YA – The Poet X; Muse of Nightmares; Children of Blood and Bone; I Stop Somewhere; Emergency Contact; The Brilliant Death; Blood Water Paint; A Very Large Expanse of Sea; The Vanishing Stair; Two Can Keep a Secret; Even If I Fall; Famous in a Small Town

Acevedo, Elizabeth. The Poet X. New York: Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2018. 978-0-062-66280-4. 368 p. $17.99. Gr 9-12.

Fifteen year old Xiomara Batista feels invisible and hates that the attention given to her is through cat calls and comments about her curves. Her parents, who immigrated from Puerto Rico, see only her flaws, and her genius twin brother has his own secrets. So Xiomara writes, pouring her heart and soul into her leather notebook. When she is paired with Aman in science class, Xiomara begins to crush – hard – on her lab partner, and a romance blossoms. Although her devoutly Catholic mother has forbidden Xiomara to date, she and Aman sneak around, and Xiomara begins to share her poetry with him, which makes her feel alive. Invited to a slam poetry club, Xiomara discovers The Poet X inside her, and finally feels seen.

THOUGHTS: This is an incredible novel in verse that is worthy of all the awards its won. Xiomara’s voice is raw and real, and readers – especially teen girls – will see echoes of the sexism that plagues women everyday. The narrative is believable and Acevedo’s words a treasure.

Novel in verse         Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Unseen around her neighborhood except for the beautiful curves that draw unwanted attention, Xiomara Batista is invisible. Her parents, Puerto Rican immigrants, are quick to point out Xiomara’s flaws, especially her strict Catholic mother. It doesn’t help that Xiomara’s twin brother is basically a genius. Writing is the only place that allows Xiomara to express herself openly, but she doesn’t share this side of herself easily. When lab partner Aman shows her attention, she falls quickly and easily abandon’s her mother’s rules – no matter how much pain this may cause Xiomara. For the first time in her life, Xiomara experiences the freedom that her poetry brings her, and she’s ready to discover who she is meant to be. 

THOUGHTS: Beyond the verse style, readers will love Xiomara’s spark and the relationships she has with her family and friends. This beautiful novel in verse is a must have for high school collections.

Novel in verse         Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Taylor, Laini. Muse of Nightmares. (Strange the Dreamer, #2) Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-0-316-34171-4. 528 p. $19.99. Gr. 9-12.

Taylor’s knack for lyrical storytelling shines once again in this follow up to 2017’s Strange the Dreamer. Sarai and Lazlo are dealing with the aftermath of the events at the end of Strange. Lazlo is a newly discovered God, while Sarai’s ghost lingers on after she fell to her death. Sarai and her siblings face a new threat – Minya and her army of ghosts, intent on destroying those in Weep who harmed her. Taylor dives deep into the backstory of Weep and Minya, showing where her unseated rage and vengeance come from. Mysteries from the first book are explored, and questions are answered, but the focus here is on the love between Lazlo and Sarai. How can Sarai remain when tied so strongly to Minya, and how can immortal and ghost remain together?

THOUGHTS: Readers must have read Strange the Dreamer to understand this story. As with previous works, Taylor writes with a haunting beauty and creates a complex fantasy world. Recommended for fantasy fans.

Fantasy         Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Adeyemi, Tomi. Children of Blood and Bone. (Legacy of Orïsha, #1) Henry Holt and Company, 2018. 978-1-250-17097-2. 544 p. $18.99. Gr 9-12.

The most anticipated young adult  book of the year lives up to the hype! Zélie Adebola’s mother was killed in front of her by the ruthless King Saran after he vowed to cleanse magic from the land of Orïsha. Zélie’s mother was a Reaper, and like Zélie and the other maji, had snow white hair. Left alive, Zélie grows up secretly training for combat, hellbent on vengeance against King Saran. The king convinces his people that magic is to be feared, and even his own son, Inan, believes magic is a power to be eradicated. But Saran’s daughter, Amani, grows weary of her father’s practices, and escapes the cruel kingdom for a better life. Meeting up with a reluctant Zélie and her brother Tzain, the three are given the task of securing a relic that will restore magic to Orïsha. But hunted by Inan, they are in constant danger and must use their wits, strength, and even magic to survive.

THOUGHTS: This is a West-African inspired fantasy that unlike most YA fantasy, features all black characters. Adeyemi does not shy away from racially charged violence and injustices that rivals the present day. Zélie is a flawed but likeable narrator, and Adeyemi’s story is strong, with incredible world building, a fast paced narrative, and incredibly complex characters. A must for any library! A sequel will be published in June 2019, and a movie is already in the works.

Fantasy          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Carter, Te. I Stop Somewhere. Feiwel & Friends, 2018. 978-1-250-12464-7. $17.99 Gr. 10-12.

In an effort to start over in a new place, Ellie Frias wants nothing more than to blend in, or better yet, fade into the background. She achieves her goal, to the point that no one except her father notices when she goes missing. In fact, she had attracted the attention of wealthy and predatory Caleb Brewer, who toys with her emotions, then in an act of planned brutality with his brother, rapes and kills her. Ellie hovers in-between, watching the boys repeat their assault on other young women, feeling she must be there both so that the girls are not alone, and until she (her body) is found. In a once up-and-coming town now dying for industry and full of empty houses being bought, re-sold, or demolished by the Brewers’ father, the atmosphere is empty of much hope. The pace lags at times as Ellie remembers, serves as a witness to brutality, and offers sage insights much too wise for her age but not her horrific experience. A few (of the many) young women come forward to press charges, each rightfully fearing the backlash. The boys are finally charged with assault of several young women, as well as the murder of Ellie, but only the murder charge holds, after the girls’ reputations and motivations are relentlessly blamed.

THOUGHTS: A bleak, brutal, and thought-provoking look at rape culture (“we don’t call it murder culture”) for mature readers.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Choi, Mary H. K. Emergency Contact. Simon and Shuster. 978-1-534-40896-8. $17.99 394 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Penny is more than ready to start college in Austin and leave high school and her small town behind. She’s never quite fit in at home, and when she meets her new roomate, Penny is forced to socialize for the first time in ages. Jude is outgoing, friendly, and drags Penny along every time she goes out. On a trip to the local coffee shop, Penny meets Jude’s “Uncle Sam,” who works as a barista and baker. After a strange encounter a few days later when Penny helps Sam through a panic attack, he gets her number to use for his emergency contact. A thoroughly modern digitally-focused relationship begins as Penny and Sam reveal themselves to each other through texts and emails and develop a clear connection. Penny is not the warmest character; she is prickly and self-obsessed. Penny is depressed about her lack of friends, is overly critical of her young and attractive mother, and she seems to be wallowing in trivial matters when Sam is the one with serious family relationship and financial problems. With Sam’s chaotic life and Jude’s attitude against her friends dating her family members, Penny and Sam keep their online relationship a secret. This book is an honest and raw look at the budding friendship between two awkward loners who fit perfectly online but have a hard time translating that to real life.

THOUGHTS: A realistic romance with believably flawed characters and clever dialogue.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Capetta, Amy Rose. The Brilliant Death. Viking, 2018. 978-0-451-47844-3. 330 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

Teodora di Sangria, the daughter of a powerful lord of Vinalia, is a strega who has the magical ability to turn men into objects. Although this has been a very useful way to do away with her family’s enemies, she must keep her powers secret, as streghe have been mysteriously disappearing from Vinalia for years. Everything changes, however, when the Capo (the ruler of Vinalia) poisons Teo’s father and the heads of the other four most powerful families in the kingdom, and demands that each family sends a son to the capital. Determined to transform herself into her brother and take his place as their family’s representative, Teo enlists the help of Cielo, another strega with transformative powers. Will Teo be able to hone in her magical abilities to complete this transformation and fool everyone in the capital? Will she be able to find the antidote and save her father – and all of the other streghe – before it’s too late? A captivating read, this story will hook readers with its action-packed plot full of magic, murder, and politics.

THOUGHTS: This book has a great deal of potential for sparking timely discussions about gender roles and gender perception. Teo struggles with the idea that despite her powers and intelligence, being a girl prevents her from being a respectable representative for her family. When she starts to develop feelings for Cielo, their constant transformations from male to female make for an interesting dynamic between the two. Give this book to fans of Julie Kagawa’s Talon series or Sara Larson’s Dark Breaks the Dawn.  Readers will eagerly await the sequel in this duology.

Fantasy          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

McCullough, Joy. Blood Water Paint. Dutton Books, 2018. 978-0-735-23211-2. 289 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Living in Rome during the Renaissance, Artemisia Gentileschi is a talented painter. Because she is a woman, however, her father signs all of her paintings. In the interest of making more money off of her work, her father hires a tutor to work with Artemisia. When her tutor rapes her, most people choose to look the other way, as a woman’s word doesn’t mean much in 17th-century Rome. Encouraged by the stories of brave women in the Bible, which her deceased mother used to tell her, Artemisia decides to stand up for herself and speak her truth anyway. Find out whether or not justice is served in this inspiring title.

THOUGHTS: This book would make for an excellent study in gender roles and/or women’s rights. It would also make a great supplement to any curriculum on Renaissance art, order and justice in ancient Rome, or religious studies. Give this to fans of Stephanie Hemphill’s Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials if they are looking for a read-alike.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

Mafi, Tahereh. A Very Large Expanse of Sea. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-86656-1. $18.99. 320 p. Gr. 9 and up. 

It’s 2002, one year after 9/11, and Shirin is at yet another new school. With only two and a half years until she can go to college and make her own life, she’s faced with starting over – again. On the first day her English teacher butchers her name, and even though she has no accent he insists she must be mistaken – this is Honors English, not ESL. Tired of dealing with awful people and ignorant stares, Shirin has learned to withdraw. It doesn’t help that Shirin’s older brother Navid easily makes friends. When she is paired with Ocean in Bio, Shirin’s tough exterior begins to soften. Faced with countless reasons of why she doesn’t let her guard down, Shirin slowly begins to make friends and fall for Ocean. Not everyone understands her defenses, though, especially Ocean.  

THOUGHTS: This subtle romance takes teen readers (many of whom weren’t even yet born) back to 2002 and shows them what it means to be Muslim American in the post 9/11 era. Mafi writes a strong Muslim American teen who readers will adore and root for.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Johnson, Maureen. The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2). Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-33808-2. $17.99. 384 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Stevie is back at Ellingham Academy after her nemisis, Edward King, convinced her parents it was safe to return. Now, indebted to Senator King, Stevie is to be there for David, his son, as he deals with the death of Hays and the disappearance of Ellie. She’s also promised Larry, the security guard, no more tunneling or detecting, but that’s what brought Stevie to Ellingham in the first place, the disappearance and murder of Iris and Alice Ellingham, and tough habits are hard to break. Now, Stevie also has the task of research assistant to Dr. Fenton, author and Ellingham researcher. As she fact-checks Dr. Fenton’s materials, Stevie is drawn back into the tunnels, where she finds more than she can handle. With the work for Dr. Fenton and her own sleuthing, Stevie soon discovers the truth behind the Ellingham kidnapping, but is it too late?  

THOUGHTS: Amazingly fabulous! Maureen Johnson is a genius. This is the perfect follow-up to Truly Devious. A must-have for all libraries and must-read for all mystery lovers.  

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Unwillingly removed from Ellingham Academy by her parents, Stevie finds herself in luck when Edward King (her friend’s not so secret father) assures them Stevie will be safe. All he asks in return for helping Stevie is that she “look out for” his son David, who has been adrift since Hays’ death and Ellie’s disappearance. Stevie quickly reunites with her friends and makes promises she can’t easily keep. Still determined to solve the Ellingham case, her real reason for being at Ellingham, and learn what happened to her friends, Stevie works as a research assistant to local professor Dr. Fenton. With new questions, evidence, and heightened security all over campus, mystery proves to be too enticing. 

THOUGHTS: Once again Johnson will dazzle readers with the mystery of her puzzled narratives. Fans will anxiously await the final installment of the Truly Devious series, as this one ends on a cliffhanger as well.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

McManus, Karen M. Two Can Keep a Secret. Delacourte Press, 2019. 978-1-524-71472-7. 336 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

With their mother Sadie away for the next four months, twins Ellery and Ezra are on the way to their grandmother’s house in Echo Ridge. Echo Ridge is a place Sadie mostly avoided since turning eighteen and where the twins never have spent any time. If the bad omens since their arrival mean anything, it seems like the past is coming back to haunt Echo Ridge. A huge true-crime fan, Ellery has always been curious about her aunt’s disappearance and the unsolved murder of an Echo Ridge homecoming queen five years ago. When mysterious threats start appearing around town, Ellery races against time (and her grandmother’s fears), determined to get some answers. 

THOUGHTS: This small town is full of secrets, and no one will predict the ending. Readers will not be disappointed in McManus’s second novel. This one is a must-have for high school mystery fans, and it will fly off of the shelves!

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

When their mother enters rehab, Ellery and Ezra must leave their life in California to live with their grandmother, who they have barely seen in their 17 years. Known for the amusement park Murderland, now Fright Farm, Echo Ridge, Vermont, has a history of murder and disappearance, one of whom was Ellery’s and Ezra’s aunt, Sarah. Now, after the death of popular teacher, Mr. Bowman, Echo Ridge is on high alert. When messages appear threatening the homecoming court, which includes Ellery, fear of the past resurfaces. With the disappearance of homecoming queen, Brooke, Ellery is determined to figure out how Aunt Sarah disappeared, who killed Lacey Kilduf, and what happened to Brooke, while also uncovering the mystery surrounding her own family. Meanwhile, Malcolm Kelly, is trying to figure out why his brother Declan, the man believed to have killed Lacey Kilduf, has returned to Echo Ridge. Trying to protect Declan and himself, and survive his step-family, Malcolm joins Ellery in her pursuit of the truth. As they piece together the past and current disappearances and murders, they soon realize that there’s more to Echo Ridge than meets the eye.

THOUGHTS: Two Can Keep a Secret is a wonderful mystery that keeps readers guessing to the very end. Seamlessly intertwining storylines leave the reader on edge throughout. The mix of mystery and realistic family situations allows the reader to connect with Ellery and Malcolm and invest fully in the novel. McManus is a masterful mystery writer. Highly recommended.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area

After their mom was sent to rehab, again, twins Ellery and Ezra are shipped off to live with their grandmother that they never met. The small town in Vermont that Ellery and Ezra now call home has had its fair share of misfortune. When their mom, Sadie, lived there a generation earlier, she was crowned homecoming queen on the same night that her own twin sister went missing. Further tragedy struck five years prior when the homecoming queen was found murdered, and the case was never closed. As Ellery, a true crime enthusiast, digs into what may have happened to the homecoming queen five years ago, threats are made toward this year’s homecoming court. There is a healthy dose of relationships, even some queer, teenage sarcasm, and twists to make this a worthy read for teens.

THOUGHTS: I didn’t fall for McManus’ sophomore novel as hard as I fell for her first, One of Us Is Lying, simply because this story had more storyline to remember and to wrestle with. For fans of teen centered dramatic thrillers, this is a must read. For everyone else, you can certainly get wrapped into the storyline within a few pages.  

Realistic Fiction; Mystery            Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Johnson, Abigail. Even If I Fall. Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-335-54155-0. 346 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

One year ago Brooke’s life was shattered when her older brother confessed to killing his best friend. Outcast by their entire town, Brooke and her family are left to navigate their lives but do so more like passing ships than the close-knit family they used to be. Brooke’s mother puts on a happy face when visiting Jason on the weekly family day but walks around in a daze otherwise. Brooke’s father copes by spending extra hours in his woodshop, and her little sister has all but stopped talking. Previously dreaming of becoming a professional ice skater, the only place Brooke finds any peace is on the ice at the rink where she works, though her boss and co-workers don’t give her any breaks. Brooke isn’t sure how to keep going when she sees the only other person who might understand her pain. One year ago Heath lost his older brother when Brooke’s brother killed him. Torn by love for their brothers, Heath and Brooke begin a cautious friendship. Conflicting emotions run high, though, and they may be too lost to help each other.

THOUGHTS: Full of strong emotions, this is a great read for fans of realistic fiction with a little bit of mystery and romance. Readers will race through this novel in hopes of getting answers to the many questions it poses. Perhaps, most importantly is the question of what exactly happened the night Calvin died? A must purchase for high school libraries. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Mills, Emma. Famous in a Small Town. Henry Holt & Company, 2019. 978-1-250-17963-0. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up. 

Sophie loves everything about her small town and is a proud member of the Marching Pride of Acadia which has been invited to march in the Rose Bowl Parade. Amidst a summer of fundraising for the trip, spending time with her best friends, volunteering at the library, and babysitting the neighbor kids, Sophie meets August. Even though August doesn’t know who Megan Pleasant is (Acadia’s claim to fame when she made it big after being on America’s Next Country Star), Sophie works to convince August of Acadia’s appeal. Still, her friends aren’t sure August deserves to be added to their WWYSE (where would you spend eternity) text thread. Alternating between the last summer before senior year and a text thread with her sister (who doesn’t come home from college for the summer), Sophie’s story unfolds. 

THOUGHTS: Much more than the slow burning romance this book seems, friendship and mystery take center stage among the banter of friends. A must purchase for high school fans of realistic, character-driven romances.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The Book of Boy; Code Word Courage; Sing Like Nobody’s Listening; The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone; The Benefits of Being an Octopus; The Hotel Between; In Your Shoes; Charlie and Frog; Smart Cookie; You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P; Monstrous Devices; The Law of Finders Keepers; The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise; Game Changer; City of Ghosts; Changing Families; Understanding World Religions; Backyard Bears

Murdock, Catherine Gilbert. The Book of Boy. Greenwillow, 2018. 978-0-062-68620-6. 278 p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

“Boy,” an orphan living a wretched life in rural medieval France, jumps at the chance to serve the mysterious Secundus on his pilgrimage to St. Peter’s tomb in Rome. While Secundus, who smells oddly of brimstone, gathers relics along the way in hopes of attaining entrance to the gates of heaven, Boy wants to be rid of the hideous hump on his back. The two forge an odd alliance, with Boy’s ability to talk to animals proving him a worthy companion. Both have deeply held secrets, which they slowly reveal to each other (and the reader) as their journey progresses.

THOUGHTS: A strange, fascinating, and captivating story, highly recommended for middle school libraries.  

Historical Fiction; Fantasy          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Larson, Kirby. Code Word Courage. Scholastic, 2018. 978-0-545-84075-0. $16.99. 233 p. Gr. 4-8.

It all started with the big, black dog. Injured and abandoned on the side of a California road, he is rescued by a marine hitchhiking with his friend. Denny, a young navajo man, and Leo are on leave from boot camp, looking to spend a long weekend at the ranch of Leo’s aunt Doff, where Leo and his younger sister Billie grew up. As they vainly wait for a ride, Denny hears the soft, but unmistakable wimpers of an injured animal and searches until he find the big, black dog. When the two marines arrive at the ranch, young Billie falls in love with the dog, whom Denny christens Bear. Bear stays behind when the soldiers ship out to see action in WWII, helping Billie cope with her many sorrows, from not knowing where her dad is, to losing her best friend and worrying about Leo and Denny. Told through the alternating voices of Billie and Denny, the book touches on many themes, including prejudice against Mexican Americans, the efforts of the U.S. Government to obliterate Native American culture, and the role of Navajo Code Talkers during WWII, as well as friendship and the issue of Billie’s father abandoning his children during the height of the depression. The reader gains an understanding of life during the WWII era from a variety of perspectives, including the vital role of Navajos in WWII and the irony of the country using the Navajo language to win the war, after attempting to eradicate their culture. The only slightly off note is when the spirit of Bear aides Denny’s survival during the battle for Iwo Jima, but young readers probably will not mind.

THOUGHTS:  Beautiful historical fiction wrapped in a dog story, this book is sure to be popular with middle grade readers.   

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Gutnecht, Allison. Sing Like Nobody’s Listening. Aladdin, 2018. 978-1-481-47157-2. $17.99. 223 p. Gr. 4-8.

Wylie has been friends with Jada since forever, but it looks like seventh grade may be the end of the road. When Jada convinces Wylie to audition for the school musical, Wylie ends up fleeing the stage in terror. Much to Wylie’s consternation, Jada makes the cast and accepts the part, and Wylie senses Jada slipping away. Add to this the stress of dealing with her divorced dad and his new family, Wylie feels as though she doesn’t fit anywhere anymore. When she makes a new friend and starts an a capella group, it’s Jada’s turn to feel left out. Can their friendship survive this upheaval? Middle schoolers will certainly empathize with Wylie as she struggles to find her group (and the all-important lunch table that goes with it) and negotiate between two households.

THOUGHTS: This is a fun take on a familiar theme. The ending may be too pat, but it is a satisfying read. A hint of romance is just enough for this solidly middle school story.  

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig  Penn Manor SD

Moriarty, Jaclyn. The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018. 978-1-338-25584-3. 384 p. $17.99. Gr. 4-7.

Bronte Mettlestone is rather nonplussed by the death of her parents. She is sure she should feel sorrow, but, afterall, she was raised by her Aunt Isabelle after her parents deposited her stroller in the lobby of Aunt Isabell’s apartment building and went off in search of adventures. What is of more concern to Bronte is the peculiar will her parents left. Bronte is given a detailed itinerary to visit all her aunts and give each a specific gift. As the will is bordered with fairy cross stitch, Bronte learns, the directions must be followed exactly or her hometown will break apart. So, off Bronte sets on her adventure. While she (mostly) enjoys meeting her aunts and various relations, the trip often tests her mettle. However, the true significance of her journey eventually becomes clear, and, just in time, Bronte realizes her own magical abilities to save the day. Moriarty has whipped up a tasty confection of equal amounts madcap zaniness, magic, and adventure. Readers are sure to cheer on Bronte as she calmly deals with an eccentric variety of aunts, makes friends with water sprites, rescues a drowning baby, fights pirates, and eventually saves a kingdom.

THOUGHTS:  An enjoyable romp of a read youngsters are sure to enjoy.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Braden, Ann. The Benefits of Being an Octopus. Sky Pony Press: 2018. 978-1-510-73748-8. 254 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Seventh grader Zoey passionately admires the octopus. Her love for the cephalopod originated with the one DVD her family owned, and watched over and over. Very often, she wishes she possessed the characteristics of an octopus. When your clothes are old, and rarely washed because mom has to find a way to get to the laundromat, it would be convenient to be able to camouflage yourself. When you have to take care of three younger siblings after school, extra arms would come in handy. Zoey would like to glide through the sea of school without creating a ripple, but knows her reality is vastly different than that of most of her classmates. Zoey aspires to do well in school, but homework takes a back seat to minding her siblings and placating her mother’s boyfriend. However, when a discerning teacher assigns Zoey to debate club, Zoey is soon able to apply the skills she learns to her own life, with dazzling success.

THOUGHTS: This book clearly presents the effects of poverty and abuse on our students. Zoey is a heroine all readers will cheer for as she learns to reveal herself in all her courageous glory. A must purchase for collections.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Easley, Sean. The Hotel Between. Simon and Schuster, 2018. 978-1-534-41697-0. 341 p. $17.99. Gr. 3-6.

Cameron’s life is ruled by his WWTD list (worst ways to die). His twin sister, Cass, was born with spina bifida, and, ever since their mother died and their father disappeared, Cameron has shouldered the burden of worrying about Cass’s health. He maintains hope that their father will return, and he can resume his life as a adolescent, so when Cameron stumbles upon a new hotel in their neighborhood bearing the image on the coins the twins’ father left them, he embraces the possibility that the hotel may lead him to his father. But nothing in the Hotel Between is as it seems. It is, as Cameron’s guide, Nico, says, a hotel with an agenda, a mission. As Cameron gets drawn deeper into the magical world of the hotel, he becomes unsure who to trust, as he learns his father is at the heart of a battle for control of the hotel. The premise of the book will captivate readers, and the cast of characters is compelling. Perceptions of the hotel shift as fast at Nico can make a coin disappear and reappear.

THOUGHTS: Readers will empathize with Cam, whose worries and fears dominate his life, and not put down the book until they, too, discover the secrets of the Hotel Between.   

Magical Realism          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD 

Gephart, Donna. In Your Shoes. Penguin Random House, 2018. 978-1-524-71347-4. 336 p. $19.99. Gr. 4-7.

Miles is a quiet boy who fancies wearing bowling shoes to school. Amy is a sad girl who loses herself in her writing. Miles’ family owns a bowling alley. Amy and her father are living above her uncle’s funeral home. In this sweet fairy tale in ten frames, boy meets girl when his bowling shoe accidentally meets her forehead. Amy is new in town, having moved to Pennsylvania from Chicago with her father, after the death of her mother. Amy can’t imagine ever being happy again, especially far from her home, friends, and beloved dog. A perceptive school librarian and a feisty, Krimpet eating, blue-haired, 12-year-old weightlifter named Tate make Amy feel more at home, and Miles, well, Miles has the makings of a special friend. But sometimes life interrupts the fairy tale.  Yet, oddly enough, when tragedy strikes, Miles and Amy both find a way through their sadness to a happily ever after.

THOUGHTS: An utterly charming story of finding true friends when you least expect it.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Kane, Karen. Charlie and Frog. Disney Hyperion, 2018. 978-1-368-00582-1. 249 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Charlie Tickle is used to being an inconvenience in his parents’ lives. This time, they are off to save the giant golden moles, and leave Charlie with his grandparents in Castle-on-the Hudson. But Charlie’s grandparents have their own busy lives, what with doctor appointments and television shows every day, leaving Charlie on his own. Exploring the town on his own, Charlie walks right into a mystery, the disappearance of Aggie, a deaf woman he met at the library. For assistance in American Sign Language, Charlie seeks out Francine “Frog” Castle, at Castle School for the Deaf. Frog, also deaf, enthusiastically joins Charlie in trying to solve Aggie’s disappearance. The intrepid pair end up unravelling a decades old mystery. Along the way, Frog educates Charlie, and the reader, in ASL, which supplements Charlie’s finger spelling. Eventually, using amusing subterfuge, Charlie even succeeds in getting his grandparents to notice him.

THOUGHTS: Charlie and Frog are an endearing dynamic duo. Charlie’s enthusiasm to learn ASL to communicate with Frog educates the reader, as each chapter in the book introduces an ASL sign. Readers will hope for more adventures from Charlie and Frog.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor

Swartz, Elly. Smart Cookie. Scholastic, 2018. 978-1-338-14356-0. 228 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Frankie Green has a plan. This year she wants to go to the Winter Family Festival Parade as a complete family. Which means finding a new wife for her father, and, thereby a new mom. Frankie’s mom died when she was four, and now Frankie, her dad and her grandmother live in the Green Family B&B. However, creating an online dating profile for her dad may not be the best way to accomplish her goal. Besides being under deadline to find a mom, Frankie also worries about the fights between her dad and grandma over all the “stuff” her grandmother collects.  There is also the problem of guests cancelling their reservations because someone is spreading a rumor that the B&B is haunted. That is a lot on one plate, and even though Frankie is one smart cookie, she may not be able to fix everyone’s problems.  

THOUGHTS: This book is as sweet and gooey as a warm chocolate chip cookie. Frankie is a thoroughly likable character readers will root for.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig  Penn Manor SD

Gino, Alex. You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! Scholastic, 2018. 978-0-545-95624-6. 256 p. $16.99. Gr. 3-6.

Twelve-year-old Jilly Pirillo enjoys her life. She has great parents and a new baby sister, Emma, a best friend, and warm conglomeration of extended family. Additionally, she has an online community centered on her favorite books. But when it is determined that her baby sister has profound hearing loss, Jillian finds she is constantly learning how much she doesn’t know. She turns to Derek, an online friend who is a deaf African American boy, but is surprised when he objects to being thought of as her deaf friend. Jilly means well, and is truly trying to learn how to navigate Emma’s new world, but she continually angers and offends Derek. As Jilly learns through painful trial and error, she begins to apply what she learns to other life situations, such as the interactions between white and African American members of her extended family, where the casual assumption or offhand comment causes great hurt. Jillian is our guide through the landscape of otherness – people who are not like us, either through race or disability. She asks the questions we might ask, and makes the mistakes we could make, but shows us that, like her, we can do better.

THOUGHTS: This book packs a thoughtful punch, without ever being didactic. An important purchase for all collections.    

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Love, Damien. Monstrous Devices. Viking: 2018. 978-0-451-47858-0. 338 p. $17.99. Gr. 3-7.

Alex shares a fascination with old toy robots with his grandfather, who often sends new finds to him. But the robot Alex just received is somehow different. The note grandad included with the robot said, “This one is special,” and Alex believes it. The tiny tin man seems to read Alex’s thought and do his bidding. Then grandad shows up and takes Alex on a danger-filled flight across Europe, ostensibly to find out more about the little robot. But Alex realizes they are being chased by individuals who also want the robot. Little by little, Grandad begins to explain the ancient feud between two families involving magical monsters, real or imagined, that might even lead Alex to his father. Readers will relate to Alex, who is bullied at school and just tries to keep his head down and avoid notice.  Grandad has a wicked droll humor, and although Alex at times questions his trust in his grandfather, in the end we all might wish we had a grandfather like that.

THOUGHTS:  A clever mystery, with abundant chases, magical monsters and just enough creepiness to make for  a gripping read.

Magical Realism          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Turnage, Sheila. The Law of Finders Keepers (A Mo & Dale Mystery). Kathy Dawson, 2018. 978-0-803-73962-8. $16.99. 356 pp. Gr. 4-6.

Mo, Dale, and Harm are back in the newest addition to the Mo & Dale Mystery series. For years, Mo has quietly been searching for “Upstream Mother.” After unwittingly finding clues about her, the Desperados are on the case to find her no matter what the cost. With limited clues and lots of questions, the search for “Upstream Mother” may be more than Mo expected. At the same time, treasure hunter Gabriel Archer comes to town looking for Blackbeard’s treasure, and the Desperado Detective agency is hired by Mayor Little’s mother to work the case and find the treasure. As they dig through the Little’s attic, they find clues about the history of Tupelo Landing and the location of the treasure, but location isn’t enough when you’re up against a professional treasure hunter who will steal and cheat to find the treasure. As if treasure wasn’t enough for the Desperados, Harm’s mother, Kat, has returned and is working with Gabriel. Neither Harm nor Mr. Red are thrilled about her return, and quickly neither are Mo, Dale, and others when they realize what she’s up to. All the while, antics towards Attila and the quirkiness of the Colonel, Miss Lana, and the residents of Tupelo Landing explore the meaning of friendship, family, and community.

THOUGHTS:  This is a fabulous middle-grades series.  Each title can stand-alone or be read in order.  The characters are honest and unique, as is the setting. Students will relate to a number of the residents of Tupelo Landing, especially Mo, Dale, and Harm. Highly recommended series.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Gemeinhart, Dan. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. Henry Holt and Company. 2019. 978-1-250-19670-5. $16.99. 341 p. Gr. 4-7.

Five years is a long time for a road trip without a real destination; yet, Coyote and her dad (don’t call him Dad) Rodeo have been moving forward and living out of an old school bus for just that long. They are not looking back, because the tragically painful past is too much for both of them to face. However, news from Coyote’s grandmother that their old park in Washington State is getting torn down may force a return trip. There is a very valuable memory box that Coyote must get, even if that involves tricking Rodeo to head home. Along the way, Gemeinhart stirs up the adventure with several passengers who each have their own important story to be heard. It becomes a remarkable journey indeed, one that you won’t forget any time soon!

THOUGHTS: Gemeinhart has a voice that is so clear and poignant, even with the varied collection of novels he has written to this point. The voice of the characters and the tone with which we read them is a perfect text analysis sample for budding writers and dramatic readers alike. Start with The Honest Truth, and dive into this remarkable middle grade author’s work!

Realistic Fiction          Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD

Greenwald, Tommy. Game Changer. Amulet Books, 2018. 978-1-497-3143-3 $16.99 Gr. 5-9.

The story opens with freshman Teddy, an athlete with a strong football future, hospitalized and in a coma following a collapse at pre-season football practice.  Through free verse, text messages, therapy sessions, conversations in his hospital room, and a social media feed set up by friends, the truth of that suffocating day on the practice field slowly comes out. More than just a hard hit, what happened to Teddy could be construed as hazing, bullying, or fanaticism. Greenwald shows readers the situation through many different eyes, including Teddy’s polarized parents (dad encourages his son to dominate the sport, while mom demeans it as violent). Two teammates share their guilt over their actions, mixed with their love of the game. (By novel’s end, one will stick with the game, while one will abandon it.) Will, team captain of the likely-to-make-States team, continually tries to boost the team while sweeping any wrongdoing to the sidelines, using intimidation naturally. Coach Benzetti’s words soothe outsiders, and it remains unclear whether he is intentionally or naively blind to his team’s actions. The novel succeeds in displaying a wide range of views on football, raising very important questions while revealing what attracts individuals to the the game as athletes and spectators. Slowly, Teddy returns to alertness from his coma, and the last words of the novel are his: “I remember.”

THOUGHTS: A winner for football fans and those who care about athletes, this novel pulls readers in with its changing narrators and formats.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Schwab, Victoria. City of Ghosts. Scholastic. 2018. 978-1-338-11100-2. $17.99. 304 p. Grade 5-8+.

Ever since she nearly drowned in a childhood accident, Cassidy Blake has the unusual ability to see ghosts, and the ghost that pulled her from the water and saved her from death is now her closest friend. Cass’s parents are well known ghost hunters and authors who have a series of best selling books on the history and folklore surrounding paranormal activity around the world. When they are offered a chance to film a pilot for a television series in Edinburgh, the Blakes, with Jacob in tow, head off to Scotland where the spirits of the past haunt the castle, the alleyways, and graveyards of the ancient city. Cass finds herself overwhelmed by the presence of so many spirits, but she finds an ally in a young girl, Lara, who shares her gift. One frightening spirit in particular takes a keen interest in Cass, and before long she finds herself in grave danger.

THOUGHTS: A fast-paced and atmospheric mystery tale for middle grades with a smart, quirky, Harry Potter obsessed heroine. City of Ghosts is first title in a new paranormal mystery series which will appeal to fans of Mary Downing Hahn.

Mystery Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD

Changing Families. Reference Point Press, 2019. $29.95 ea. $149.75 set of 5. 64 p. Gr.6 and up.

Currie-McGhee, Leanne. LGBT Families. 978-1-682-82359-0
Currie-McGhee, Leanne. Adoptive Families. 978-1-682-82355-2
Mooney, Carla. Foster Families. 978-1-682-82357-6
Sheen, Barbara.  Multiracial Families.978-1-682-82361-3
Sheen, Barbara.  Single Parent Families. 978-1-682-82363-7

This five title reference set examines the changing family dynamics in American society. Each volume discusses how individual children are affected growing up in non-traditional family situations, including how society is adapting to these changes. Also highlights well known families in each type of family and provides testimony of adults who have grown up in these families. Includes some terrific text features such as full-color photos, sidebars of historical information, and pull out quotes from children. Also includes source notes, bibliography, and index.

THOUGHTS: Changing Families is a solid purchase that would provide insight into the realities of life for families in these circumstances.

306 Families          Nancy Summers Abington SD

Nardo,Don. Understanding World Religions. Reference Point Press. 2019. $29.95 ea. $149.75 set of 5. 80 p. Gr.6 and up.

Understanding Buddhism. 978-1-682-82459-7
Understanding Christianity. 978-1-682-82461-0
Understanding Hinduism. 978-1-682-82463-4
Understanding Islam. 978-1-682-82465-8
Understanding Judaism. 978-1-682-82467-2

This reference set presents concise information about each of the five major world religions with chapters focusing on the origin of the religion, fundamental beliefs and practices, and the role of that religion in the world today. The set features simple, clear text with beautiful photos and illustrations, statistical information, and pull out quotes from the holy texts or from scholars or adherents to the religion.

THOUGHTS: An excellent introductory reading into each of the five religions focusing on the positive aspects of each and highlighting similarities in the belief systems.

200 Religions          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Cherrix, Amy. Backyard Bears: Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife (Scientists in the Field Series). HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-328-85868-9. 80 p. $18.99. Gr. 5-7.

This is an in-depth look at field scientists in North Carolina who have been tracking black bears which were once a threatened species but no longer are. Since the population has increased, bears now are finding their habitats intersect with humans a lot more. The field scientists are studying the positives and negatives of suburban and urban wildlife.

THOUGHTS: This is a great higher level book (5th-7th grades) for those students who are interested in both wildlife and human interactions as well as those who interested in the different careers scientists can have. Lovely full page pictures, along with interviews from the scientists make this a great addition to the collection.

599.78 Bears          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Elem. – We Are All Dots; Fairy Spell; Max Explains Everything; Bear Country; Lena’s Shoes are Nervous; Awesome; The Sinking of the Vasa; The Rough Patch

Macri, Giancarlo, and Carolina Zanotti. We Are All Dots: A Big Plan for a Better World. Universe Publishing. 2018. 978-0-789-33429-9. $17.95. Unpaged. Grades K-3.

When a dot shows up on the page to tell one side of the story, all seems well. Indeed, they can create homes, entertainment, and food with their many friends. But then we see the empty dots on the other side who need a hand. What transpires next is a simplified discussion starter about immigration, borders, and cooperation. With a little compassion and ingenuity, both sides can find inspiration and a better world. The art work is so simply thoughtful, and the text is approachable for all ages. If we are all Dots, I hope we can find the same harmony.

THOUGHTS: This book was originally published in Italy in 2015, but the US English version was just released in 2018. I have used this to make connections with multiple elementary grades, and they are drawn into discussion. It is also part of a One Book celebration in Bellefonte, PA.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Nobelman, Marc Tyler. Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real. Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Clarion Books, 2018. $17.99 978-0-544-69948-9. Grades K-3.

During the ending days of World War I, Elsie Griffith and her cousin Frances Wright would spend their days exploring the wooded grounds of the family home. Each day upon returning, the girls would insist they saw fairies and begged to use the family camera to prove it. After Mr. Wright finally relented, the girls captured a photo and managed to convince their parents and some well known people, including Edward Gardner, a lecturer and Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, that the images were real. The story became a sensation in England, with the newspaper printing the photos selling out in record time and the girls becoming the focus of a great deal of attention. It was not until much later the truth came out.

THOUGHTS: A good nonfiction choice for early grades, this sweet story of two children’s imagination that caught the attention of an entire country should hold the attention of young readers today. Lovely watercolor illustrations capture the beautiful landscape of the English countryside and integrates the original illustrations of fairies from the 1914 book that inspired the girls.

398.2 Fairy Tales          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

McAnulty, Stacy. Max Explains Everything: Grocery Store Expert. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018.  Unpaged. 978-1-101-99644-7. $16.99. Grades K-2.

Max is a young boy whose mother asks him to accompany her to the grocery store. This is not his favorite activity, so when they run out of milk or bread, he will say that he can substitute water and crackers. But when the family runs out of toilet paper, the boy and his mother head off to the store. Max makes the most of his time there as he visits the various sections of the store. He tries to talk his mom into buying cookies, baked goods, and dog food (in the hope of getting a puppy). At home, after sharing a candy bar, Max and his mother suddenly remember that they forgot to get the toilet paper. The illustrations by Deborah Hocking are done in gouache and colored pencil and are both whimsical and appealing. The blurb on the jacket states that this is the first in a series called Max-Kid Expert.

THOUGHTS: This book makes for a good read aloud, and young readers will enjoy the humorous bits of the story. Children will be able to identify with Max’s antics and will likely admit to acting like Max on their grocery store visits. A nice addition to elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Cronin, Doreen. Bear Country: Bearly a Misadventure. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018.  978-1-534-40574-5. 101 pages. $12.99. Grades K-3.

This humorous story of four zany chicks and their animal friends is the latest in “The Chicken Squad” series. The story is introduced by J.J. Tully, the dog detective from an earlier series by Cronin. The four chickens are in search of the owner of a neighboring hamster after he reports her missing. The group looks in various places and learns from other animals, such as a cat and a little bird, that there are reports of a headless bear and some mysterious sounds in the area. Eventually, the animals find that there is a Homecoming Parade in town for the local sports team called the Grizzlies, whose mascot is featured in the parade along with a marching band.

THOUGHTS: Cronin has penned a short chapter book that is a good choice for newly independent readers. The text contains just enough silliness to hold their interest.

Fiction          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Calabrese, Keith. Lena’s Shoes are Nervous: A First Day of School Dilemma. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-534-40894-4. Unpaged. $17.99. PreK-1.

Lena’s first day of kindergarten is here, and she is excited. She gets dressed and tells her father that while her dress and headband are ready to go to school, her shoes are nervous about the event. Lena’s father suggests that she talk to her shoes, but Lena does not think that will work. She decides that her headband can have that discussion and learns that her shoes are concerned that school will be “loud and different.” The headband reminds Lena of similar events that she made her anxious, like going to the doctor, watching a scary movie, or meeting a large dog. Lena realizes that things worked out then and that sometimes “the best things happen when we’re nervous.” Off she goes to kindergarten with her shoes joining in on all the fun. By transferring Lena’s anxious feelings to the shoes, Calabrese has cleverly portrayed the worry that young children might feel on the first day of school. Medina’s digital illustrations are done in both full color and simple black and white. For instance, on the page depicting Lena’s bedroom, only the dress, socks, and socks are in color, while the bed, bookshelves and other items are seen as line drawings.

THOUGHTS: This book is a great addition to the “first day of school” canon. Young students will identify with the concerns of Lena when beginning school or facing anything that causes anxiety. Elementary and preschool libraries should consider adding this one to their collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Shuttlewood, Craig.  Awesome! Capstone, 2018. 978-1-684-46013-7. Unpaged.  $15.95. Grades K-2.

A moose named Marvin and a beaver named Woody are best friends. One day Marvin rescues a squirrel from a pond and is hailed as a hero. The two friends work together to enhance the moose’s superhero persona. Woody sews a costume complete with cape and helps Marvin with physical training. As Marvin and his feats become more popular, Woody feels left out and begins a sabotage campaign in the forest. The beaver steals a wooden statue of Marvin with the idea that he will be known as a hero when he “finds it.” Unfortunately, the wagon carrying the statue careens down the hill into the path of the forest animals. Both Marvin and Woody must act quickly and work together to save their friends. The pair have a discussion, and Woody explains his actions. They decide to make a new statue, and this one features them both. Shuttlewood’s illustrations are whimsical and appealing. In this book, the author has created a story that explores the emotions of jealousy and feeling left out.

THOUGHTS:  Children will be drawn to this story of two friends. A great read aloud, this book will lead to a discussion about how to deal with such feelings in a more positive way.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Freedman, Russell. The Sinking of the Vasa: A Shipwreck of Titanic Proportions. Henry Holt and Company, 2018. 978-1-627-79866-2. Unpaged. Grades 3-6. $18.99.

In one of his last published works, the late Russell Freedman has once again created another work of narrative nonfiction that is sure to interest the reader. The author explores the sinking of the Swedish warship called the Vasa, which sunk in 1628 in Stockholm Harbor after sailing only 1300 meters. Its construction was ordered by King Gustav II Adolf, and it took two years to build. He wanted the ship to be so mighty and “fearsome” that the country’s enemies would be frightened at its very sight. Not only was the ship large, it was also a work of art with its many sculptures and carvings. A key element of the ship’s design were the 64 bronze cannons located on the gun decks. Shortly after setting sail, the ship capsized, most likely due to the weight of the cannons. Freedman discusses the investigation of the catastrophe, as well as the salvage operations, the raising of the ship in 1961 and the preservation efforts. The Vasa is now housed in a museum in Stockholm. William Low’s digital full bleed illustrations show a lot of detail. The endpapers show sketches of the vessel, but there are no photographs of the ship in its current condition or author note.

THOUGHTS:  Another great work by a master storyteller of history, hand this one to those who seek out books about the Titanic and other shipwrecks.

910.9485 Ocean Voyages          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Lies, Brian. The Rough Patch. Greenwillow, 2018. 978-0-062-67127-1. Unpaged. $17.99. K-3.

Evan and his dog are best friends who do everything together. One of their favorite activities is working in Evan’s garden. When his best friend suddenly passes away, Evan becomes angry and depressed. He takes his frustration out on his garden, cutting everything to bits. He soon learns, however, that nothing stays empty forever–neither his garden, nor the void he feels inside. When his garden produces a magnificent pumpkin, he carts it off to the fair and ultimately ends up finding hope and healing through a new friendship. A touching story of love, loss, and hope, this is a must-have for elementary collections.

THOUGHTS: Lies has eloquently handled a delicate subject for young readers. Hand this book to students who have experienced a loss or are going through their own rough patches; it will give them hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It also shows young readers that it is totally normal to feel a wide array of emotions when something devastating happens. If they want to further explore emotions after tragedy, pair this title with Cori Doerrfeld’s The Rabbit Listened. This is a beautiful guide to grief for young readers.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

Elem. – Marvelous Discoveries; Titanica; Dactyl Hill Squad; Festival of Colors; Up and Down; This is the Nest; Sleepy, the Goodnight Bunny; Libby Wimbley (series); Vernon is On His Way

Orr, Tamra B. Marvelous Discoveries. Capstone, 2019. $21.49 ea. $85.96 set of 4. Gr. 3-5.

Animal Discoveries. 978-1-5435-2615-8.
Ocean Discoveries. 978-1-5435-2617-2.
Planet Earth Discoveries. 978-1-5435-2618-9.
Space Discoveries. 978-1-5435-2616-5.

Written in conjunction with the Smithsonian, these books introduce children to some amazing discoveries made by scientists in recent years. This reviewer had the opportunity to examine the Animal Discoveries volume. This title presents information about discoveries of unique animals around the world. The hog-nosed rat, the ghost ant, the olinguito, and peacock spiders are just a few of the species readers will discover. Not only will readers learn basic information about the animal (characteristics, habitat, etc.), but they will also learn about how scientists discovered each species. Text boxes spotlight additional unique facts about each animal. Numerous high-quality photographs supplement and enhance the text.

THOUGHTS: This series is a great choice for students with an interest in science or for readers with an interest in reading non-fiction titles filled with unique informational tidbits and facts. A worthwhile addition for elementary collections.

500s Science          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Titanica. Bearport, 2018. $19.95ea. $119.70 set of 6. Gr. 3-6.

Blake, Kevin. Creating Titanic. 978-1-6840-2430-8.
Blake, Kevin. Titanic’s Fatal Voyage. 978-1-6840-2432-2.
Giannini, Alex. Titanic’s Passengers and Crew. 978-1-6840-2431-5.
Goldish, Meish. Discovering Titanic’s Remains. 978-1-6840-2434-6.
Goldish, Meish. Titanic’s Last Hours. 978-1-6840-2429-2.
Merwin, E. A Haunted Titanic. 978-1-6840-2433-9.

The story of the doomed Titanic and her passengers has fascinated the public ever since her sinking in 1912. The six volume Titanica series examines the history of this majestic vessel, from her initial conception and construction, to her fatal voyage, her sinking and the discovery of the ship’s wreck. Each volume focuses on a specific aspect of the Titanic story, examining and explaining it in detail. Extensive illustrations, charts and photographs as well as fact boxes accompany the text. For example, Titanic’s Passengers and Crew features photos of the passengers and crew aboard, as well as illustrations depicting what life was like on board. Infographics reveal the survival rates among the different classes of passengers.

THOUGHTS: Sure to be a hit with Titanic fans, this engaging and easy to understand series is a worthwhile addition to library shelves. Recommended for both the casual reader and the Titanic researcher.

910 Travel          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Older, Daniel Jose. Dactyl Hill Squad. Scholastic, 2018. $16.99. 978-1-338-26881-2. 272 p. Gr. 3-6.

The action never stops with this delightful historical sci-fi adventure. Set in Civil War era New York City, Magdalys and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on an outing to the theater when they get caught up in the Draft Riots of 1863. As the theater goes up in flames, the orphans are rescued by two of the actors and spirited out of town, finding refuge in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. The name references the many pterodactyls that fly around the area, because in this story, dinos roam the streets of Manhattan, serving as transportation and weaponry. Magdalys and her friends quickly get caught up in the underground resistance movement, and aid their new friends in stopping the evil Richard Riker from selling the rest of the orphans back into slavery. This mashup of history and sci-fi produces a book you can’t put down. Magdalys is a sassy, spunky heroine that readers will root for, and Older provides enough historical basis to pique the reader’s interest. No punches are pulled as he describes a lynching that results from the violence of the draft riots. Copious notes and glossaries provide background information and historical context.

THOUGHTS: This book is sure to be a hit with middle grade readers, who will cheer to learn it is the first in a series.

Historical (Civil War)/Sci-Fi          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

What if dinosaurs never went extinct? Older reimagines an alternate history, set during the Civil War, where dinosaurs roam free and are used in battle. Magdalys is a Cuban-born orphan in New York City, growing up at the Colored Orphan Asylum. She and her brother were left there by a strange man, but Magdalys and the other orphan’s personal records are sealed, so their backgrounds are a mystery. While on a field trip to the theater, the Draft Riots break out, and Magdalys and her friends barely escape as the theater burns to the ground. During their escape, the orphans are pursued by the evil Magistrate, Richard Riker, and Magdalys thinks she might be able to communicate with dinosaurs. Taken in by the Vigilante Committee in Dactyl Hill, Magdalys and her friends must work to fight Riker while discovering their mysterious past.

THOUGHTS: An interesting alternative history that will appeal to middle grade readers. Many of the areas, people and events are historically accurate, which could be fun to explore in history class. Older also explores civil rights issues and how racial discrimination affected to many adults and children at the time – and can echo throughout America today. A fun, yet thoughtful addition to your middle grade collection.

Fiction          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Sehgal, Kabir, and Surishtha Sehgal. Festival of Colors. Beach Lane Books, 2018. 978-1-481-42049-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-2.  

This vibrant book introduces Holi, the Indian festival of colors. The young characters of Chintoo and Mintoo walk us through the preparations leading up to the big day: gathering the bright flowers, drying the petals, and pressing them into colored powders. These powders give this happy day its name. On the big day, the colors are gleefully tossed at friends and family, celebrating “fresh starts…friendship…forgiveness.” The explosion of color in this book tells as much of the story as the sparse text, leaving readers smiling at such a exuberant celebration.  

THOUGHTS:  A solid purchase for elementary libraries looking for multicultural works.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Brown, Don. Up & Down: The Adventures of John Jeffries First American to Fly. Charlesbridge, 2018. 978-1-580-89812-6. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. K-3.

While most people know the Wright brothers as the first Americans of flight, this charming book tells the story of Dr. John Jeffries, the first American to fly. Over 100 years before Kitty Hawk, Dr. Jeffries, an amateur meteorologist, and his partner, French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard, made the first balloon flight over the English Channel. Jeffries, an American who backed the wrong side in the Revolutionary War, was living in London in when he met Blanchard and accompanied him on a flight to collect weather data. The two later set their sights on a cross-channel flight, completing it in January 1785. Brown pairs his whimsical illustrations with researched, annotated text to detail the events of this flight. An endnote adds additional historical context, and Brown also provides a bibliography and sources for the noted quotations as well as a short Author’s Note.

THOUGHTS:  Highly recommended for elementary collections, this delightful book introduces readers to an overlooked piece of history.  

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Fleming, Denise. This Is the Nest that Robin Built. Beach Lane, 2018. $17.99. 978-1-4814-3083-8. Unpaged. PreK-2.

Denise Fleming never disappoints, and This is the Nest is another quality offering. Vibrant illustrations and singsong rhymes tell the springtime story of robin building her nest, “with a little help from her friends.” Creatures from squirrel and mouse to pig and  horse and others all contribute bits and pieces that robin uses to construct her nest, in which she lays her eggs and raises her fledgelings. After a glorious fold-out spread that recaps the process, Robin gently nudges her babies out of the nest, to being their own lives. The illustrations are crafted by a combination of collage and gel prints, a new technique for Fleming; a detailed explanation of the process is available on her website, along with activities paired with the book.

THOUGHTS:  A great storytime book, or perfect to peruse one on one, enjoying the delightful illustrations.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Daywalt, Drew. Sleepy, the Goodnight Buddy. Disney-Hyperion, 2018. 978-1-484-78969-8. Unpaged. $16.99. PreK-Gr. 2.

Like many kids, Roderick hates bedtime. He is always trying to come up with ways to put it off, such as asking for a glass of water or asking for another story. In order to help him get to sleep, Roderick’s parents decide to give him a goodnight buddy. Roderick soon gets a taste of his own medicine, however, as his goodnight buddy has all kinds of requests, questions, and complaints. By the time his bedtime buddy is through with all of his demands, Roderick is exhausted–maybe even exhausted enough to finally go to sleep. Read this comical story, told mainly through dialogue between Roderick and his bedtime buddy, to discover whether or not Roderick’s goodnight buddy finally helps him get to sleep.

THOUGHTS: Fans of Daywalt’s popular The Day the Crayons Quit will delight in his newest release. In fact, The Day the Crayons Quit even makes an appearance in this book, as Roderick reads it to his bedtime buddy. This title is an appealing bedtime read, as many children and parents will be able to relate to the fight against bedtime–and perhaps even have a chuckle or two about it. English teachers might find this a useful and entertaining way to introduce dialogue in writing. Overall, this title will appeal to a diverse audience for reasons aforementioned, and is definitely worthy of consideration for purchase.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

Libby Wimbley (series). Magic Wagon, 2018. $18.95 ea. Set of 4 $75.80. 32 p. Gr. K-2.

Cobb, Amy. Birdhouse Builder. 978-1-532-13023-6.
—. Bug Rescuer. 978-1-532-13024-3.
—. Goat Trainer. 978-1-532-13025-0.
—. Rooster Instructor. 978-1-532-13026-7.

Libby Wimbley is a go-getter who loves outdoors and exploring her world. In this first set of Easy Reader books (a second set is on the way) a bright girl (and sometimes her friends) have adventures, mostly surrounding animals and their habitats. From bugs to birds to goats, Libby is ready to make the world a better place!

THOUGHTS: I’m so excited to find an Easy Reader book where the main character is an African-American girl! My students have been excited about books that reflect them in all their many facets (gender, skin-color, hobbies, etc.), and Libby is a full of curiosity and spunk.

Easy          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Stead, Philip C. Vernon is On His Way: Small Stories. Roaring Brook Press, 2018. 64 p. 978-1-626-72655-0. $19.99. Grades K-2.

Stead’s latest book is part easy reader, part picture book and contains three chapters. Vernon, the toad, is featured in each chapter. In “Waiting,” Vernon is waiting impatiently, and the reader sees him smelling flowers and resting on a shell. After a time, the snail inside the shell shows himself, and Vernon climbs on top and goes for a ride, dragging a fishing pole float along with him. In “Fishing,” Vernon goes to the river to fish along with his friends Skunk and Porcupine, although none of them knows how. They see a fish jump out of the water and say hello and feel they have accomplished their goal. In “Gardening,” Vernon is searching for his friend Bird and looks for him in the forest and near river but falls asleep while watching the clouds without finding him. Vernon’s friends try to cheer him up by adding interesting objects to the toad’s garden. These characters appeared in an earlier book A Home for Bird, although Bird never appears in this book. The story is peaceful and contemplative, and there is not much action. It is interesting that the only character who has a name is the title character. Stead’s illustrations are done in gouache, chalk pastel, crayon, and charcoal and are the starring element in this text. Young readers will enjoy poring over the drawings to find the objects, like the floater and the butterfly, in each chapter. 

THOUGHTS: This book is best suited for readers who enjoy a quiet story. Purchase where Stead’s books are popular.

Easy          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

YA – The Agony House; Glimmer of Hope; Starry Eyes; Darius the Great is Not Okay; Sam and Ilsa’s Last Hurrah; Forest Queen; I Am Still Alive; Five Feet Apart

Priest, Cherie, and Tara O’Connor, illustrator. The Agony House. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018. 978-0-545-93429-9. 256 p. $18.99. Grades 7+.

For Denise Farber, the house at 312 Argonne Street in New Orleans’ St. Roch neighborhood is more of an “Agony House.” Denise’s father and grandmother died during Hurricane Katrina, and for years afterwards she and her mother bounced from one small Texas town to another. Now, with one year of high school left, she’s moved back to the area with her mom and stepfather to help fulfill their dream of renovating a fixer-upper into a welcoming bed and breakfast. The Agony House, though, is both dangerously decrepit and definitely haunted. Undeterred by a “primordial funk” emanating from the attic, and with the help of ghost-hunting pal Terry, Denise discovers an unpublished comic book called Lucida Might and the House of Horrors. She begins researching the author’s life and whether he perished inside the Agony House. Meanwhile, all-too-real perils echo the novel’s storyline; someone — or something — is trying to scare off Denise’s family and their home improvements. Illustrator Tara O’Connor contributes Lucida Bright’s portion of the story, which are a highlight.

THOUGHTS: This is an excellent, mildly scary selection for readers who enjoy R.L. Stine’s Return to Fear Street series. Cherie Priest deftly balances a haunting with the all-too-real presence of white privilege, gentrification, and sexism.

Horror          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

The Founders of March For Our Lives. Glimmer of Hope. Razorbill. 2018 978-1-984-93609-0. $18.00. Grade 8 +.

Conversational in tone, Glimmer of Hope is a collection of essays and recollections written by the students involved in the March for Our Lives movement. The survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida came together to create a response to the gun violence plaguing the USA. Featured essays written by the famous leaders of movement David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Delaney Tarr, Cameron Kaskey, and several others reflect on the events during the day of the shooting and the weeks following as they planned for action. The students provide a timely and inspiring call to action and the book ends with a platform of ten specific reforms with the aim to put sensible gun control legislation into place across the country.  

THOUGHTS: An inspiring read, encouraging readers to take a stand to prevent future tragedy. A recommended purchase for every high school collection.

363.33 Control of Firearms       Nancy Summers Abington SD

Bennett, Jenn. Starry Eyes. Simon Pulse, 2018. 978-1-481-47880-9. 417 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

It’s the summer before senior year, and at her mother’s insistence, Zorie agrees to go on a camping trip at a luxurious resort in northern California with her popular friend, Reagan, and some other girls. In an unexpected turn of events, however, she discovers last minute that there will be boys on this trip as well, including her ex-best friend, Lennon, and her crush, Brett. Things take a turn for the worst when the group gets kicked out of the campground, Reagan and Zorie get into a huge fight, and the group ditches Zorie and Lennon in the wilderness. Left alone in the wild, Zorie and Lennon face many obstacles, but perhaps their biggest obstacle is their own unresolved feelings about each other. This beautifully written novel straddles the line between love story and adventure/survival story and would make an excellent addition to any young adult collection.

THOUGHTS: Definitely written for a high school audience, there is some swearing and sex throughout this book. The book also addresses some sensitive subjects, including lesbianism (Lennon has two mothers), homophobia (Zorie’s father despises Lennon’s mothers) and divorce (Zorie’s parents separate when her father cheats on her mother). However, everything is very tastefully written and likely very relatable for many teens. The thrill of wilderness survival adds an exciting backdrop to the story, setting it apart from your everyday love story. This is a must-have for all high school libraries!

Realistic Fiction          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

Khorram, Adib. Darius the Great is Not Okay. Razorbill. 2018. 978-0-525-55296-3.  $18.00. Grade 9 +.

Sixteen-year-old Darius is named after the Persian emperor, Darius the Great, but does not feel the greatness within himself. A bit of a loner, he stands apart at school because of his anxiety and depression and his “Fractured Persian” heritage. Darius also feels apart from his own family. His mother, an Iranian immigrant, speaks Farsi with his charming and lovable younger sister Laleh but not with him. His father, a successful architect, has become distant and seemingly disapproving of Darius’ behavior, hair style, and lack of social skills. When Darius’ grandfather is diagnosed with cancer the family makes an extended visit to the family home in Yazd in Northern Iran. There Darius discovers much about his family, his heritage, and himself. He also finds true friendship with his grandparents’ teenaged neighbor, Sohrab, who shows Darius how to live in the moment. An enjoyable read – it is well-written with engaging characters and a thoughtful treatment of clinical depression.

THOUGHTS: The book provides a fascinating glimpse into a culture we do not see often on our shelves, Persian culture with the influence of the Zoroastrian faith, a minority religion in Iran.

Realistic Fiction           Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Sixteen year old tea aficionado Darius doesn’t fit into either of his parent’s cultures. A seemingly constant disappointment to his father, Darius considers himself a “Fractured Persian” because he isn’t wholly Iranian or American. When his grandfather’s terminal brain tumor begins to take a turn, Darius and his family head from Portland to Iran, the first trip Darius’s mother has made since before he was born. With a limited understanding of Farsi and a clinical depression diagnosis, Darius isn’t sure how this trip will be. Flagged by customs upon his entry into Tehran, Darius must explain why he has prescription medicine to a customs officer who thinks the depression is due to Darius’s diet (not that he asked for an opinion). Even his grandfather thinks Darius “just [has] to try harder” to be happy. However, Mamou, his loving grandmother, and Sohrab, a friendly peer neighbor, make Darius feel welcome immediately. Though this trip won’t last forever, Darius begins to feel like he belongs somewhere for the first time in his life. 

THOUGHTS: This book gives a unique look into the life of someone who struggles with depression and his cultural identity. 

Realistic Fiction           Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Cohn, Rachel, and David Levithan. Sam and Ilsa’s Last Hurrah. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-0-399-55384-4. 211 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Though they’ve lived the same wealthy lifestyle, twins Sam and Ilsa could not be more different. Known for their lavish parties, Sam and Ilsa are ready to host the best party yet and celebrate the end – of high school, of their grandmother’s Manhattan apartment, and of not being who they are meant to be (though they don’t yet realize this). Told in alternating voices, this duo has a lot to learn about themselves and about each other. 

THOUGHTS: The lifestyle of these siblings (and lack of adult supervision) struck me as somewhat unrealistic. Then again, I’ve always lived the small town life. An additional high school purchase where multi-narrative books are popular. 

Realistic Fiction           Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Cornwell, Betsy. The Forest Queen. Clarion Books, 2018. 978-0-544-8819-7. 296 p. $17.00. Gr. 8+.

Sylvie has led a sheltered life, but that is changing. As their father slowly fades away, her older brother, John, assumes control of the estate, and was recently appointed Sheriff by the king. A cruel individual, John delights in inflicting painful punishments, and Sylvie knows she is also in his sights. However, she is shocked and horrified when he arranges a marriage for her. In a panic, Sylvie finds comfort with her oldest friend, Bird, who works on the estate, eventually deciding to flee her home with him and live in the forest. As the friends begin attracting other refugees, Sylvie faces up to the cost of her privileged life, and makes amends by using her station and family connections to provide for their growing band, as well as the poor residents of the town, soon earning the sobriquet Forest Queen. This lovely twist on the Robin Hood tale is an engaging story. Familiarity with the legend adds to the enjoyment, but the story is captivating without prior knowledge. With many of the roles inverted gender-wise, this book packs a feminist punch. Sylvie is a compelling character, who develops into a forest-wise advocate for her people.

THOUGHTS:  A can’t-put-down book with strong female characters, The Forest Queen also touches on many pertinent social issues. A touch of romance adds to the fun.

Fantasy (Fairytale)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Marshall, Kate Alice. I Am Still Alive. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-0-425-29098-9. 314 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Surviving the accident that claimed her mother’s life and left her injured and scarred, Jess has to come to terms with her grief and accept her new life. With her father absent for most of her life, Jess thinks she’ll be left to finish high school with a friend or a foster family. Instead, she’s shipped off to the Canadian wilderness to live with her father. Only reachable by sea plane and forced to live with a father she doesn’t know, Jess is angry about her situation. As she adapts to the intense physical requirements of her new home, Jess begins to get to know her father. His secrets and mysterious absence from her life catch up to him though, and Jess must learn how to survive truly on her own. 

THOUGHTS: Though primarily about survival, this novel is so much more. Told in brief before and after chapters, survivor’s guilt, grief, loneliness, action, and adventure all take their turn in this fast-paced “will she make it” novel. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Lippincott, Rachael. Five Feet Apart. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-534-43733-3. 288 p. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Stella is meticulous about managing her cystic fibrosis. Her med cart is impeccable, her treatment routines are precise, and Stella is a rule follower. Combined, this ensures Stella lives. Enter Will. Resentful of the myriad hospitals and fancy trials around the world that his mother has gotten him into, Will just wants to live. Initially drawn together to fix the other’s flaw (Stella to help Will see the importance of treatment, and Will to help Stella see the importance of actually living), opposites attract in this sweet romance. Life for these two never really leaves the hospital grounds, and when it does catastrophe can strike. For Will, the sterile air inside no longer seems so limiting, while Stella begins to dream bigger than she thought she could. Where can they really go, though, when they have to be five feet apart. 

THOUGHTS: Though serious in its discussion of a progressive, genetic disease, this sweet romance will appeal to a variety of middle and high school readers. A must-purchase where romance novels are popular. The movie in spring 2019 will also draw in additional readers. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD