MG – Beyond Me

Donwerth-Chikamatsu, Annie. Beyond Me. Antheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-481-43789-9. 291 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

This novel written in verse is about eleven year old Maya who lives in Japan with her American mother and Japanese father. Follow Maya as she lives through the events of March 11, 2011, the day a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Maya and her family are among the lucky ones who live outside of Tokyo, far enough away from the center of the earthquake, tsunamis, and subsequent radiation leaks. As Maya sits by and watches her family do things to help, Maya feels helpless.  Rescuing a cat that she finds out was abandoned after the quake, planting radiation absorbing sunflowers, and making 1,000 paper cranes with her friend Yuka help to give her a purpose as she waits for the next aftershock to hit.  

THOUGHTS: This book is told from an eleven year old’s point of view and really highlights the stress and worry kids feel when a natural disaster happens. I like that Maya’s mother helps her find ways she can help in a crisis. 

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Upper Dublin SD

Elem. – Bo the Brave

Woollvin, Bethan. Bo the Brave. Peachtree Publishing, . 978-1-682-63182-9. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

When Bo’s older brothers set off on a monster hunt, she wants to accompany them, but they refuse, telling her she’s too little. Instead of accepting their words, Bo begins her own quest. Each monster she encounters makes her pause, and she takes time to look past first impressions and gets to know each creature’s true nature. This insightfulness ultimately leads her back to her castle where she pulls off her final, most heroic act. A tight palette of orange, pink, teal, and gray provide the inspiration for this alpine world, dotted with mountains, lakes, forests, and seas. Sharp-eyed readers will notice the foreshadowing of each monster from one spread to the next. 

THOUGHTS: Instead of accepting peoples’ opinions, Bo sets out to prove she’s smart and brave and strong. Her self-confidence is refreshing and will inspire readers, particularly girls, to follow their own dreams and set off on their own adventures instead of remaining on the sidelines. Themes of acceptance and not judging based solely on appearance also shine through in this medieval remix. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

YA – Where We Are

McGhee, Alison. Where We Are. Atheneum/A Caitlyn Dlougy Book, 2020. 978-1-534-44612-0. $18.99. Grades 7-10.

Micah and Sesame had a plan. If Micah and his parents mysteriously disappeared from their home in present-day, downtown Minneapolis, Micah would text Sesame and she would find him. When Deacon comes to escort the Stone family to the South Compound, he confiscates their cell phones so Micah leaves a cryptic note on the wipe-off board on the refrigerator. The Stones have joined a cult that scorns all worldly things—even pencils—and cower and obey the harsh and unreasonable mandates of one man they call the Prophet. Not Micah. He resists and accumulates so many infractions for what the cold and domineering Prophet deems insubordination that the young man barely exists in solitary confinement. Though free, Sesame Gray lives a secret life. After her mother dies (she calls her grandmother because the woman was older when she adopted Sesame), she concocts stories so that neither her friends nor her solicitous neighbors suspect she is living alone in an abandoned garage. Throughout the book, Sesame reflects on both her grandmother’s goodness and also her habit of keeping them isolated and self-sufficient. That behavior serves Sesame well in her current situation, but her experience relying on others to help in the search for Micah brings a new realization that every person needs to depend on someone. High school seniors and sweethearts, Micah and Sesame narrate this curious story in alternating chapters: faithful Sesame on the outside, remains single-mindedly determined to find her lost boyfriend; resilient Micah, imprisoned in a basement laundry and wasting away, continues to leave clues, sure Sesame will find him. In the hands of a different writer, this book about cults and loss would be a toss off. Author Alison McGhee’s writing pulls the reader along this strange tale and makes us care about these two sensitive and insightful characters. Still, the subject manner is very particular and though there is the element of romance, their love is played out through devotion rather than a relationship, leaving the book with limited appeal. It is unclear what ethnicity the characters are (the cult and its members seem white); two neighbor couples are gay; it all is seamless.

THOUGHTS:  I have read other books by Ghee (Maybe a Fox), and admired her unique plot selections. A hide-and-seek love story centered around a cult but not really about the cult is unique, but not so interesting. The fact that present-day Minneapolis is the focal point of so much foment, violence, and pain, and Ghee picks that city to be the setting for a cult/kidnap/romance seems to me an odd-and avoidable-choice. The dust jacket states Ms. McGhee splits her residence between Minneapolis and another place, so perhaps the setting doesn’t matter. Though I couldn’t, I thought these factors promoted this book: subtle but solid theme, good writing, clever idea of creative Sesame to leave poems boxes around town, appealing characters. Like McGhee’s other books, this one fits only a narrow audience. 

Realistic Fiction Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Nesting

Cole, Henry. Nesting. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-88592-0. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

From the branches of an apple tree, a male robin calls out to his mate on an early spring morning. After scoping out the perfect spot, the pair gather twigs and grasses, building a nest in the crook of the tree. The mother robin settles in quietly, and soon, four smooth, blue eggs appear. One week later, the eggs hatch, and the parents begin gathering food for their defenseless babies. The young family weathers a spring storm, as well as an unwelcome snake visitor, before the baby birds flap their small wings and leave the nest for the first time. As spring gives way to summer, then autumn, the family fills up on berries to tide them over during the approaching winter. Snow covers the nest, and the world is quiet, waiting for spring to return, along with the robin’s first call. The story unfolds through simple, straightforward text as well as a brief author’s note sharing additional information about robins. The illustrations are the stars of the story. Cole uses Micron pens and acrylic paints to create beautifully detailed crosshatch illustrations that perfectly capture both the depth and the simplicity found in the natural world.  

THOUGHTS: Students who love nature, and especially bird-watching, will gravitate towards this book. It will also be a nice tie-in for primary grade teachers who discuss the changing seasons, since readers can follow the robin family throughout the year. Pair with Mark Teague’s Fly or Denise Fleming’s This is the Nest that Robin Built with a Little Help from Her Friends for a robin-themed story time. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MG – The Sea in Winter

Day, Christine. The Sea in Winter. Heartdrum, 2021. 978-0-062-87204-3. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Seventh grader Maisie isn’t having a great day just before her school’s midwinter break. She’s tardy to homeroom, and she earned a 70 on her most recent math test. A break from school and a family trip back home will be good “heart medicine.” Maisie could use a distraction from eating lunch alone and getting text updates from her ballet friends who she no sees. Maisie isn’t sure how to respond, so she usually doesn’t. Things start to look up when her physical therapist suggests that Maisie’s recovery from a torn ACL and surgery might be moving faster than initially anticipated. This news gives Maisie hope; she’s missed ballet and her friends so much, and she might even be able to make a few spring auditions if she keeps progressing. With this news (and a green light for hiking) Maisie’s family heads to the Olympic Peninsula to explore some areas that are important to their Native family. Maisie’s stormy emotions seem to get the best of her at times, and she’s not sure why she says some of the things she does. When Maisie’s frustration reaches a peak, she’ll have to decide who she wants to be, even if that doesn’t include ballet.

THOUGHTS: Upper elementary and middle school students will adore Maisie and recognize the roller coaster of emotions she experiences. Maisie’s little brother provides comic relief to some of her emotional “funks,” and her parents are extremely supportive. #OwnVoices author Day addresses negative self talk and depression in an age appropriate way that will resonate with students. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – In the City

Raschka, Chris. In the City. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-481-48627-9. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-2.

In The City is a rhyming picture book that focuses on friendship using pigeons to illustrate that point. The book follows pigeons as they go through a city, landing on statues and flying overhead, and the narrator points out the different ways that pigeons form friendships and relates that to the people. The illustrations are beautiful in ink and watercolor which add to the story as readers follow the pigeons and people through making their friends.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful addition to any elementary school collection and highly recommended!

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Habitat Hunter (Series NF)

Potts, Nikki. Habitat Hunter. Ill. Maarten Lenoir, Picture Window Books, 2020. 31 p. $132.24 set of 6. $21.99 ea. Grades PreK-2.

Frog Moves out of the Rain Forest. 978-1-977-11423-5. 
Goat Moves out of the Barnyard.
978-1-977-11421-1.
Meerkat Moves out of the Desert
. 978-1-977-11419-8.
Owl Moves out of the Forest. 978-1-977-11424-2.
Penguin Moves out of the Antarctic. 978-1-977-11422-8.
Shark Moves out of the Ocean.
978-1-977-11420-4.

“Meerkats, meerkats everywhere!” (1), and Meerkat is not happy about it.  She wants a new home she does not have to share, so she sets out to find her new home. Meerkat tries the mountains, but they’re too quiet. She tries a cave, but it’s too cold and has too many bats.  Next she tries a playground; it seems like a great home with all of the tunnels, but the slide is too hot, and the monkey bars are too high. After trying a garden, Meerkat decides her own home is the best home and returns to it.

THOUGHTSMeerkat Moves out of the Desert is a fun way for young readers to learn about meerkats. Combining both pictures and illustrations, readers learn about various homes for Meerkat while also learning why the new habitat isn’t quite right. In the end, Meerkat’s realization that her habitat is the best not only solidifies basic understanding of a meerkat, but it also teaches readers to appreciate their home and family and that something different is not always best.  This title, as with the other titles in this series, also includes a page about the highlighted animal (meerkats) and an “Animal Passport.” This title is also useful for teaching comparing and contrasting because of the various homes Meerkat considers.

 

 

 

Animals        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Stanley’s Toolbox & Stanley’s Paint Box

Bee, William. Stanley’s Paint Box. Peachtree Publishing, 2020. 978-1-68263-186-7. Unpaged. $6.99. Grades PreK.

—. Stanley’s Toolbox. Peachtree Publishing, 2020. 978-1-68263-187-4. Unpaged. $6.99. Grades PreK.

Stanley is back in two new board books for children birth-PreK. In Stanley’s Paint Box, Stanley helps Sophie, Benjamin, and Little Woo paint a castle.  Beginning with red, yellow, blue, and white paint, Stanley helps his friends use various items for painting: rollers, sponges, and brushes, while also teaching them how to create different colors from the original four colors. As Stanley mixes colors to create orange, green, purple, and pink, readers are introduced to the combination of primary colors to create secondary colors. Color words, along with the items used for painting, are highlighted throughout the book to help children learn their colors and painting terms.

In Stanley’s Toolbox, Little Woo’s tree house is in need of repair, and Stanley is here to help. Using various tools, Stanley helps Little Woo fix the ladder, roof, and floor of his tree house, and then helps Little Woo decorate it. As with previous Stanley titles, words for specific tools used by Stanley and Little Woo are highlighted to help young children learn terms associated with tools.

THOUGHTS: In addition to teaching young children about painting and building, both titles help young children learn kindness and how to lend a helping hand. As with the previous Stanley titles, these board books include bright, colorful illustrations with plenty of white space to focus young children on the connection between illustrations and words, while also learning about colors and tools.

Board Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – The Voting Booth

Colbert, Brandy. The Voting Booth. Hyperion, 2020. 978-1-368-05329-7. $18.99. 293 p. Grades 9 and up.

It’s election day, and Marva has been waiting for this day for her entire life. A passionate advocate for equality and democracy, her first election day is like a holiday for this high school senior in the running for valedictorian at her private prep school. Duke is less enthusiastic but is still getting up early to vote in his first election, too. His family’s passion about politics – particularly his activist brother’s who died two years ago – deems he participate in the democratic process. He knows it’s important to vote, but he’s more excited about his band’s first paying gig tonight. He learned to play drums as therapy after his brother’s death, but it turns out he’s really good at it. Marva is – of course – first in line at her polling place and casts her vote without issue. Just when she thinks she can head off to school and then relax on the couch tonight watching election results with her social media-famous cat Selma, she overhears Duke being rejected by the poll workers. Apparently he’s at the wrong polling place; he pre-registered at his dad’s address before his parents separated. Thus begins Marva and Duke’s adventure, a day exemplifying Murphy’s Law: everything that can go wrong does. First, Duke’s car won’t start as he tries to head to the correct polling place. Marva offers to drive him. Skipping school and driving around with a strange boy all morning probably isn’t the best idea, especially since Marva is sort-of fighting with her boyfriend of two years, but hey, this is important. Despite racism and voter suppression and parents and missing cats and an angry boyfriend and a gig Duke can’t miss, Marva and Duke can’t deny the positive thing resulting from this crazy day: that they found each other.

THOUGHTS: Another gem from award-winning author Brandy Colbert, The Voting Booth is a super cute romance that still manages to highlight serious issues. A very timely book that would pair well with another 2020 publication – Running by Natalia Sylvester – this book would serve as a fantastic independent or supplemental read in a Social Studies class discussing the voting process in America. Told in alternating points of view between Duke and Marva, so it appeals to both male and female readers. Highly recommended for all high school collections.

Realistic Fiction           Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – More Than Maybe

Hahn, Erin. More Than Maybe. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-23164-2. $17.99. 308 p. Grades 9 and up.

Luke has been reading Vada’s music blog, secretly commenting on it (and crushing on her) for three years. Vada’s also been falling asleep listening to Luke’s “deep, lyrical, and crisp” voice on the podcast he records with his brother… in the studio above the Loud Lizard, the bar where Vada works, which happens to be owned by her mom’s boyfriend and former drummer, Phil. Of course neither of these introverted music nerds have the guts to talk to each other even though they go to the same school and see each other regularly at the Loud Lizard. That is, until Vada’s dance class and Luke’s music composition class get paired together for the end-of-the-year spring showcase. Luke finally takes a risk and offers to partner up with Vada to compose a song for her dance performance, which seems like it might be the end of the story. They’re going to fall in love now, right? It’s not that simple when Luke is hiding his love for composing music from his dad, a former British punk rock star who wants Luke to follow in his footsteps. Luke has no interest in performing – just composing – and to avoid the pressure from his dad entirely, he hides the fact that he even plays music at all. Vada has obstacles of her own. Her mostly absent (also former musician) father only shows up to drink himself stupid at the Loud Lizard, and when he says he’s not helping her pay for college, Vada has to figure out a way to make her music journalism dreams come true on her own. Working at the Loud Lizard and having easy access to concerts helps, but the Loud Lizard is just barely surviving financially. Enter the power of music.

THOUGHTS: Flirting via lyrics? Yes, please! While I think anyone can appreciate this adorable love story whether you know the bands mentioned or not, contemporary music lovers will find themselves swooning over this book. There’s even a user-created playlist on Spotify made up of all the songs mentioned! Highly recommended for any YA collection. Put it in the hands of anyone who loves music.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD