MG – Rick; Wink; Prairie Lotus

Gino, Alex. Rick. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-04810-0. $17.99. 225 p. Grades 5-9.

Rick Ramsey doesn’t exactly know why he seems to feel different from other boys his age, especially his best friend Jeff. But he knows that he doesn’t enjoy talking about girls’ bodies, kissing, or even dating.  Jeff doesn’t notice Rick’s discomfort when he talks about these topics. Rick lets it go; Jeff can be kind of a jerk, but they’ve had some great times together and they’re best friends. They start middle school, and Rick becomes increasingly confused about his feelings and more uncomfortable with Jeff’s behaviors. He starts to wonder – perhaps the two of them became friends out of convenience. Rick’s grandfather gently pushes him to really think about his relationship with Jeff and whether it is worth holding on to. Rick finds comfort in spending time with his grandfather, the one person in his life who really understands him. When his grandfather reveals that he used to dress up as female characters for various sci-fi conventions, Rick begins to understand that sexuality and gender are complex – but that doesn’t change how he feels about his grandfather. Meanwhile, at school, Rick decides to attend The Rainbow Spectrum, a group of LGBTQ+ students, at first out of curiosity. He keeps this information from Jeff, who defaces the group’s posters with inappropriate drawings. However, as he makes new friends in the Rainbow Spectrum and becomes a participant rather than an observer, he makes some hard decisions and truly begins to understand himself. Fans of Gino’s novel George will be happy to check in with that book’s main character Melissa, who appears as one of Rick’s classmates.

THOUGHTS: Rick and his grandfather have a sweet relationship. Everyone can relate to having that one person in their lives that understands them on a deeper level. Many can also relate to making tough decisions about a friendship that has truly worn on too long. All students will benefit from reading about the complexity of sexuality told in a way that is appropriate for younger readers. This book is an important one to have in our libraries as we strive to represent all kinds of people on our shelves.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD


Harrell, Rob. Wink. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-984-81514-9. 320 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Ross Maloy would love to be just like any other middle school kid, but that just doesn’t seem possible. Since he was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer, he has faced treatments, hair loss, family troubles, bullying, and even the loss of a best friend who seems to be avoiding him. How to survive through this scary and unpredictable time? With laughter and music and friendship, which are sometimes found in unexpected places. For example, the radiation tech asks for Ross’ music preferences to help make the treatments more tolerable, and that leads to exploring new artists who connect with his inner emotions. In turn, this leads Ross to learning to play guitar and jamming with a band, even including his one time nemesis, Jimmy. Friendship comes in other unexpected forms, from his unshakeable rock Abby to an older, wise (and wisecracking) Jerry. Through it all, there are moments real and heartbreaking, hilarious and inspiring – much like the weird world of middle school can be for any kid! 

THOUGHTS: Along the lines of Wonder and other stories which teach tolerance and difference for school, Wink has plenty to discuss and perspectives to learn. The author writes from personal experience, having gone through the same treatments. He also includes comic strip bits from Batpig and inserted illustrations to inject humor and to express Ross’ feelings. Very worthwhile purchase for middle grade readers.

Realistic Fiction          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Park, Linda Sue. Prairie Lotus. Clarion Books, 2020. 978-1-328-78150-5. 261 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

It is 1880, and Hanna is a fourteen year old girl who is moving to the Dakota Territory with her father. Hanna has dreams of becoming a dressmaker like her deceased mother, but she faces some obstacles because she is half-Chinese and knows that white Americans do not always want to live with people of other ethnicities. As her father works on building the dress goods store, Hanna asks him if she can go to school for the first time. The townspeople do not want their children attending class with her and all but three remove them from school. After a few weeks, Hanna’s teacher accelerates her graduation and Hanna is happy to devote her time to getting the store in order and makes a dress to promote the store’s opening. While doing an errand, Hannah is attacked by two drunken men and is able to escape with bruises. However, some people in the community believe that Hanna encouraged the men and plan on boycotting the store, until some friends intervene. Park has blended her own life experiences facing prejudice as a Korean-American and her childhood love of the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder in writing this novel. In the not-to-be missed author’s note, Park acknowledges the problems with Wilder’s treatment of Native Americans and in this book presents a positive relationship in the friendship between Hanna and the Sioux women, as they share a meal and “Timpsina,” a prairie turnip.

THOUGHTS:  This novel is well-crafted, and Park has done a fabulous job in the development of her main character.  The reader can experience Hanna’s feelings as she is treated unfairly by the community, simply because she is Chinese.  Park has also drawn attention to the plight of the Native Americans who also faced discrimination and were forced into reservations. This is a first purchase for upper elementary and middle school libraries. A truly engaging story. 

Historical Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD

Elem. – When We Are Kind; Lift

Smith, Monique Gray. When We Are Kind. Orca Book Publishing, 2020. 978-1-459-82522-2. Unpaged. Grades K-2.

How do you define Kindness? How are you kind to others? How is Kindness expressed to you? Throughout the text, Monique Smith highlights simple acts of everyday kindness. She addresses kindness to nature, humans, and kindness to oneself. From helping the elderly to feeling comfort from a pet cat, Smith finds simple ways to explain kindness to young children. Artist Nicole Neidhardt’s illustrations beautifully complement the gentle text.

THOUGHTS: A warm book that shares many examples of kindness through simple text and colorful pictures. Use this picture book to jump start lessons on what kindness looks like, ways students can be kind to others, and how students feel when someone is kind in return.

Picture Book          Ramona Klein, Keystone Oaks SD

 


Lê, Minh. Lift. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-368-03692-4. 56 pp. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Iris loves to push elevator buttons, and whenever her family rides up or down, pushing the button is her job. But one day, she is betrayed when her younger brother reaches out and pushes the button! Disgusted, Iris snatches a discarded elevator button panel out of a trash can and tapes it next to her closet door. When she clicks the button it lights up with a “Ding!” and the door opens onto a lush jungle. Later that night, Iris steps through the doorway into a gravity-free space station high above the earth, but her brother’s cries keep her tethered to reality. In the morning, excited for her next adventure, she holds her brother’s hand and lets him push the button after realizing that “everyone can use a lift sometimes.” With minimal text and sequential panels in the style of a graphic novel for early readers, this magical picture book contains great depth of meaning. Iris’s excitement, exasperation, and wonder are are all vividly portrayed through Dan Santat’s illustrations. Many readers will connect with the theme of adapting to life with a sibling, from Iris’s grudging protectiveness of her brother to the unfettered adoration he clearly has for her. 

THOUGHTS: As they did with their very well-received 2018 collaboration, Drawn Together, in Lift Lê and Santat encapsulate the magic found in not just discovering an adventure, but sharing it. 

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Infinity Son; All Your Twisted Secrets; The Kingdom of Back; The Between; The Upside of Falling; This is My Brain in Love

Silvera, Adam. Infinity Son. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-98378-7. 353 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Twin brothers Emil and Brighton grew up idolizing Spell Walkers, the Celestials who use their powers to maintain order. But now that they’re turning 18, Emil thinks his brother needs to put the hero-worship aside and face the future realistically. But Brighton thrives on subscribers and likes on his Celestials of New York YouTube channel, and he wants fame so bad he can taste it. When the pair are attacked by a Spector, one who drank Celestial blood to acquire powers, mild mannered Emil erupts in rare Phoenix Fire, to his amazement and Brighton’s cold envy. The family is brought to a Spell Walker compound for protection, and Emil is convinced to join the unit, even though he is an introverted pacifist who isn’t sure the Spell Walkers always use their powers for good. As Emil reluctantly assists in missions, Brighton becomes the team’s public relations director, while his jealousy of his brother, and his disgust with Emil’s pacifism, continue to degrade the one invincible bond between them. Silvera adds another dimension to the superhero genre with his action-packed book. Emil’s reluctance to be a hero contrasts sharply with Brighton’s driven need for fame and power. The Celestials are morally ambiguous, even though they believe their actions are done for the greater good. There are no clear heroes and villains here, and Emil illustrates the danger of having powers others desire. Several big reveals later in the book set the stage for an eagerly awaited sequel.

THOUGHTS: Well developed characters paired with action and suspense make this book a winner. Hand this to fans of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades series or other superhero readers.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Urban, Diana. All Your Twisted Secrets. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-90821-6. 390 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

The beginning of the book starts off so tritely: six stereotypical high school students are notified they have won a prestigious scholarship. The music nerd, the jock, the alpha cheerleader, the stoner, the valedictorian, and the genius loner all show up at the restaurant for the dinner/scholarship presentation, only to find out something is horribly wrong. Then the addictive wild ride begins. Narrated by Amber, the music nerd, the six find themselves locked in a basement dining room, with a ticking bomb, a loaded hypodermic needle, and a note that warns the students that within an hour, one of them must be killed with the poison loaded hypodermic, or the bomb will explode and they all will die. Flashbacks fill in the back story, as the minutes tick down and the frantic teens turn on each other in order to survive. As the plot unfolds, the relationships between the six are uncovered, and true feelings ruthlessly rise to the surface. Subtly woven throughout is the backstory of Amber’s brilliant older sister who committed suicide due to cyberbulling.The suspense is top notch, and you cannot put the book down until its shocking, gut wrenching conclusion.

THOUGHTS: This cross between Karen McManus’ One of Us is Lying and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is sure to fly off the shelf. The ending scarred me for weeks.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lu, Marie. The Kingdom of Back. Putnam, 2020. 978-1-524-73901-0. 313 p. $18.99. Grade. 7-12.

Once upon a time there was an extraordinarily talented pianist who was also a gifted composer, by the name of Mozart. Nannerl Mozart. The older sister of the Mozart still adored the world over, Nannerl knows from a young age that, as a woman, her moment in the spotlight will be fleeting. Her father constantly tells her so. He values her musical ability as a means to earn money and recognition for the family, but once she reaches marriageable age, her public performances will end. As for her compositions, well, don’t be ridiculous. Women don’t compose. Lu takes the bare bones of what is known about Mozart’s sister, and weaves an enchanting historical fantasy that pulses with the frustrations Nannerl must have felt being a gifted woman in a society who had no need of such a person. As the siblings toured Europe, performing for royalty and earning the fame and fortune their father desired, they amused themselves by inventing the kingdom of Back. It is this magical realm that drives Lu’s story. In the kingdom, Nannerl is offered the opportunity of lasting fame, to have her name and her music remembered through the ages, but it may be a bargain too costly to make. Lu skillfully crafts the loving relationship between the siblings, and how Nannerl chafes under her father’s restrictions. She tantalizingly creates a scenario where young Mozart is influenced by Nannerl’s compositions, seeks her help with his own compositions, and even has her compositions published under his own name, all the more intriguing  because the world will never know how much Nannerl truly did influence her brother. This unique blend of fact and fantasy creates a world the reader will remember, as well as brings to light a talented woman too long lost to history.

THOUGHTS: This gorgeously written, uniquely plotted book may take some booktalking, but readers will be enthralled once they read a few pages.

Fantasy (Historical)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Hofmeyr, David. The Between. Delacorte, 2020. 978-0-385-74475-1. 376 p. $17.99. Grades 7+.

One moment Ana Moon is a normal high school girl, sneaking out to meet her best friend, Bea. The next, the train they’re riding on freezes in place and time, and a monstrous creature snatches Bea and takes off. When a shocked Ana makes it back to her dad’s flat, everything has changed. Dad is different; the flat is slightly different; and, most disturbingly, when Ana calls Bea, she is told that Bea died a year ago. By the time Malik, a cute guy Ana had been flirting with on the train, shows up at her bedroom window in the middle of the night, it barely registers as odd. Malik explains to Ana that she is no longer in the world she knows. She is a Pathfinder who can fall between the seven worlds. Bea has been taken by a reaper, and Ana must trust Malik, a fellow Pathfinder, if she hopes to find Bea. Ana enters a society she can barely comprehend, joining Malik’s clan and working with him and his team. As Ana is indoctrinated into her new reality, it becomes evident that she is not just a new Pathfinder, but perhaps the one Pathfinder who is the key to the mystical Seventh Gate. She may be the one to stop the war between the Pathfinders and the brutal Order. Hofmeyr compacts what might have been a seven volume series into one energetic, action packed story. Ana is a dynamic heroine, who plausibly grows into her new role while traversing continuously shifting ground. Her single minded goal of rescuing Bea, is never forgotten, and is a rare display of a literary friendship that is not overshadowed by romance. While there is an attraction between Malik and Ana, Bea remains her focus.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: action, friendship, romance, betrayal. It should find a home with Sci Fi readers as well as action/adventure fans who appreciate a few battle scenes in their books.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Light, Alex. The Upside of Falling. Harperteen, 2020. 978-0-062-91805-5. 279 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

Reclusive, bookish Becca flat out does not believe in true love. Not after her parents’ messy, painful divorce. But, aggravated by her former best friend’s taunting about Becca’s lack of a lovelife, Becca spontaneously declares she is in a relationship. This might have fallen flat seconds after it came out of her mouth had not high school hunk Brett Wells come over, thrown his arm around her and confirmed that they are secretly dating. It turns out he is in need of a girlfriend to satisfy his good-old-boy father. So begins a relationship born of mutual convenience, that turns into a needed friendship for both of them. And could it even end up in love? This Wattpad romance doesn’t cover any new territory, but it is light, sweet, fun, and just the sort of addictive story that will be devoured by dedicated romance readers. Sadly, 10 pages from the end, the book loses continuity. While young readers most likely will not notice or care, it reveals the need for an editor’s hand.

THOUGHTS:  I adored this book for 269 pages. Then the characters acknowledge their love by immediately having (off page) sex, despite the fact that Brett’s mother had him when she was 17, and his father repeatedly discusses how he had to give up on his college plans and football future to stay home and help raise Brett. (And despite the fact that a few weeks ago Becca had never even kissed a boy.) This likely will not bother most readers, who will thoroughly enjoy the dreamy romance.  

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gregorio, I. W. This is My Brain in Love. Little, Brown, 2020. 978-0-316-42382-3. 367 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

Jocelyn is stunned when her father announces that the family’s restaurant, A-Plus Chinese Garden, is floundering and he may move the family back to New York City from Utica, NY. Will is crushed when he fails to garner a plum editorial position on the school newspaper. Jocelyn convinces her father to hire a social media consultant to improve the restaurant’s visibility. Will finds himself needing a summer job. Jocelyn hires Will. The pair bring a boatload of baggage to the table from the start. Will, of mixed Nigerian and American heritage, filters the world through the lens of an African American male teenager, and suffers with anxiety. Jocelyn is almost crippled by her family’s emotionally reticent Asian culture. The pair click and begin dragging the restaurant into the digital era. Not unexpectedly, sparks fly, only to meet the disapproval of Jocelyn’s strict, racially prejudiced parents. But what seems like a trope-fulfilling romance veers off into a thoughtful exploration of mental health when Jocelyn’s erratic mood swings begin to trigger Will’s anxiety. Will, who has been in therapy for years, notices that Jocelyn may have some undiagnosed issues herself, but knows broaching the topic could cause a rift in their nascent relationship. As Jocelyn struggles to confront her depression, she finds an unexpected ally in her mother, who reveals she has been taking depression medication for years. Told from the alternating perspectives of Will and Jocelyn, the story maintains its relationship-cute vibe while honestly exploring mental health issues in teens, including the pros and cons of taking medication. A subplot involving Will tutoring Jocelyn’s younger brother, who clearly suffers from ADHD, as well as a reference to a friend with autism, may feel like a few issues too many  but does not detract from the story and might pique recognition in a reader.

THOUGHTS:  This book is a winner. An adorable romance exploring racial issues as well as mental health topics, it should fly off the shelf. Purchase multiple copies.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Dragon Hoops; When Stars Are Scattered; Gold Rush Girl; Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor

Yang, Gene Luen. Dragon Hoops. First Second, 2020. 978-1-626-72079-4. 446 p. $19.99. Grades 7+.

Gene Luen Yang has always hated sports, but he loves stories, especially writing and drawing graphic novels. He’s in need of a new idea for his next book when he overhears students at Bishop O’Dowd (the Oakland, CA, high school where he teaches) talking about the biggest story on campus: the basketball team! Yang ventures across campus and gets to know Coach Lou, who graduated from Bishop O’Dowd in 1989 and played ball with the Dragons. He’s been to the state championship game once as a player and five times as a coach but has never brought home the trophy. There are two reasons this year might finally be the Dragons’ year: Ivan Rabb and Paris Austin. As Yang gets to know their stories, he realizes that they are every bit as thrilling as the comics he loves. But unlike a superhero story, in basketball there is no guarantee that the heroes will always win. Yang skillfully weaves high-energy, game-changing moments from the history of basketball with Coach Lou’s equally high-stakes 2015 season. This very successfully paces the drama and also helps readers better understand the action on the court during game scenes. Throughout Dragon Hoops, themes of breaking barriers, challenging one’s own limits, and literally changing the game (even at the risk of making a big mistake) are depicted with the motif of feet stepping and the word “STEP,” cueing the reader that a pivotal moment is at hand.

THOUGHTS: Gene Luen Yang was the 2016-2017 Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (a position currently held by Jason Reynolds). His skill as both an artist and a storyteller is fabulously showcased in Dragon Hoops. Throughout the book, Yang debates whether or not to include Mike Phelps, retired O’Dowd teacher and Dragons coach, in the story. At the risk of a spoiler, Phelps resigned following a molestation charge that was never prosecuted. The charge is not described in detail but Yang includes it in the narrative.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Jamieson, Victoria, and Omar Mohamed. When Stars are Scattered. Dial, 2020. 978-0-525-55391-5. 257 p. + notes. $20.99. Grades 3-8.

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have been living in a Kenyan refugee camp since fleeing Somalia at the age of 4. Omar’s life consists of taking care of Hassan, with the assistance of Fatuma, an elderly woman who has been appointed the boys’ guardian. UN supplied food rations are meager and entertainment is what can be manufactured, such as playing soccer with a ball created from plastic bags. Omar has not gone to school, feeling responsible for Hassan. But a camp community leader encourages Omar to begin attending school, and a new world  opens to Omar. But it can be a painful world, of crushed dreams and disappointments. Brilliant student Maryam who dreams of going to university in Canada, is forced to quit school and get married. The system of choosing people for possible relocation to the United States seems random, and when Omar and Hassan are finally chosen for an emigration interview, nothing comes of it. But Omar continues to study and dream. When Omar is 18 the brothers are finally selected for resettlement. This stunning autobiography portrays, in beautiful color palettes, the reality of life in a refugee camp. Living conditions are horrific, but there are also close bonds of people who care for and support each other. Omar’s horrific backstory is revealed during his first resettlement interview, explaining how he and Hassan came to be in the  camp alone at such a young age. Author notes at the end of the story update the reader on the brothers’ story after reaching the United States, including the delightful surprise that Omar is currently living in Lancaster, PA.

THOUGHTS: This important story is a must purchase for most libraries. It carries the gravitas of Jarrett Krosocka’s Hey Kiddo, but appropriate for a younger audience.

Autobiography          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

As Omar so succinctly states in the word bubble on the back cover: “Refugee Camps are supposed to be a temporary place to stay until it’s safe to go back home. I guess no one expected the war to last so long, though, because Hassan and I have been here for 7 years.” With gorgeous colors and interesting characters, Jamieson and Mohamed take us through childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya. The monotony of daily essential routines for survival are mixed with increasing odds against finding their mother or going back home to Somalia. What remains is the effort to take care of one another, the opportunity to get schooling and seek a future, and the slightest chance to immigrate to another country for a new beginning. All of these seem unlikely for Omar, who faces tragic memories, current realities, and future possibilities with truth and sincerity that will bring young readers into his world and into their hearts. When the Stars Are Scattered is a remarkable light in the night sky which guides hope home.

THOUGHTS: Both Pennsylvania residents do an excellent job bringing the refugee experience to children. The sibling relationship with Hassan, who is nonverbal except for one word, is truly touching and real. The afterword and authors’ notes bring the story up to date, and help realize the many other refugee stories that need to be heard. Highly recommended.

Graphic Novel          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Avi. Gold Rush Girl. Candlewick, 2020. 978-1-536-20679-1. 306 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Victoria Blaisdell finds life as a thirteen-year-old young lady in Providence, Rhode Island quite boring. She desires action, independence, and adventure. This is not how young ladies act in 1848. Her sole escape is sneaking off to the library and checking out stacks of books to read in private. She adores her younger brother, Jacob, but realizes her parents are under the control of her domineering aunt. All this changes when her father loses his job in an economic panic. While her parents dither, Tory obtains a job. Then the news comes of a gold strike in California. Tory’s father sees this as the answer to his woes and determines he and Jacob will sail for California. Tory is just as determined to go along, eventually stowing away on the ship. Life in San Francisco is not at all what the Blaisdells expected to find. Eventually Tory and Jacob are left behind in their tent home in the muddy, crude city, while their father heads to the gold fields. Resourceful Tory finds construction work and other odd jobs to support herself and Jacob, but Jacob becomes bored and dissatisfied. Is Tory too enthralled with her freedom and new friends to notice Jacob’s unhappiness? When Jacob goes missing, she knows she must find him before her father returns and their mother arrives. Tory, a memorable female character, strong, intelligent, and independent, guides the reader through gold rush in San Francisco. The sprawling, brawling town is no place for a lady, but Tory makes it her own. Avi brings the era to life, from the muddy, miserable tent cities to the brutish practice of crimping – kidnapping men to work on ships whose crews have deserted to search for gold. While some readers may find the exposition in the first half of the book a bit slow, once Tory is on the hunt for Jacob the suspense keeps you reading until the very end.

THOUGHTS:  Another meticulous book from a master. Tory is a memorable young lady, and the images of gold rush San Francisco will remain long after the book is complete.

Historical Fiction           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD
(1849 California Gold Rush)


Carter, Ally. Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-39370-2. 322 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Carter brings the delightfully snappy writing, humor, and plot of her Gallagher Girls series to the middle grade set. April is used to moving from home to home, as she is temporarily without a parent (DON’T call her an orphan. Her mom is coming back for her. Someday. Soon.). She has experienced foster care, good and bad, as well as group homes. While on a field trip to the opening of the Winterborne Gallery, April is shocked to see the Winterborne family crest is identical to that on the one item she has from her mother, a key she wears on a chain around her neck. Everyone knows the tragic story of the wealthy Winterbornes. The perfect family was killed when their boat exploded, all except young Gabriel Winterborne. He, however, disappeared from sight on his 21st birthday, leaving the family fortune in limbo. Now the ancestral manor houses a select group of orphans, and after a small incident involving setting the museum on fire, April is invited to move to the home, joining Sadie, Violet, Tim, and Colin. April isn’t there long before she realizes someone is sneaking around the house at night. Utilizing spy skills that will surely earn her a scholarship to the Gallagher Academy, April, with the very able assistance of her new friends, begins to unravel the long buried secrets of the Winterborne family. And, along the way she discovers there are different kinds of family and home.

THOUGHTS: Young mystery fans will love this first book in a new series. Plucky characters, boo-worthy, villains and a fast moving plot will be sure to captivate readers.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD