YA – Havenfall

Holland, Sara. Havenfall. Bloomsbury,  2020. 978-1-547-60379-4. $18.99. 305 p. Grades 7-12.

“To everyone who’s ever felt like they don’t have a place.” Maddie is an ordinary teenager who lives extraordinary summers at Havenfall, a Colorado inn that connects different realms: Earth (Haven), Bryn, Fiordenkill, and formerly, Solaria. The inn is run by her Uncle Marcus, and someday, Maddie hopes to take over as the innkeeper. Still traumatized by the unsolved death of her brother, which was blamed on her mother, Maddie is looking forward to her summer escape in Havenfall. However, after briefly reuniting with her uncle and beloved Fiordian soldier, Brekken, things start to go horribly wrong. Maddie awakens on her first morning to chaos: Marcus has been hurt, Brekken has disappeared, and someone has been murdered by a Solarian creature, although the door to that realm is supposed to be sealed. Suddenly, Maddie finds herself in the position she’s always wanted, but without the guidance of her uncle or best friend. On her own, Maddie must untangle the secrets and betrayals lurking around every corner and decide who she can really trust: a mysterious newcomer, or the powerful delegates of the realms she’s known for years?

THOUGHTS:  This was a refreshing, new fantasy read for me! Although it’s mainly described as a contemporary fantasy, it’s also a mystery which helps to draw the reader into the story. By the end of the novel, there are still many questions that have not been answered, which left me feeling like I needed to know more. Holland also gives her readers a glimpse into three fantastical worlds, and I’m hoping she expands upon these realms in her follow up novels to Havenfall. There is still so much of this magical story left to tell.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Who I Was With Her

Tyndall, Nita. Who I Was With Her. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-97838-7. $17.99. 385 p. Grades 9 and up.

Corrine Parker arrives at school one morning to overhear her cross country teammates talking about how their rival school’s team captain, Maggie – who happens to be Corrine’s girlfriend – died the previous night in a car accident. This is tragic enough on its own. But Corrine is not out, and she and Maggie were dating in secret. This means Corrine can’t even genuinely express her grief when she hears the news or talk to anyone about it. Living in a conservative area of North Carolina, Corrine never felt ready to come out to anyone, so she feels she can’t talk to her divorced parents – especially her alcoholic mother – or her best friend Julia. The only person she can talk to is Dylan, Maggie’s older brother and the only other person who knew the two were dating. And even Dylan is not an optimal confidant – he and Corrine had a rocky relationship while she was dating his sister. What Dylan does do for Maggie is introduce her to someone else to talk to: Elissa, Maggie’s ex-girlfriend who she dated prior to Corrine. It’s complicated even to talk to Elissa, though. Why hadn’t Maggie ever mentioned her? Why did Dylan have a good relationship with Elissa and not her? And why does she find herself starting to feel an attraction to Elissa?

THOUGHTS: This is not a typical coming out story given the circumstances. The complexities of Corrine and Maggie’s secret relationship and Corrine’s struggles to deal in the aftermath of Maggie’s death are told in an alternating timeline format back and forth from their year-long relationship prior to the accident to the present months following her death. It’s also a very unique grief story as Corrine struggles with it primarily on her own, so it understandably gets messy at times. The novel also touches on addiction, college admissions pressures, and asexuality through subplots and supporting characters. Overall, recommended addition to collections where the demand for LGBTQIA+ literature, particularly bisexual protagonists, is high.

Realistic Fiction                              Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Elem. – Leave It to Abigail! The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams

Rosenstock, Barb. Leave It to Abigail! The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-316-41571-2. 40 p. $18.99. Grades 2-5. 

From a young age, Abigail Adams was different from almost every other girl in the colony of Massachusetts. She blurted out questions, lost herself in the pages of books, and ran all around her family’s farm. Instead of marrying a prosperous minister, she insisted on marrying the man she loved: a poor lawyer named John Adams. While John built his law practice, Abigail managed their house and farm and raised their children. As John became increasingly involved with shaping the American colonies’ new system of government, Abigail took on greater responsibilities around home. She supervised farmhands, educated her children, and housed soldiers. She and John also exchanged countless letters in which she shared some of her revolutionary ideas. This lively biography chronicles some of the ways Abigail continued to surprise her contemporaries with her original ideas, strong voice, and constant courage. Baddeley’s pen and ink and watercolor illustrations are interspersed with cross-stitch needlepoint samplers that pay tribute to this popular colonial past time. The book’s final spread highlights other bold women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Coretta Scott King, and Gloria Steinem who benefited from the strong foundation of Abigail’s inspirational, revolutionary ideas.

THOUGHTS: Share this with teachers and students to supplement Revolutionary War units. It will also be a good fit for President’s Day or biography projects.

Biography. Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

Hubbard, Rita Lorraine. The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read. Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020. 978-1-5247-6828-7. $17.99. 40 p. Grades K-3.

As a child born into slavery, Mary Walker admires the freedom of birds that pass over the plantation. She spends her days toiling in the fields picking cotton, which leaves no time for schooling of any kind. After the Emancipation Proclamation sets her free at the age of 15, Mary works as a nanny and a maid to keep her family afloat. One day, she meets a group of evangelists who gifts her a Bible. Mary vows that she will read it one day, but today is not that day. Work consumes the next six decades of her life until she moves to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Having outlived her entire family, her life changes when she moves to a retirement home, and, at 116 years old, takes a reading class. Caldecott Honor illustrator Oge Mora uses paper, including sheet music and pages from books, to create beautiful collages in shades of brown, green, yellow, and blue. Readers should take care to notice how Mary’s dress changes throughout the book, especially once she learns to read.

THOUGHTS: Even though The Oldest Student is geared towards K-3 students, ALL students can take away the very important message of the book: No one is ever too old to learn. This inspiring book is a gentle way to ease into difficult conversations about slavery, race, and education in our society. With the current emphasis on growth mindset in the classroom, this is the perfect book to show that learning and growing continue long after school is over.

Picture Book          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD
921 WAL Biography

Mary Walker’s inspirational story, beautifully illustrated in this picture book biography, proves you’re never too old to learn. Born a slave in 1848, Mary never gave up on her lifelong dream of learning how to read. And, at age 116, she finally accomplished it. This book follows Mary from her childhood spent picking cotton on an Alabama plantation, through her emancipation at age 15, to her life spent working low-paying jobs and raising her three children. Mary always dreamed of learning to read, but there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. Finally, at age 114, after outliving her entire family, Mary attended her first reading class. From memorizing the alphabet and each letter’s sound to copying her name over and over again, Mary spent more than a year studying and practicing. Her dedication paid off when, at age 116, she finally learned to read. Friends and neighbors gathered around to hear her read aloud from her cherished family Bible. Oge Mora’s mixed media illustrations, composed of acrylic paint, china marker, colored pencil, patterned paper, and book clippings, bring Mary’s memorable story to life. Beautiful full-page illustrations feature a palette of primarily blues and greens and yellows. Endpapers include black and white photographs of Mary Walker celebrating some of her milestones.

THOUGHTS: Teachers will want to share this inspirational story with older students during morning meetings. It will also work well with lessons or units focusing on perseverance or the importance of working towards a goal.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Biography

Elem. – Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes

Orr, Jennifer. Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes. Capstone Editions, 2020. 978-1-68446-077-9. 239 p. $16.95. Grades 3-6.

Abigail Hensley is a twelve-year old genius who knows a lot about everything – anthropology, criminal trials, even the French language. Skipping two grades in school means she knows a lot more than other girls her age. Abigail also knows herself – she doesn’t like others intruding on her personal space and she has a definite aversion to germs. The one topic Abigail doesn’t know much about is how to make real friends. All of that is going to change, however, when she arrives at Camp Hollyhock, determined to make a real friend for the first time in her life. Like any good anthropologist, Abigail uses scientific research methods and writes detailed notes as she studies her cabinmates for their sidekick potential. Although her observations are off to a good start, she is thrown off from her meticulous plans when a crime is committed in her own cabin – and she becomes the prime suspect. Abigail has to use her research methods and observations so she can clear her name and hopefully make a friend before her time at camp is done, even if the answers she seeks may be the opposite of what she thinks.

THOUGHTS: Although author Jennifer Orr doesn’t make it clear in the book, Abigail could be on the autism spectrum, which is evident as she hates invasion of her personal space and struggles to understand social norms. However, Abigail’s journey to make a friend can ring true for any middle grade reader, genius or not. Her scientific commentary on the nuances of young female friendships are humorous yet relatable. All readers can understand that friendship may not be an exact science, but when the elements align, it can be quite wonderful.

Mystery Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Chick and Brain: Egg or Eyeball?

Bell, Cece. Chick and Brain: Egg or Eyeball? Candlewick Press, 2020. 978-1-536-20439-1. 70 p. $12.99. Grades K-3. 

When Brain makes an amazing discovery, he can’t wait to show his friend, Chick. But, upon seeing the object, the friends cannot agree about what it is. It’s small, white, and oval. Brain says it’s an eyeball. Chick says it’s an egg. Each friend loudly pleads his case, capturing the attention of their nearby friend Spot the dog and a sleeping cat. It’s only when they awaken another creature that the group discovers the object’s true identity once and for all. This second offering in the Chick and Brain series will have beginning readers laughing out loud at the friends’ silliness. Loose cartoon drawings in large graphic novel panels keep the story’s four action-packed chapters moving along quickly.

THOUGHTS: Recommend this to Elephant and Piggie fans. This book is made for read-alouds and will be perfect for storytime.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – The Biggest Story

Coyle, Sarah. The Biggest Story. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-684-64045-4. 32 p. $12.99. Grades K-2.

Sarah Coyle’s vibrant picture book, illustrated by Dan Taylor, reminds readers that even in a world with the iPad, Nintendo Switch, and YouTube, the best entertainment comes from the imagination of storytellers. Errol is surrounded by every toy and electronic he owns and yet, he is still bored. His mother is a fantastic storyteller, and he begs for one of her stellar stories. Unfortunately, she must complete some errands around the house first. She suggests Errol think up his own tale instead. While worrying that he doesn’t know how to come up with a story, he bumps into some insect and animal friends who give him some fun and unusual ideas for his tale. Errol also meets some time-traveling dinosaurs who want a featured spot in his first literary creation. Together, his newfound furry and scaly friends help him create a story so big, even his mother, storyteller extraordinaire, is impressed with the final result.

THOUGHTS: This book shows students the power of storytelling and how a story can be generated just by looking all around you. Teachers and librarians will especially love that Errol has an activity in the back of the book to help students find their inner storyteller. What I love most about this book, however, is that Errol is a character of color featured in a children’s book that shows him doing normal activities. Every library can benefit from books that show people of color being, well, regular people!

Picture Book         Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

MG – A Thousand Questions

Faruqi, Saadia. A Thousand Questions. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-062-94320-0. 225 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8. 

In this East meets West friendship story, A Thousand Questions shows the disparity in lifestyles between the United States and Pakistan told alternately by the two main characters. Eleven-year-old Mimi Scotts and her mother travel from Houston, Texas, for summer vacation to visit her wealthy grandparents, Begum Sahib and Sahiba Ji, in Karachi for the first time. She is awed by the wealth and luxury of her grandparents’ home compared with her tiny apartment and stretched budget back in the United States. While Mimi’s mother reconnects with her school chums, Mimi forms a friendship with the servant girl, Sakina Ejaz. Too poor to go to school, Sakina assists her diabetic father cooking in the Ji’s kitchen. The two girls become fast friends. With the backdrop of the campaign season for new elections, Sakina shows Mimi the sites of Karachi, and Mimi agrees to tutor to Sakina for her English examination so that she can win a school scholarship. Mimi’s narration includes secret letters she writes to Tom Scotts, the father she has never met. When Mimi discovers her freelance journalist father is living in Karachi, she is determined to meet him and Sakina is a willing accomplice. Author Saadia Faruqi captures the richness of the Asian city from the delicious dishes and its atmosphere to the inequity of the caste system as well as the authenticity of the fully-drawn main characters: Sakina, mature beyond her years, cognizant of her integral role in providing for the welfare of her family; Mimi, an ordinary American girl of modest means, getting to know her grandparents and also her own mother in her childhood home and longing to connect with father.

THOUGHTS: This book reminds the reader of When Heaven Fell  by Carolyn Marsden, a story that compares the life of  a struggling Vietnamese family with the life of an adult Vietnamese-American adoptee who visits her Vietnamese birth mother. There’s a part where Sakini asks Mimi if there are poor people in America and Mimi answers, “No,” at first until she remembers a homeless man and the kids at school who qualify for free lunch. Discussion of social justice issues, equity in education, and divorce can ensue.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

When Mimi and her mother arrive in Karachi, Pakistan for the summer, Mimi immediately misses air conditioning, soccer, and chicken nuggets, all staples of her American upbringing. Mimi is surprised to find that her grandparents live in luxury, employing servants and wearing fancy clothes, while Mimi and her mother can barely afford rent in their tiny Houston apartment. Mimi realizes there is so much she doesn’t know about her mother, her grandparents, and her father who left years ago without explanation. After learning that her father’s job brought him to Karachi, Mimi befriends a servant girl who agrees to help Mimi find him in exchange for English lessons. Sakina, a servant of Mimi’s grandparents, dreams of going to school like Mimi, but her servant status prohibits her from making her dreams a reality. After all, when would she find the time to go to school when she must keep her job to take care of her own family and ailing father? Going to school seems even more impossible when she takes a secret exam and fails the English portion, but when Sakina and Mimi strike up their deal, Sakina starts to hope for her future and a better life for her family. As their friendship blossoms, the inequities of the Pakistani class system are revealed, and the friends determine to make good in both of their worlds despite the challenges.

THOUGHTS: Instead of multiple perspectives from different time periods, this story highlights two contemporary perspectives in a country many readers will be unfamiliar with. Shining light on the class system that still exists today in Pakistan, readers may feel compelled to learn more about the living inequalities and hardships people face who live outside of the United States. This is a good #ownvoices addition to any library seeking to diversity their collection.

Realistic     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – Love & Olives

Welch, Jenna Evans. Love & Olives. Simon Pulse, 2020. 978-1-534-44883-4. $18.99. 352 p. Grades 7-12. 

On the outside it appears that Liv has everything figured out, but inside she’s struggling with a few things. For one, her long time high school boyfriend Dax just graduated, and he wants Liv to follow him to Stanford. She hasn’t found the right way to tell him that her heart is set on RISD, and anyway she might not even get in (and still has one more year). When a beat-up postcard for Liv arrives days before Dax’s senior trip – which Liv is supposed to go on – Liv feels her perfect outside begin to crumble. Dax doesn’t know this side of Liv. At her mom’s insistence, Liv is headed to Santorini, Greece to spend some time with her father, whom Liv hasn’t seen since she was 8. Since she hasn’t heard from him in years, Liv has many conflicted emotions about seeing her father again. Why after all this time does he think they can have a relationship. But Liv’s father’s love of Atlantis was a connection the two of them shared during her childhood, and an exciting special project helps them begin to reconnect after all those years. His persistent assistant Theo is a great buffer between the awkward moments, and Theo helps Liv experience Santorini. His good looks are a great distraction too, and as they work together and become friends Liv begins to question some of the choices she’s made in her own life. The clock on her visit is ticking, though, and Liv isn’t sure she can count on her father. Is their relationship beyond repair, and can Liv move on beyond her childhood broken heart?

THOUGHTS: Set among a gorgeous backdrop with detailed descriptions of Santorini, readers will fall in love with Greece. Liv/Olive/Kalamata/Indiana Olive has a lot to learn about herself, and readers will be rooting for her from the beginning. With a strong cast of characters and a little bit of mystery and romance, this book will be a hit among middle and high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Midnight Sun

Meyer, Stephenie. Midnight Sun. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-316-70704-6. $27.99. 672 p. Grades 7-12.

Stephenie Meyer puts a twist on her bestselling novel, Twilight, by giving us Edward’s side of the story. Edward Cullen is a vampire living with his family in the rainy town of Forks, WA, trying to blend in with humans as much as he can. However, the arrival of the new girl, Isabella Swan, changes everything. Edward and his family do not hunt humans and exist instead on a diet of animal blood, but when Edward smells Bella, he has an overwhelming desire to kill her, fearing he will lose control for the first time in decades, causing his family to move to a new location yet again. When staying away from Forks doesn’t work, he returns to school and attempts to ignore her presence, but when Bella faces danger, he unintentionally becomes her protector. Against his better judgement, Edward decides to get to know this intriguing and closed off  human but struggles to control his conflicting feelings of falling in love and pushing her away to protect her from himself. With Edward’s immortal ability to read the minds of those around him, readers are able to examine the thoughts of the majority of the characters within the novel, opening up the world of Forks, WA, and the minds of the vampires that have chosen the town as their home.

THOUGHTS:  I love that Midnight Sun gave readers more information about Edward’s past, as well as the rest of the Cullens, and it was interesting to read about Edward’s struggles with Bella from his perspective. I don’t think readers realized just how dangerous he was to her by simply reading Twilight. Readers trust Bella’s perception that he would never really hurt her, but there were many close calls when reading each scenario and interaction from Edward’s side of things. The pomegranate on the front of the novel can be a great discussion topic since it  resembles a human heart, and the juicy pomegranate also looks as if it’s dripping blood. However, it also has a more symbolic presence throughout the story because Edward compares himself to Hades and Bella to Persephone. As she grows closer to him and accepts him for who he is, it’s as if she’s eating the seeds of the pomegranate, making it so much harder for her to go back to her world. Both old and new fans of Twilight will love this darker side of the story!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD