended.

590s Animals          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Nilsen, Genevieve. Forest Babies. Jump!, 2019. $16.95 ea. $135.60 set of 8. Gr. PreK-1.

Bear Cubs. 978-1-624-96955-3.
Deer Fawns. 978-1-624-96958-4.
Fox Kits. 978-1-624-96961-4.
Owlets. 978-1-624-96964-5.
Rabbit Kits. 978-1-624-96967-6.
Raccoon Cubs. 978-1-624-96970-6.
Skunk Kits. 978-1-624-96973-7.
Squirrel Kits. 978-1-624-96976-8.

The Forest Babies series is designed to introduce beginning readers to non-fiction. Each title imparts basic facts about some of the most common baby animals found in the forest. Short sentences feature repetition and simple words in order to meet the needs of early readers. (For example, the Bear Cubs volume has sentences such as: “They climb. They play. They follow mom.”) The presence of numerous high-quality photographs greatly enhance appeal of each volume. A “Tools for Teachers” section includes before and after reading suggestions for educators to use within the classroom.

THOUGHTS: An excellent choice for primary libraries looking to add to their non-fiction collection for their earliest readers. Young readers will love the numerous photos of cute baby animals in each volume.

590s Animals          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Plant Power. Jump!, 2019. $17.95 ea. $107.70 set of 6. Gr. 2-5.

Kenney, Karen. Healing Plants. 978-1-624-96874-7.
Kenney, Karen. Photosynthesis. 978-1-624-96880-8.
Kenney, Karen. Pollinating Plants. 978-1-624-96886-0.
Schuh, Mari. Meat-Eating Plants. 978-1-624-96877-8.
Schuh, Mari. Poisonous Plants. 978-1-624-96883-9.
Schuh, Mari. Prickly Plants. 978-1-624-96889-1.

From learning about the pollinating capability of bats to the dangers of the poisonous foxglove to the sticky traps the sundew plant uses to lure its prey, this series will inform readers about the amazing power of plants. Each volume contains interesting plant-related facts and high quality photographs. The text is supplemented by informative sidebars as well as diagrams, a glossary, and links to curated websites. Each volume also contains a suggested activity. For example, in Pollinating Plants readers are provided step-by-step instructions on how to create a simple butterfly feeder.

THOUGHTS: A great choice for elementary libraries looking to refresh their resources on plants or to support STEM-related initiatives. Students will enjoy the engaging text (a whole volume on Meat Eating Plants – definitely not another boring plant book!) and browsing the excellent photos.

500s Plants          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Grant, Jacob. Bear’s Scare. Bloomsbury, 2018: 978-1-681-19720-3. 32 p. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

Bear is very proud of the neat and tidy house he shares with his stuffed bear, Ursa. Every day, he and Ursa clean the house from top to bottom and ensure everything is in its place. One morning, Bear spots a book on the floor, and that’s when the trouble begins. As he places the book back on its shelf, he notices a sticky spider web attached to the back cover. When Bear inspects his home more closely, he discovers spider webs on the houseplants, under the cupboards, and clinging to his knicknacks. Bear panics, imagining that his home is being overrun by a messy guest who has nothing in common with him and Ursa. Bear tears the house apart, searching for the offending spider. He doesn’t locate him, but he does make a huge mess, removing pictures from walls, unstacking logs in the fireplace, and pulling drawers from dressers. When Bear lifts up the sofa and peeks under, disaster strikes. One of Ursa’s arms gets stuck under the sofa and separates from his body. Bear hurries to gather first aid supplies, but when he returns, the spider has mended Ursa’s arm with spider web. From then on, Bear decides to make room in his home for one more friend, even if it does mean he will have more cleaning to do. The charcoal and crayon illustrations stick to a tight palette of purples, oranges, and yellows, and readers will enjoy spotting the white spider webs that begin popping up throughout the story. Watchful readers will also notice that spider is nothing like Bear imagines: she enjoys quiet activities like drinking tea, reading, painting, and watering her plants. 

THOUGHTS: This gentle story emphasizes unlikely friendships and promotes tolerance, particularly when meeting those who may be different than us. This will be a welcome addition to friendship-themed storytimes, and it will be useful for reminding students not to make assumptions about others.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

dePaola, Tomie. In a Small Kingdom. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018: 978-1-481-49800-5. 32 p. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

This modern-day fairy tale begins with the death of an old king who is much-loved by his people. According to legend, he ruled and protected his subjects so well thanks to a magnificent Imperial Robe that has only ever been seen by a few people. When it is announced that the king’s youngest son will be his successor, the prince’s half-brother jealously plots to destroy the robe so his half-brother will be powerless and too weak to rule. He secretly shreds the robe and scatters the torn pieces from a high tower. When he learns that the robe is missing, the young prince’s faith in himself is shaken, and he begins to doubt his ability to rule. Meanwhile, in another more humble part of the kingdom, some children find pieces of beautiful cloth in a field. They take the scraps to an old woman who recognizes them as pieces of the old king’s Imperial Robe. The townspeople gather up as many pieces of the robe as they can and begin to repair it. Since so many pieces of original fabric are missing, the people contribute scraps of their most precious fabrics to patch the robe. Soon, the original robe is pieced together with scraps from wedding veils, blankets, scarves, and coats. The people present the restored robe to the young king, and he recognizes the love that has been stitched into it. His confidence soars, and the people are reassured that they are in good hands, and they place their full trust in their new leader. dePaola’s gentle story reminds readers that being a leader doesn’t always mean ruling with force. Intelligence, gentleness, and love can be far more powerful and can win more loyal followers. Debut illustrator Doug Salati’s muted palette of blues, browns, and greens grounds this story in an agrarian setting. Additionally, he portrays the young king as biracial, and the townspeople are racially diverse as well.

THOUGHTS: With its themes of generosity, cooperation, support, and coming together as a community, this story will be a good fit for many read-aloud settings.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Thermes, Jennifer. Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018: 978-1-419-72839-6. 42 p. $17.99. Gr K-3.

This book shares the story of Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, the first woman to hike the entire 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail alone. Gatewood began her five-month hike in Georgia in May of 1955 at the age of 67 and ended at the top of a mountain in Maine in September. Along the way, she braved bears, hiked through a hurricane, and wore through five pairs of canvas shoes. The text is sprinkled with quotes from Gatewood herself, so her down-to-earth personality shines through. Several double-page spreads also describe the history of the Appalachian Trail and some of its notable landmarks.

THOUGHTS: Since part of the Appalachian Trail passes through Pennsylvania, this will be a nice addition to nonfiction collections. Fourth grade teachers studying regions of the United States will also find the detailed maps useful.

796.51 Hiking          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Verde, Susan. I am Human: A Book of Empathy. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018: 978-1-419-73165-5. 32 p. $14.99. Gr K-3.

This third title in Susan Verde and Peter Reynolds’ Wellness series is the companion to I am Yoga and I am Peace. Each title in this series stands alone, but each also empowers young readers to choose kindness and compassion towards others. I am Human celebrates some of the many traits that make each of us human: our hopes, our dreams, our curiosity, our ability to learn and to feel amazement and wonder. The book also acknowledges that humans are not perfect. We make mistakes, we hurt others, we are fearful, and we feel sadness. But, we also make choices, and our choices help us move forward and turn our negative feelings around. Thoughtfulness, kindness, compassion, equality, peacefulness, and forgiveness help us connect to our fellow humans. This book encourages readers to be the best version of themselves and to look for the “human-ness” in all of us. Peter Reynolds’ vibrant  ink and watercolor illustrations shine against their white backgrounds, perfectly complementing the concise text.

THOUGHTS: This is a must-have for guidance counselors, and it will also work well as a read-aloud during classroom morning meeting times. Although the text is simple and brief, there are many jumping off-points for discussion, and there are opportunities for students to share where they could apply some of these ideas in their own school or in their personal lives. An Author’s Note at the back of the book also includes kindness meditations readers can use to encourage positive feelings for themselves and for others.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MacLachlan, Patricia, and Emily MacLachlan Charest.  Little Robot Alone.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2018.  978-0-544-44280-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

This is the sweet story of Little Robot who enjoys his daily routine in a little white house. One day he realizes that he is alone and decides to create a companion robot- a dog. He sets to work in his workshop but finds the robot is not turning out as he wished. Little Robot does some thinking and makes improvements with materials found in his treasure box. Tension mounts as he pushes the button to see if the model works. Happily, all turns out well, and now Little Robot has a new friend in Little Dog. The book contains both text in black for the main storyline, as well as rhyming text in green in first person, which could be sung. The muted illustrations by Matt Phelan are done in pencil and watercolor and add a calm feeling to the story. As an aside, it is interesting to note that Little Robot’s toaster head closely resembles the robot’s head in DiPucchio’s Clink.

THOUGHTS: This story of friendship works as a read aloud as well as for one-to-one sharing.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Bates, Amy June. The Big Umbrella. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-534-40658-2. Unpaged. $16.99. PreK-Gr. 2.

This story about kindness and inclusion uses a smiling red umbrella to deliver a memorable message. This particular umbrella is big and friendly and likes to provide shelter to anyone who needs it. It doesn’t matter what each person looks like; they all fit under the umbrella regardless. Although it seems like the umbrella won’t be big enough to fit everyone underneath, it continues to expand as new people gather, its smile growing wider and wider. On the final page, the umbrella is seen covering an entire park full of wonderfully diverse characters. Sure to spark meaningful discussion about kindness and inclusion, this title deserves a place in every elementary library.

THOUGHTS: One of many books recently published about kindness and acceptance, this is yet another timely addition to our current social and political landscape. Pair it with Higgins’s We Don’t Eat Our Classmates and/or Cori Doerrfeld’s The Rabbit Listened if you want to delve into an in-depth classroom discussion about understanding, accepting, and being there for others. It might also be used to introduce the concept of metaphors, as the red umbrella could be a metaphor for the United States. A simple, yet powerful narrative with great classroom potential, this is a must-have.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

Moss, Marissa, and Jeremy Holmes. The Eye that Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers. 2018. 978-1-419-73064-1. $17.99. 48 p. Grades 2-4.

Today many students understand that the CIA and the Secret Service work tirelessly to protect our country and president from danger; however, less of them are aware of the intelligence agency that started it all. The Pinkerton Detective Agency and its founder Allan Pinkerton rose to prominence in Chicago and spread his “spycraft” skills around the country using his curiosity, keen observations, and search for truth. But the danger of threats to the life of President Lincoln challenged Allan to think above and beyond his usual tactics. This engaging nonfiction text from Marissa Moss keeps a succinct story moving with intrigue and mystery that lets readers follow Allan’s progress and thought process. Jeremy Holmes excels at creating large detailed “digital scratchboard” illustrations of the action which seem both modern and antiquated. Readers follow some pages like a wordless graphic novel, and some with a detective’s eye to solve the problems. One spread includes Morse Code messages to decipher. Altogether, The Eye That Never Sleeps brings the skills of Allan Pinkerton – his “sharp eyes, keen mind, and passion for justice” to new light!

THOUGHTS: The history of spies and detectives in the US has always fascinated me. Perhaps this title will get more young readers to discover the Pinkerton method. The end notes explain more about the timeline, art, and life of Allan. Further reading should include Moss’ other work of the time period: a biography of Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective and Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero.

973 US History          Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD

Montgomery, Sy, and Amy Schimler-Safford. Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home. New York: Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers. 2018. 978-1-534-40191-4. $17.99. Unpaged. Grades 1-4.

An octopus is a naturally curious creature, and Inky is no exception. When a lobsterman finds the octopus trapped in one of its crates with two broken tentacles, he takes it to the nearby aquarium. As they work with the creature now named Inky, they learn much about its nature. Once Inky is healed, he naturally seeks a way home, even if that involves an impossibly small drain on the floor of the aquarium. Amy Schimler-Safford provides colorful, playful collage illustrations to go with the narrative nonfiction of Sy Montgomery. Together, they provide a deep sea adventure about an elusive and amazing animal. The endnotes and octopus facts help emphasize that Inky was always ready to explore, much as some readers may be!

THOUGHTS: This story could easily connect to several creative STEAM and makerspace challenges involving suction, filling space, tubing, collage, and problem solving. Partner with many other picture books and beginning nonfiction books about octopi to create a comparison chart and inquiry cycle.

590 Animals          Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD

Pettiford, Rebecca. Geology Genius (series). POGO Books. 2019. $19.00 each. set of 8. 24 pages. K – 3.

Crystals. 978-1-62496-824-2.
Fossils. 978-1-62496-827-3.
Gemstones. 978-1-62496-830-3.
Igneous Rocks. 978-1-62496-833-4.
Metamorphic Rocks. 978-1-62496-836-5.
Minerals. 978-1-62496-839-6.
The Rock Cycle. 978-1-62496-842-6.
Sedimentary Rocks. 978-1-62496-845-7.

If you have a young geologist ready to absorb some beginning information about rocks and minerals, this is an attractive set to explore. POGO and Rebecca Pettiford have created an eight volume set with a predictable text pattern, full color images, and lots of text features. The expository text in each book helps to define the topic (minerals, gemstones, crystals, etc.) and explains how they form with plenty of examples. The opening of the book has tips for adults to assist in inquiry mindset reading, and the back of the book includes an experiment, glossary, index, and website links for further information. Try to raise a better reader and a geology genius at the same time!

THOUGHTS: This set seems cleaner and easier for young readers than other sets available. While certainly not comprehensive, they should provide initial research and assist with an inquiry project.

550 Earth Science          Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD

Einhorn, Kama.  Sweet Senior Pups. (True Tales of Rescue).  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.  141 p. 978-1-328-76703-5. $14.99.  Grades 3-6.

Welcome, Wombat.  9781328767028.
Anteater Adventure. 9781328767042.
Raccoon Rescue. 9781328767059.

This series focuses on animal rescue sanctuaries, the  volunteers who work there, and especially on the animals who live there. In Sweet Senior Pups, the reader is introduced to Val Lynch, who began rescuing dogs from childhood. After he retired from the Air Force, he and his wife established a sanctuary for older dogs in Maryland, making this a special place for senior dogs with illnesses and disabilities. The book is divided into four sections: Rescue, Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Release. Each chapter contains “testimonials” from the dogs themselves, which are told in first person. The book centers on the lives of three particular dogs as they move from the shelter to their “furever” homes and for some, their final resting place at Rainbow Bridge. The stories are very moving and the numerous photographs are engaging. The author does not shy away from describing the illnesses of the dogs but does so in a way accessible to children. The book contains a number of text boxes highlighted in different colors. These are either stories told by the dogs themselves or information about shelters or dog care. The author also shows examples of the social media used to inform the public of the shelter’s activities and showcase the antics of specific dogs. An important message is this book is that senior dogs, also known as “sugarfaces,” make good pets despite their health issues. In the back matter, the author gives suggestions for helping these dogs by donating supplies to shelters. There are also treat recipes and ideas for games. The author notes that a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Senior Dog Sanctuary of Maryland.

THOUGHTS: This engaging narrative will fly off the shelves for those animal loving readers and may well encourage them to adopt a senior dog themselves. Libraries will want to add this series to their collections.

636.7 Dogs          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Hall. Kirsten. The Honeybee. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018. Unpaged. 978-1-481-46997-5.  $17.99. Grades K-3.

This beautifully crafted book tells the story of the honeybee from its gathering of nectar to the creation of honey.  Using rhyming text, the author begins the tale with a single bee who sees a colorful field of flowers and begins collecting nectar.  After the rest of the scouting party take their treasure back to the hive, they alert the other bees, who travel to the field in a swarm to collect more.   The house bees take the nectar and chew it until it finally becomes honey, which is then stored in honeycombs. As winter approaches, the queen informs her subjects that they must “huddle and cuddle” in the hive throughout the cold season.  When spring arrives, a single bee comes out of the hive, looking for a new field of flowers to begin the cycle once again. This book is a fiction and creative nonfiction hybrid, because the “story” is a really description of honeybee behavior and honey making. The whimsical illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault are done in ink, pencil, gouache and colored pencil and alternate between full bleed and leaving some white space.  The bees are simply adorable and the queen appears larger than the other bees and has rays on the top of her head, which resemble a crown. At the beginning of the book, the first bee is shown on a large scale on a two page spread, which adds some drama as the reader is first asked to guess who is buzzing around the flowers. Some extra creative touches are the font created by the illustrator, which she calls Honeybee and the endpapers which are done in alternating black and yellow.  The bees speak to each other in callouts and some text is written in a large font size like “Buzz!” When the bees are in the hive, the background is black. Details like this show that close attention was paid to the fine points. Hall, an advocate for these endangered insects, includes a letter in the back matter, which lists ways the reader can help the honeybee survive.

THOUGHTS: This is a must have for every collection. Children will enjoy poring over the illustrations for the details.  This book with its rhyming text will make a great read aloud and is a perfect choice to introduce science units on the honeybee.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Willems, Mo. A Busy Creature’s Day Eating. Hyperion Books for Children, 2018. 978-1-368-01352-9. Unpaged. $17.99. PreK-Gr. 1.

In this comical tale, a little purple creature eats his way through the alphabet, beginning with apples and berries. Just when readers think the creature will simply eat a food item beginning with each letter of the alphabet, the story takes a hilarious twist. Suddenly, the creature is eating inedible and outrageous items (like “furniture”), then ends up getting “queasy” and “vomit”-ing. As the story comes to a close, the creature’s father gives him water, hugs, and kisses, and puts him to bed. Great for young readers, this title will reinforce letters of the alphabet while also entertaining.

THOUGHTS: Award-winning Willems has done it again. His fans will be thrilled to find that beloved characters like Knuffle Bunny and the Pigeon have made cameo appearances in his newest release. If the author’s name itself doesn’t entice you to purchase this book, perhaps the endless learning possibilities and classroom potential will.  Not only will the book help young readers learn their letters, but teachers could create extension activities to reinforce this knowledge. For instance, students could write their own stories involving a creature who eats through the alphabet, which would require them to come up with their own ideas for each letter. Those who work with young children should definitely considering purchasing this title!

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

YA – The Cruel Prince; Just Mercy; Ash Princess; The Lying Woods

Black, Holly. The Cruel Prince. Little Brown & Co., 2018. 978-0-316-31028-4. 384 p. $19.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Jude has to look into the face of her parents’ murderer every day; he’s the man who has raised her and her twin sister, Taryn, after forcibly ripping them away from their lives, and bringing them, and their older half-sister, Vivian, to the High Court of Faerie. Jude and Taryn are human, and therefore outsiders, never quite gaining a foothold in the world in which they live. Despite living with Madoc, their parents’ killer, and amongst people who openly despise their kind, both Jude and Taryn have no wish to return to the human world; this is their home now, for better or worse, and both want to carve out a life for themselves here. For Jude, who longs to be chosen for knighthood, and who never backs down from a fight, life is made more complicated and dangerous by the increasingly cruel “pranks” and dark obsession of the spoiled and entitled Prince Cardan, the king’s youngest son. When Jude becomes romantically involved with one of Cardan’s cohorts, and, at the same time, comes to the attention of Prince Dain, who is slated to become the next king of Faerie, Jude must tread even more carefully. Jude is strength and pigheadedness personified, so much so that it can be hard to empathize with Taryn, who often comes across as weak-willed, when really, she is, like Jude, a human, mortal girl who is so far out of her element at times that it’s a wonder they both don’t run screaming for the hills. There is a lot going on here – multiple characters, various plot lines, world-building, family dynamics – but fortunately, this book is in the very capable hands of Holly Black, who navigates it all with a storyteller’s aplomb and attention to detail. We never forget, for instance, that Madoc is not Jude and Taryn’s father, but a murderer (made especially more vivid by Vivian’s defiance of Madoc at every possible turn), or that Jude and Taryn’s very lives are in constant danger, or that the political machinations of the High Court are a tangled web of lies, deceit, and power grabs. In the end, there is no neat and tidy resolution for Jude; indeed, she ends up in even deeper trouble, with much higher stakes, than when she started, which is why readers will eagerly follow her into the next book in the series.

THOUGHTS: Hand this to readers who are both riding the wave of fairy tale retellings, as well as those who are weary of the same stories being retold – this dark, compelling tale will enscorsell all readers.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy, Adapted for Young Adults: A True Story of the Fight for Justice. Delacorte Press, 2018. 978-0-525-58003-4, 244 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Bryan Stevenson has adapted his pivotal 2014 book on America’s criminal justice system for teen readers! As with other YA adaptations such as Unbroken and The Boys in the Boat, this version of Just Mercy has a streamlined narrative, fewer pages, and slightly modified vocabulary, broadening its appeal to a younger audience. The overall structure of the book is unchanged, though. Stevenson interweaves the story of Walter McMillian (an Alabama man unjustly sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit) with the stories of other clients on death row, prisoners with intellectual and physical disabilities, and children incarcerated in the adult prison system. Throughout, he shines a light on the pervasive racial bias, discrimination against the poor, and abuses of power that mar our criminal justice system. By portraying the incarcerated as people and not just criminals – and reminding readers that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done” – Stevenson makes a strong case for mercy. Walter McMillian’s chapters take the reader through the labyrinthine appeals process, adding suspense as Walter’s legal team fights to exonerate a condemned man before the state schedules his execution.

THOUGHTS: In his Acknowledgments, Stevenson writes that he is “honored to share my work with young people, whose understanding of these issues is crucial if we are to create a more just society” (263). He has succeeded in creating an adaptation that is both accessible and appealing to a teen audience. Just Mercy would pair well with fiction from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Hate U Give, as well as nonfiction such as the March trilogy by John Lewis or Season Two of the In the Dark podcast, which covers much of the same thematic territory. It deserves a place in every library for teens.

Stevenson’s nonprofit organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, continues to provide legal representation for poor people, challenge wrongful convictions, and fight to end abusive sentences for minors.

340 (Criminal Justice Reform)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Sebastian, Laura. Ash Princess. New York: Delacorte Press, 2018. 978-1-524-76706-8. 448 p. $18.99. Gr 8-12.

Princess Theodosia is six years old when her kingdom of Astrea is invaded by the Klovaxians and her mother is killed in front of her. The ruthless conqueror, the Kaiser, strips Theodosia of her title and her name, and she becomes Thora, the Ash Princess, and is held like a prisoner. At any hint of rebellion from the Astreans, Thora is publicly ridiculed, tormented, and beaten as a reminder of the Klovaxian’s power over Astrea. When her mother’s former guardian is brought to trial, Theo learns of an underground movement to free her and restore her to her rightful throne. While the rebellion is small, Theo begins to work from the inside of the palace to undermine the Kaiser. When she connects with the Kaiser’s son Soren, she hatches a plan to stoke the already simmering resentment between the king and his son. But Thora soon discovers feelings for Soren, as well as for one of her Astrean allies. Even with some cheesy romance, readers will be cheering for Theodosia to shed Thora and rise from the ashes in this planned trilogy.

THOUGHTS: A fine addition to the other historical fantasy titles cluttering the YA shelves; Sebastian’s writing is top-notch and makes this a compulsive read.

Fantasy          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Elston, Ashley. The Lying Woods. Disney-Hyperion, 2018. 978-1-368-01478-6. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Hours before his father’s embezzlement goes public, Owen’s mother gets him from his elite New Orleans boarding school. Forced to leave all of their possessions including their house behind, Owen and his mom move in with her sister, and Owen must adjust to senior year back in Lake Cane. Living among the families whose life savings and retirements were invested in Louisiana Frac (the primary local employer) proves to be more difficult than he imagined. Of course, his father is long gone. Most are suspicious of their involvement or their knowledge of Owen’s father’s whereabouts, but Owen and his mother are left to deal with the repercussions and threats. Told in alternating chapters Owen’s story unfolds over dual narratives from the past and the present. With mystery surrounding his entire life, Owen must look to the past to help guide his future. 

THOUGHTS: Subtle in its mystery, this book is difficult to describe without giving away key details. With dual narratives from different time periods, readers will work the entire novel to puzzle out the story of Owen’s life. At times a page-turning mystery and others character driven, this work will have a wide appeal. A must-purchase for high school libraries. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD