Puller, J. S. The Lost Things Club. Little, Brown and Company, 2021. 978-0-759-55613-3. $16.99. 219 p. Grades 4-7.
Leah is looking forward to spending summer vacation in Chicago with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, just like she does every year. When she arrives at their apartment, however, she notices something is different; her younger cousin, TJ, affectionately known as “hedgehog,” is not his normal self. He isn’t talking. As Leah spends time with her aunt and uncle and some kids from the neighborhood, she begins to realize the reason that TJ isn’t talking is the terrible shooting that happened in the spring at TJ’s elementary school. Even though Leah doesn’t completely understand why TJ is struggling, she vows to help him face his feelings and come back to himself and his family. Through Leah’s summer adventures with TJ, she begins to understand that stories can be much more than silly make-believe. Stories can be a way to heal after trauma, as well as a way to communicate the experiences of others and help everyone practice empathy and understanding.
THOUGHTS: This book deals with the sensitive topics of school shootings, survivor guilt, and PTSD in a way that older elementary and middle school students can understand. It illustrates the terrible toll that such events can take on young survivors, their families, and the surrounding school community, while also portraying those that are struggling with dignity and hopefulness. Ultimately, this book highlights the essential empathy-building benefits everyone can reap from coming together and sharing stories.
Realistic FictionErin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD
Jeong, BonHyung. Kyle’s Little Sister. JY, 2021. 978-1-975-33589-2. $24.00. 207 p. Grades 4-7.
6th grader Grace and 8th grader Kyle just started a new year of middle school. Grace, an avid gamer who often feels awkward in social situations, has always struggled in her role as Kyle’s younger sister, since he is one of the most popular and athletic kids at school. Grace’s best friends, Amy and Jay, try to help her forget about living in her big brother’s shadow by organizing game nights and sleepovers, but soon boy-crazy Amy devises a match-making scheme that breaks up the three girls’ friendship in a devastating way. As Grace and her friends struggle to navigate school gossip, popularity contests, and the difficulties of growing up, Kyle begins to reach out to his sister and repair their tumultuous sibling relationship in a way that is realistic and heartwarming. A brief autobiographical sketch at the end of the book also introduces readers to the author/illustrator of the book and to her artistic writing process.
THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is perfect for fans of Reina Telgemar and Svetlana Chmakova. Middle schoolers, especially kids that are dealing with all the struggles of young adult friendships, will have no difficulty relating to Grace’s feelings and eagerly will devour this book to find out if the story’s characters find resolutions to their problems.
Doeden, Matt. Spectacular Sports. Millbrook Press, 2021. $25.99 each. $208.32 Set of 9. 64 p. Grades 5-8.
Coming Up Clutch: The Greatest Upsets, Comebacks and Finishes in Sports History. 978-1-512-42756-1. It’s Outta Here! The Might and Majesty of the Home Run. 978-1-728-41716-5. The College Football Championship: The Fight for the Top Spot. 978-1-467-71897-4. The Final Four: The Pursuit of College Basketball Glory. 978-1-467-78780-2. The NBA Playoffs: In Pursuit of Basketball Glory. 978-1-541-54153-5. The Negro Leagues: Celebrating Baseball’s Unsung Heroes. 978-1-512-42753-0. The Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Quest for Hockey’s Biggest Prize. 978-1-541-57838-8. The Super Bowl: Chasing Football Immortality. 978-1-512-42754-7. The World Cup: Soccer’s Global Championship. 978-1-512-42755-4.
This reviewer read It’s Outta Here! The Might and Majesty of the Home Run in the Spectacular Sports series. This series offers meticulously-researched, well-written information, tons of sports statistics, and interesting full-color illustrations about high-interest sports topics that middle-level readers will be excited to learn more about. Each book in the series addresses a different major event in sports or sports history. The books include short chapters with catchy titles, captioned photos and diagrams, a glossary, and an index.
THOUGHTS: This series contains worthwhile additions for any upper elementary or middle level library that needs to add colorfully-illustrated, high-interest books about popular sports topics to its collection. (Title Reviewed: It’s Outta Here! The Might and Majesty of the Home Run.)
McCauley, Kyrie. We Can Be Heroes. Katherine Tegen Books, 2021. 978-0-062-88505-0. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.
The town of Bell is known for one thing – it’s firearms. When the heir to the company goes into his school and shoots his ex-girlfriend Cassie and then himself, the town moves on – just a bit too quickly. Beck, Cassie’s long time friend, is angered that people turned a blind eye to what happened. Beck decides to paint murals in and around the town to bring attention to the tragedy. After the first mural, Cassie (in ghost form) visits Beck in her VW van, determined to find closure. Along with Cassie’s other friend, Vivian, the trio set out to bring Cassie justice with just a touch of vengeance. Planning out the themes of their murals, gathering supplies, and finding the perfect location get harder as more attention is given to the art. Things get a bit complicated when a podcaster hears of the murals and starts investigating Cassie’s murder and the Bell family. But their time is running out as local law enforcement start closing in on who is responsible for the murals that depict Greek myths and the haunting connection to Cassie’s death.
THOUGHTS: In McCauley’s second novel she chooses various writing styles to complement each character’s story. Cassie’s story is told in verse, Vivian and Beck in prose, and the podcaster in a script style. This was a heartbreaking story to read, but did a beautiful job of bringing attention to gun violence and domestic abuse.
Realistic Fiction Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD
Bunn, Cullen. The Ghoul Next Door. Harper Alley, 2021. 978-0-062-89610-0. 192 p. $21.99. Grades 4-8.
In Ander’s Landing, eleven year old Grey is excited to bring his scale model of the local cemetery to school for a project. Grey and his friend Marshall head off when Grey has the idea to take a shortcut through the cemetery. Marshall disagrees, and when Grey heads out by himself, he trips and his model drops into a giant hole where a creepy hand snatches it. Given a second chance by his teacher, Grey stays up to make a new model when a scratching at his window distracts him and causes him to stay up all night. The next day when Grey displays his model, his teacher finds real bones inside the coffins and mausoleums. Then night after night “gifts from the dead” appear in Grey’s room – a doll, a brush made out of bones, and more. When Grey takes the gifts back to the cemetery, he meets the gifter, a ghoul named Lavinia. Lavinia visits Grey and takes him on a tour of the haunted places of Ander’s Landing to teach him history and make him more aware of the dangers that lurk in the cemetery. However, when his friend Marshall is taken to the underworld as punishment for seeing Lavinia, the pair must work together to rescue him from the other ghouls, also known as the “eaters of the dead.’.
THOUGHTS: The perfect amount of creepy and spooky for middle level readers. The panels are easy to follow and beautifully drawn – even for ghouls! The story flows from page to page and will leave readers on the edge of their seat.
Epstein, Gabriela. The Baby-Sitters Club: Claudia and the New Girl. Graphix, 2021. 978-1-338-30458-9. 165p. $24.99. Grades 5-8.
In the ninth volume of the Baby-Sitters Club, Claudia and the crew are back to setting up babysitting jobs and meeting at Claudia’s house. When a new student named Ashley arrives, Claudia is instantly intrigued with her blue hair, eclectic style, piercings, and outstanding art. Ashley is an amazing artist, even better than Claudia! But when Ashley starts paying attention to Claudia and complimenting her artistic abilities, Claudia starts spending more time with Ashley than with her friends. Claudia starts to forget her responsibilities to the club and ends up turning into someone even she hardly recognizes. As with other titles in the series, the Baby-Sitters Club comes together to support one another and help Claudia realize that you can balance art and the club while making new friends.
THOUGHTS: The 9th volume in the graphic novel of the Baby-Sitters Club does not disappoint! The story is relatable to anyone who has wanted to befriend a new student at school. Another hit!
Graphic NovelJillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh Middle School
Spinelli, Jerry. Dead Wednesday. Alfred A. Knopf, 2021. 978-0-593-30667-3. 227 p. $17.99. Grades 6-8.
Every year in Ambler Springs there comes a day, Dead Wednesday, when students are given the name of a high school teenager who lost their life due to something that was preventable. On this day 8th grade students are given a black t-shirt to wear and are ignored by everyone in the town for the day. While Robbie, also known as Worm, is anxious for this day, his friend Eddie can’t wait for the chaos that will ensue. Students are given a random card with a name and a brief bio of the deceased in the hopes that they understand that this could happen to them if they do not make smart choices. What Worm didn’t expect to happen was that Becca, his assigned dead 17 year old student, would actually come back and pester Worm to come out of his shell. As Worm learns of Becca’s story, he also discovers that sometimes you have to use your voice and be true to yourself. The two use the day to explore what it means to be a teenager in a warm, coming of age story.
THOUGHTS: For a Spinelli book, it was not what I expected! Filled with teenage awkwardness and a ghost who flirts with a human, this book was different from his others. A perfect novel for those who hang in the shadows and would rather not be seen, but can learn that being who you are is more important.
Fantasy (Paranormal)Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD
Meltzer, Brad. Ordinary People Change the World. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021. $14.27 ea. $385.29 set of 27. Unpaged. K-3.
I am Frida Kahlo. 978-0-525-55598-8. I am I. M. Pei. 978-0-525-55601-5. I am Oprah Winfrey. 978-0-593-40582-6.
In this remarkable biography series, Brad Meltzer presents American icons in an extremely conversational, unintimidating manner. Beginning with their childhood, he tells each person’s story from his/her own point of view, focusing on personality traits that made each of them unique. Cartoon-like drawings and speech bubbles are interspersed with realistic images (like actual works of art) to make each story more intriguing. A timeline and photographs are included at the end of each book. I personally reviewed I am Frida Kahlo, and I absolutely loved the message being sent to the intended audience. Despite all of Frida’s difficulties in life – a bout with polio, a terrible bus accident, being ostracized because of her dress and actions – she remained true to herself and became a legend because of it. Not only does this encourage children to overcome curveballs in life, but it also sends them the message that they should be unafraid of being different. The format of these biographies definitely is unique and deserves to be considered for inclusion in all elementary biography collections.
THOUGHTS: This series would be extremely useful for biographical research as well as for character building activities. I also would recommend it to fans of Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum on PBS Kids, as the television series was actually inspired by this book series. In addition, it is worth noting that there are 24 other books in the series with publication years before and after 2021.
Iwai, Melissa. Dumplings for Lili. Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-00342-7. Unpaged. $17.95. Grades K-3.
Lili is excited to help her grandmother make baos, her favorite type of dumplings. When they discover they are out of cabbage, however, Lili goes to see if an upstairs neighbor has any cabbage they can use. The neighbor gives her cabbage, but in return, asks for some potatoes for her pierogies. This leads Lili to another neighbor’s apartment, and so the process continues. Finally, everyone has what they need to make all of their favorite kinds of dumplings. This culminates in a big dumpling party, during which Lili’s parents return with a sweet surprise. A charming celebration of food, family, and multiculturalism, this is an excellent addition to any elementary collection.
THOUGHTS: I just love how all of the grandmothers in this book represent different cultures, as they are all making dumplings from different regions. There are pierogies, tamales, raviolis, fatayers, and more. I could see this book being used in a world cultures class, and it would be especially fun to assign students or groups of students each a different culture from the book to study. Perhaps they could even make the dumplings from their respective cultures, and then the class could try them all. The recipe and instructions for Lili’s grandmother’s baos is already included in the back matter. There definitely are plenty of opportunities for extension activities with this book!
This charming picture book is all about the wonders of growing up. The story is told in a series of “If you were a…” statements, comparing a child’s development to the life cycles of animals and plants. As a mother and child watch falling acorns, the narrator relates an oak tree growing from a tiny acorn to a small child spreading her roots in the world. Later, a grandfather and his grandsons spot a deer with her fawns running through the woods. Just as a fawn’s first shaky steps develop into a sprint, the wobbly gait of a toddler becomes a confident stride. The delightful illustrations by Coleman are rendered digitally and are the winning elements of the book. For each animal or plant comparison, the child’s clothes take on that appearance. A girl is pictured wearing a green jumper with an orange shirt, mimicking the green shell and orange spots of a turtle, and the acorn watching child wears a beanie that resembles the nut’s cap. On the title page, there is an oak sapling, and on the last page, it has grown into a large tree.
THOUGHTS: While the comparisons in the text are a bit weak at times, the book’s drawings bring them to life. Children will enjoy listening to the story and poring over the details in the pictures. A supplemental purchase.