MG – Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

Mejia, Tehlor Kay. Paola Santiago and the River of Tears. Disney-Hyperion, 2020. 978-1-368-04917-7. 350 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Scientific Paola just eyerolls when her superstitious mother talks of spells, wards, and evil beings like La Llorona, the creature who roams the river stealing children to replace those she lost. But Paola and her friends Emma and Dante do respect the Gila River near their Arizona home. Several local children have drowned in the waters. Not that that stops them from lying to their parents and hanging out on the banks of the river. But when Paola repeatedly has dreams of a creature reaching out of the waters and grabbing her, and Emma disappears one evening, Paola begins to reconsider whether her mother’s superstitions are as ridiculous as she always assumed them to be. When the police refuse to listen to Paola, she and Dante decide to take matters into their own hands. Armed with support and advice from a most surprising source, they venture into a world of legendary monsters battled by lost children, shocked to discover their own roles in this world that shouldn’t exist. Paola Santiago, part of the Rick Riordan imprint, is a page turner from the very beginning. Pao is a delightful protagonist, supported by her two best friends. Scientific-minded, fascinated by space, she is stunned by the existence of magic, myth, and monsters. Dante and Emma are strong characters as well (in every sense of the word), and the various creatures they encounter don’t stand a chance against the combined wiles of the trio. But Pao also learns that there is more to life than what the power of physics can prove and becomes closer to her mother through the ordeal. Paola and Dante are Hispanic; Emma is white.

THOUGHTS: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is an exciting page turner that is hard to put down. Paola is a feisty heroine who is easy to love and is sure to gain legions of fans. Add this to your collection if other mythology-based books are popular.

Fantasy/Mythology          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – All Because You Matter

Charles, Tami. All Because You Matter. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-57485-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Charles and illustrator Bryan Collier create a loving ode to children of color, gently reassuring them that they matter. Collier’s rich, exuberant pages give life and emphasis to Charles’ text, showing young parents dreaming of their child to come. Their hopes and expectations spiral through a dreamy, quilt-inspired landscape. While the story espouses hopes and confidences applicable for all children, the intent is clearly to address current events, to bolster young black and brown children against a world that may be unwelcoming. Charles’ writing is gentle and powerful, but Collier and his stunning visuals should have been on the Caldecott shortlist.

THOUGHTS: A necessary purchase for all libraries serving young patrons.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Diamond Double Play

Maddox, Jake. Diamond Double Play. Stone Arch, 2020. 978-1-496-58329-1. 64 p. $5.95 (paperback version). Grades 2-3.

Blake Easton is the neighborhood Wiffle ball star, but he has never played organized baseball. When he and his friends spot a poster advertising open tryouts for a local baseball travel team, Blake’s friends encourage him to try out. But Blake is nervous going up against more experienced players, especially when obnoxious Kyle starts taunting Blake as an inexperienced newbie. Luckily, Blake finds a friend in Austin, who shows Blake the ropes. While Blake makes the team, he is disappointed to learn he will be Kyle’s backup at second base. But when Kyle injures himself making a selfish play, Blake finds himself in the starting line up, and serious jitters set in. Is he really good enough to be on the team? This short, beginner chapter book combines authentic sports action with lessons on sportsmanship and confidence. The young characters (ages 11-12) frequently speak with maturity far beyond their ages, but the story will resonate with sports fans and players alike. The characters, as represented by the illustrations, are ethnically diverse; Blake is Black, Kyle is White, with teammates represented variously. A glossary at the end of the book defines baseball terms used in the text.

THOUGHTS:  A solid choice for Easy Fiction collections, where sports books are underrepresented.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – A Flicker of Courage: Tales of Triumph and Disaster!

Caletti, Deb. A Flicker of Courage: Tales of Triumph and Disaster! Putnam, 2020. 978-1-984-81305-3. 243 p. $13.99, Grades 3-6.

Henry is a nice boy, but quiet and shy with miserable, abusive parents. He longs to have friends, be brave, and be a hero. He gets his chance the morning he hears Apollo, the charming boy next door, shrieking in agony, and discovers Vlad Luxor, the HRM (Horrible Ruler with Magic), has turned Apollo’s younger brother Rocco into a lizard. What, you say, can two young boys do in the face of such terrible evil? Henry has a plan! He is shocked to discover his need to aid Apollo is stronger than his need not to be noticed. The boys, together with the lovely, kind Jo, Pirate Girl and Henry’s dog, Button, look, listen, ponder, and follow their hearts. They learn of their true identities, face down the cruel Vlad Luxor, save the day, and Rocco. This humorous adventure-story spoof, is highly reminiscent of M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series. The third-person omniscient narration rarely allows the characters to show action, resulting in a somewhat stilted style that takes some getting used to. But if you let it grow on you, it’s worth the wait. There is a map! Old photos! Spell-breakers and fights! Fearsome events! And a sequel! This book may require some booktalking and encouragement, as the genre Caletti spoofs belongs to the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew era, but the general silliness and good vs evil plot may draw readers in. Most of the characters are presumed white (and appear so on the book cover), but Jo hints at being Latino.

THOUGHTS: This story, and series, has potential, but it’s hard to tell if this is a book that will appeal more to adults than children. Get it in the hands of the right reader, and it could take off.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – People Did What (Series NF)

Vallepur, Shalini. People Did What. Crabtree Publishing, 2020. $7.51 ea. $30.04 set of 4. 32 p. Grades 3-6. 

People Did What in Ancient Egypt? 978-0-778-77423-5.
People Did What in Ancient Greece? 978-0-778-77424-2.
People Did What in Ancient Rome? 978-0-778-77425-9.
People Did What in the Viking Age? 98-0-778-77433-4.

This series introduces young readers to a variety of historic cultures. The vivid, comic book covers entice browsers to open the book, and brightly colored, highly illustrated pages will captivate their attention. Interior pages are a collage of photographs, illustrations, and clip art, supplemented with brief blocks of text allowing for skipping around the page. While the information is factual, topics seem obviously chosen to titillate youngsters (how Vikings used pee to start fires). The books are organized by topic, contain such text features as table of contents, glossary, and index (the Ancient Egypt index did contain several mistakes), as well as suggested books and websites for additional reading. While these books would not be used for research, they are perfect for sparking interest in casual readers.

THOUGHTS: The books are visually appealing and full of the weird, gruesome facts kids love. They would be a good purchase for elementary libraries looking to expand their nonfiction offerings and a great option for those readers who prefer entertaining nonfiction books.

History 932, 938, 937, 948          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Weatherford, Carole Boston. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-534-45228-2. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is introduced to a new generation in this vibrant picture book. While this biography is brief, it succeeds in conveying the essence of Franklin’s life. The oil paint illustrations by Frank Morrison draw readers into the story, their richness implying the importance of her family, faith, community and music. The rhyming couplets on each two-page spread succinctly summarize aspects of Franklin’s history, the rhyme scheme unifying the book. Understandably, the abbreviated format does not allow for deeper exploration of her life, and no mention is made of darker events such as her parents’ separation, her mother’s death before Aretha was 10 years old, or the children she bore at age 12 and 14. (The information about her parents is mentioned in the Author’s Note following the story text.) The book accomplishes its intended purpose beautifully, celebrating the life of a revered talent. Hopefully a nearby adult will pair a reading of the book with an introduction to Franklin’s glorious music.

THOUGHTS: A lush, inspiring introduction to a musical icon and activist. With a motion picture biography slated for release in August 2021, this could be a timely purchase.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – The Boys in the Back Row

Jung, Mike. The Boys in the Back Row. Levine Querido, 2020. 978-1-646-14011-4. 264 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Matt and Eric have been best friends forever. They are both marching band nerds, both fans of comics by artist Jonah Burns, and both are targets of bully Kenny and his side-kick Sean. When Eric learns his family will be moving at the end of the school year, the pair plan one epic last adventure. While the school marching band is on a trip to World of Amazement amusement park, Eric and Matt will sneak out to nearby DefenderCon and meet their idol, Jonah Burns. But when Sean gets wind of their plans, and inexplicably wants to join the friends, they are confounded as to how to proceed. The book uniquely highlights friendship between tween boys. The pair are openly fond of each other, but are tired being labeled gay. Matt is also called gay for playing the flute. (Neither is gay, but they do not consider it an insult). A secondary theme involves racism against Asian students such as Matt. Kenny, the chief proponent of both racism and homophobia, seems to harbor an attraction for a male, Asian band member, providing some insight into his troubled personality. While the racist theme can become heavy-handed, the exuberant friendship of the boys more than carries the book. Matt is Asian, Eric and Kenny are white, with minor characters who are a variety of ethnicities, particularly Asian.

THOUGHTS: This book should be a first purchase for middle grade collections. Stories showing kind, thoughtful male relationships are too rare.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Girl on a Motorcycle

Novesky, Amy. Girl on a Motorcycle. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11629-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-5.

In 1973, a young woman in Paris dreams of seeing the world. So she gets on her motorcycle and takes off, becoming the first woman to solo circumnavigate the world on a motorcycle. This is the story of Anne-France Dautheville and her remarkable journey. Beginning in Canada, the 28-year-old white woman rides across North America, Japan, India, on to Turkey, back to Europe, and eventually, home. Anne-France’s magnificent style shines through the poetic text and gorgeous, soft-hued, yet bold illustrations. Her path leads her through myriad cultures and experiences. “I want the world to be beautiful, and it is beautiful. I want people to be good, and they are good.” This book will certainly ignite wonder and curiosity about the world and its people in readers, as well as deep admiration for Anne-France.

THOUGHTS: A beautiful book that does justice to a remarkable woman. In addition, it is a much needed reminder that the world is, indeed, beautiful and good. Highly recommended for elementary libraries.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – The Girls I’ve Been

Sharpe, Tess. The Girls I’ve Been. Putnam, 2021. 9780593353806. $18.99. 356 p. Grades 9 and up.

Two armed men enter a bank in a sleepy rural California town assuming they’ll find the bank manager and easily coerce him into taking them to their target – a safe deposit box. The manager hasn’t arrived yet though, and who they DO find is teenager Nora O’Malley. She’s not just any teenage girl. She’s not even Nora O’Malley – depending on how you look at it. Nora spent most of her life playing the roles of different girls with her con-artist mother until her half-sister extracted her from the situation four years ago. As she tries to adjust to a “normal” life and put her past behind her, her biggest problem has been the current awkwardness between her and her ex-boyfriend but now best friend Wes because she’d been lying to him about her new relationship with their other friend, Iris. Thrust into a serious hostage situation with her friends, Nora is forced to resurrect her old identities if she wants any chance of getting them out of this alive.

THOUGHTS: A wild page-turner for fans of the thriller genre. The well-crafted plot alternates from Nora’s past to the present, and it all ties together in the end. It also tackles domestic abuse from multiple angles as all of the three teenage main characters have struggled with it in some form.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

YA – Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel

Levithan, David. Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel. Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-05786-8. 138 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

High school is hard. Jeremy finds it especially hard being an awkward nerd who can’t seem to say the right thing to anyone. He really wants to catch the eye of Christine, a pretty girl he sees every day at play rehearsal. When Jeremy tries to talk to her, he bumbles through his words, and that’s when he realizes he will never be able to charm her… until he hears about the squip. The squip is a supercomputer, compressed into a pill-sized capsule and swallowed. After that, it takes over your brain and helps awkward teens navigate through the complex social hierarchy of high school. Don’t know what cool clothes to buy at the mall? The squip will guide you. Not sure what to say to the most popular girl in school? The squip will tell you. When Jeremy buys one on the black market, he thinks he has squashed his awkward behavior for good. But he very quickly realizes the dark consequences that can come from trying to alter his own biology.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel, adapted from the hit Broadway musical of the same name, will resonate with any high schooler who struggles to fit in. The art, done mostly in black, white, and blue, shows the differences between dialogue and the squip’s commands, making it easy to follow. High school librarians should add this to their graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD