Elem. – Far Away; Smell My Foot; Who Is the Mystery Reader; I Survived The Great Molasses Flood; Ojiichan’s Gift; Poetree

Graff, Lisa. Far Away. Philomel Books, 2019. 978-1-524-73859-4. 266 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Twelve year old Caraway June (CJ) Ames lives with her Aunt Nic, a medium who travels around California using her gift to reach the spirits of loved ones who have passed on. CJ’s deceased mother sends messages to CJ though Aunt Nic. One day, Aunt Nic makes two important announcements. CJ will be going to boarding school and Aunt Nic will no longer be able to communicate with CJ’s mother, because she is now in the realm of Far Away where spirits cannot be reached. CJ believes that if she finds a personal object belonging to her mother, this “tether” will pull her mom back from Far Away. CJ enlists the help of sixteen year old Jax, who is a cameraman for Aunt Nic’s shows. In an eventful day, CJ and Jax locate the home where her mother and aunt grew up and find some of her mother’s artwork. However, CJ also finds more than she anticipated, and this changes her life forever. CJ is a likeable character, and readers will admire her strength as she seeks out to learn the truth about her life. Yet she has her moments as she makes a deal with an unscrupulous magician whose agenda is to expose Aunt Nic as a fraud.

THOUGHTS: This story takes readers on a roller coaster ride of emotion – from joy to sadness and from anger to acceptance. Graff has created a novel that explores the meaning of loss, love, and family. A fabulous choice for all elementary and middle school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD

Bell, Cece. Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot. Candlewick Press, 2019. 978-0-763-67936-1. 70 p. $12.99. Grades K-2.

Step aside, Dick and Jane, and make room for the zany Chick and Brain! With repetition and limited vocabulary, two friends try to outwit and outgross a dog named (appropriately) Spot. Chick is a smart but trusting yellow bird, who focuses on etiquette and correcting manners; while Brain is more laid back and silly with his heart boxers and two large feet with differing powers! Bell uses plenty of speech bubbles and panels to keep the dialogue moving, and readers easily will get the sight gags and emotional cues as they progress. The gross title, exaggerated characters, and witty plot will have beginning readers engaged and begging for more. Hopefully this is the start of a Chick and Brain series!

THOUGHTS: Slightly longer and more advanced than the Elephant and Piggie stories, this has great opportunity for young readers to practice pacing, voice, fluency, and reading with emotion. My uncorrected proof edition was divided into 4 chapters, but it is easily digested in one sitting. I am sure that budding cartoonists will be drawing their own versions in no time!

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Willems, Mo. Who Is The Mystery Reader? Hyperion Books for Children, 2019. 978-1-368-04686-2. 96 p. $12.99. Grades K-2.

The Unlimited Squirrels are back in action in Mo Willems’ latest multi-feature beginning reader, containing pages of a story, inquiry and information, jokes, and plenty of crazy dialogue! The big story revolves around the critters learning the art of reading, especially with the skilled aid of a masked mystery reader (with underpants!) who leaps onto the scene just in time to save the day! Sounding out letters and using context clues are two of the powers that they practice, but keen readers will also seek the true identity of the mystery reader. Later in the book, the squirrels explore the earliest writing forms, including photographs and captions to help visualize the answers. The final chunk of the book goes through Mo’s writing process and briefly highlights how a book is made. All in all, there is no mystery about whether this latest edition of the Unlimited Squirrels will be a HUGE hit with readers of all ages! (wink-wink – the answer is YES!!)

THOUGHTS: By going to a page count of 96, Mo has managed to enhance his stories with more value and reason to re-read. Book buddies and classroom mystery readers would be wise to share this book with younger classes and then allow younger readers to follow up with practice and inquiry of their own. Highly recommended for all libraries.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Tarshis, Lauren. I Survived The Great Molasses Flood, 1919. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-31741-1. 94 p. $5.99. Grades 3-5.

With an I survived book, you can always guarantee an interesting historical event and a lot of action. But what I’ve always liked the most in these books are the close friendships; and this book is no exception.  Carmen and Tony are great friends – so close they feel like brother and sister. They look out for each other at every turn; and they know each other well. Tony has a large family, Carmen only has her Papa, and her Nonna back in Italy. They live in the North End of Boston in 1919.  At the start of the book, a terrible influenza is going around and unfortunately, Carmen’s Papa catches it and passes away. Carmen is sad and feels alone, but Tony’s family takes her in like one of their own. The North End houses a very large steel tank that holds 2 million gallons of mollases that is sent to factories.  The tank is very unstable and can be heard snapping, creaking and popping all the time. One fateful day when Carmen and Tony are nearby, the tank explodes, spilling all 2 million galllons of thick, sticky goo into the streats. Carmen and Tony are separated by the flow and soon, Carmen is injured and fighting for her life. Carmen does survive (hence the title!) and remains with Tony’s family who have a big surprise for her.  They have brought her Nonna from Italy to be with her while she recuperates.

THOUGHTS: The I Survived books have really reached a lot of reluctant readers, and I love how excited my students are with each new one.  This one was a little different. There was a lot more personal story and a little less disaster, but it was compelling just the same.

Historical Fiction          Eva Thomas, Unionville-Chadds Ford SD

Uegaki, Chieri. Ojiichan’s Gift. Kids Can Press, 2019. 978-1-771-38963-1. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-5.

Mayumi and her Grandfather Ojiichan have a special relationship. When she was born, Ojiichan made her a beautiful garden in his backyard. Every summer when Mayumi visits, they work the garden together. She learns to plant and to tend, to weed and to rake. They spend many summers creating this beauty and bonding, and during the year, Mayumi collects treasures in a special tin to take to the garden the next summer. Then one summer, everything changes.  Ojiichang cannot live by himself anymore, so Mayumi and her parents have to help him pack up his house. Mayumi is sad but sees that the garden needs tending and decides to do it one last time. As she is weeding and raking, and idea comes to her. She makes Ojiichan a small Zen garden in a Bento box, one that he can tend in his wheelchair. She has included special pieces from their garden. When Mayumi unpacks her suitcase at home readers see that she has also brought some special pieces of the garden home for herself as well. She makes herself a small zen garden so she can feel closer to her Grandfather Ojiichan.

THOUGHTS: This is a special relationship between grandfather and granddaughter and although things have to change, they find a way to keep hold of their special garden. This is a sad and sweet story that makes me want to make miniature zen gardens with my students!

Picture Book           Eva Thomas, Unionville-Chadds Ford SD

Reynolds, Shauna LaVoy. Poetree. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-399-53912-1. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Sylvia loves expressing herself through poetry, and on the first day of spring, she celebrates the new season by tying a poem to a birch tree in the park. When she passes by the tree the next day, her poem is gone, and a new poem hangs in its place. Sylvia is astonished that the tree wrote back to her, and she can’t wait to visit again. She shares a haiku, as well as several other poems, all the while dreaming of ways she and her new tree friend will pass the time. It’s only as she’s composing a poem in sidewalk chalk near the tree that Sylvia finally discovers the truth: her classmate, Walt, has been visiting the tree too. Once the initial shock wears off, the pair compose a new poem together and sit beneath the tree, taking in the setting sun and quietly enjoying nature. 

THOUGHTS: Shy students will relate to Sylvia’s quiet, reflective nature. Several nature-inspired poems appear throughout the book, making this a perfect tie-in with poetry units or a natural read-aloud choice for Poetry Month in April. At school, Sylvia and Walt do not initially hit it off in class, so this title can also spark discussions about kindness, making new friends, and discovering commonalities with classmates. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

YA – Squad; The Storm Crow; Hope and Other Punch Lines; The Best Lies; Call It What You Want; Breaking Bailey

McCarthy, Mariah. Squad. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2019. 978-0-374-30750-9. $18.99. 244 p. Grades 9 and up. 

Jenna Watson cheers for one of the top high school squads in the state – arguably the nation – and the girls’ closeness and “hive mind” mentality contribute significantly to their success. Jenna and Raejean are best friends on the squad, but something in their relationship shifts at the beginning of their junior year. Jenna starts to feel like Raejean is making fun of her and embarrassing her in front of their other friends, and she decides she can no longer ignore it. Teenage friendships can be confusing as one grows and changes, and everyone handles it differently, but the choices Jenna makes when pushed too far are shocking and could affect not only her and Raejean but also their entire squad. Far from what some may consider stereotypical cheerleaders, the characters in Squad are smart and take their sport seriously. Their interests vary as well. In fact, as a result of her relationship struggles with Raejean, Jenna gets closer with her nerdy older brother Jack and his group of “goth” friends. The story takes more surprising turns as Jenna spends more time with them and becomes involved with Live Action Role Playing. How can the squad still fit in her life when so much has changed?

THOUGHTS: A good addition to YA collections, though it has a very niche audience and some elements some readers should be made aware of before reading. First, it may struggle to find an audience because one typically doesn’t associate “bookworm” with “cheerleader.” However, I know a student who frequents my library who would LOVE this novel because she can relate to Jenna as both a cheerleader and self-proclaimed nerd, and there just aren’t many books where these worlds collide. In that way, this also works in Squad’s favor. Secondly, it should be noted that this novel deals with very real, very dark and unpleasant teenage emotions, and it might be a trigger for students dealing with serious mental health issues.

Realistic Fiction           Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Josephson, Kalyn.  The Storm Crow. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-67293-7. 348 p. $17.99. Grades 7 and up.

Kalyn Josephson’s debut novel is both wonderfully compelling, and mildly problematic. There are the well-worn fantasy tropes of the reluctant heroine, the hyper-evil villain, and the secret rebel forces, blended with the fascinating, yet incomplete, mythology of the Crows, magical creatures who embody different elemental powers and correlate to eight different saints: Thereal (wind), Kerova (shadow), Turren (battle), Rynthene (water), Brynth (earth), Garien (storm), Cyro (fire), and Caravel (sun). The Crows only exist in the kingdom of Rhodaire, where the people depend on them for virtually everything, from keeping harsh weather at bay, to forging weapons, to ensuring a clean water supply. When the kingdom of Illucia, ruled by the power hungry and cruel Queen Razel, invades Rhodaire during their most sacred festival and sets fire to all of the rookeries, killing all of the crows, along with their eggs, with Queen Alandra, Rhodaire falls into a complete state of upheaval and despair. Alandra’s eldest daughter, Caliza, becomes queen, and in a desperate act to protect her people from Illucia, promises her sister, Anthia, to Queen Razel’s son, Ericen. Ever since that night, Anthia has been in a deep depression, barely able to pull herself from her bed; if not for her best friend, Kiva, she would probably never leave it again. Before the invasion, Anthia was set to become a Rider; now, she feels rudderless and useless; being engaged to the son of the woman who destroyed everything she loved and believed in does not help her situation. In person, he’s just as insulting, arrogant, and infuriating as she imagined him to be; however, the anger he sparks in her makes her feel like her old self again, and she determines that he will not get the best of her. In the midst of this, Anthia makes a discovery that could alter the future of Rhodaire, prompting her to hatch a plan to unite the kingdoms against Illucia. Of course once she actually arrives in Illucia, and is confronted by the sheer ruthlessness of not just Queen Razel, but her subjects as well, Anthia realizes that her task will require a Herculean effort. Joesphson makes an effort to diversify her characters – the Rhodairans are “dark-skinned,” and multiple characters, including Kiva, are gay. While this is admirable, the standard Western idea of beauty is the one that’s upheld as the ideal, with Anthia describing Razel, who is white, thin, with flowing hair to her waist, as “the most beautiful woman” she’s ever seen. Josephson does stray from typical romance fair; although there is a quasi-love triangle, Anthia never falls for Ericen’s charms – while their relationship grows and develops as they get to know each other, and while Ericen is clearly falling for Anthia, she never once forgets that his loyalty is to Razel, not to her. And though Josephson also addresses mental illness with Anthia’s depression, her portrayal feels harmful, as, more than once, Anthia decides that she’s going to be “strong,” and not let her depression hinder her; it needs to be clear that depression, for most people, is not something they can just talk themselves out of, nor is it a weakness of personality – it is an illness. Despite these pitfalls, this is a fast-paced, exciting story, and readers will no doubt come back for more.

THOUGHTS: Josephson has peopled her debut with well-drawn, three dimensional characters, and the interactions between characters feels authentic. This is particularly true for Anthia and Caliza; their conversations are nuanced and laced with feeling.

Fantasy        Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Buxbaum, Julie. Hope and Other Punch Lines. Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-1-524-76677-1. 307 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up.

Following an iconic 9/11 photograph that immortalized her as Baby Hope, Abbi Hope Goldstein just wants to be a normal teenager. Though forever changed by that fateful day, her own family survived. The fact that they live outside the city in a town that was devastated with loss on 9/11 means everyone knows who she is. For the first time Abbi has the opportunity to be herself as a counselor at Knights Day Camp, where no one knows she is Baby Hope. Then she recognizes fellow counselor Noah Stern, another teen from her hometown, and she fears he will reveal her secret. Noah has questions of his own about the Baby Hope photo, and he convinces Abbi to help him uncover the truth about the people in it. Neither is ready to face their own truths in this novel that will help readers realize the significance of photos.

THOUGHTS: Today’s young adult readers did not live through 9/11, though that day and its aftermath will likely be part of their history texts or lessons. Students will appreciate the subtle details about how that day resonates for those who survived or lost loved ones. Highly recommended for middle and high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Lyu, Sarah. The Best Lies. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-481-49883-3. 352 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

Remy meets Elise at the perfect time after her now in college boyfriend breaks her heart at homecoming. Elise fills the hole in her life that Cameron created, and together Remy and Elise are inseparable. They enjoy pranking those who have done wrongs, including Cameron. When Remy meets and falls for Jack, Elise suddenly seems to be clingy. Remy wants to spend more time with Jack, but she has to make up excuses for not spending time with Elise. Jack is a good guy; he opens Remy’s eyes and questions how much of a true friend Elise really is. He also worries for Remy’s safety and is disappointed when he learns about the pranks she and Elise orchestrate. Then Elise shoots and kills Jack in self defense. As the police investigate, Remy tells readers what happened in alternating before and after narratives.

THOUGHTS: This thriller will leave you on the edge of your seat until you figure out the truth about Jack’s death. Hand this one to fans of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars or other titles with unreliable narrators. Recommended for high school libraries due to mature language and situations.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Kemmerer, Brigid. Call It What You Want. Bloomsbury YA, 2019. 978-1-681-19809-5. 384 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

Rob and Maegan are both social outcasts at the moment, so being paired to work together on a calculus project might be perfect for them. Rob’s dad was caught using his business to embezzle funds from most of their town’s retirement savings. Then his dad’s failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mom taking care of every basic need while also dealing with the aftermath. Overachiever Maegan was caught cheating on the SAT, and no one else yet knows, but her sister is home from college and is pregnant. As Maegan and Rob get to know each other, they find that it isn’t always easy to let others see the hurt they’re feeling, but it may help help them heal and move forward. 

THOUGHTS: This heartbreaking romance will have readers rooting for Rob and Maegan, even though they’re the school outcasts. Highly recommended for high school libraries. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Anonymous. Breaking Bailey. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-43308-3. 384 p. $19.99. Grades 9 and up. 

After her dad remarries following her mother’s death, Bailey and her sister welcome the opportunity to start fresh at prestigious boarding schools. Bailey is off to Prescott Academy, where she quickly plans to ignore her father, since he’s to preoccupied with his new wife to care for her. Bailey finds her book smarts draw attention from the Science Club, a group of wealthy students who cook and supply drugs to the locals, and club leader Warren. At first Bailey holds to her values, but the appeal of spending money, not needing to rely on her father, as well as attention from new friends, quickly changes her mind. As Warren and Bailey become closer, she forgets the girl she used to be, and suddenly she can’t figure out a way out of this new life she’s living.

THOUGHTS: Told through diary entries, this book will be popular with fans of other anonymous epistolary novels like Go Ask Alice, Jay’s Journal, etc. Trigger warning: This book describes in detail the process of cooking and distributing meth as well as use of other drugs. Recommended for high schools were similar novels are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Wildheart; Soaring Earth; A Circle of Elephants; Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse; Lizzy Legend; The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA; Searching for Lottie

Bertagna, Julie, and William Goldsmith, Illustrator. Wildheart: The Daring Adventures of John Muir. Yosemite Conservancy, 2019. 978-1-930-23893-0. 128 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

As a boy in Dunbar, Scotland, John Muir was sent to school in 1841 when he was just three years old, but he longed to be outside, playing and learning amongst the wild things that he loved. Years later, after a family move to Wisconsin, an eye injury nearly robbed John of his sight but inspired his true calling: exploring and preserving nature. As part of his campaign to protect America’s forests and natural features, he co-founded the Sierra Club and helped to create our National Parks. He also went camping with President Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite for four days in 1903, inspiring “Teddy” to preserve 148 million acres of land! William Goldsmith’s rough, energetic sketches are appropriately tinted in natural shades of rust, moss green, berry, and ice-blue. The characters’ body postures imply the mood and action more distinctly than any detailed facial expressions (which are generally lacking). A handful of Scottish expressions may confuse readers (e.g., “Ta” for thanks) but ample context clues and a helpful Glossary will assist in deciphering them. 

THOUGHTS: This middle-grade graphic biography of the first modern environmentalist, told in a first-person voice, will inspire readers to cherish our precious planet, and to take action to protect it! John Muir’s legacy is a treasured reminder that “We are part of nature, and its wild heart is part of us.” Additional information for interested readers is available at the webpage for the John Muir National Historic Site

Graphic Novel / Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Engle, Margarita. Soaring Earth. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-42953-6. $18.99. 192 p. Grades 7+.

Margarita’s idealism and longing to see the world are described beautifully in verse in this companion memoir to Enchanted Air. In this book Margarita is now a young adult in high school and beyond. It is set during the tumultuous Vietnam War Era, and the war and protests, Civil Rights movement, moon landing, and the Grape boycott and strike are described. Although younger readers might not have the knowledge to fully appreciate those historic events, Margarita’s struggle with fitting in and finding out who she is will resonate with everyone. Margarita finds herself at ground-zero of the hippie/free speech movement when she enrolls at UC Berkeley for college. She struggles with her fears of not being perfect, especially with her writing, and she finds out that the prestigious university turns out not to be a great fit for her which leads to her dropping out and drifting around CA and NY on a path of self-discovery. Her longing to travel the world, especially her beloved Cuba, which has been closed to her due to the Cold War, and the prejudices she experiences due to her Cuban heritage are also examined. Margarita Engle is the 2017-2019 Young People’s Poet Laureate.

THOUGHTS: It isn’t necessary to have read Enchanted Air to appreciate this beautifully written novel in verse. It would be perfect to use for a social studies book club during a 1960s unit.

Memoir; Verse          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

Dinerstein, Eric. A Circle of Elephants. Disney Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-01658-2. $16.99. 260 p. Grades 4-8.

13-year old Nandu, a Tibetan, was found as a two-year old orphaned in the jungle being guarded by a pack of dhole (a type of wild dog). He was adopted by Subba-Sahib, the good man who runs the Royal Elephant Breeding Center at the edge of the Borderlands in Nepal. Nandu has a special relationship and empathy with the animals of the jungle but he considers the tusker, Hira Prishad, the bull elephant he oversees, his brother. The story of Nandu and the horrors of the Ivory Trade is described in such a beautiful and realistic way that it is easy to forget that this is a work of fiction. The earthquake at the beginning of the book is a bad omen: the harbinger of drought and the return of Maroons (poachers) who are looking for ivory in the tusks and horns of the elephants and rhinos. In addition to the mutilation of animals for their ivory, there is a side story about young girls being sold into slavery (it is not explicit sex slavery, but it is implied) which may be difficult for younger middle grade readers. The book examines the relationship between humans and other animals and as Nandu believes “that our purpose in life is to look out for each other.”

THOUGHTS: This book will enlighten the reader about the evils of poaching and how it is possible for people to have meaningful relationships with animals, especially elephants. A Circle of Elephants is the sequel to What Elephants Know but it wasn’t necessary to have read that story to enjoy this book. This beautifully written story would be a great addition to any library.

Realistic Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

Vaught, Susan.  Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-42501-9. 309 p. $17.99. Grades 5 and up.

Jesse is not like the other kids in her middle school – she’s extremely temperamental, with a proclivity towards hitting people she dislikes; she doesn’t always bathe on a regular basis; she’s “on the spectrum”; and her mother is a Master Sergeant stationed overseas in Iraq. Needless to say, she’s not the most popular girl in school, which doesn’t bother her in the least. What does bother her, however, is the group of bullies – Rykyer (aka: Jerkface), Chris, and Trisha (aka: the cockroaches) – who harass her on a daily basis and never seem to get in trouble for it. When Jesse’s father, a teacher at the high school, is arrested and accused of stealing money for the library fund, Jesse, along with new kid, Springer, take it upon themselves to investigate. Springer is Jesse’s foil – a big, non-confrontational, soft-spoken boy who doesn’t believe in violence. They share a love of puzzles, outside the box thinking, and Sam-Sam, Jesse’s beloved Pomeranian. Jesse pushes Springer to fight for what he believes in, and Springer grounds Jesse when she goes into a panic spiral; in fact, he’s one of the only people in her life that truly seems to accept her exactly as she is. Vaught has created two very different, yet equally compelling, protagonists; it is easy to feel Jesse’s anger and frustration towards her bullies, as well as Springer’s kindness and compassion when he stands up for Jesse. Equally well-drawn are Jesse’s mother, who instills in Jesse a deep well of inner strength, and Jesse’s great-aunt Gus, who spends the majority of the book exasperating Jesse’s father. Though Jesse’s bullies come off more as caricatures than three-dimensional characters, and their antics become disturbingly malevolent in tone and action, they serve to further Jesse and Springer’s resolve, as well as their bond; their friendship is truly the grounding force in this middle-grade novel, and readers will find themselves rooting heartily for both of them.

THOUGHTS: A perfect novel for outside the box thinkers, lovers of mysteries, and literally kick-butt female protagonists. With absolutely no romance, and a beautifully crafted platonic friendship between members of the opposite sex, this is a book that you can comfortably hand to a 9 year old, as well as a 14 year old.

Realistic Fiction         Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Smith, Matthew Ross. Lizzy Legend. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-42024-3. 236 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

13-year-old Lizzy Trudeaux loves basketball and spends hours each day practicing her ball-handling and shooting skills. One day, she receives a mysterious phone call from a robot asking her what her wish is, and she wishes to never miss another shot. When this dream surprisingly comes true, she finds herself signing a contract to play for the Philadelphia Bells, a nearby professional basketball team. It’s not long before she becomes a media sensation. Will she, however, be able to continue her dominant performance when her wish is reversed? A fast-paced sports fantasy, this title will resonate particularly with young female athletes.

THOUGHTS: While the premise of this story is a bit unbelievable, the relatable characters, encouraging message, and fast pace of the story make this a solid selection for middle school collections. Lizzy may have gotten to where she is with a little help from her wish, but she is an extremely hard worker regardless. She’s also tough and courageous, putting her heart and soul out on the court even after her wish is reversed. Lizzy is definitely a role model for young girls, showing that with a little hard work and determination, they can do anything they set their minds to. The short chapters are broken up by interviews and imaginative social media posts throughout the story, making the book very accessible to young readers.

Fantasy Fiction (Sports)           Julie Ritter, PSLA

Woods, Brenda. The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019. 978-1-524-73709-2. 194 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Twelve-year-old Gabriel Haberlin, white resident of the small, post-WWII town of Birdsong, South Carolina, is ecstatic when he receives a brand new Schwinn bicycle for his birthday. On his very first ride, however, he runs a red light and is nearly struck by a car and killed. Luckily, Meriwether Hunter, an African American veteran, pushes him out of the way just in time. Feeling indebted to Meriwether, Gabriel convinces his father to offer Meriwether a job at his auto shop. The two soon become friends, and Meriwether teaches Gabriel to view the world through the eyes of others.  In doing so, Gabriel witnesses the unfairness and powerlessness experienced by African Americans living under Jim Crow laws in the segregated South, and for the first time in his life, he begins to question the way of the world. A realistic and thought-provoking coming-of-age story, this book has a lot to teach young readers about the post-WWII South.

THOUGHTS: Use this book in a history class to reinforce topics like segregation,  Jim Crow laws, the 761st Tank Battalion, and the KKK. History buffs will also enjoy simply comparing post-WWII life to life today, as there are plenty of references to prized possessions of the past, including a Buick Roadmaster and a Kodak camera with film. Additionally, this story will appeal to fans of Rita Williams-Garcia. Definitely consider purchasing this authentic, eye-opening work of historical fiction.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, PSLA

Ross, Susan L. Searching for Lottie. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44166-2. 170 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

When twelve-year-old Charlie must research a family member for a school project, she decides to focus on her namesake, her great aunt Lottie (short for Charlotte). Lottie disappeared during the Holocaust, and because she was Jewish, her family presumes that she was killed. Through her research, Charlie discovers that she and Lottie have a lot in common. They are both sensational violin players, and they could both be described as brave and determined. The more she learns, the more adamant she is to figure out what exactly happened to Lottie. Did she perish during the Holocaust as her family always thought, or did she miraculously survive? Readers will be just as curious as Charlie to solve this puzzle and won’t be able to stop turning the pages until all of their questions are answered.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful selection for middle school readers.  Charlie is an extremely relatable character who experiences many young adolescent norms throughout the story, including sibling rivalry, close friendships, a crush on a boy, and nerves during a musical audition. This would be a great complement to any Holocaust unit, or it could be used to introduce a project on genealogical research. References to Jewish culture present even more opportunities for learning. The short chapters and fast-moving narrative make it easily accessible, and the level of suspense will most certainly make readers want to finish the book. Give this to mystery lovers, history buffs, or students who want to learn more about genealogical research or Jewish culture.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, PSLA

Elem. – Where Is My Balloon; Baby’s First Bank Heist; Sweeping up the Heart; Animal Performers; Wilma’s Way Home; Community Economics; Say Something; The Bell Rang; Sweet Dreams; Pippa’s Passover Plate; Energy Revolution; A Plan for Pops

Bernstein, Ariel. Where Is My Balloon? Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-41451-8. Unpaged. $17.99. PreK-2.

When Owl asks Monkey to hold his balloon, Monkey excitedly plays with the balloon… until he accidentally pops it. When Owl returns and asks for his balloon back, Monkey tries desperately to avoid telling Owl the truth, offering him objects like a pillow, a chair, and a parachute instead of the balloon.  Finally, Monkey admits to popping the balloon. In his outrage, Owl ends up ruining one of Monkey’s belongings, and the roles are suddenly reversed. Will their friendship be ruined, or will they both learn to forgive and forget?

THOUGHTS: This book is overflowing with many important lessons for young readers. It has great potential to initiate discussions on honesty, forgiveness, and caring for another’s belongings. I could see this being used in an early elementary setting to introduce how to properly care for books and other materials borrowed from the library or classroom. The irony and humor that prevail in the story make for an entertaining way to introduce such important topics.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter

Whalley, Jim. Baby’s First Bank Heist. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019. 978-1-547-60062-5. Unpaged. $17.99. PreK-1.

When baby Frank is unable to convince his parents to buy him a pet, he decides to take matters into his own hands. As the title suggests, Frank robs a bank in order to get the money to purchase a pet and pet supplies. He is not satisfied, however, with one pet. Things begin to get out of hand as he orders animal after animal from the Internet. When his parents discover what he’s done, Frank must pay consequences for his actions and find a way to reimburse the bank. Discover how Frank remedies the situation in this delightful read-aloud.

THOUGHTS: Gorgeous illustrations and rhyming verses that flow beautifully off the tongue make this the perfect bedtime read-aloud. This book does offer more, however. It would be a light-hearted and humorous way to introduce the very serious topic of stealing to young readers. It might also resonate with children who are planning on getting a pet in the near future, as it could initiate discussions about all of the necessities and responsibilities that come with pet ownership. Overall, this is a fun story that will definitely appeal to young readers.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter

Henkes, Kevin. Sweeping Up the Heart. Greenwillow Books, 2019. 978-0-062-85254-0. 183 p. Grades 3-6. 

Twelve-year-old Amelia is disappointed when her English professor father refuses to travel with her to Florida during spring break. But, she decides to make the best of things by spending as much time as she can in the pottery studio down the street that is like her second home. There, she meets Casey, the owner’s nephew who is visiting for the week. Casey and Amelia are each struggling: Casey’s parents’ marriage is on the rocks, and Amelia, whose mother died when she was two, is feeling more alone than ever since her best friend is spending the year in France. When the pair spot a woman who resembles Amelia’s deceased mother, their imaginations run wild. Amelia is determined to uncover her true identity, and when she does, her world opens in ways she’s never before allowed herself to imagine. 

THOUGHTS: This gentle, thoughtful novel explores themes of grief, creativity, and love while also pondering the many dynamics of family. Introspective readers will relate to the situations Casey and Amelia experience. Hand this to Kate DiCamillo and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley fans. 

Realistic Fiction          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Grades 4-6 (Maybe 6-8)

Amelia, a seventh grade student, is annoyed with her father when he will not take her to Florida on spring break. Her father is withdrawn and cranky. Amelia does have Mrs. O’Brien who has basically raised her since her mother died when she was two, but still it would be nice to have a friend her own age. She finds refuge working with clay in the local art studio, but even this is not a haven when she discovers Casey, the owner’s nephew is working there a well. As the barriers between them break down, Amelia discovers that Casey is also lonely and is worried about his parents’ impending divorce. They amuse each other by observing people and making up stories about them. One day, Casey makes a comment that really changes Amelia’s life. He claims to have seem a woman that must be Amelia’s’ mother – same red hair and nose. This woman appears to be stalking Amelia. Now she questions her father. What really happened? She dares to dream that her mother is really alive. Disappointment comes, but is soon resolved with the aid of Mrs. O’Brien and the mystery woman. Gradually the reader will realize that this is a story not only about Amelia’s loneliness, but that of her father who lost his love and wants to protect his only child.

THOUGHTS: Twelve-year-olds often appear self-centered, but they are trying to understand themselves as individuals. Amelia is looking for herself through her lost mother. Henkes sensitively guides her development to understanding her father’s feelings. This book could be used for a bit of subtle bibliotherapy.

Realistic Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired

Green, Sara. Animal Performers. Bellwether Media, 2019. 978-1-626-17845-8. 32 p. $20.26. Grades 3-6. 

From dogs and cats to horses, pigs, and birds, animals steal the spotlight in many major movies. This title details the auditioning, training, and rehearsing that goes on behind the scenes of some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. The book also discusses some of history’s most famous animal stars, including Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. Readers get to go behind the scenes to meet the pigs who stared in the movie Babe, the labs from Marley and Me, and the horses from Secretariat. Large-scare photographs and informative captions break down information into manageable chunks for readers, and sidebars include interesting facts about other showbiz animals, including monkeys, owls, and penguins. Backmatter includes a glossary, books and websites readers can turn to for more information, and an index.

THOUGHTS: Readers will gravitate towards this engaging book about animals and the movies they star in. Uncluttered layouts, boldfaced vocabulary words, short paragraphs, and vivid color pictures will hold readers’ attention. 

791.43. Movies          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Rappaport, Doreen. Wilma’s Way Home: The Life of Wilma Mankiller. Disney Hyperion, 2019. Unpaged. 978-1-484-74718-6. $17.99. Grades 2-5. 

“For above all else, I am a Cherokee woman.” This quotation sums up the life of Wilma Mankiller, a Native American leader and activist. Rappaport tells readers about Wilma’s early life in rural Oklahoma as the child of a Dutch Irish mother and a Cherokee father. Even though the family was poor, Wilma had a happy childhood living in this community with other members of the Cherokee nation. The community practiced Gadugi, which is the “philosophy of helping each other” and was a guiding principle throughout Wilma’s life. Mankiller’s family was forced to move to San Francisco by the government in the misguided belief that there were job opportunities there. This is where Wilma began to advocate for Native Americans. Wilma eventually returned to Oklahoma and worked for the government of the Cherokee nation. Despite a devastating car accident, Wilma stayed active in government and eventually was named Tribal Leader and Chief.  Her policies and programs helped the Cherokee people. The author includes many of Wilma’s own quotes throughout the text, which help the reader get a better understanding of this dedicated woman. The illustrator is from Oklahoma and is also Native American. In the back matter, Kukuk explains that she spoke to Mankiller’s family and friends before beginning her illustrations. Her discussion of the evolution of the last drawing is very moving. The author met with Mankiller’s husband, and he provided the background and helped edit the text.

THOUGHTS: This is an excellent and important picture book biography that deserves to be in every elementary collection. The story of Wilma Mankiller’s life is inspiring and shows how one person can make a difference despite facing adversity. This text will work well during Women’s History Month or Native American Month, but is also a valuable diverse text to be read at any time. 

92, 921 Biography                                              Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
973.04  Ethnic and National Groups 

Community Economics. Pop!, Abdo Publishing, 2019. $18.99 each, $113.70 set of 6. 24 p. Gr K-2. 

Gaertner, Meg. Spending and Saving Money. 978-1-532-16005-9
Ventura, Marne. Supply and Demand. 978-1-532-16006-6.
Ventura, Marne. Conserving Resources. 978-1-532-16001-1
Ventura, Marne. Government and Community. 978-1-532-16003-5
Ventura, Marne. Needs and Wants. 978-1-532-16004-2
Ventura, Marne.  Goods and Services. 978-1-532-16002-8

This series is a good nonfiction introduction to economics for beginning readers. Each chapter describes a single topic, such as supply, demand or price. Photographs and charts are present to illustrate the main ideas. Real-life examples examples such as  seasonal prices are explained in terms of Halloween candy to help children understand the basic concepts. Vocabulary words are bold-faced and defined in the glossary. Each chapter features a QR code that links readers to popbooksonline.com where readers can explore the topic further and watch a video. All non-fiction elements are present.

THOUGHTS: What a great tool tool teach the elements of nonfiction while also introducing students to a concept other than careers or wildlife. I especially appreciate that this series addresses economics in a relatable way for beginning readers. I would definitely add this set to any elementary library that needs to expand the social sciences collection.

332 Finance          Jackie Fulton, South Park SD

Reynolds, Peter H. Say Something! Orchard Books, 2019. 978-0-545-86503-6. 32 p. $16.99. Gr K-4. 

Say Something! Will help children understand that words, actions, and expressions have the ability to make a difference. Brightly colored pages contrasted by extra large text bubbles and illustrations featuring children allow the reader to focus on how one individual can be a catalyst of change. Diversity among the illustrations reinforces the message that every voice matters regardless of race, gender or ability. Even the endpaper of this book gives its audience an opportunity to visualize their own words by providing example speech bubbles at the beginning and leaving blank ones at the end. From the examples given in the text children learn that while words can make a big difference sometimes actions speak just as loudly. 

THOUGHTS: This is a book that all students can really see themselves in and provides a great starting point for a litany of discussions about building a classroom community, activism, expression, and more. Allowing students to create their own speech bubble would be a great follow up activity. This book is also an excellent candidate for a school-wide reading program. Definitely a must have for an elementary library. 

Picture Book                     Jackie Fulton, South Park SD

Ransome, James E. The Bell Rang. Atheneum, 2019. 978-1-442-42113-4. 32 p. $17.99. Gr. K – 2.

The main character and her family’s lives are controlled by the bell that rings every day. They are slaves and have to follow orders without question. While they eat breakfast as a family, they are then forced to separate while the adults and older children work in the fields. The brother, Ben, gives our main character a doll, and runs away that night. The family is worried, and everyone is punished. The book ends with anxiety for Ben’s safety, and hope that he made it to the North and freedom.

THOUGHTS: Introducing the topic of slavery to young children is often difficult. This book does a wonderful job of portraying the choiceless lives of the enslaved at an age-appropriate level through the eyes of a young narrator.

Picture Book          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Kirkfield, Vivian. Sweet Dreams, Sarah. Creston Books, 2019. 978-1-939-54731-6. 32 p. $17.99. Gr. 2-5

Sarah Goode had big dreams. Starting out life as a slave, Sarah moved north after the Civil War. She started a family and ran a furniture store with her husband. But she had bigger plans than running a business! Sarah wanted to do something to help people, and most families had more kids than they did space in their homes. Sarah designed a desk that folded out into a bed. She worked on it until she was sure she got it right, then she applied for a patent. At first her application was denied, but she didn’t give up! Sarah kept working on the wording and design until she succeeded, becoming the first African-American woman to be awarded a patent in the USA.

THOUGHTS: Sarah’s story of innovation and persistence is one that everyone should hear. There is a lot of great information in the back as well, including a list of all the African-American women who have since been granted patents (such as Mary Anderson, in 1903, for windshield wipers).

Picture Book          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Kirkfield, Vivian. Pippa’s Passover Plate. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44162-4. 32 p. $17.99. Gr. Pre K – 1

Pippa is a mouse who is getting ready to celebrate Passover. After cleaning her house, she must hunt for the Seder plate by asking three different predators for their help. Overcoming her fears, Pippa does eventually find her plate and is able to invite her new friends to dinner at sunset.

THOUGHTS: Familiarity with the idea of a  Seder plate and the fact that the Passover meal begins at sunset are helpful prerequisites for reading this book and the lack of explanatory context may limit the overall appeal. Some of the rhymes are a bit forced.

Picture Book          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Energy Revolution (series). Capstone, 2019. $20.99 ea. Set of 4 $111.96. 32 p. Gr. 3-6.

Boone, Mary. Hydropower. 978-1-543-55543-1.
Eboch, M. M.  Geothermal Energy. 978-1-543-55542-4.
Eboch, M. M.  Wind Energy. 978-1-543-55541-7.
Kenny, Karen Latchana. Solar Energy. 978-1-543-55540-0.

This is an informative and well-thought out series providing up-to-date information on the hot topic of renewable energy. The books are well laid out and discuss both the energy sources and how the power plants that use each type of energy work. Each book has a “Pros and Cons” section showing students both the benefits and the drawbacks of the renewable resource. Further sections review current usage and what the future might hold.

THOUGHTS: I really liked this series for older elementary and early middle school students. It is easy to understand in an age-appropriate, non-condescending manner. The informative boxes answered questions I didn’t even know I had! 

333 Natural Resources          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Smith, Heather, and Brooke Kerrigan. A Plan for Pops. Orca Book Publishers, 2019. 978-1-459-81614-5. 32 p. $19.95. Gr. K – up

Lou loves to spend every Saturday with Grandad and Pops, including the afternoons spent building with Grandad. He reminds Lou, “Always remember the three Ps—perseverance, persistence and patience!” One day Pops slips and falls. After his accident, Pops must use a wheelchair, but many Saturdays go by and he is too sad to get out of bed. Grandad and Lou need to come up with a plan…

THOUGHTS: This is such a wonderful and inclusive book! It doesn’t make a big deal that Grandad and Pops are a gay couple, or that Lou’s gender is never revealed… just a natural part of life. The characters are realistic in that they are happy and also vulnerable. This book provides a child’s view of adult depression, loving family, and the understanding that even if things don’t work out the first few times, there’s always the three Ps.

Picture Book          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School