MG – Two Degrees

Gratz, Alan. Two Degrees. Scholastic, 2022. 978-1-338-73567-3. 365 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

In his newest book, blockbuster historical fiction author Alan Gratz takes on climate change, and hits it out of the ballpark. In a now familiar format, Two Degrees highlights three teenagers experiencing three different, yet equally devastating disasters incited by climate change. In the Sierra Nevada range of  California, Norwegian-Japanese-American Akira Kristiansen and her father are horseback riding when Akira spots a wildfire. Her father, a climate change denier, insists there is no concern, until they find themselves surrounded by flames. In Churchill, Manitoba, white Canadian Owen Mackenzie and his Indigenous buddy, George, are heading out on a weekend trip to George’s family ice fishing cabin when they find themselves in mortal danger from a polar bear. In Miami, Puerto Rican Natalie, unhealthily obsessed with storms since terrifying Hurricane Irma just missed Miami a few years ago, is watching television weather reports of Hurricane Reuben when the category five storm suddenly changes direction, heading directly for Miami. The Big One is here. The point of view rotates between the three characters as tensions quickly mount. Akira, separated from her father, must try to outrun the wildfire and escort an injured girl to safety. After Owen makes a number of thoughtless mistakes, he and George find themselves fending off a hungry polar bear with limited resources, while Natalie, swept out of her home by surging flood waters, struggles to stay alive. In each situation, the teen comes to grips with how climate change is responsible for his or her dire situation. Gratz does an excellent job elucidating the chain reaction effects of climate change, particularly in Owen’s story, where the connections are less obvious. In typical Gratz fashion, all three stories eventually intersect with an emotionally satisfying, soul-stirring conclusion. 

THOUGHTS: This book is a call to action on climate change. Students will be on the edge of their seats until the end of the book. The nonstop action makes it perfect for reluctant readers or those who need an immediate hook to grab their attention, as well as an excellent classroom read-aloud. A first purchase for libraries serving intermediate grade readers and older. 

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – When Winter Robeson Came

Woods, Brenda. When Winter Robeson Came. Scholastic, 2022. 978-1-524-74158-7. $16.99. 176 p. Grades 4-7.

The Coal family from 103rd Street, just west of Figueroa, not too far from Watts, is expecting a special visitor, Winter Robeson from their old hometown, Sunflower, Mississippi. The most excited person is aspiring composer, Eden Louise Coal, who hasn’t seen her country cousin since the move to the great metropolis of Los Angeles two years ago. An affable Winter has come with an agenda and a plan: on his list is visiting the happiest place on earth, Disneyland; but his priority is finding his long-lost father, J.T. who has been gone for ten years. Eden joins him in his search, and together they spend two weeks of the summer of 1965 getting closer together and closer to the truth of Winter’s father’s disappearance. As they try to trace J.T.’s whereabouts, they dance to the vinyl records with the neighborhood kids; win the hearts of the gracious friend, Winona; and meet Miss Betty West, owner of a Steinway baby grand piano. Told in verse and narrated by Eden, When Winter Robeson Came is an uplifting story of a family reunited and a close knit community surviving on the edges of the violent Watts riots and police brutality. Eden and Winter bond in genuine friendship and concern to make each others’ lives a bit brighter. That magnanimity extends to their neighbors and even virtual strangers when the need arises. The pair offer aid to the elderly, respect their parents, and kindly tolerate even friends with irritating habits. This brief, positive book offers a comforting tale against the backdrop of a tragic historical event.

THOUGHTS: This easy to read book fits lower middle grades best with its emphasis on family and its optimistic outcomes, despite the setting of the Watts riots. Perceptive students will pick up on the discrimination and racism toward people in neighborhoods in and around Watts. However, the children in this novel are nurtured and joyful. They make connections with older people and keep focused on an important task even if it puts them in danger. Pair this book with Karen English’s It All Comes Down to This to compare and contrast the same historical event.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – We Own the Sky

Philbrick, Rodman.We Own the Sky. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-73629-8 190 p. $18.99. Grades 5-8.

The year is 1924, 12 year-old Davy and his older sister, Jo, have found themselves orphaned in the great state of Maine. Their mother’s cousin, Ruthie Reynard, takes them in to be a part of her famous flying circus for the summer. The siblings are about to have the experience of a lifetime…exciting yet frightening things are about to occur. The Ku Klux Klan has invaded the state and has been recruiting members, and they have targeted the flying circus and the diversity within. Davy and Jo are determined to help keep everyone safe even if their own lives are in danger.

THOUGHTS: This is a quick historical read, one that many fans of history will devour. Characters are well-written and engaging.

Historical Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

Elem./MG – Your Pal Fred

Rex, Michael. Your Pal Fred. Viking Press, 2022. 978-0-593-20633-2 255p. $12.99. Grades 3-8.

Fred is activated in a post-apocalyptic world after two brothers accidentally discover him in a pile of trash. Fred embarks on a journey over a land that has been destroyed by war, aliens, a comet, and cats. It is now ruled by two opposing characters: Papa Mayhem and Lord Bonkers. Fred is on a quest to bring peace to all. Along the way he makes friends with disgruntled characters who join him to bring kindness to all. Will he be able to convince the two top dogs that peace is the answer and not war? 

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is full of silliness and fun, and how one individual can create a positive chain reaction through one act of kindness at a time.  

Graphic Novel          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

MG – The Daredevils

Buyea, Rob. The Daredevils. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37614-0 231 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Author of the popular series, Because of Mr. Terupt, has written a tale of one summer for twins- Waylon and Loretta. The two are strongly bonded, and Loretta is her brother’s keeper. Waylon was born smaller and has had his fair share of bullies. This is the summer before they enter middle school, and their parents are determined to send them on separate paths in order to prepare them for the coming year. Waylon is sent to robotics day camp while Loretta attends a sports day camp. However, the two are determined to spend their nights together after they discover an old cigar box with a quest inside. Along the way, they meet up with a mysterious boy named Louie, and the three of them will embark on a summer to remember. 

THOUGHTS: Rob Buyea has a way to tell a beautiful and poignant story through the eyes of the rocky middle school years. This is another perfect example.

Realistic Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

MG – And We Rise

Martin, Erica. And We Rise. Viking, 2022. 978-0-593-35252-6. 153 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

And We Rise is a debut poetry collection that centers on the Civil Rights Movement. The first poem focuses on 1877 and Jim Crow Laws, and goes through both small and large moments that happened in the Civil Rights Movement. There is an author’s note, as well as a timeline of the whole Civil Rights Movement. There is also a source list with some further reading included. The author also chose to put Martin Luther King Jr’s, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in full at the end of the book. The poems use the physical layout to tell the story as well as the poems themselves. 

THOUGHTS: This was an extremely powerful poetry book that is a must read for every middle school student. This book is highly recommended for every middle school collection. 

808 Poetry          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
323.1 Politics

MG – The Road to After

Lowell, Rebekah. The Road to After. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022. 978-0-593-10961-8. 180 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

This middle grade novel is a powerful story of a young mother and her two daughters who have been kept hostages in their own home unaware of the reality outside their walls. Their father has monitored their activities, interests, and movements their entire lives so that the girls know nothing else. Their mother gains the courage to leave the home and everything behind to start a better life for the three of them. The oldest daughter, Lacey, discovers her love for nature, animals, and freedom. The story is about hope and survival.

THOUGHTS: This debut novel is beautifully written. It flows so smoothly that students will keep reading to find out what happens to Lacey and her sister. It is written appropriately for a middle grade audience and is filled with hope.

Realistic Fiction  Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

MG – Star Child : A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler

Zoboi, Ibi. Star Child : A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler. Dutton Children’s Books, 2022. 978-0-399-18738-4. $16.99. Grades 6-8

Star Child is a biography that tells about the life of Octavia Estelle Butler, a famous African American science fiction writer told in various forms of storytelling. Ibi Zoboi uses poetry, short nonfiction essays, quotes from Octavia Butler herself, as well as some photographs from Octavia to demonstrate what her life was like growing up. At the end of the biography, Ibi has an essay about her personal connection to Octavia Butler and even includes a picture of when she met her! There is a list of Octavia Butler’s books listed in the back, as well as Ibi’s endnotes showing her research.

THOUGHTS: This was definitely a more unique format, especially as far as biographies go, and it was extremely well done! The author’s genuine love of Octavia Butler, both as a person and as a writer is evident throughout the pages of this book. This is a wonderful introduction to an author that readers might not know a lot about. 

Biography          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem./MG – The Marvellers

Clayton, Dhonielle. The Marvellers. Henry Holt and Co, 2022. 978-1-250-17494-9. 416 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8. 

The Marvellers introduces us to Ella, the first Conjurer to attend the Arcanum Training Academy, which should be the most exciting thing. However Ella’s excitement quickly changes when she learns that her magic is looked at as “unnatural” and “bad.” Ella makes friends with 2 other students who don’t quite fit into the school either, and things seem to be looking up. That’s when the Ace of Anarchy, an extremely dangerous person, escapes prison with the help of a Conjurer. Now Ella is a target of suspicion, and she is forced to try to clear her family’s name and prove that all Conjurers aren’t awful. Will Ella be able to with the help of her friends, or will she be forced to leave the Arcanum Training Academy in shame?

THOUGHTS: This was a highly fast paced middle grade fantasy with some great commentary on society’s opinions of individuals who don’t fit into the “norm.” Readers will enjoy the nods to other popular authors sprinkled throughout the book as characters. This book is a must own for any upper elementary or middle school collection.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – Freestyle

Galligan, Gale. Freestyle. Graphix, 2022. 978-1-338-04581-9. Unpaged. $24.99. Grades 3-7.

Cory Tan’s break dance team is about to compete in a big competition, and all eight members are excited. The team captain, Tess, is pushing the group harder than ever before to the point where it causes some strain in the group. Cory causes even more strain when his parents check his grades and ground him until he gets his grades back to acceptable levels. His punishment means the dance crew has to rehearse without Cory. His parents hire a tutor named Sunna, a classmate of Cory’s who is a bit of an outcast at school. She constantly is writing intensely in a notebook and barely talks to anyone. After a rocky first tutoring session, Cory discovers that Sunna has a secret: She has incredible yo-yo skills! Sunna uses yo-yo moves to help him learn geometry and in the process, Cory becomes hooked on yo-yoing. Instead of devoting what little free time he has to the dance team, he starts hanging out with Sunna outside of tutoring to work on his yo-yo moves. Eventually, Cory discovers that Sunna’s parents also have very high expectations of her which leaves her feeling like she is never good enough. Cory and Sunna have to figure out how to fit this budding friendship into their already packed lives while also navigating their parents’ and friends’ expectations of them.

THOUGHTS: The newest book from Galligan, the author responsible for the illustrated adaptations of the beloved Babysitters Club graphic novels, is a must-purchase for middle grade libraries. Featuring a diverse cast of characters living in New York City, this book shows that pre-teens from all backgrounds struggle with parental acceptance and peer pressure. The book is fun and full of heart.

Graphic Novel          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD