MG – Concealed

Gonzalez, Christina Diaz. Concealed. Scholastic, 2021. 320 pp. 978-1-338-64720-4 $17.99 Grades 5-8.

Katrina has been on the move with her parents for the past three years, and those three years are the extent of her memories. She cannot remember her early years or even her real name. Her amnesia after an accident convinced her parents of the danger and led them to flee. Her parents, who call themselves “B” and “L,” have explained that it is better she doesn’t remember, and their task now is to keep her safe. With the help of their contact, Agent X, her family has moved at least eleven times in the Witness Protection Program because Katrina’s father angered some influential business partners. But since Katrina is pressing for more answers, her father makes a choice to get passports without Agent X’s help, in an effort for more freedom to tell Katrina the truth.  Their latest location is fairly remote, and Katrina tentatively becomes friends with Parker, a foster kid with few personal connections but exceptional hacking skills. Soon, Katrina’s father and mother are captured separately, and Parker willingly accompanies Katrina to the safe house in Atlanta. And all the facts that don’t add up really begin to topple down. At the safe house, Agent X whisks them to Miami (en route to safety?) as Katrina and Parker doubt him and her parents. The surprising truth comes out as X retrieves Katrina’s father, everyone is in grave danger, and everyone is saved.

THOUGHTS: While not predictable, the surprises are life-changing and resolved too easily, resulting in a lost opportunity to examine major themes of genetic engineering, twins, memory loss, trauma, and the effects of secrecy and lies. Supplemental purchase.

Realistic Fiction            Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Scientists Who Changed the World (Series NF)

Croy, Anita. Scientists Who Changed the World (series of 6). Crabtree, 2021. 64 p. $25.00 each. $150.00 Set of 6. Grades 5-8.

Albert Einstein. 978-0-778-78209-4.
Charles Darwin. 978-0-778-78218-6.
Galileo Galilei. 978-0-778-78219-3.
Sir Isaac Newton. 978-0-778-78221-6.
Rachel Carson. 978-0-778-78220-9.
Stephen Hawking. 978-0-778-78222-3.

Each of these books is divided into six chapters, covering 1. Biography, 2. Background (of the time period), 3. Breakthrough (scientific discoveries), 4. Key Ideas, 5. Reputation, and 6. Legacy. Croy interweaves the biography and ideas of the scientist well with the time period, making the person’s accomplishments more understandable for their enormity and effect. The design is full of charts, illustrations/photographs and frequent related text boxes, and also frequent white text on black background. Each chapter is set alongside a page printed with a quote or idea from the scientist.  Examples include: “Newton said that gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it does not explain who or what set the planets in motion” (Sir Isaac Newton 33) and “Galileo said that modern discoveries proved that ancient writers did not have superior knowledge. However, if ancient writers could see what modern scientists could see, they would draw the same conclusions” (Galileo Galilei 33).

THOUGHTS: Useful for reports, but thanks to the inviting pages broken into readable segments, this series could also be enjoyed by the casual reader.  It would be nice to see the series expanded in the same fashion.

Titles reviewed: Galileo Galilei and Sir Isaac Newton.

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
500s Scientists

Elem. – Be a Pet Expert (Series NF)

Barder, Gemma. Be a Pet Expert (series of 6). Crabtree, 2021. 32 p. $20.75 each. $124.50 Set of 6. Grades 3-6.

Be a Cat Expert. 978-0-778-78015-1.
Be A Dog Expert. 978-0-778-78016-8.
Be a Hamster & Guinea Pig Expert. 978-0-778-78017-5.
Be a Horse & Pony Expert. 978-0-778-78018-2.
Be a Rabbit Expert. 978-0-778-78019-9.
Be a Reptile Expert. 978-0-778-78020-5.

These books provide helpful information, facts, and pet care tips for a variety of animals. Many photos, text boxes, and checklists help readers to learn more about the animals and consider them as pets. A flowchart guides readers through yes/no questions to determine what type best suits their personalities. Placing hamsters and guinea pigs in the same book will help readers to differentiate the two. Each book surprises readers with some interesting facts even on ‘well-known’ pets. For instance, no two dogs have the same noseprint; cats cannot taste sweet foods; horses and ponies have the largest eyes of any mammals on land; and rabbits can sleep with their eyes open.

THOUGHTS: These helpful books shed a positive yet truthful light on pets, which will appeal to pet-owners and animal lovers alike.

630s Domesticated Animals, Pets        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – World of Wonder (Series NF)

Barnham, Kay. World of Wonder (series of 4). Illustrated by Maddie Frost. Crabtree, 2021. 32 p. $20.75 ea. $83.00 Set of 4. Grades K-2.

Amazing Animal Babies. 978-0-778-78247-6.
The Awesome Night Sky. 978-0-778-78276-6.
Incredible Rain Forests. 978-0-778-78248-3.
A Wonderful World of Weather. 978-0-778-78246-9.

Barnham and Frost team up wonderfully with text and pictures suitable for the K-2 crowd. Each book focuses on one aspect of nature or science, acting as a pleasant introduction to the topic for beginners. Each book keeps a positive tone about ecology, learning and exploring, offering two-page spreads with a paragraph of text on each page. It’s just enough information, and may leave curious readers questioning; be prepared with answers to “what’s that animal?,” “where does the sky end?,” “why do some babies stay with their moms and some don’t?,” or “how many constellations are there?”  Two friendly children (one white, one slightly darker-skinned) and a black dog appear throughout the books, learning with the reader. The books close with Things To Do (three ideas such as inventing your own animal, creating a word cloud (each book), or designing a weather board game), Learning More (book and online resources), and Glossary (7-9 words used in text).

THOUGHTS: A solid choice for introducing astronomy, weather, rain forest and animal babies to young readers.

Science (520, 551, 577, 591)            Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem./MG – Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars

Wallmark, Laurie. Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars. Illustrated by Brooke Smart. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-419-73963-7 $18.99 Grades 3-6. 

“A cryptoanalyst is a person who analyzes and reads secret communications without the knowledge of the system used.” Elizebeth Smith Friedman, born in 1982 in Indiana, became a relied-upon, yet secret, cryptography expert who helped the U.S. government to intercept coded messages during two world wars, and helped to identify and send thirty-three German spies to prison in “the greatest spy roundup in American history.” She never spoke of her work, classified as “Top Secret Ultra,” and most was not known until declassified in 2015. Wallmark, with Smart’s well-matched illustrations, follows Friedman’s story from childhood, to education to first job, to marriage, to secret work. Friedman was repeatedly requested for the most difficult code-breaking, and often testified in criminal cases, demonstrating her code-breaking when needed. In one case, she decoded two years of backlogged messages in her first three months of work. Friedman created the first code-breaking unit for the OSS–Office of Strategic Services, now known as the CIA–Central Intelligence Agency. In at least one major case, another person earned the honor for her work. But Friedman’s work helped the U.S. in two world wars and can be well-recognized today.

THOUGHTS: This book is an excellent addition to World War II units and will inspire readers to learn more about code-making and code-breaking.

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – After the Ink Dries

Gustafson, Cassie. After the Ink Dries. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 406 p. 978-1-534-47369-0. $19.99 Grades 10-12.

Trigger warning: sexual assault and abuse; suicide ideation, self-harm, and attempted suicide; bullying and victim-shaming.

It is fitting that this book begins with a trigger warning, for it is much needed. It is difficult to read of the characters’ experiences in this book without a strong emotional and intellectual response.

The opening chapter plunges the reader immediately into Erika’s world as she wakes disoriented in an unknown bedroom to discover herself naked with Sharpie writing all over her body–crude messages from–she sees later–at least four boys who also signed their names. She struggles to remember the events of the night before–a party…she was so happy with her new boyfriend Thomas’s attention…finally feeling more accepted in her new town….the campfire….she must have passed out. She slowly realizes she’s been assaulted and manages to leave the house unnoticed, but not before hearing four boys gloating over their conquest of Erika, attempting to pull in Thomas, whose response is unknown. Her shame and revulsion is absolute, and all she wants to do is retreat home, remove the filthy writing, and undo the entire past 12 hours.

Meanwhile, the perspective shifts to Thomas, who is dazed by the events and slow to admit to anyone–even himself–what happened at the party. He’s on his way to a coveted, much-planned-for audition to music school, arranged by his uncle in the absence of any fatherly support. He bombs the audition, then scrambles to a double lacrosse practice, where the other guys are ready to tell him how to think about the party (and don’t bail on your friends). Erika and her mom have only been in town for a few months, with her mom taking all the overtime she can as a nurse, and Erika making her way in new teenage social circles. Erika seems to have made friends with Caylee and perhaps Amber, and she’s made enemies with Tina, whose interest was in Thomas. Erika needs a friend, and instinctively thinks of Caylee, but how can she talk to Caylee when Caylee is so proud to be Zac’s girlfriend, and when Zac’s name is written on Erika’s body? Erika tries to act as though nothing is amiss, but Tina’s social media posts start rumors which others only fuel. Ringleader Zac texts Erika simply to torment her. Quickly, Erika becomes a pariah: She’s mentally unstable, a nobody, new to town, sl**, must have wanted it, should have known better, and on and on. With nowhere to turn, Erika seeks to end her life. She is resuscitated and held in the hospital while the boys, their parents and lawyers round up to crucify her. Enter Amber, who emerges as a firehouse of a real friend to strengthen and support Erika (and her mom). The police want details, but Erika wavers. If she doesn’t explain, there will be no repercussions, and maybe this could be over. A visit from Caylee, who has only Zac’s best interest in mind, enrages Erika enough to realize she must speak.

THOUGHTS: Gustafson’s first novel, written in alternating voices of Erika and Thomas, is a terribly real book, leaving readers as witnesses to sexual assault, disbelief of survivors, and seeming powerlessness of young women. The novel very importantly shows that although Erika was not raped, this was sexual assault. After the Ink Dries is recommended for mature readers with a support system to discuss its contents.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Shark Summer

Marcks, Ira. Shark Summer. Little, Brown, and Company, 2021. 978-0-316-46138-2. $24.99. 281 p. Grades 5-8.

Gayle, an ace pitcher for the local softball team and new to Martha’s Vineyard, hurts her wrist badly in a game. Her summer plans and hopes shattered, she teams up with a visiting son of a journalist, Elijah, and local girl Madison to make a film about a local legend.  With a big budget film crew on the island filming a blockbuster hit (similar to Jaws), the kids decide to focus their no budget film on the Atwood Terror legend, a story of a fishing-club owner who fed victims to a shark. Will there be some truth to this storied legend that the kids uncover?

THOUGHTS: Fans of Jaws and shark movies will enjoy this graphic novel.

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

Elem. – That’s a Job? I Like Art… What Jobs Are There?

Hodge, Susie. That’s a Job? I Like Art…What Jobs Are There? Kane Miller, 2021. 47 p. 978-1-684-64168-0. $15.99. Grades 3-6. 

That’s a Job? I Like Art…What Jobs Are There? is a nonfiction book that uses the lens of art to showcase over twenty different jobs that are all related to art. There is a wide range of jobs, from ones that require working with people to jobs that are more solitary. Some of the jobs show a life in the day of the person, and some just give a smaller snapshot of what they do in a day. Each job discusses the best and worst parts of each job. At the end of the book, there is a way for the reader to try to pick out their best job, based on what they like to do/are good at.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing book to introduce different careers to readers, and I loved how in-depth they went for the behind the scenes of each career. The illustrations show each career as well as the extra hobbies each individual has. Must have for an elementary or upper elementary school.

700 Art Careers          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Outbreak (Series NF)

Outbreak! Abdo Zoom, 2021. $20.00 ea. $120.00 set of 6. 24 p. Grades 3-6. 

Aids Crisis. 978-1-098-22325-0.
Black Death. 978-1-098-22326-7.
Covid-19 Pandemic.
978-1-098-22327-4.
Ebola Outbreak. 978-1-098-22328-1.
Spanish Flu. 978-1-098-22329-8.
Typhoid Epidemic. 978-1-098-22330-4.

Covid – 19 Pandemic is a nonfiction book about the Covid 19 pandemic and features information about the beginning of the virus as well as some of the more recent information. There is nothing found within this nonfiction book about the vaccines; however, it does mention that the scientists are continuing to work on something for Covid-19. There is a glossary found in the back of the book, as well as an index. There is a QR code found in the back of the book that can be scanned to find more information about Covid-19. There are links from this QR code that go to the CDC Covid-19 website, the World Covid Case meter, and the WHO COVID timeline.

THOUGHTS: Overall, this is a great introduction to Covid-19, and is a great book to start learning about Covid-19. As the information changed, the book might become outdated quickly however, it is a good book to start with.

614.49 Diseases          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Total Mayhem #1 Monday: Into the Cave of Thieves

Lazar, Ralph. Total Mayhem #1 Monday – Into the Cave of Thieves. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-77037-7. 208 p. $6.99. Grades 2-5

In Dash Candoo’s world, boring days do not happen. Before he even eats his breakfast on Monday he is attacked by “combat-ready scallywags and the two tailed Devil Cat.” When Dash gets to school he has other hilarious situations to deal with, which are shown off in funny illustrations. At the back of the book, there is an almanac which gives you more information about all the things that Dash and his friend use throughout the book.

THOUGHTS: This book is great for fans of Captain Underpants and will definitely be a favorite in any elementary library.

Humorous Fiction            Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy