Elem. – Bunbun & Bonbon: Fancy Friends

Keating, Jess. Bunbun & Bonbon: Fancy Friends. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-64684-9. $22.99. Grades K-3.

Bursting with cuteness, a lonely Bunbun hops around saying hello to sticks, flowers, clouds, and rocks until a purple candy Bonbon answers. The pair become fast friends bonding over their shared fondness for fancy things like bowties, sprinkles, and hip-hop music. Later, they decide to have a fancy party followed by donuts for lunch. Impossibly adorable illustrations brimming with hearts and flowers will introduce readers to the graphic format. Characters communicate in single-sentence speech bubbles throughout five chapters. Emergent readers are sure to get lost in the silly, friendly antics of this unlikely duo.

THOUGHTS: Fancy Friends is a fun, infectious story that is sure to make young readers laugh out loud.

Graphic Novel          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

MG – We Dream of Space

Kelly, Erin Entrada. We Dream of Space. Greenwillow Books, 2020. 978-0-062-74730-3. 391 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

This story, told in multiple points of view, follows the Nelson Thomas kids (Cash, Fitch, and Bird) as they navigate life through 7th grade in the mid 1980s. Cash, the oldest sibling, is repeating 7th grade and is in danger of having to repeat it again if he doesn’t get his act together! Fitch spends all day trying to keep his temper in check and every afternoon in the arcade, and Bird, Fitch’s twin, just wants to be an astronaut. With their parents constantly arguing and emotionally distant from their children, Bird just wants someone to notice her. Spending her days dreaming of becoming the first shuttle commander, while following every step of the coming Challenger launch, has left Bird wanting. Wanting to be noticed, wanting to belong, and wanting to be in space. This book contains a section about the Challenger Disaster and a page of resources to learn more.

THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection. Kelly does it again with her captivating writing. Will be in my Top 5 for 2020.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

YA – Cut Off

Finlay, Adrianne. Cut Off. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-358-00645-9. 384 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

A group of teenagers is competing for a one million dollar prize, each with their own reasons for needing it. In order to be accepted onto the new reality show Cut Off, contestants go through a rigorous interview process and psychological evaluation. As readers are introduced to each character throughout the early days of Cut Off, interview segments and details from the evaluations are provided. Contestants need to outlast each other while spread out around a large island jungle. When they have no choice but to work together, the contestants begin to realize they might be more cut off than they thought. Their skym cameras (3D cameras that hover and follow their every move) still work, but the tap out button seems to be malfunctioning. Could something be wrong with the fully immersive reality show? Determined to figure out what’s going on, the contestants work together to survive, being more cut off than they ever thought was possible.

THOUGHTS: This action-packed adventure has three distinct parts. What starts out as serious outdoor survival takes a sharp turn towards science fiction. Readers will want to know who outlasts the others, but those who stick with it may have questions.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Throwaway Girls

Contos, Andrea. Throwaway Girls. Kids Can Press, 2020. 978-1-525-30314-2. 392 p. $17.30. Grades 9-12.

With only three months left until graduation and a few days after that until she turns 18, Caroline Lawson is more than ready to leave her prep school and unsupportive parents behind. All she has to do is put on a smile and pretend like everything is perfect. Things are anything but perfect, and Caroline can’t wait to leave and be who she truly is meant to be. Caroline’s girlfriend recently broke up with her and left for California, and Caroline’s best friend Madison just disappeared. Having kept secrets from each other and grown apart, Caroline feels partially responsible for Madison’s disappearance. Feeling like the only person capable of finding Madison, Caroline sets off on a dangerous path, determined to find her friend before it’s too late. But Caroline has to face some truths about herself, her relationship, her family, and about her friend. The deeper Caroline digs, the more she uncovers – including other girls who have gone missing. Why hasn’t anyone noticed these girls, and how is Madison connected to them? As Caroline gets closer to uncovering the truth, she realizes she may be the one connection between them all.

THOUGHTS: Despite having endless means, Caroline is extremely unhappy. The adults fail teens over and over. Mystery readers will be absorbed into this twisty narrative (this reviewer had a few jaw-dropping realizations) and will root for Caroline to uncover the truth before it’s too late.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem./MG – Allergic: A Graphic Novel

Lloyd, Megan Wagner. Allergic: A Graphic Novel. Illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter. Graphix, 2020. 978-1-338-56891-2. 240 p. $24.99. Grades 3-6.

With younger twin brothers and a new baby on the way, Maggie feels alone in her loving family. She’s convinced her parents, who are preoccupied with baby names and other preparations, to let her adopt a puppy that will be her own. Maggie has been looking forward to her tenth birthday for a long time, since this is the day she gets her perfect pet. At the animal shelter, however, Maggie breaks out into a severe rash, and she learns that she’s allergic to anything with fur. So much for her puppy. Devastated, but determined to find the perfect pet, Maggie begins research, as she works her way through allergy shots and makes a new friend. Told in colorful graphic panels, readers will enjoy Maggie’s attempts at finding a perfect pet and will appreciate her frustration when things go awry with her new friend.

THOUGHTS: Readers with any allergies, but especially those allergic to pets, will felt represented in this cute graphic novel. A great addition to elementary and middle grade collections.

Graphic Novel          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Game

Miller, Linsey. The Game. Underlined, 2020. 978-0-593-17978-9. 240 p. $9.99. Grades 9-12. 

Lia Prince has lived her life in the background; She isn’t good at anything her parents value. To make matters worse, Lia’s older brother, now off at college, was good at everything. Determined to make a name for herself by besting his third place finish in her Lincoln High’s senior class game of assassin, Lia’s been planning for a year. Carefully noting and observing patterns of her peers, Lia is ready for the game to begin. No one appreciates her skills, but Lia is good at games. Ready to lead her team and get their target, the game begins. As they get more into the game, it becomes deadly. Someone is playing dirty, but Lia is determined not to miss this opportunity to be good at something. Against advice of her parents, her school, and her friends, and determined to keep the fun of the game going Lia keeps playing. Can she win, and what does winning mean?

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans will love this brief, action-packed, stand alone and may overlook some of its flaws. Grief and fear are brushed aside to make room for the game, but would the game really continue with a killer on the loose? Purchase in high school libraries where mysteries are in high demand.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Over and Under the Rainforest

Messner, Kate. Over and Under the Rainforest. Chronicle Books, 2020. 978-1-452-16940-8. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Following up Over and Under the Snow and Over and Under the Pond Messner explores the rainforest both high and low. Christopher Silas Neal’s artwork, overwhelming the pages in luscious saturated shades of green, draws the reader into the forest along with the young narrator and her guide. Above is a world of monkeys, insects, and birds. Colorful toucans, flit among the branches. Capuchin and howler monkeys and sloths move through the leafy growth. Below are critters and creatures, both cute and deadly: agoutis and crocodiles, anteaters and spiders. As the day wanes, the rainforest fades to purples, creatures of the night emerge, and the young narrator heads for home, Abuelita and supper. Messner’s informative text never overwhelms the reader. Facts are lovingly wrapped in description to evoke life in the rainforest.

THOUGHTS: Messner never disappoints, and this book will be a solid addition to any elementary collection, useful as a read-aloud or with a classroom curriculum.

Picture Book         Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Robobaby

Wiesner, David. Robobaby. Clarion Books, 2020. 978-0-544-98731-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

A new baby boy arrives at the robot family home – some assembly required. Big sister Cathode (a.k.a. Cathy) is delighted, and anxious to help mom and dad assemble little Flange. But, like grownups throughout time, mom Diode shoos Cathy aside, certain this is a job for adults. When little Flange proves more difficult to assemble than predicted, Di calls in her brother, Manifold. In stereotypical male style, Manny eschews the directions and makes a few “improvements.” As family and friends gather with treats (mmm, greased gears!) to celebrate the new baby, Di, ignoring Cathy’s insistence that updates need to be installed, initiates Flange, with disastrous results. But wise Cathy has a scheme. With the assistance of robopet Sprocket, Cathy distracts the adults long enough to rebuild the baby according to the plans, saving the day and the family. But wait! There’s more! What’s this left in the box? In classic, understated Wiesner style, Robobaby pokes fun at adult behavior. Brief speech bubbles contain the minimal text, leaving the creative artwork to captivate the reader’s attention. Young readers will relate to Cathy’s annoyance at being pushed aside, and celebrate her success in getting little Flange operational at last. As always, Wiesner’s illustrations beg for multiple viewings to fully appreciate their detailed cleverness.

THOUGHTS: Children young and old will enjoy the story of big sister Cathy saving the day for the bumbling adults with their all-too-familiar behaviors, as well as soak up the rich, engrossing illustrations. The story only improves with subsequent readings. Another winner from Wiesner. 

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Aftershocks

Reichardt, Marisa. Aftershocks. Amulet, 2020. 978-1-419-73917-0. 318 p. $18.99. Grades 8+.

Ruby thought her world ended when her mom informed her she was dating Ruby’s high school water polo coach. But she soon finds out what the end of the world, or her world, really looks like. Skipping practice because she’s too embarrassed to face her coach, Ruby is hanging out at a laundromat, looking for someone to buy beer for her, when an earthquake hits. As a native Californian, Ruby is used to earthquakes, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is no minor tremor. “The ground shakes, the walls fall”, and Ruby is trapped under the rubble of the laundromat, with a young man named Charlie, with whom she had just started talking. The ‘Big One’ has hit. A 7.8 magnitude. She and Charlie can’t see each other, but they work desperately to bolster each other’s spirits. Minutes turn to hours as the pair assess their physical condition and tell each other stories and bits of their lives. Hours roll over into another day, and another, and Ruby and Charlie face the very real possibility of not being rescued in time, before their injuries overwhelm them. Unusually, the eventual rescue occurs halfway through the book and, true to the title, the second half deals with the aftershocks of the rescue and the earthquake. The pain and trauma. Ruby desperately needing her mother, but having no way to locate her in a world twisted and ravaged by the quake, bereft of cell service and internet. Ruby needing to make amends to the people she loves. The book is both edge-of-your-seat compelling and lyrically thoughtful. Reichardt’s writing deftly changes from gripping, gruesome descriptions of the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, to heartbreaking, poetic passages as Ruby drifts in and out of consciousness, ready to embrace death. While character descriptions throughout the book are minimal, context clues imply that Ruby and Charlie are white.

THOUGHTS: This can’t-put-down book delivers it all: a compelling disaster story, with a satisfying ‘after’ that most books neglect. It was lovely to close the book knowing “the rest of the story.”

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – This is the Path the Wolf Took

Farina, Laura. This is the Path the Wolf Took. Kids Can Press, 2020. 978-1-525-30153-7. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Big brother loves reading to his little sister, but the stories he imagines are never quite like the ones mom or dad tell their daughter. Rather than wolves terrorizing little girls, grandmas, and pigs, all the characters make friends and have ice cream. It seems big brother does not do scary. Happy stories are his comfort zone. But his little sister sees BORING where he sees safe. Faced with losing his audience, can he confront his fears and create a story that will entertain his sister? This rollicking tale, complemented by Elina Ellis’s comic illustrations, addresses every young reader who wriggles through suspenseful fairy tales, while sharing a sly wink with older, braver readers. They will recognize the stock staple elements of fairy tales, and giggle over how big brother reimagines each story to his peaceful satisfaction. When big brother finally ups his storytelling game, readers will be surprised at who is left with the feeling that something bad is about to happen.

THOUGHTS: A delightful look at fairy tale story elements, as well as addressing the fears of timid readers. Imaginative text pairs with delightfully humorous illustrations for a winner of a book, recommended for all collections serving young readers.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD