YA – Out of the Fire

Contos, Andrea. Out of the Fire. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-72616-9. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

With her earbuds in, Cass Adams was out for a run on her usual path through the woods when she was grabbed and thrown into the trunk of a car. Though narrowly escaping an abduction, the police question Cass’s story. Does she have a description of the man or car or any letters or numbers from the license plate? No, she was running for her life! Frustrated with herself for being so routine oriented, Cass tries to go back to her old life. Then the pink envelopes start arriving. Methodically placed where Cass will see them and in places no one else should have access to, the letters warn Cass that she’s always being watched. The police wonder if Cass wrote them herself, but she knows they’re from him. When an old friend reconnects with Cass over the shared experience of being wronged, Cass doesn’t feel so alone. It’s not long before they realize there are other girls who have been wronged too. And they want revenge. After not being believed by the police and not wanting to burden her overworked father, Cass decides to track down her kidnapper herself. But she can’t do it alone, and to have help she has to open herself up to others and share things she may not be ready to face.

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans will devour this fast-paced thriller which is set during a two week time frame. Hand this one to readers who enjoy April Henry and Karen McManus titles.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – A Pho Love Story

Le, Loan. A Pho Love Story. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44193-4. 416 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Competing Vietnamese-American family-owned pho restaurants set the stage for this romantic comedy. Despite the two of them going to school together and being from similar family backgrounds (and occupations), Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai do not get along. It’s really their families who do not get along, but Bao and Linh normally steer clear of each other. Bao isn’t meeting his family’s expectations. Across the street Linh Mai works in her family’s pho restaurant but dreams of pursing an art career. When Bao helps Linh out of a tough spot, she can’t help but wonder why their families feel the way they do. Curiosity piqued, Bao and Linh begin to interact but away from their families. Can Bao and Linh meet their families’ strict expectations and find a way to be together?

THOUGHTS: Teens looking for a sweet rom-com with a little depth will adore these characters. A Pho Love Story pairs perfectly with other food romances like A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen and The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem – I am Courage

Verde, Susan. I am Courage. Abrams, 2021. 978-0-711-26145-7. p. 32. $14.99. Grades K-2. 

What is courage? Is it speaking out, believing in ourselves, asking for help, trying new things, and getting back up in challenging situations? It also could mean feeling scared yet facing those things that place fear in our hearts. I am Courage, by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter Reynolds, is a picture book that promotes love and acceptance. The story shows various ways that a person can connect with themselves and others. 

We are strong.
We are capable.
We are important.
We are courage. 

THOUGHTS: I am Courage, the newest addition to Susan Verde and Peter Reynolds I Am series, is a story of empowerment. Readers will be reminded that they can conquer anything and remain strong in their bodies and minds. The yoga and mindfulness exercises at the back of the picture book also will encourage readers to be strong and confident. 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Onyx: The Wolf Who Found a New Way to be a Leader

Murrrow, Vita. Onyx: The Wolf Who Found a New Way to be a Leader (True Stories of Animal Heroes). Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2021. 978-0-711-26145-7. p. 32. $15.99. Grades K-2. 

Onyx, a wolf pup that lived in Yellowstone National Park, was the smallest and scruffiest wolf in his litter. The runt in the wolf pack was often bullied by his siblings and had to learn skills to survive. However, Onyx grew older and learned leadership skills that served him well in the wild. One day, Onyx came across a wolf family with a lone mother wolf and young pups who had lost their male “alpha” wolf. With time, Onyx became a father figure to the pack and was attentive to a tiny wolf pup named Bravo. Bravo struggled to listen, would sometimes bite and snarl, and often pushed back in stressful situations. Onyx, now grown and showing signs as a leader, had a similar background and took a liking to the young pup. Onyx became a father figure to young Bravo and showed the young wolf how to interact in their world in different ways. This heartwarming story has a fact section at the back of the book that teaches the reader about the real-life reintroduction of wolves that occurred in 1995 in Yellowstone National Park. With time, this movement helped to restore and balance the failing ecosystem. 

THOUGHTS: Onyx, written by Vita Murrow, is part of the True Stories of Animal Heroes series. In 1995, it was indeed true that wolves were brought from Canada to the United States to help increase the movement and population of many animals in Yellowstone National Park. The facts in this story, particularly the story with two wolves now known as Onyx and Bravo, were observed by wildlife observers and biologists.

This picture book was engaging yet not lengthy (considering how much information was contained in the pages). If all the books in this series are as heartwarming and informative as this story, this series would be a great addition to any classroom, school library, or personal library collection. 

Picture Book. Marie Mengel, Reading SD

MG – Inquire and Investigate (Series NF)

Inquire and Investigate. Nomad Press, 2021. $17.95 ea. $71.80 set of 4. 128 p. Grades 6-9.

Danneberg, Julie. The Science of Fashion. 978-1-64741-027-8.
Danneberg, Julie. The Science of Weather and Climate. 978-1-61930-850-3.
Taylor, Daian C. The Science of Natural Disasters. 978-1-61930-858-9.
Wood, Matthew Brendon. The Science of Science Fiction. 978-1-61930-470-3.

Science, especially STEM, is a hot topic in all educational institutions. This set of four books reveals the science behind topics such as fashion, science fiction, and natural disasters. This reviewer had the opportunity to read The Science of Fashion. Each chapter, six in total, is chock full of information, comics, experiments, photos, facts, and timelines. The author makes sure to include the science behind textiles, design, accessories, and even color. Another interesting feature in each chapter is the QR codes leading to primary sources on the topic discussed on the page. Throughout the book, the author prompts thinking and encourages the reader to work through the engineering design process. Perhaps the most interesting chapter explains how fast fashion causes damage to the environment but with science and engineering, sustainable, environment-friendly fashion is possible. Back matter includes a glossary, metric conversions, resources, and an index.

THOUGHTS: The titles in this collection would be a good purchase for a library serving upper middle grade students. These books also would serve as an instructional tool in a science, engineering, or even a consumer science classroom.

746.9 Engineering and Technology           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – The Seventh Raven

Elliot, David. The Seventh Raven. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 978-0-358-25211-5. 177 p. $17.99. Grades 8-11.

Jack and Jane have prayed and prayed for a daughter but to no avail. Their six sons, all named Jack, are rough-and-tumble boys while Robyn, their seventh son, is a gentler soul. When Jane finally gives birth to a daughter, they realize quickly she is sick and will not survive the night. The father in his anger curses aloud that all of his sons are no better than birds. The universe magically heeds his words, and all seven boys are transformed into ravens, and in exchange, the little girl, later named April, lives. While the eldest six sons are infuriated over their new fate, Robyn feels as if he has finally found where he belongs. Fifteen years later, April feels as if a dark shadow lurks over her and has for her entire life. Upon discovering the truth about her brother from her parents, she sets out to find her feathered family members and release them from the curse, no matter the cost. 

THOUGHTS: In this interpretation of the Grimm Brothers’ “The Seven Ravens,” David Elliot delights readers with his poetic writing. Each character in the book is narrated through a different form of complex poetry which adds a lyrical element to this complicated story of human emotion and moral dilemmas. Although this book is recommended for grades 6 and up, the complexity of poetry would lend itself better to older, more advanced readers.

Fantasy                Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Verse Novel

Elem. – It Fell from the Sky

Fan, Terry and Eric Fan. It Fell from the Sky. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-534-45762-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

“It fell from the sky on Thursday.” And so begins this imaginative tale of a group of genteel insects who witness something fall into their garden. With its round shape and beautiful colors, the insects agree that they had never seen anything so amazing. The Dung beetle finds it too heavy to roll, and the ethereal Luna Moth believes it is a chrysalis waiting to hatch. The wise Grasshopper, with magnifying glass in hand, declares that it is “not of earthly origins.” Spider artfully builds a display for this “Wonder from the Sky” and charges admission. As the attraction grows more popular, Spider increases his rates, only to lose customers. Then the worst happens when a “five-legged creature” snatches the object. Spider realizes he has been selfish and makes amends to all when more opportunities fall into place. This creative story is truly enhanced by the illustrations. The scenery and the creatures are drawn in graphite, while only the “Wonder” is in color, thus directing the reader’s focus right to it. The author-illustrators add a whimsical touch in the insects’ attire with many wearing hats or other accessories.

THOUGHTS: The Fan Brothers have crafted a remarkable and humorous picture book that is sure to delight young readers. This text can be used to illustrate the concept of point of view and to launch a discussion about sharing. It is a must-have for all elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired PSLA Member

Elem. – Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle

Ballou Mealey, Cathy. Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-5253-0238-1 p. 32. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Teamwork. Perseverance. Flexibility. Problem Solving. Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle, a children’s book written by Cathy Ballou Mealey, shines a spotlight on all the qualities mentioned and models a growth mindset with character development. Sloth and Squirrel are loyal friends who work together to achieve a common goal; purchase a new shiny bike that they can enjoy together. However, they find a job in a pickle factory to buy the bike to earn some money. Although loyal within their friendship to each other, Sloth and Squirrel find themselves in a pickle at work when they realize they have different strengths and weaknesses, different styles of learning, and different abilities. Will they be able to work together, complete the job, and earn their wages? Or will everything fall apart, even their friendship? In this heartwarming story, two friends stumble together and remain kind to each other as they learn a few lessons along the way. Who would have thought that a squirrel and a sloth could be such a resourceful team! 

THOUGHTS: This picture book would be a great addition to character education. There are hilarious moments, darling illustrations by Kelly Collier, and many opportunities within the story for educators or parents to discuss growth mindset. Perfect for a read-aloud within a classroom or school library (or even a snuggle at bedtime), young readers will love the silly duo- Sloth and Squirrel! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem./MG – The Beatryce Prophecy

DiCamillo, Kate. The Beatryce Prophecy.Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-536-21361-4. $19.99. 247 p. Grades 3-8.

“There will one day come a girl child who will unseat a king and bring about a great change,” reads the fearsome prophecy which the reader soon discovers is The Beatryce Prophecy. This magical story involves a bald, brave girl in monk’s robes; a gentle monk named Brother Edik who hands out maple candies; a slip of a boy, Jack Dory, orphaned by thieves and nurtured by an old woman—now deceased—Granny Bibspeak; a laughing, runaway king, Cannoc; and a wayward, stubborn but loyal goat, Answelica. Brother Edik comes upon a sickly Beatryce with her goat companion and nurses the girl back to health. He well knows the prophecy and when he discovers Beatryce can read and write, thanks to the foresight of her parents, he protects her by shaving her locks and disguising her as a monk. Twelve-year-old Jack Dory gets dispensed to the Brothers of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing to fetch a monk who can record the last words of a dying soldier and returns with Beatryce and Answelica with the strong directive from the monastery’s abbot not to return. Beatryce, though, cannot stomach the soldier’s confession and abandons the task. She and Jack Dory find themselves in the dangerous dark forest where they meet the jovial Cannoc who eventually tells them he once walked away from the gruesome responsibility of being the king. They seek safety from the king who threatens Beatryce’s life in Cannoc’s cozy tree- trunk home and are soon joined by Brother Edik. When Beatryce is abducted, the remaining four (the goat is included) vow to rescue her. A proverb comes to mind, Pride goes before a fall. The foolish king and his sinister counselor choose murder and lies to soothe their fragile pride: They cannot accept that a girl can read and write at a time when, as Brother Edik tell her, “Only men of God can read, and the king. And tutors and counselors. The people do not know their letters” (140). At its root, The Beatryce Prophecy is a simple good vs. evil story. But simply written it is not. Can any other author repeat a phrase or line with more meaning than Kate DiCamillo? DiCamillo illuminates this unenlightened world with characters who radiate kindness, goodness, and joy. They also turn out to be the strong ones. Perhaps The Beatryce Prophecy is a feminist story, but it is also a story of courage and friendship. In the capable hands of this author, the reader is ever more convinced that what makes the difference in people’s lives is love. . .and stories.

THOUGHTS: As a vehicle for teaching language and imagery, an example of characterization and plot development, The Beatryce Prophecy is a key tool. The story sweeps you up and the words envelope you. A good read aloud.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  SD Philadelphia

MG – Pony

Palacio, R.J. Pony. Alfred A Knopf, 2021. 978-0-553-50811-6. $17.99. 304 p. Grades 4-7.

This historical fiction selection tells the story of Silas, a 12 year old boy living with his father in rural Ohio. Awoken in the middle of night by three strange men, Silas’ father is asked to accompany these men for a nefarious seeming reason. After some back and forth, Silas’ father agrees to leave with the men, to return in one week’s time. Silas is told to stay put and wait. The next day, one of the horses returns to the farm. Silas takes this as a sign that he is to set out to find his father. Silas is joined by Mittenwool, a ghost boy who has been with Silas since he was a tiny boy. Along his journey, Silas runs into people who help him on his quest to find his father. He also realizes that he can see those who have passed on. In his quest to find his father, Silas confronts many fears and mysteries that connect his past and future.   

THOUGHTS: I had many questions of how Silas and his pony were able to sustain such a harrowing journey, but the scene where they find his father and his captures is a really exciting and a page turner! There is a lot of death in this story, so it’s definitely for the more mature reader. It’s kind of a cross between The Sixth Sense (I see dead people) and a western.

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Abington SD
Adventure