MG – Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem

Messner, Kate. Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem. Millbrook Press, 2020. 64 p. $24.04 978-1-541-55706-2 Grades 4-8.

Once native only to Asia, Burmese pythons have invaded Florida!  Researchers speculate that animals kept as pets were released and quietly flourished undetected in the lush, protected swamps of Florida. Native animals such as alligators and mink, herons, deer, possums and more, are being affected by the insatiable appetite of the pythons. “People will ask me what pythons eat. The question should be, What don’t they eat?” says Bartoszek (44). Kate Messner follows researchers Ian Bartoszek and his colleagues from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida as they explain the scope of the problem and their efforts to control it. Scientists can respond to an invasive species in four ways: prevention, eradication, containment, or control. The burmese python population in Florida, estimated to be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands, is well beyond the first three responses, and even controlling the population is proving difficult.  Bartoszek and colleagues track the pythons using radio telemetry, capture them for analysis and transmitter implantation, and try to better control the population. “Another big goal is to advance snake science in general. We kind of owe it to the pythons. We have tremendous respect for this animal, so we try to gather as much scientific information as possible” (44).  Each chapter includes segments on “How to Catch a Python” (some surprising stories and methods) as Messner shares lessons learned, “python CSI,” and the wonder of the undetectable python, even when standing atop one! The book includes QR codes showing python releases and telemetry flights, and extensive back matter.

THOUGHTS: A compelling look at an amazing animal and its effects on an ecosystem, this book will engage readers with an interest in animals, the environment, and scientific careers.  A top example of narrative nonfiction.

597.96 Burmese Pythons        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – When You Know What I Know

Solter, Sonja. When You Know What I Know. Little, Brown & Company, 2020. 212 p. $16.99. 978-0316-53544-1 Grades 5-8.

Ten-year-old Tori is struggling with the aftermath of sexual abuse by her once-favorite uncle. She feels shame, anger, loss, sadness, and fear. She tells her mom, who is reluctant to believe her, and her grandmother takes her uncle’s side. Since her single mom relied on Tori’s grandmother and uncle for any childcare for Tori and her eight-year-old sister Taylor, the family strain increases. Their responses make Tori feel worse: “Maybe I shouldn’t have told,” and her secret is building a wedge between her and her friends as well. This novel told in verse reveals her confusion and pain without being specific about the incident. Eventually, another girl accuses her uncle of abuse, and Tori finds a freeing yet sickening feeling of vindication, along with support from her mother and grandmother.  By novel’s end, she discovers she is able to forget the incident for a few hours. The memories still return, “But still./A day like today…/It’s possible./I know that now.”

THOUGHTS: Solter’s novel provides acknowledgement of sexual abuse of young people and the difficulty of not being believed when speaking up; this honesty will provide hope for survivors as well. The content, in no way explicit, is appropriate for upper elementary and middle school readers. The Author’s Note states, “My hope for this book is that readers will be encouraged to tell their own truths, and–if someone doesn’t believe them at first–to keep on telling until they get the help they need. Healing takes time…[and] is not only possible, it IS where all of our stories are going” (208).

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Novel in Verse

MG – How to Be a Girl in the World

Carter, Caela. How to Be a Girl in the World. Harper Collins Childrens, 2020. 294 p. $16.99 978-0-062-67270-4 Grades 5-8.

Lydia has spent the entire summer in pants, long sleeves, and turtlenecks, despite the heat, despite her single mom’s concerned comments, and despite friends’ odd looks. Lydia knows she’s not normal, and she doesn’t want to talk about it. Lydia, her biracial cousin Emma, and Lydia’s mom are proudly moving from an apartment to a dilapidated house of their own. Living in the house will require a huge amount of work (it’s chock full of dusty furniture left behind), but Lydia sees in it a chance to be safe. She would love to escape the nicknames, looks and comments of the boys at her private school. She shivers at men’s glances on the subway, or sitting too close. She feels extremely uncomfortable with her mom’s boyfriend Jeremy, whose hugs are just a little too long or too tight, and who assumes a greater friendliness with Lydia and Emma than Lydia would like. But no one else seems to notice any problem, so Lydia knows it’s her. She’s not normal, and if she can’t fix it, at least she can hide herself. Then maybe she’ll feel protected. In the new house, she finds a room full of herbs in jars and a book of spells. It’s exactly what she needs and even allows her to re-forge a connection with the best friend she’s ignored for the summer. They both try the spells, but the boys’ behavior and Jeremy’s behavior only becomes more troublesome, and an outburst from Lydia results in her being suspended from school. Lydia finally confides in her mother about the boys’ treatment of her, and her mother swiftly comes to her aid. When Lydia next explains Jeremy’s actions, her mother is devastated but resolute that Jeremy will never set foot in their house again. To Lydia, the revelatory message that she alone makes “the rules” concerning her body is freeing, and the new understanding and openness with those around her helps her to learn to own those rules.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful, “ordinary” story that every middle school girl would benefit from reading. It’s for every girl who’s ever been told, “it’s no big deal,” “you’re such a baby,” “that’s part of being a girl,” etc. And it’s for every boy who’s ever been told, “she likes it,” “you’re just being a boy,” or “looking doesn’t hurt.”  Pair with Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot

Key, Watt. Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020. 215 p. $16.99 978-0-374-31369-2 Grades 5-8. 

Adam survives the car crash that apparently killed his parents–at least, they have disappeared. When questioned by police, he speaks bewilderedly but honestly of what he saw in the wooded road near the Suwanee River: not a person or a bear, but something bigger than a bear, covered in hair, with a human face and huge black eyes. When the local paper runs a story about the accident including a “Sasquatch-like creature,” Adam regrets saying anything. The questions and the disbelief become overwhelming, especially from his Uncle John, who takes him in while the search for his parents continues. Adam can’t forget the creature, and due to disrupted sleep and nightmares, he begins searching online for information. He learns of a local Sasquatch appearance nearly 30 years ago, and sets out to question the man who reported it. He finds the near-hermit “Stanley” who reluctantly, then completely, tells Adam all he knows about the creatures, with a strong warning that the search for answers destroys your life. Adam decides he needs answers, and sets off on his own with some basic supplies.  What follows is a hard-core survival story wherein Adam becomes so attuned to the forest and animals that he lives as one of them, soon close to starving. Then he sees one of the creatures, then more. The scenes with the creatures shift from past tense to present tense, adding to the sense of unreality. Adam has found what he came for, but can he survive, can he find his parents, and can he get proof of the creatures’ existence?

THOUGHTS: With a likeable narrator, reasonable length (215 pages), and an attractive cover (see the creature in the trees?), Key has written a suspenseful survival story that will attract middle school readers curious about Bigfoot. Key includes helpful explanatory information about Sasquatch sightings.

Fantasy, Paranormal Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Astronauts: Women of the Final Frontier

Ottaviani, Jim. Astronauts: Women of the Final Frontier. First Second, 2020. 978-1-626-72877-6. 157 p. $19.99. Grades 5-8.

From page one this graphic novel challenges sexist thinking showing an astronaut taking off their suit to reveal Mary Cleave, one of the first women in space. Throughout the story astronauts like Mary Cleave and Valentina Tereshkova work hard and accomplish many feats despite the sexism they face in their daily lives. At one point John Glen and other famous male astronauts laugh at the possibility of having women join men on space missions. The story explores the diverse paths that led these astronauts to their jobs at NASA and the impressive talent, work ethic, and intense training these astronauts had to be able to operate a spaceship. The illustrations are fun, and the format allows readers of all abilities to be introduced to the incredible science behind space exploration. After reading about the lives of these trailblazers, readers will be inspired to overcome obstacles, seize opportunities, and pursue their passions.

THOUGHTS: A good addition to any graphic novel collection. The story will be appreciated by readers of nonfiction and graphic novels and will encourage readers to learn more about space flight and the history of women in space.

629.45 Manned Space Flight          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

MG – Brave Like That

Stoddard, Lindsey. Brave Like That. HarperCollins Publisher , 2020. 978-0-062-87811-3. 272 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Cyrus’ dad has always been a hero. As a kid he was a star football player, and as an adult he is a firefighter who is not afraid of running into burning buildings. Everyone thinks Cyrus is following in his father’s footsteps, but deep inside Cyrus loves music instead of football and longs to sneak away to the rescue to walk a dog that showed up at the fire station out of the blue, just like Cyrus did eleven years ago. Maybe worse than that, Cyrus wants to ditch his football star friends and befriend the new boy, Eduardo, who is bullied but doesn’t waiver from who he truly is inside. Can Cyrus be brave and find the courage to be his true self?  With the help of a stray dog, new friends, and his family, join Cyrus on his journey to be brave and become his authentic self.

THOUGHTS: This story is a must purchase for your middle grade collection. It deals with the topic of bullying in a gentle but firm way. Brave Like That also addresses the issue of ailing grandparents (Cyrus’ grandmother had a stroke and cannot speak as she used to) and acceptance.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

Tags: bullying, friendship, family, aging grandparents

MG – Lila and Hadley

Keplinger, Kody. Lila and Hadley. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-30609-5. 256. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Hadley has a right to be angry. Her mom is going to jail for stealing money from her boss, so Hadley has to live with the sister she hasn’t seen in three years. To make matters worse, her vision is failing due to retinitis pigmentosa, a condition meaning she will eventually become legally blind. Depressed and angry that her life is spinning out of control, Hadley reluctantly visits the animal rescue where her sister works. Despite not being a “dog-person,” she is surprised when Lila the pitbull takes a liking to her. Since she has no other plans during summer break, Hadley begrudgingly agrees to help foster and train the dog. While Hadley helps Lila, the dog also helps her with mobility training, lessons Hadley takes to learn how to use a cane, and meet a new friend. Together, the pair slowly become comfortable enough for Lila to find her forever home and Hadley to forgive her family for their faults and accept the help and love she needs.

THOUGHTS: A cute but predictable novel that young middle grade students will enjoy, especially animal lovers. The narrator’s casual language and the easy ending may be off putting to some readers, but the book will be a good addition to an upper elementary or middle grade collection needing diverse stories.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

MG – A Thousand Questions

Faruqi, Saadia. A Thousand Questions. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-062-94320-0. 225 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8. 

In this East meets West friendship story, A Thousand Questions shows the disparity in lifestyles between the United States and Pakistan told alternately by the two main characters. Eleven-year-old Mimi Scotts and her mother travel from Houston, Texas, for summer vacation to visit her wealthy grandparents, Begum Sahib and Sahiba Ji, in Karachi for the first time. She is awed by the wealth and luxury of her grandparents’ home compared with her tiny apartment and stretched budget back in the United States. While Mimi’s mother reconnects with her school chums, Mimi forms a friendship with the servant girl, Sakina Ejaz. Too poor to go to school, Sakina assists her diabetic father cooking in the Ji’s kitchen. The two girls become fast friends. With the backdrop of the campaign season for new elections, Sakina shows Mimi the sites of Karachi, and Mimi agrees to tutor to Sakina for her English examination so that she can win a school scholarship. Mimi’s narration includes secret letters she writes to Tom Scotts, the father she has never met. When Mimi discovers her freelance journalist father is living in Karachi, she is determined to meet him and Sakina is a willing accomplice. Author Saadia Faruqi captures the richness of the Asian city from the delicious dishes and its atmosphere to the inequity of the caste system as well as the authenticity of the fully-drawn main characters: Sakina, mature beyond her years, cognizant of her integral role in providing for the welfare of her family; Mimi, an ordinary American girl of modest means, getting to know her grandparents and also her own mother in her childhood home and longing to connect with father.

THOUGHTS: This book reminds the reader of When Heaven Fell  by Carolyn Marsden, a story that compares the life of  a struggling Vietnamese family with the life of an adult Vietnamese-American adoptee who visits her Vietnamese birth mother. There’s a part where Sakini asks Mimi if there are poor people in America and Mimi answers, “No,” at first until she remembers a homeless man and the kids at school who qualify for free lunch. Discussion of social justice issues, equity in education, and divorce can ensue.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

When Mimi and her mother arrive in Karachi, Pakistan for the summer, Mimi immediately misses air conditioning, soccer, and chicken nuggets, all staples of her American upbringing. Mimi is surprised to find that her grandparents live in luxury, employing servants and wearing fancy clothes, while Mimi and her mother can barely afford rent in their tiny Houston apartment. Mimi realizes there is so much she doesn’t know about her mother, her grandparents, and her father who left years ago without explanation. After learning that her father’s job brought him to Karachi, Mimi befriends a servant girl who agrees to help Mimi find him in exchange for English lessons. Sakina, a servant of Mimi’s grandparents, dreams of going to school like Mimi, but her servant status prohibits her from making her dreams a reality. After all, when would she find the time to go to school when she must keep her job to take care of her own family and ailing father? Going to school seems even more impossible when she takes a secret exam and fails the English portion, but when Sakina and Mimi strike up their deal, Sakina starts to hope for her future and a better life for her family. As their friendship blossoms, the inequities of the Pakistani class system are revealed, and the friends determine to make good in both of their worlds despite the challenges.

THOUGHTS: Instead of multiple perspectives from different time periods, this story highlights two contemporary perspectives in a country many readers will be unfamiliar with. Shining light on the class system that still exists today in Pakistan, readers may feel compelled to learn more about the living inequalities and hardships people face who live outside of the United States. This is a good #ownvoices addition to any library seeking to diversity their collection.

Realistic     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – Love & Olives

Welch, Jenna Evans. Love & Olives. Simon Pulse, 2020. 978-1-534-44883-4. $18.99. 352 p. Grades 7-12. 

On the outside it appears that Liv has everything figured out, but inside she’s struggling with a few things. For one, her long time high school boyfriend Dax just graduated, and he wants Liv to follow him to Stanford. She hasn’t found the right way to tell him that her heart is set on RISD, and anyway she might not even get in (and still has one more year). When a beat-up postcard for Liv arrives days before Dax’s senior trip – which Liv is supposed to go on – Liv feels her perfect outside begin to crumble. Dax doesn’t know this side of Liv. At her mom’s insistence, Liv is headed to Santorini, Greece to spend some time with her father, whom Liv hasn’t seen since she was 8. Since she hasn’t heard from him in years, Liv has many conflicted emotions about seeing her father again. Why after all this time does he think they can have a relationship. But Liv’s father’s love of Atlantis was a connection the two of them shared during her childhood, and an exciting special project helps them begin to reconnect after all those years. His persistent assistant Theo is a great buffer between the awkward moments, and Theo helps Liv experience Santorini. His good looks are a great distraction too, and as they work together and become friends Liv begins to question some of the choices she’s made in her own life. The clock on her visit is ticking, though, and Liv isn’t sure she can count on her father. Is their relationship beyond repair, and can Liv move on beyond her childhood broken heart?

THOUGHTS: Set among a gorgeous backdrop with detailed descriptions of Santorini, readers will fall in love with Greece. Liv/Olive/Kalamata/Indiana Olive has a lot to learn about herself, and readers will be rooting for her from the beginning. With a strong cast of characters and a little bit of mystery and romance, this book will be a hit among middle and high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – World’s Greatest Soccer Players (Series Nonfiction)

World’s Greatest Soccer Players. SportsZone, an imprint of Abdo Publishing, 2020. $20.95. $167.60 for 8. 32 p. Grades 3-8. 

Decker, Michael. Chicharito. 978-1-5321-9061-2.
—. Luka Modric. 978-1-5321-9064-3.
—. Paul Pogba. 978-1-5321-9066-7.
Kortemeier, Todd. Harry Kane. 978-1-5321-9062-9.
—. Christian Pulisic. 978-1-5321-9067-4.
Nicks, Erin. Cristiano Ronaldo. 978-1-5321-9068-1.
—. Lionel Messi. 978-1-5321-9063-6.
—. Neymar. 978-1-5321-9065-0.

This reviewer read Harry Kane in the World’s Greatest Soccer Players series. This series highlights some of the greatest current players in the world’s most popular game. Each book in the series tells the story of a player from their childhood through their professional career. Books include many colorful photos, side bars with even more player information, a glossary, and an index. Reinforced Library Bound covers.

THOUGHTS: This series is a great addition for a library looking to update their sports biography section with current athletes. (Title Reviewed: Harry Kane)

796.33 Football (Soccer)                 Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy