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

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