MG – Hazard

Dowell, Frances O’Roark. Hazard. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-481-42466-0. 146 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Hazard Pay Stokes, or Haz as he is known to his friends and family, has found himself temporarily suspended from football over an incident with a teammate. Haz’s coach believes he needs some help with managing his anger before he is allowed back on the team. At the same time, his father has returned home from Afghanistan, which should be a happy moment for Haz. However, the reason his father came home is a tough one for the entire family, especially for Haz’s dad who has to live with the consequences of what happened in Afghanistan. Even though Haz believes therapy isn’t going to help him work through his feelings, he decides to play along and complete the assignments anyway and does in fact start to work through all of the tough emotions brewing inside of him.

THOUGHTS: Told through a series of emails, texts, reports, and assignments, the reader gets a close look at the events through Haz’s point of view. Haz’s lyrical way with words will keep the reader engaged. The topic and the format of the writing will appeal to more reluctant middle grade readers, especially boys.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Growing Pangs

Ormsbee, Kathryn. Growing Pangs. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-30129-6. 249 p. $20.99. Grades 4-7.

As a homeschooled kid with bright red hair, freckles, and crooked teeth, Katie knows she is a little different from most kids her age. But as long as she has her best friend Kacey, none of that matters. The pair head off to spend their summer at Camp Aldridge, and that’s when things begin to change. Katie notices that Kacey gets very jealous when Katie hangs out with other people at camp. When they both start at their homeschool co-op for the year, Katie’s circle of friends continues to grow while Kacey shrinks back into the sidelines of Katie’s life. One aspect of Katie’s life that hasn’t gotten smaller is the “buzzing” in her mind. The buzzing orders her to accomplish tasks like turning a faucet on and off ten times. If she completes the task, nothing bad will happen to Katie or the people in her life. When Katie finds out she needs oral surgery and that Kacey is moving away before their friendship can be repaired, the buzzing gets louder and louder. Katie realizes she needs help from her parents to take control of her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

THOUGHTS: Katie is insightful for her age yet also relatable. Her struggles mirror the pressure and anxiety tweens face every day. This semi-autobiographical graphic novel will most definitely appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier and the Sunny series.

Graphic Novel           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – A Magic Steeped in Poison

Lin, Judy I. A Magic Steeped in Poison. Feiwel and Friends, 2022. 978-1-250-76708-0. 364 p. $18.99. Grades 5-8.

This debut fantasy novel revolves around a magical competition to find the kingdom’s best Master of the Art of brewing tea. Ning is desperate to compete and win this competition after her mother dies from a poisoned tea and her sister is slowly dying from the same tea. Ning is hopeful that winning the competition will give her access to the antidote to save her sister. However, she becomes caught up in the politics and magic of the kingdom. She is clever and determined to win this competition and save her sister at any cost.

THOUGHTS: This book is for students who are huge fantasy lovers as well as those who love mythology. The characters are well-written, and the action starts slowly but it builds fast. There is a glossary in the back for Chinese terms and pronunciation which was quite helpful while reading.

Fantasy          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Elem./MG – Miss Quinces

Fajardo, Kat. Miss Quinces. Graphix, 2022. 978-1-338-53559-4. 256 p. $12.99. Grades 4-7.

Suyapa (Sue) would love to spend all summer creating comics and attending sleepaway camp with her friends. They’re even introducing LARPing to the activities this year and she’s going to miss it, because instead Sue’s family is taking a trip to Honduras to visit her mom’s relatives. With no texting, Internet, or cable to distract her, she hopes to spend her days reading and avoiding family drama (particularly with her older sister, Carmen). But despite Sue’s specific and repeated request NOT to have a quinceañera, her Mami has already sent out a hundred invitations behind her back. With the guidance of her doting abuela, Sue compromises with Mami: if she participates in the celebration without complaint, she can attend sleepaway camp with her friends in August! Can a soon-to-be “Miss Quinces” who hates the spotlight, frilly dresses, and dancing in public, possibly survive this festive family tradition … maybe even enjoy it? This incredibly appealing graphic novel debut features bright, digitally rendered artwork and a loving, boisterous extended family. Text in the speech bubbles is blue when the characters are speaking Spanish, and black when they are speaking English, which visually reflects Sue’s experiences of existing in two cultures.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel checks all the boxes: authentic, endearing, and funny! Follow it up with Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega for another perspective on feeling like an outsider in one’s own family.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Isla to Island

Castellanos, Alexis. Isla to Island. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-534-46923-5. 192 p. $12.99. Gr. 4-7.

Until Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1959, Marisol enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Cuba with her devoted parents, delighting in the sights, lush surroundings, and delicacies of her beloved island home. But to protect her amidst food shortages and increasing violence, her parents make the heart wrenching decision to send their daughter to Brooklyn with “Operation Peter Pan” in 1961. The transition from “isla to island” is not an easy one for Marisol. She faces a language barrier, bullies, and her first taste of winter. Author/illustrator Alexis Castellanos depicts early scenes in Habana in bright, appealing colors, but Marisol’s world becomes a dismal black and white when she arrives in New York City. Spots of color (a blossom here, a book there) emerge as she acclimates to her new surroundings, but adjusting takes time and plenty of tears. Luckily she is cared for by an older couple who, though they cannot replace Marisol’s family, are very kind. For example, the woman shows Marisol how to use Kotex pads when she gets her first period, and they take her to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens greenhouse to support her love for nature. A hopeful ending hints at Marisol’s bright future.

THOUGHTS: This exceptionally lovely, mostly wordless graphic novel, which turns on a too-little-known historical event, is not to be missed!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG/YA – A Forgery of Roses

Olson, Jessica S. A Forgery of Roses. Inkyard Press, 2022. 978-1335418661. $19.99. 384p. Grades 7-12.

Myra Whitlock has a secret: she’s a prodigy. When she paints, she can access her magic, and heal her subjects. Not everyone is accepting of prodigies, especially the governor, but when his wife discovers her secret, she hires Myra to paint her recently deceased son, Will, in the hopes of bringing him back to life. Myra has never resurrected a person before, but the reward is too great to pass up. Money has been tight since her parents’ disappearance, and her sick, younger sister needs to see a doctor, a luxury they no longer can afford. When she arrives at the governor’s house, she befriends the governor’s oldest son, August, and together, they discover that Will’s death was not an accident, and if Myra has any chance of bringing him back, she must first discover the mysterious circumstances of his death and avoid becoming the next victim herself.

THOUGHTS:  A Forgery of Roses is a magical, murder mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end. Although two of the main characters develop feelings for each other, it goes no further than a few embraces and kisses, making this title a good fit for middle school libraries as well as high school ones. Myra is hired to use her magic to bring a person back to life, and the book does contain descriptions of blood and gore among murder victims and within art work. One of the main characters suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, and that’s not always a trait readers get to see in main characters.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – Lines of Courage

Nielsen, Jennifer A. Lines of Courage. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-62093-1. 388 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

This historical fiction novel takes place during World War I. The story is told through the voices of five children who are experiencing the war from different perspectives. The story starts with the voice of young Felix in Austia-Hungary as he witnesses the assassination of the Archduke which triggers the start of the war. The book is divided into five sections and is told in chronological order through the the voices of the children. Their stories become intertwined as they try to make sense of this war that they have been forced to grow in. The novel comes to a conclusion with Felix as the final storyteller.

THOUGHTS: This book is for students who are drawn to historical fiction. The characters are well-written, and the action is fast-paced. It is good to see a book focused on World War I which does not get as much attention as other historical time periods.

Historical Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

MG – Answers in the Pages

Levithan, David. Answers in the Pages. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2022. 176 p. 978-0-593-48468-5. Grades 4-8. $17.99.

“At that moment Rick knew just how deeply he loved Oliver, and Oliver knew just how deeply he loved Rick…” One’s interpretation of a single statement can make all the difference. The statement itself might be less noticeable depending on where it is seen or heard and the surrounding context. When the The Adventurers, a book being read by Donovan’s fifth grade class, is picked up at home by his mother, she decides it is inappropriate for him to read. It doesn’t take her long to get on the phone with Donovan’s friends’ moms either and schedule a meeting with the school. Donovan only read the first few pages in class but can’t see what his mom would think is wrong about a book where kids go on adventures. Before he returns to class without his copy of The Adventurers (because his mom hasn’t returned it), Donovan stops by the school library to get a copy so he can see what’s “so bad.” Because his mom drew so much attention to the book, several classmates have finished reading and the kids have honest, open discussions with each other and their teacher Mr. Howe who is openly gay. Told in short, alternating chapters, Donovan’s story unfolds; alongside Gideon’s, another elementary school-aged boy; and Rick and Oliver’s, the characters from the book being challenged. Readers will see what happens when a book’s content is challenged – how it impacts the teacher, the students, and families who may not agree with each other.

THOUGHTS: Timely and full of heart, Answers in the Pages is a book that should be in every upper elementary and middle school library! Highly recommended for readers who will be able to follow three separate narratives.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Donovan really enjoys his English class, mostly because of his teacher. When his teacher assigns a book called The Adventurers, Donovan is looking forward to reading it. However, after leaving it out on the kitchen counter one day, he discovers that his mother has read the book – and decides to launch a book challenge. Donovan’s mother interprets the last line of the book to mean that the two male main characters are gay, and she takes issue with this. Donovan finds himself in the middle of a fight that polarizes the school community and pits him against both his favorite English teacher and his mother. Donovan has to examine his own beliefs and decide what he thinks is right, even if it means upsetting someone he cares about. Aside from the main thread of this story, there are two other stories interwoven throughout the book. One is of Gideon and Roberto who are paired up for a school project and develop feelings for each other; the other is about Rick and Oliver, the main characters in the very book Donovan’s mom is challenging. All three stories connect together at the end.

THOUGHTS: With curricular book challenges at an all-time high, Leviathan’s timely book provides a window for students who might be facing the same complicated situations in their own homes.  Leviathan writes from experience as many of his own books have been challenged in schools across the country. All librarians, teachers, parents, politicians, and school board members should read this book. Answers in the Pages is a must-buy for all middle grade libraries.

Realistic Fiction           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central 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