Blue Mancini is rather confident that her name has doomed her to a life of sadness. Just one year ago, her brother Jack was driving drunk and was in a car accident resulting in a fatality. Because Blue and Jack have rich parents with expensive lawyers, he avoids a manslaughter charge and instead is in a detention center for only a few months. Blue might be able to live with that fact… except that Maya is returning to school. A classmate in the same grade, Maya had been out of school for a while as her family adjusted to the death of her father, the man Jack killed the night he was driving drunk. Although Blue is not directly responsible for what happened to Maya’s dad, Maya seems to think she is also to blame. This becomes apparent when Maya picks fights with her in the classes they have together. With Maya taunting her in class and on social media, her mother’s constant nagging to visit Jack in the detention center, and the fact that her boyfriend is hiding a major secret from her, Blue succumbs to feeling sorry for herself, but she isn’t great at keeping it all inside. After one particularly physical fight between Maya and Blue, the principal and counselor decide they must attend after-school sessions and create a club together. As they meet, both of them have to work through their issues to find common ground.
THOUGHTS:Blue highlights the importance of what happens when one bad decision alters the course of a life. High school readers will relate to the mental health struggles Blue goes through. This book is an easy read and ends on a light note with a positive message despite the difficult events.
Realistic Fiction Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Westergaard, Azadeh. A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla. Viking, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-593-11460-5. Grades 1-4. $17.99.
In this picture book biography, the author tells readers how much more Nikola Tesla contributed to science than his hair-raising Tesla coil. Born during a thunderstorm in modern day Croatia, the future scientist was interested in animals, books, and electricity as a young boy. He even designed his own inventions, like a “rotating motor powered by the fast, flapping wings of sixteen June bugs.” Tesla was a good student, excelling in many subjects, but electrical engineering was his passion. Soon he came up with an innovative way to transmit electricity over long distances by sending electric currents back and forth on a wire. Tesla traveled to the United States to share his discovery. There he met businessman George Westinghouse and they worked together to develop the electric motor. This invention was presented at the 1893 Chicago World Fair to much acclaim. Sadly, the Wizard of Electricity did not profit much from his creation due to unfortunate business decisions. Although Nikola died alone and poor in New York in 1943, over two thousand prominent scientists, businessmen, and artists attended his funeral. As one friend observed, “So far reaching is his work… should Tesla’s work be suddenly withdrawn-darkness would prevail.” The back matter provides more biographical details, vintage photographs, and suggested readings. Sarda’s illustrations are rendered digitally and have a folk art quality.
THOUGHTS: This is an intriguing life story of this important, but underappreciated, inventor, whose electrical discoveries are so crucial to the modern world. By revealing Tesla’s non-technical interests such as poetry and caring for hungry or injured pigeons, the author has presented a unique portrait of the man. This text works as a good introduction to electricity units and is a worthwhile purchase for elementary collections.
Wilder, Derick. The Longest Letsgoboy. Chronicle Books. 978-1-452-17716-8. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-3.
This is the story of one old dog’s final walk with the child he refers to as his “foreverfriend.” The dog’s playful first-person narration allows readers to experience the world through his eyes and through his made-up language. On the last day of his life, he and a young girl take a long walk through an autumn woods. The dog smells familiar scents and sees the same animals and trees he’s seen many times before, but on this walk, he moves slowly and feels tired. With his one good ear, he listens carefully to bird calls, telling him they will keep an eye on his “foreverfriend.” Later that evening, as shadows stretch across the yard, the dog circles and settles one final time. Although this is one of the most emotional sections of the book, Catia Chien’s masterful abstract illustrations lighten the tone and communicate what is happening to the dog in an age-appropriate way. The beautiful pages show the dog passing peacefully into a sky filled with bright colors, and it’s clear he feels no pain. Throughout the book, the colors in the mixed media illustrations morph to deftly match the emotions being expressed throughout the seasons of the year and the seasons of life.
THOUGHTS: While this is clearly a story about loss, it’s also a story about love. The special bond between the girl and her dog is beautifully portrayed, and both the text and the illustrations will strike a chord with any reader who has experienced the loss of a pet. Share this title with guidance counselors to begin conversations with students who may be grieving their own loss.
Picture Book Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Lippincott, Rachael. The Lucky List. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-534-46853-5. $18.99. 294 p. Grades 7-12.
Shunned by her high school peers for boldly kissing an underclassman at the junior prom in full view of her well-liked boyfriend, Matt, Emily Clark faces a lonely summer in Huckabee, her small Pennsylvania town. Her best friend, Kiera, is working as a counselor at a sleep away camp; Matt is kind but confused at her actions; her dad is as distracted by work as ever leaving Emily to pack up her deceased mother’s belongings. Still nursing her grief over her mother’s passing three years prior from cancer, Emily finds a bucket list her mother penned her senior year of high school. When her parents’ best friend, Johnny Carter, moves to Huckabee from Hawaii with his daughter, Blake, the two girls spend a special summer together. Both motherless, they bond easily, and Blake is supportive when the diffident, cautious Emily challenges herself to check off the twelve points on her mother’s list. Convinced this accomplishment will reveal the new and improved Emily, she finds herself—with Blake’s encouragement and help—jumping off cliffs, sleeping under the stars, fending off others to steal forbidden apples, picking a four-leaf clover, etc. until ultimately, she is faced with the final task: kissing Matt. Rachael Lippincott’s The Lucky List is a cozy coming-of-age novel with a LBGTQ+ theme. Narrator Emily relates the questioning, the fears, the missteps of discovering whom one really is authentically and satisfyingly. The relationship between Emily and Blake is gradual and fun; the soul-searching Emily is relatable. A pleasant read for any teen, but may strike a particular chord with those grappling with their sexual identity.
THOUGHTS: The Lucky List is a light read, heavy on friendship and caring rather than sex. The awakening of a person to her sexual identity may be helpful addition on school library shelves.
Realistic Fiction Bernadette Cooke School District of Philadelphia
Inside Cat spends its days peering through many different kinds of windows in its house. Each window is a different size or shape and presents a different view of the city. Inside Cat takes in scenes of everything from flowers to birds, towers to balloons. It sees big machines, small mice, bright traffic lights, and dark nighttime skies. The cat also uses its wild imagination to fill in gaps about what it’s seeing and to help make sense of the world. Since it spends so much time looking through windows, Inside Cat assumes it’s an expert about the world. But, when an outside door is left open, Inside Cat forms entirely new ideas. Brief, rhyming text winds its way across each double-page spread as Inside Cat moves from window to window, constantly seeing the world from different perspectives. The illustrations, composed from a variety of media including cut paper, colored pencil, oil pastels, marker, and the computer, are the true stars of the story. Careful readers will notice new details each time the story is shared. In particular, they will enjoy searching for the mice and watching what antics they are up to on each spread.
THOUGHTS: Use this text during creative writing activities to spark ideas about seeing the world from different perspectives and using your imagination.
Picture Book. Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Pet stories. Perspective fiction. Stories in rhyme.
Rylant, Cynthia. We Give Thanks. Beach Lane Books, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-422-46507-7. Grades PreK-1. $17.99.
Told in rhyming couplets, this story about gratitude is not about the Thanksgiving holiday. Each couplet begins with “We give thanks for” and Frog and Rabbit point out what they appreciate as they walk around the neighborhood. The objects of gratitude run the gamut and appear in no particular order. They include nature, the weather, activities, family, community helpers, and friends. After realizing what they are thankful for, Frog and Rabbit prepare a special feast to share with their friends, who come and partake of the treats before them. The author finishes with this: “Bless our nights and bless our days and bless all those we meet. We give thanks for everything and now it’s time to eat.” Ruzzier’s illustrations done in pen, ink, and watercolors and are whimsical and appealing. Readers will enjoy poring over the drawings for the details. There are some humorous touches such as the Dalmatian as an Italian waiter and Bear’s friend, the fish who is often out of water. The pictures help create a warm, cozy atmosphere within this delightful tale.
THOUGHTS: Young children will enjoy listening to this story, which is sure to dish up a little happiness and will have them thinking about what they are thankful for. This book is a good substitute for traditional Thanksgiving stories, especially for those children who do not celebrate holidays. A nice selection for storytimes in any season.
Lily and her grandmother are driving to Iowa, which now will be the young girl’s home. As Lily sits in the back of the car watching the scenery, she feels an empty place and an anxious feeling in her stomach. Seeing her granddaughter’s sadness, Gram suggests they play a game and look for ten beautiful things during their journey. Their trip begins in darkness and then suddenly an amazing sunrise comes into view and becomes the first beautiful thing. As they travel on, Gram and Lily find other marvelous things, like a windmill farm, a red-winged blackbird, the sound of a gurgling creek and the earthy smell of mud. When they are nearly at their destination, a powerful thunderstorm appears with lightning, winds, and heavy rain. Lily realizes that just as this storm seemed to fill up the whole world, the empty places within her are now filled by Gram and her new home. The downpour has stopped, the sun is shining, and all will be well. Lechuga’s digital illustrations are charming, and she skillfully depicts the young girl’s anxiety in the drawings.
THOUGHTS: Children experiencing a life changing event will find a connection with Lily. By not revealing the reasons, the author has created a touching story that will apply to a number of situations, such as death, deployment, imprisonment, abuse, or custody issues. Guidance counselors and caretakers will find this book a valuable tool to promote discussion. A worthwhile purchase for all elementary libraries.
Dapier, Jarrett. Jazz for Lunch! Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 978-1-534-45408-8. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.
Built on the foundations of jazz music and creative cooking, this rhyming story vividly depicts the power both music and food have to bring people together. A young boy and his aunt set out to have lunch at a jazz club where his aunt is a regular. In the club, the sounds from the kitchen mix with the sounds from the stage, creating a vibrant, animated atmosphere. But, the club is so crowded that the boy and his aunt can’t get close enough to see the performers or place an order. They leave early, stop by a produce stand, and the next day, they cook up their own jazzy lunch at home. Each dish is inspired by jazz greats, including Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, John Coltrane, and Ella Fitzgerald. End papers feature brief biographies of 20 jazz greats mentioned in the story as well one of their album titles. The lively digital illustrations capture the movement and the emotions the food and the music inspire.
THOUGHTS: Share this title with music teachers who can make curricular connections with the featured jazz musicians and the music vocabulary sprinkled in the text. Music and ELA teachers will also appreciate the use of onomatopoeia as the boy and his aunt cook up their feast. This exuberant book captures the joy of coming together to enjoy great food and great music.
Picture Book Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Schmidt, Gary. Just Like That. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-0-544-08477-3. 387 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.
Meryl Lee, reeling from the tragic death of her best friend Holling, is struggling to find joy in anything. Her parents enroll her into a New England boarding school to help her find herself again (while also shielding her from the divorce process they are secretly going through). At St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, Meryl Lee feels like she has more in common with the young ladies who are employed there rather than the stuck-up girls who attend as students. Despite being told that it is “unbecoming” to mingle with the staff, Meryl Lee knows in her heart this is wrong. With the support of the headmistress, Dr. Nora MacKnockater, Meryl Lee works on healing her heart and finding her place in the world. At the same time, a boy named Matt Coffin is always on the move. Homeless and parent-less, he moves from place to place carrying his pillowcase full of money, intent on avoiding the scary people who are coming after him. His travels take him to New England and there, his world collides with Meryl Lee’s and Dr. MacKnockater’s. With their help, he confronts his past and starts planting permanent roots in one place.
THOUGHTS: Although these two characters are seemingly different, the struggles they are going through tie them together. The book takes place in 1968 but still feels very modern. The character’s struggles are definitely ones that middle grade readers will relate to (fitting in, divorce) combined with the global struggle of the Vietnam War in the background of the story makes it more complex than it seems on the surface. Gary Schmidt’s witty writing style will make middle grade readers laugh, cry, and think.
Historical Fiction Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Epstein, Adam Jay, and Ruth Chan. Have You Seen Gordon? Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-534-47736-0. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.
Have You Seen Gordon is an interesting take on the concept of I Spy. The first few pages the reader is being introduced to finding Gordon; however, it becomes apparent that Gordon doesn’t want to hide. The characters are talking with the narrator throughout the second half of the book, until they come to an agreement about the ultimate direction of the book.
THOUGHTS: The fact that the characters spoke up about not wanting to fit in (or be found) is an unexpected piece of this book that I appreciated. The ending wraps the whole book up nicely and makes the reader feel like the ending came naturally.
Picture Book Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy