YA – I Must Betray You

Sepetys, Ruta. I Must Betray You. Philomel Books, 2022. 978-1-984-83603-8. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Romania, 1989. Seventeen-year-old high school student, Cristian Florescu, gets blackmailed into informing on the American family his mother cleans for. In exchange for spying on the Van Dorns, he will receive much-needed medicine for his beloved Bunu–grandfather–who has been diagnosed with leukemia and lives with Cristian, his older sister, Cici, and his parents in a cramped, one- bedroom apartment in Bucharest. Tormented by guilt for betraying the trust of his loved ones, Cristian records his feelings in his notebook, an exercise that serves well his aspiration to be a writer. Informers and reporters ooze out of the dank, grey apartment buildings like the cockroaches that live within the dim hallways. Urged or manipulated by the regime instituted by their country’s leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, even these informers are being informed on. Furthermore, Cristian is driven to suspect the integrity of his own family members. He quickly realizes the desperation of his situation, especially after his informer status affects the budding romance with his classmate, Lilianna Pavel, and almost ruins his friendship with the kind, gentle Luca Oprea. He resolves to follow his orders to get close to Dan Van Dorn, the American diplomat’s son, while recording the grim daily existence of living under Ceaușescu’s dictatorship. When life turns even more tragic for Cristian, the dissolution of the Soviet bloc becomes a reality, and the citizens of Romania, led by the university students and the young, bravely take their stand. Author Ruta Septys is at her best with this suspenseful recounting of lives lived under extreme oppression: punishment for owning anything from the Western world, endless lines to obtain necessities, limited use of utilities, and constant surveillance of one’s every movement and word. This well-researched and engaging work is an eye opener, not only about an existence under Communism, but the political ploys that supported Ceaușescu’s power.

THOUGHTS: This story is riveting! In the eyes of many heads of state during his thirty-year reign, Nicolae Ceausecu was an improvement over the other Communist leaders. In truth, the Romanian people were suffering great hardships, both physical and mental. Cristian’s compliance in being an informer in exchange for medication forms an ethical dilemma. Moreover, his perspective on our American way of life emphasizes our freedoms that may be taken for granted. Besides the obvious history lesson, I Will Betray You, addresses values, self-identity, and matters of conscience.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Thunder and Cluck: The Brave Friend Leads the Way

Esbaum, Jill. Thunder and Cluck: The Brave Friend Leads the Way. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-534-48655-3. 64 p. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Meet Thunder and Cluck, two unlikely friends that are prehistoric dinosaurs. The Brave Friend Leads the Way is the second book in the Ready to Read Graphics Thunder and Cluck series written by Jill Esbaum. In this graphic novel, it is a hot miserable day. Thunder and Cluck find a dark and cool cave that could provide relief from the heat. The question is, which friend will be brave enough to lead the way inside the cool, yet mysterious cave? Thunder and Cluck are goofy and lovable and make the perfect friends to adventure together. This beginner graphic novel is vibrant, attractive, and fun to read!

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel series is perfect for early readers. Each book has an introduction message for the readers that teaches and explains how to read a graphic novel. The easy-to-follow panels, the speech bubbles, and the accessible vocabulary is genuinely spot-on with a relatable storyline. Love this collection! I hope there are more in the series in the future! 

Graphic Novel          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Love in the Library

Tokuda-Hall, Maggie. Love in the Library. Candlewick Press, 2022. Unpaged. 978-1-5362-0430-8. Grades 2-4.  $18.99.

In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which “relocated” Japanese-American citizens to internment camps. Inspired by a true family story, Tokuda-Hall has written a fictionalized account of her grandparents’ experience in such a camp. Tama was in college when she was abruptly placed in Minidoka Camp in Idaho. The conditions were harsh, with very cold winters and very hot summers, and an entire family was forced to live in one room. Tama’s only solace was working in the library. She loved the way books magically took her to other worlds. A camp resident named George became a daily library visitor, checking out several books and returning them the next day. One day, Tama is overwhelmed by the injustice and begins to cry. George comforts her, and Tama realizes why George comes to the library so frequently. The couple marries and has their first child in the camp, demonstrating the power of love and resilience in overcoming prejudice and hate.  The author’s note includes more of Tama and George Tokuda’s story along with a photo. Imamura’s gouache and watercolor drawings help readers understand more about this unjust time in American history. 

THOUGHTS: This text can be used as an introduction to World War II units about the home front.  Like Say’s Music for Alice or Mochizuki’s Baseball Saved Us, Love in the Library promotes discussion about prejudice, racism, and stereotyping. Highly recommended for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
Historical Fiction

Elem. – Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories

Pimentel, Annette Bay. Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-74941-4. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-2. 

Born in Puerto Rico, Pura Belpré grew up listening to her aubeula’s stories. When, as an adult, Puera left the island to move to New York City, she carried the stories of her aubeula and her homeland with her. In New York, Puera found a job at the 135th Street Library working with children. Belpré loved leading storytimes at the library, but rules said she could only tell stories from printed books. This meant the wonderful stories of her youth told to her by her abuela could not be shared because they were not written down. When she makes her case to her bosses, they agree that she can share her stories. Soon Puera is conducting outreach to the surrounding community, inviting all children to the library where she regularly leads bilingual storytimes, telling cuentos, some from print books, others not. Eventually Belpré wrote her stories down in book form and they were published, reaching an even wider population. Pimentel’s lyrical retelling of Puera Belpré’s story will introduce this important figure in librarianship to new audiences. The text is primarily in English, but Spanish words and phrases are incorporated at various points throughout the story. Magaly Morales’ vibrant digital illustrations capture Belpre’s energy when storytelling and interacting with children. 

THOUGHTS: This engaging biography shines a spotlight on an important figure in librarianship. Belpre was a trailblazer who strove to make public libraries more inclusive and welcoming to all. This title would pair well with Belpre’s story Pérez y Martina, which is referenced several times in Puera’s Cuentos.

921 Biography          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG/YA – Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield

Jarrow, Gail. Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield. Calkins Creek, 2021. 978-1-684-37814-2. Grades 5-12

Author Gail Jarrow (Blood and Germs, Poison Eaters) is back with another top notch medical-related non-fiction title for secondary students. This time, she has turned her focus to the assignation of President James Garfield. Garfield was a respected former college president, Civil War general, and Congressman who was elected President in 1880. On July 2, 1881, Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled office seeker, shot Garfield shortly after he entered a train station. Though medical professionals in Europe had been advancing theories regarding germs and the importance of treating wounds with antiseptics, these ideas found little acceptance in America. Therefore, when Garfield was examined, his doctors probed his wound with dirty fingers and instruments. Garfield lingered for months, slowly wasting away as infection ravaged his body. The country united together, in hopes that Garfield would survive, but he passed away on September 19, 1881. Jarrow makes extensive use of primary documents, including diary entries and other communications to relate Garfield’s story. Numerous photographs, paintings, and illustrations enhance the text. Backmatter includes a glossary, timeline, and list of additional resources. 

THOUGHTS: Since Garfield’s presidency was short, he is little remembered today, which is unfortunate. He had an amazing life story, which Jarrow outlines in the beginning of this engaging title. Even though he was in constant pain following being shot, he remained in good spirits and never complained, even while undergoing painful (and as the reader learns, unsanitary) treatments. Readers will gain an appreciation for Garfield and an appreciation for how far medical knowledge and treatment has advanced. Highly recommended.

973.84 American History        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem./MG – Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride

Lantos, Jeff. Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-58089-933-8. 134 p. $18.99. Grades 3-8. 

“Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the most famous poems written by an American poet. Memorized by thousands of children (and adults) since its publication in 1860, the poem popularized Paul Revere and the story of the events on April 18 & 19, 1775, when riders traveled the countryside around Boston to warn citizens that British troops were on the move. While the average reader may accept the poem as fact, in actuality Longfellow took some artistic license in his retelling. Author Jeff Lantos examines the poem stanza by stanza, comparing the text of the poem to primary source accounts of the events. Readers will learn reasons Longfellow strayed from the historical record is his retelling, including the need to maintain pacing in the poem, removing details that might detract from the main storyline, and the need to give the poem a sense of drama. Numerous sidebars highlight historical facts and figures, and the text is enhanced by the inclusion of maps, photographs, paintings, and drawings. 

THOUGHTS: This fantastic title is a combination history lesson and literary analysis. The author is a retired teacher and has an engaging conversational tone that is sure to keep readers turning the page. An excellent choice for casual readers or those researching the events surrounding the beginning of the American Revolution, this title deserves a spot on library shelves.

811 Poetry          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem./MG – A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures

Bayly, Sami. A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures. The Experiment, 2021. 978-1-615-19824-5. 125 p. $18.95. Grades 3-8. 

Dangerous…it’s a word that evokes feelings of fear and terror in many individuals. While animals considered or called dangerous can pose some level of threats to humans, they are often misunderstood. Author and illustrator Sami Bayly spotlights some of these creatures and explores how they have adapted to ward off predators with amazing (and yes, dangerous) defense mechanisms. For example, the greater slow loris (a small, tree-dwelling primate native to some countries in Asia), produces toxins in its elbow glands. If you see it licking its armpit/elbow area, watch out! It’s collecting venom that mixes with saliva to create a toxic bite. The geography cone snail lives near coral reefs in the Pacific. From the outside, it looks like a beautiful seashell, but inside lives the world’s most venomous sea snail. One shot of the snail’s venom can kill up to 15 people! These are just two of the 60 creatures profiled in this engaging title. Each entry defines the danger profile for the animal, as well as identifying their habitat, eating habits and conservation status. Particularly noteworthy are Byly’s illustrations. Trained as a natural history illustrator, her detailed watercolor paintings are true works of art and bring the animals to life.
Note: A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures was previously published in Australia under the title The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals.

THOUGHTS: This fantastic title will give readers a new appreciation and respect for the ways animals have adapted to survive. Ideal for casual browsers or researchers, readers will find themselves engrossed by the interesting facts presented about each animal and the detailed illustrations. 

591.6 Animals          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – What is Love?

Barnett, Mac. What is Love? Chronicle Books, 2021. 978-1-452-17640-6. 44 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5. 

When a young person asks their grandmother, “What is love?” she simply responds that she cannot answer that question. The narrator (the young man) must go out into the world to find the answer. The young man encounters a fisherman, an actor, a cat, a carpenter, a farmer, and a soldier just to name a few, and asks the very same question to each of them. They all answer individually, but their responses do not quite satisfy the young man. In the end, the narrator is frustrated and exhausted and heads home from his journey where he finds his grandmother. It is only then that he discovers the answer to his hard asked question. Written as a fable but reads like meditation, What is Love? by Mac Barnett is a gentle and rhythmic tale that is clever and insightful. Made for a read-aloud experience, the beautifully illustrated picture book (by Carson Ellis) will raise questions and spark conversations. The tale becomes personal, and the lesson could be interpreted in multiple ways. 

THOUGHTS: Written as a fable, this picture book is a great story filled with figurative language and metaphors. Definitely a book for upper elementary or even middle school readers, understanding the text is a journey and would most likely spark many interpretations and heavy conversations. Or maybe, the lesson in this tale is quite simple. 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

YA – Kind of Sort of Fine

Hall, Spencer. Kind of Sort of Fine. Atheneum, 2021. 978-1-534-48298-2. 276  p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Senior Hayley Mills is a straight-A student in her advanced classes and a star athlete on the tennis team. Or at least she was. Last year she had a mental breakdown in front of her high school and, thanks to some onlookers, it became a viral video. Now, at the start of what is supposed to be the best year of her life, Hayley’s parents and teachers want her to make some changes to ensure the breakdown doesn’t happen again. As a result, she ends up in a TV Production class instead of one of her advanced placement courses. In TV Production, she meets Lewis Holbrook. A long-time member of the TV Production crew, Lewis is looking to be his best self in 12th grade. This means getting in better shape and finally drumming up the courage to ask out his crush. When Hayley and Lewis are paired up in class, they decide to make documentaries about the little known talents of their fellow classmates. Together, the two of them get to know their classmates’ identities more deeply than ever. What they didn’t expect, however, was to discover new things about themselves along the way.

THOUGHTS: Hall’s first novel is a humorous, coming-of-age story in which high school students (and those who have experienced high school) can relate. Told in alternating chapters between Hayley and Lewis, each point of view brings senior year anxiety into sharp focus but in different ways. This book would be a solid choice for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Over, Bear! Under, Where?

Hedlund, Julie. Over, Bear! Under, Where? Illustrated by Michael Slack. Philomel Books, 2021. 978-0-593-20355-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Over and Under are friends playing at the park and picnicking with their friend, Dog. When Bear appears, they all run away, but soon Bear overtakes the group. To get away from him, Over, Under, and Dog dig a hole and hide inside. The friends soon realize, though, Bear wasn’t trying to ruin their day; he just wanted to join in the fun. 

THOUGHTS: This is a MUST HAVE picture book for all elementary libraries and classrooms. Not only are Over and Under the characters in the book, but they are also prepositions and parts of compound words. Over, Bear! Under, Where? is the perfect introduction to these elements of English grammar while also providing a solid laugh at the word play throughout. 

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD