MG – Pumpkinheads; Stepsister; My Body My Choice; Wrecking Ball; Where the Heart Is; The Strangers

Rowell, Rainbow. Pumpkinheads. First Second, 2019. 978-1-250-31285-3. 208 p. $17.99. Grades 6+.

In this charming graphic novel, perennial pumpkin patch workers and best friends Josiah and Deja realize it is their very last shift to work at their beloved fall festival before they head off to college. And though Josie is wallowing a bit about leaving a place, a time, and friends that he truly loves, Deja won’t let him spend their last night at work in a funk. And so she plans an adventurous evening for the two of them to explore all the sights and sounds at the fair, but most especially for Josie to finally talk to his cute crush at the Fudge Shoppe.  

THOUGHTS: The colorful and engaging illustrations by Faith Erin Hill and a sweet story of friendship and positivity by teen favorite Rainbow Rowell, make this title a quick and easy read that is sure to be a hit. 

Graphic Novel          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Donnelly, Jennifer.  Stepsister. Scholastic Press, 2019. 978-1-338-26846-1. 341 p. $17.99. Grades 6+. 

In this fantastic retelling of the Cinderella story, the focus in on the stepsister Isabelle, after she and Tavi mutilate their feet in their doomed effort to fit into the glass slipper and win the prince. Now the two girls and their failing mother are alone, derided by the townfolk, marked as outcasts, and struggling to eke out an existence in the countryside. Ella is long gone with her prince, and Isabelle is trying to put the pieces of her life back together. However, Chance and Fate have a wager on Isabelle’s future and her very soul. Can she find redemption and regain the precious pieces of herself that she lost, or is she doomed to a life of jealousy, regret, and bitterness? 

THOUGHTS: A clever and intriguing tale that brings the favorite fairytale full circle. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy of fairytale retellings.

Fantasy Fiction (Fairytales)           Nancy Summers, Abington SD   


Stevenson, Robin. My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights. Orca Issues, 2019. 978-1-459-81712-8. 175 p.  $19.95. Grades 7+.

Written as a response to declining access to abortion and birth control for women in the United States and across the world, this well-researched and well-written book provides readers with solid information on the history of abortion, the medical procedures available, the societal impacts of unplanned pregnancies, the history of the reproductive rights movement, the laws surrounding the issue and the anti-abortion movement. The book includes sidebars highlighting quotes from established and up-and-coming activists and color photos of protests and marches from around the world. 

THOUGHTS: A solid reference choice for secondary grades with up-to-date information, pages of citations and references, a glossary, and index.  

362.19 Social Welfare Problems and Services          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball. Amulet, 201. 978-1-419-73903-3. 217 p. $14.99. Grades 4-8.

When Greg’s great aunt dies, the Heffley family feels pretty bad when they show up for her funeral and realize (too late, of course) that it’s the wrong funeral…especially when they learn that she’s left them a large inheritance! Everybody lobbies for his favorite way to spend the money, but Greg’s mom says that they’re putting an addition on they house. In typical Greg Heffley fashion, hilarity ensues when Greg attempts to get involved in the renovations, and every aspect of the project goes sideways. It turns out that there is a clerical error with the building permits, and Greg’s family has wasted their money on construction that can’t continue. Mom’s solution? It’s time to move to a bigger, nicer house across town and time to sell the Heffley home to a new family. With meatball subs falling into concrete buckets, hot tubs swinging from cranes, mice families running amok, and Greg’s failed attempts at gutter cleaning, this Wimpy Kid book is the funniest addition to the series in the last few years. Greg’s fear of make-believe monster “The Grout” will have you and your students laughing out loud.

THOUGHTS: Kinney is back on point with this Wimpy Kid book, a winner for avid fans and kids just starting the series.

Realistic/Humorous Fiction           Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Knowles, Jo. Where the Heart Is. Candlewick Press, 2019. 978-1-536-20003-4. 292 p. $16.99. Grades 5-9.

This absorbing coming of age story explores friendship, love, and identity as well as family financial problems. Thirteen-year-old Rachel has so much on her plate. Micah, who has always been a faithful constant friend, would like their relationship to deepen. Rachel realizes that she doesn’t want this. Her parents’ financial difficulties bring tension as they lose their house and must move to an apartment. She is embarrassed that her mother must buy clothing from the thrift store. She feels awkward at parties that the new trendier girls give. There is stress from her summer job feeding the animals next door when she realizes that Lucy, the ornery pig is destined to be slaughtered for food.  Rachel is angry but introspective. Change and uncertainty about her future plague Rachel, but Knowles tempers these fears with strong family support and Micah’s friendship. The pace of the book calms down in the last chapter as Rachel realizes that for now, her family being together is more important than the house she lived in. They are beginning a new chapter in their lives. The future may not be certain, but she sees that there is hope. Jo Knowles writes with sensitivity as a young girl begins to understand her sexuality along with the anxiety of loss.  

THOUGHTS: I especially appreciated how Knowles portrays the parents and their problems. They may be angry at their circumstances, but they always consider what is best Rachel and her sister and try to make it happen. Hopefully readers who may be going through trying times will get a better understanding of adults feel when they are going through major losses.

Realistic Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Greystone Secrets #1: The Strangers. Harper Collins, 2019. 978-0-062-83837-7. 405 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

In this dystopian middle school novel Margaret Peterson Haddix introduces the Greystone Family, Mom, Chess, Emma, and Finn who live in a quiet suburb, by choice. The mystery starts as three other children are kidnapped. Mom is in a panic. These three kids are identical to the Greystone children in looks, ages, and names. Mom leaves suddenly after telling the children that they will always have each other.  The story continues as each child sees the events from his/her unique point of view. Chess, a quiet, gangly sixth grader, remembers when his father died and how his mother uprooted the family. He feels a deep responsibility to take care of his siblings. Emma, a fourth grader, loves math. She tries to put order in everything by seeing the mathematical connection and patterns. Finn, an exuberant second grader, loves to talk and to discover new words. These individual narrations allow readers to see characters grow into stronger, more mature persons. The Greystones form an unlikely friendship with Natalie, the daughter of the woman who is watching them during Mom’s absence.  Natalie and the Greystones begin to explore Mom’s basement office to find clues. When they discover a secret passage, the story takes off into an alternate world. It looks like home, even with the same people, but it is a world of cruelty, mind, and sensory control. The citizens live in abject terror. The plot has many twists involving codes and cyphers, a resistance movement, and a search for truth. The “end” leaves the reader hanging. There will be sequels! Greystone Secrets #2, The Deceivers is coming out in April 2020.

THOUGHTS: In addition to being a page turner, this book shows clear strong family ties and teamwork. This reminded me of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins and also some of the science fiction by William Sleator.  

Science Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired

YA – The Nickel Boys; Don’t Date Rosa Santos; The Babysitter’s Coven; The Grace Year; How it Feels to Float; Dig; Inside Out; Ordinary Hazards

Whitehead, Colson. The Nickel Boys. Doubleday, 2019. 978-0-385-53707-0. 213 pp. $24.95. Grades 10+.

As a young black man in Tallahassee, Florida, in the early 1960s, Elwood Curtis has a vision for his life. The album Martin Luther King at Zion Hill (the best gift he ever received from his grandmother and guardian, Harriet) instilled his belief in King’s message of progress through peace, and he plans to join the Civil Rights movement. An ambitious high school student, Elwood enrolls in a college course, but in an almost absurdly tragic turn of events, he hitches a ride in a stolen car. Thus begins his time at Nickel Academy, a Florida reform school. Though he endures terrible abuse at Nickel, the friendship of another boy named Turner sustains him. Likewise, Turner trusts and confides in Elwood. Interspersed chapters from Elwood’s adult life in New York City provide glimpses of the lasting impact of the trauma suffered all those years before. Just as Elwood tries “without success to figure out why his life had bent to this wretched avenue,” so will readers of this virtuosic novel.

THOUGHTS: It’s difficult to find words that haven’t already been used to praise Colson Whitehead’s unique body of work, but The Nickel Boys is truly something special. An author of rare caliber, telling an essential story in spare and chilling prose. It’s adolescent characters make it a fine crossover selection. Elizabeth A. Murray’s recently published nonfiction title, The Dozier School for Boys, would be a fitting companion piece.

The Dozier School, which closed in 2011, inspired this story. For more information and footage of the school grounds, watch a YouTube video or two, starting with

Historical Fiction (Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

In the middle of the 1900s, there was not a lot of equality, especially in the south. The Nickel Boys is set both in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and in modern day. Based on true events, the tale centers around Elwood and Turner’s stay at Nickel Academy, a reformatory center for boys of all races in Florida. Although both boys ended up at the academy for different reasons, they become friends and supports for each other in a place that is brimming with abuse, racism, and corruption. Just as Elwood strived to participate in the Civil Rights movement before his placement, he tries to find a way to follow in Dr. King’s footsteps from afar, despite Turner’s hesitance. There are flashforwards to present day featuring a former student at the academy. 

THOUGHTS: This book did not read as fast as I thought it would, but the ending shocked the foundation of what I thought I understood about this horrible piece of history. It’s worth reading until the end, just for that feeling. The Nickel Boys is a good addition to any library looking to enhance their collection with a fictionalized specific story during the Civil Rights movement in 20th century America.

Historical Fiction.                 Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Moreno, Nina. Don’t Date Rosa Santos. Hyperion, 2019. 978–136803970-3. $17.99. 325 p. Grades 8 and up. 

The Santos women are cursed… or at least that’s what they and their community of Port Coral, FL believes based on their pasts. The curse? Any man they love will perish in the sea. Rosa’s grandfather died at sea in a storm as he and her pregnant grandmother escaped Cuba, and Rosa’s father who also loved the sea perished in a storm when Rosa’s mother was pregnant with her. For this reason, as Rosa explains in the book’s opening line, “The Santos women never go to the sea.” But as Rosa prepares to graduate high school and tries to make a college decision, the curse is the least of her worries… at least until she meets Alex, a super cute and mysterious boy who – of course – is a sailor. Avoiding Alex is difficult as Rosa is paired with him on a mission to save the port and its annual Spring Festival. While Rosa works on projects for the Spring Festival – and navigates her feelings for Alex – her college decision deadline looms in the back of her mind. She longs to take advantage of one school’s study abroad program to see her family’s homeland in Cuba, but she knows that would upset her grandmother who left Cuba for a reason and does not want to see her granddaughter go back. As Rosa’s primary parental caretaker (since her photographer mother is constantly traveling the country), her grandmother’s opinion matters a lot. Throw in a missing golden turtle that’s part of a school tradition, and that rounds out this novel’s array of conflicts. 

THOUGHTS: A cute tattooed sailor boy who bakes? (Can you say “unicorn?”) Still, Don’t Date Rosa Santos manages to be fluffy and feel-good yet complex and even surprising with a satisfying ending. The conflicts between these three Santos women become primary for most of the book, and female readers of any age can relate to their familial relationship struggles. Readers may find the characters’ Cuban culture and history engaging, though there are many times when the characters speak a line or two in Spanish, and readers who have any less than rudimentary knowledge of the Spanish language might find they need to look up words. Overall, highly recommended for fans of YA Contemporary. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Williams, Kate. The Babysitter’s Coven. Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-0-525-70737-0. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Esme Pearl has a babysitter’s club. Okay, so it’s not like THE Babysitter’s Club, it only has two members, but it still counts. Together with her friend Janis, the club offers babysitting services around town. One night, things start to get weird, and someone that resembles The Goblin King from Labyrinth shows up and attempts to kidnap the child Esme is watching. Deciding that can’t possibly have actually happened, Esme resolves to put the event behind her and tries not to let it freak her out of a job. Events begin to snowball when a new girl appears at school and wants to join the club right around the same time Esme begins to notice that she is able to move things with her mind. The two find they have supernatural powers in common and work to learn their abilities while trying to keep the kids safe. But when an inter-dimensional demon shows up, who’s going to do the same for them? 

THOUGHTS: This was an exciting new take on a classic club. Author Kate Williams wrote a book that is not only imaginative but also culturally relevant by including many references that today’s teens will automatically understand and enjoy.

Fantasy (Paranormal)         Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

Liggett, Kim. The Grace Year. Wednesday Books, 2019. 978-1-250-14544-4. 416 p. $16.99. Grades 9 and up. 

At 16 girls become dangerous. They are told they have magic, magic that turns them into sirens disrupting the very fabric of society. In order to continue to live in Garner County, 16 year old girls must be sent away for that year, the grace year. They must rid themselves of their magic in order to return as non-disruptive members of society, young women ready for marriage. Tierney James knows her grace year is coming but knows almost nothing about it given that women are forbidden to speak about what happens during that year. All she knows is that each year fewer and fewer girls return. Banished to an encampment, preyed upon by poachers, the girls must attempt to survive a whole year exposed to the elements with a finite food supply and powerful magic that threatens the sanity of every girl involved. All she has to go on are the few words she was warned with “Trust no one… Not even yourself” (Liggett 56).

THOUGHTS: Nothing is what it seems in this extraordinary tale. This is an incredible story of fantasy, adventure, and survival with underlying currents of feminism. The Grace Year kept me engrossed from cover to cover.

Action/Adventure, Fantasy (survival)          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

Fox, Helena. How It Feels to Float. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2019. 978-0-525-55429-5. 384 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

This book makes my heart hurt for Biz, the main character who often talks to her late father as she struggles through life as a teenager. Set in Australia, this novel deals with grief, mental illness, and sexuality all written by someone who lives with mental illness. Biz doesn’t feel particularly attached to anyone or anything after a mis-kiss with her best friend and a sexual assault incident on the beach. A new, mysterious boy at school saves her in so many ways by the end of this book. 

THOUGHTS: This is a strong representation of so much of what young adults are going through in today’s world. The clear truth of Biz’s situation make her easy to relate to and the writing flows so effortlessly and beautifully. Another must have on any contemporary school library shelf.

Realistic Fiction         Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

King, A. S. Dig. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2019. 978-1-101-99491-7. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 11-12.

What do fleas, a shovel, pot, cancer, and a freak have in common? You won’t know until the end of this twisty family saga. King makes weird choices throughout this book that constantly make you question what you just read and then make you question what you believe in your soul. Dig is told from the point of view of five teenagers that don’t seem to have much in common, and they really don’t have much in common except potatoes.

THOUGHTS: This book made me squirm and made me think about things in a way that books haven’t done in a long time. It’s gritty and difficult to keep characters straight at times, but well worth the brilliance of what it will do to your soul. Recommended for hearty readers who can handle multiple points of view and difficult subjects including racism, murder, and abuse.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

A.S. King has written another interesting, metaphor-filled story about a multi-generational family trying to understand themselves, the choices they’ve made, life, and how they fit in their families and the wider world. The surrealistic elements King includes add to the feelings of confusion and despair that the teen protagonists and their parents and grandparents wrestle with. Although the story seems to focus on five teens it also examines the grandparents, Marla and Gottfried, and how their choices affected not only their children, but also their grandchildren. (The middle generation only plays a supporting role in the story.) Some of the teens go by labels like: The Shoveler, CanIHelpYou, The Freak (who is the most surreal), and The Ring Mistress (who takes delight in her Flea Circus). This story addresses many topics, like sexual assault, drug use, dysfunctional families, mental illness, cancer, and white privilege/racism and how each of those things can reverberate through generations. Every generation needs to dig their way out of the toxic blight caused by the generations that proceeded them. The overarching message is to love each other more.

THOUGHTS: I have read every book A.S. King has written and have enjoyed almost every one, but I really enjoyed reading Dig. Because it was told from so many points-of-view, I found it more challenging to get to know the characters initially, but I found myself still thinking about them days after finishing the story. I read it over the course of two days, and I didn’t want to put it down. I can’t wait to book talk this to my 9th grade students.

Realistic Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

Maddox, Marjorie. Inside Out:  Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises. Daffydowndilly Press, 2020. 978-1-950-46245-5. 61 p. Grades 7-12.

Pennsylvania author Marjorie Maddox’s ingenious little book of poems is chock-full of mentor texts that will not only educate, but also delight, budding tween and teen poets.  Most of the poems explain a poetic form or concept while at the same time serving as an example of it. “Couplet,” for instance, is a couplet describing a couplet: “Poet twins all dressed in rhymes / stroll side-by-side in two straight lines.”  Maddox’s poetry is easy to understand and yet full of clever wordplay and delightful images. Also included in the book are creative and fun poetry exercises with clear, detailed instructions, as well as a glossary of poetic terms. 

THOUGHTS: This is a unique, useful, and flat-out charming book. Aspiring young poets will love it, and so will teachers looking for resources for poetry units in middle and high school language arts classes. Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries.

 811  Poetry          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Grimes, Nikki. Ordinary Hazards. Wordsong, 2019. 978-1-629-79881-3 325 p. $19.99  Grades 7-12.

 “It’s a long story, but I’m a poet, /  I can cut it short,” Nikki Grimes promises in the prologue of her memoir-in-verse, Ordinary Hazards. She’s not kidding. In this heartrending but ultimately hopeful story of her formative years, Grimes evokes in a few words what would take most writers paragraphs to explain. Her story is not always easy to read. The daughter of a schizophrenic mother, Grimes endured abusive babysitters, horrific foster homes, and sexual assault. The memoir also has a meta-biographic aspect, as Grimes addresses the damage trauma does to memory:  she is left with “scraps of knowing / wedged between blank spaces.” Grimes shares how she reaches out to old friends and family members to fill in some of the gaps, and reconstructs her childhood journal as she imagines the rest. Despite the tough subject matter, the book is sprinkled with wry wit that will appeal to teen readers.  Ultimately, a portrait of a talented young woman who learns to rely primarily on her faith, a few trusted friends, and her own ingenuity, and eager to give back to a world that has given little to her, emerges. The book ends on a hopeful note, with Grimes meeting her soon-to-be first mentor, James Baldwin.

THOUGHTS: The subject matter of the book lends itself to more mature readers; however, Grimes writes sensitively and with as much decorum as ugly topics allow, with the result that the book is accessible to middle as well as high school students. The writing here is really unparalleled. Grimes, the 2017 winner of the Children’s Legacy Award, may have just published her best work to date. An essential purchase, as important a work as Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.

Biography          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley 

Elem. – Rotten; Ernestine’s Milky Way; Me and the Sky; Little Robin’s Christmas; The Bear and the Star; The Great Santa Stakeout; Dasher; Santa’s Story; Pick a Pumpkin; William Wakes Up; Pony Poems for Little Pony Lovers; Our Flag Was Still There; It’s a Digital World

Sanchez, Anita. Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, Slime, and Nature’s Other Decomposers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-1-328-84165-0. 83 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

What do dung beetles, vultures, fungi, and earthworms have in common?  They all contribute to decomposition in nature, which is a vital part of our ecosystem.  In this highly informative and engaging text, Sanchez discusses the “rotten world” in eight chapters. Each chapter is dedicated to a different aspect of decomposition and is comprised of several text boxes of information. Readers will be amazed to learn that dung beetles can bury a ton of poop per acre every day and will see how the lowly earthworm can move a boulder. The text does not get bogged down in technical terms and is accompanied by entertaining illustrations by Gilbert Ford. These comical drawings help the reader easily visualize the concepts. For instance, in the chapter called “Welcome to the Rotten Log Hotel,” Ford has drawn insects carrying suitcases and other insects using keys to get into their rooms. This helps carry home the point that a downed tree is teeming with life and becomes compost and new soil over time, thanks to these insects. In the chapter called “Rotten People,” the author begins with a discussion of mummies, but then goes off into a bit of the macabre when she tells us how sailors drank brandy from the same barrel where Lord Nelson’s body was kept to preserve it. Another story called “Having Lee for Lunch” is about a man who willed that his ashes be spread over his vegetable garden, with the intention that the produce be enjoyed by the neighbors. The book ends with instructions on creating your own compost pile. There is a glossary, index, and source notes in the back matter.

THOUGHTS: This engaging text is sure to draw browsers who wish to learn more about the circle of life or who just enjoy being grossed out. Although the CIP information lists this as being suitable for K-3, the discussion seems geared to upper elementary. Librarians needing to fill this gap in their collections should consider this one.

581.714          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
Botany- Physiologic and Structural
Specific Topics in Natural History

Madden-Lunsford, Kerry, and Emily Sutton. Ernestine’s Milky Way. Schwartz & Wade Books, 2019. 978-1-524-71484-0. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Growing up in a valley of the Great Smoky Mountains, Ernestine was proud to holler out to the world that she was “five years old and a big girl!” Her mama soon put that bold bravery to test, as she sent Ernestine by herself to deliver some fresh milk to the neighbor family down yonder. The path was filled with obstacles and challenges, but Ernestine feels ready. Along the way, she proves to be a helpful big girl, until she drops one of the milk jars. Lessons and grace from Kerry Madden-Lunsford fill this clever story, as the flowing watercolor illustrations of Emily Sutton give the characters a long ago feel. Indeed, since their men are off to war, the characters look to the night sky to connect time and place between Europe and North Carolina. Young readers may be able to do the same, and feel like big children with responsibilities, too. 

THOUGHTS: The recipe and description of the real Ernestine in the end notes will help give an activity and context for the readers. Knowing that this takes place during WWII, groups also may want to compare other jobs and tasks that women stepped into on the homefront.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Bass, Beverly, and Joanie Stone. Me and the Sky: Captain Beverly Bass, Pioneering Pilot. Alfred A Knopf, 2019. 978-0-525-64549-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 2-4.

Pioneers in any endeavor always need passion and determination to make their dreams come true. Beverly Bass undoubtedly had both, as she sought to be a female airline pilot. Starting as a dream when she was little and moving into her young adult occupation, Beverly took to the skies whenever she could. Once inside the cockpit, she learned and practiced and began to make her dreams into reality. Even when told that women can’t be large airline pilots, she took jobs that lead her to make progress toward her goal. The words are from Bass herself and ring the right balance between inspirational and educational. The stylized artwork from Joanie Stone puts young readers into the scene, whether a bird’s eye view or firmly on the ground. With the biographical information and story of her actions on 9/11, in the end notes, young readers will be inspired to pursue their dreams.

THOUGHTS: Female aviation pioneers are unique in many of the challenges that they face, but the story of Beverly serves to open the world of airline pilots and inspire a new generation of young girls to reach for their dreams. Students who look to Betsy Coleman, Amelia Earhart, and Sally Ride would appreciate the story of Bass as well. They could even reach out to her on Twitter at @jetsflygirl for more!

Biography        Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Fearnley, Jan. Little Robin’s Christmas. Nose Crow, 2019. 978-1-536-20825-2. Unpaged. $16.99. Grades PreK-2. 

Little Robin’s collection of seven colorful vests will keep him warm through the chilly winter days, and certainly look lovely against his plain brown feathers, but by the end of a cold week he has no vests left after he gives them all away to friends in need of warmth. While they don’t fit all of his friends very well (Rabbit wears his as a hat!), they are all so grateful to kind Little Robin who selflessly puts his friends first. After giving away his last vest to a mouse, Little Robin realizes that he’s very chilly himself and he’s far, far from home. Santa Claus finds Little Robin and takes him home to Mrs. Claus. Santa tells Little Robin, “You gave away all your warm clothes to help others. You are full of the spirit of Christmas. Now it’s time for your present.’” Mrs. Claus knits Little Robin his signature red “vest,” a gift he will wear forever, and says “…when other people see you, it will make them feel warm, too.” Such a sweet pourquoi story with a Christmas twist!

THOUGHTS: Little Robin shows what Christmas spirit is all about. 

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Schaefer, Lola. The Bear and the Star. Greenwillow Books, 2019. 978-0-062-66037-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2. 

Bethanne Andersen’s beautiful oil paintings pair nicely with Lola Schaefer’s peaceful December story. A bear sees a bright star one December morning and realizes, “It was time.” He searches for a tree that can serve as a gathering spot and roars far and wide for animals and people alike to join together under “…a star larger and brighter than any before, because it was time…for peace.” The story is not religious in nature, although the December time period and mention of the bright star certainly could put readers in mind of Christmas, but it conveys such a lovely feeling of togetherness and peace that it could easily be read as a holiday story or simply a wintertime call for everyone to be together in love and peace.

THOUGHTS: Consider for a December storytime or quiet sharing with a special child. 

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Bird, Betsy. The Great Santa Stakeout. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-116998-0. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Freddy Melcher loves Santa Claus. Really, really, REALLY loves Santa Claus. He gives out Christmas tree-shaped Valentines, dresses as Santa for his birthday party, and decorates his bedroom with wall-to-wall Santa gear. Freddy’s biggest wish is to snap a selfie with Santa on Christmas Eve–what an addition to his collection! His plan involves cans on the roof, motion-sensitive cameras, and a whole lot of luck. Christmas Eve arrives and Freddy hears a clatter on the roof, throws up the sash…and sees Santa fall past his window to the ground below! Oh no! Did Freddy break Santa? Turns out that Santa is too smart for this plan, and he leaves a note instead, which Freddy jubilantly adds to his collection of Santa memorabilia before he gets to work on next year’s plan. In typical Dan Santat fashion, the illustrations are packed with funny details and lots of color.

THOUGHTS: A modern day Christmas story for any kid (big or little) who adores the jolly man in red. 

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Tavares, Matt. Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever. Candlewick Press, 2019. 978-1-536-20137-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

My favorite new Christmas book of 2019. Dasher and her reindeer family live with J.P. Finnegan’s Traveling Circus and Menagerie where they serve double duty–animal attraction by day and wagon-pullers by night. Dasher loves the children who visit the circus and feed her carrots, but life is hot and cramped and Mr. Finnegan is unkind. One thing that brings Dasher joy is her mother’s stories about the North Pole, a place where the North Star is directly overhead and snow covers the ground. One night, Dasher escapes when wind blows her pen’s gate open, and she follows the North Star for many hours. She finds herself lost and unsure what to do. She wishes on the North Star and hears soft jingle bells in the distance. Dasher meets Santa and horse Silverbell, a beautiful white horse who is solely responsible for pulling Santa’s sleigh, and offers to help Silverbell pull the sleigh so she can make children happy on Christmas morning. The run is a success, and Dasher makes another wish for her whole family to join her at the North Pole. Santa is happy to grant this wish, and eventually Silverbell happily steps aside so Dasher and her family can serve as Santa’s full time sleigh team and live at the North Pole. Matt Tavares wrote and illustrated a beautiful tale from yesteryear, and as the front note says, “…it never would have happened if it weren’t for a brave young doe named Dasher.”

THOUGHTS: Gorgeous illustrations highlight this heartwarming story about Santa’s first reindeer. 

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Hillenbrand, Will. Santa’s Story. Two Lions, 2019. 978-1-542-04338-0. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.  

Santa is ready to begin his Christmas Eve deliveries, but the reindeer have gone missing. Santa searches high and low for his crew, and “Santa decided to play the all-call on his horn. Toot, toot, toot…” Still no reindeer! Several pages show each deer enjoying himself in some fun way, whether it’s singing some Christmas tunes, dancing, or taking a nap. After a noisy display of jingle bell ringing, there are still no reindeer at the sleigh and Santa is stumped. Suddenly, he sees Comet in the distance reading a book, and he remembers their Christmas Eve tradition. Calling the crew to story time, Santa begins, “‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…” The deer enjoy the story and feel ready to spread Christmas cheer. Hillenbrand’s special blend of funny illustrated details and simple text create an enjoyable new Christmas story.

THOUGHTS: Kids will enjoy the reindeers’ antics and the simple, satisfying ending.  

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Toht, Patricia. Pick a Pumpkin. Candlewick Press, 2019. 978-1-536-20764-4. Unpaged. $16.99. Grades PreK-2. 

The team behind Pick a Pine Tree is back with another holiday tradition! Pick a Pumpkin follows mother and children through a pumpkin patch where they choose the best pumpkins before pausing for a fall treat (“Stop for mugs of spicy punch, toffee apples, sweet to crunch”). At home, the family prepares the pumpkins for carving, and dad and baby join the fun. Just like the family preparing their Christmas tree in Pick a Pine Tree, this family invites friends and neighbors to join in and adults and children carve jack-o-lanterns before decorating the house, donning costumes for trick-or-treat, and lighting the jack-o-lanterns (“Its red-hot eyes will gaze and flicker. Its fiery grin will blaze and snicker, to guard your house while you have fun.”). Toht’s descriptive rhyming text begs readers to move through the pages as many verses end with the beginning of the next verse (“Homeward from the pumpkin patch, all your goodies stack in back. Now…”). Jarvis uses pencil, chalk, paint, and digitally added color to create whimsical illustrations with all the trimmings of autumn: vibrantly colored fall leaves, a full moon covered by dark flecks (birds? witches on broomsticks?), and the family black cat dotting the pages.

THOUGHTS: In a sea of mediocre Halloween books, this one stands out with winning text and illustrations. Perfect for a class read-aloud to celebrate the traditions of the holiday! 

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Ashman, Linda. William Wakes Up. Disney Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-487-42283-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2. 

William wakes up from his winter slumber (William’s Winter Nap) with animal friends still snoozing in bed. He realizes that his friend will soon arrive and asks his friends to wake up and help make a cake to welcome the guest. Similar to the one-by-one arrival of each animal in William’s first story, the animals rise one-by-one to help with springtime chores, although sleepy Raccoon stays in bed, only waking when William’s friend Bluebird arrives and the cake is presented. The other animals feel that Raccoon isn’t deserving of cake since he didn’t share in the work, which feels very much like The Little Red Hen, but Raccoon gets another chance to help when Bluebird needs a building crew for a new nest. Ashman’s stories about William pair nicely with similar rhyming styles and lovely old-fashioned illustrations by Chuck Groenik, but William’s springtime story would also make a great stand-alone read.

THOUGHTS: A great choice for story time with preschoolers/kindergarteners, especially if the kids know William from a winter storytime! 

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Meister, Cari. Pony Poems for Little Pony Lovers. Beach Lane Books, 2019. 978-1-481-49814-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Cari Meister’s Pony Poems for Little Pony Lovers will certainly find an audience with your horse and pony fans. The poems are short and sweet, mostly rhyming, and clearly full of pony love. Several of the poems sound similar and adopted styles from familiar nursery rhymes to tell about ponies of all kinds. The children and ponies shown pictured in illustrations by Sara Rhys are adorable and a tad whimsical, full of soft colors and rosy cheeks. Front and back endpapers picture each horse in a cameo-style portrait surrounded by vines and flowers. 

THOUGHTS: A nice addition to easy poetry collections that will find its biggest fans with pony lovers. 

811 Poetry          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD


Hartland, Jessie. Our Flag Was Still There: The True Story of Mary Pickersgill and the Star-Spangled Banner. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-5344-0233-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-4. 

Jessie Hartland’s signature, somewhat unusual illustration style feels endearingly jolly when paired with a historical narrative on Mary Pickersgill’s giant flag that inspired Francis Scott Key’s writing of the poem turned national anthem. The War of 1812 prompted Major George Armistead to hire Pickersgill and her team of female seamstresses to create a giant flag to fly over Fort McHenry (“George wanted to send a big message to the British: This land belongs to America!”). Pickersgill and her all-female team created the giant thirty by forty-two foot flag in her Baltimore shop (and the local brewery, when they needed more space!) in just six weeks. It flew over Fort McHenry as the US soldiers defended our country from the British. Over the last 200 years, the flag survived through several owners (and moths!) and was donated to and restored by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History  in Washington, D.C. where it can be seen today. End matter includes a helpful Author’s Note, source notes, bibliography, further reading suggestions, and a timeline of events. Front and back endpapers feature a collection of period items on a patriotic-looking background, similar to Hartland’s endpapers in Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child. A few favorites: a can of Blubber King whale oil, a pint of Brown’s beer from the Baltimore brewery where Pickersgill worked on the flag, and giant sewing scissors. 

THOUGHTS: An excellent topical account of Mary Pickersgill and the famous flag. 

929.9 Flags         Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

It’s a Digital World! Checkerboard Library, 2019. $20 each, $120 set of 6. 32 p. Grades 3-6.

Hudak, Heather C. Amazing App Developers. 978-1-53211-530-1
—. Creative Podcast Procedures. 978-1-53211-531-8
—. Dynamic Website Developers. 978-1-53211-532-5
—. Gifted Game Designers. 978-1-53211-533-2
—. Helpful Hackers. 978-1-53211-534-9
Balsley, Christine E. Master Computer Programmers. 978-1-53211-535-6

Please note that this review was written based on Helpful Hackers, not the entire series. Helpful Hackers provides an excellent introduction on the history, terminology, and pros and cons of computer hacking. Hudak’s straightforward text details both sides of hacking (black hat vs. white hat) and the ways that both have become big business in recent years as corporations, universities, banks, and more depend on hackers working in cybersecurity to protect sensitive information from hackers looking to profit from scams and security breaches. The layout is clean with lots of white space and brightly colored headers and footers, and end matter includes a well-done timeline, glossary, index, and reference to Abdo’s Booklinks nonfiction network for links and further resources.

THOUGHTS: A timely, visually appealing introduction to hacking, see the rest of the series for other offerings in STEM careers. 

Computer Science          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD