MG – Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel

Currie, Rob. Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel. Tyndale House, 2020. $14.99 253 p. 978-1-496-44034-1  Grades 4-8.

In late 1944, 13-year-old Dirk’s father has gone into hiding as a leader of the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. The chase begins immediately; in chapter one, Dirk learns via a neighbor that his older sister Els has been captured by the Gestapo, to question and torture for information, and to encourage their father’s cooperation. Dirk knows his next move must be to escape with his younger sister, six-year-old Anna, to their grandparents’ home, but questions and worries bombard his mind. Chapter two reveals Els’s perspective as she is starved; questioned; threatened; and worries for her father, brother, and sister.  Most of the story is Dirk’s, but returns to Els’s point-of-view in the final chapters. This tense novel reveals the strength of the Dutch people during what became known as the “Hongerwinter” when Nazi control of resources led to daily food rations of a mere 320 calories per person. Dirk must call upon memories of his father’s instructions and strength to guide him through difficult decisions on his journey, while shielding Anna from the brutal realities of war as best he can.

THOUGHTS: This is a middle-grade novel a step up in complexity and danger for readers who loved Number the Stars and The Devil’s Arithmetic. It will expand readers’ knowledge of Nazi tactics and brave Dutch resistance. An inspiring read.

Historical Fiction; World War II in Netherlands  Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Fable

Young, Adrienne. Fable. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-25437-5. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Four years ago, the day after a storm wrecked his ship and drowned his wife, Fable’s father, legendary sea-trader Saint, abandoned his 14-year-old daughter on the barbaric island of Jeval, leaving her to fend for herself on the brutal colony. Because she inherited her mother’s abilities as a gem sage, someone who can communicate with jewels, Fable survived as a dredger, mining gems from the sea, and making enough money to eventually purchase passage off the island, find Saint, and claim her place with his crew. But once she forces her way onto a trading ship, the Marigold, she wonders what secrets the small, young crew are keeping, even while being drawn in by their tight bond. When Saint refuses her appeal, sending her away with an unexpected inheritance, Fable has nowhere to turn but back to the Marigold and hope they will take her in. This lyrical novel, packed with adventure, quickly grabs the reader and doesn’t let go. Fable was raised on the sea, and she inherently loves being on board a ship. Young vividly conveys the routine of sailing a ship and the rhythm of the sea. Her world building is exquisite, and the port towns come alive, in their grandeur and squalor. Her characters are finely limned, and the hint of romance will satisfy. However, Fable has a flaw of always pushing the limit, and eventually she pays for a momentary slip, leaving readers hanging, awaiting the sequel.

THOUGHTS: This novel should find a wide audience, pleasing both action-adventure and romance fans.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – You Choose: Can You Escape?

You Choose: Can You Escape? Capstone Press, 2020. $24.49 ea. $97.96. set of 4. 112 p. Grades 3-7. 

Braun, Eric. Could You Escape Alcatraz? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57392-3.
Doeden, Matt. Could You Escape the Paris Catacombs? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57394-7.
Hoena, Blake. Could You Escape a Deserted Island? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57395-4.
—. Could You Escape the Tower of London? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57393-0.

Reminiscent of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series from the early 80s, this series takes you on a survivalist journey to various locations. Each book in the series offers 3 paths with 41 different choices and 18 possible endings. This reviewer had the opportunity to choose a path through the Paris Catacombs, 100 feet below the cities of Paris. The path started with a choice to explore the catacombs as a young worker in the 1700s, a modern-day tourist, or as a rescuer of a group of teens lost in the labyrinth. Written for younger adventurers, this is an enjoyable book for grades 3-7 as you get to choose your own destiny during your journey. Filled with photographs of the actual catacombs and artists renderings of Paris, this adventure series is sure to delight students.

THOUGHTS: This is a great modernized version of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that many of us grew up with that will delight this generation of readers. A great read for reluctant readers since the text is not overwhelming and the chance to read the book several times to create new endings will entice them to read more.

Action/Adventure                Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Collins, Suzanne. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Scholastic Press, 2020.  978-1-338-63517-1. $24.99. 528 p. Grades 9-12.

The much-anticipated prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy begins 64 years before Katniss Everdeen enters the arena to fight for her life. The Hunger Games are only ten years old and are not yet the spectacle they go on to become. Coriolanus Snow, future president of Panem, along with his cousin and grandmother, have sold almost all of their possessions after the war drains their finances. The Snow name is synonymous with wealth, and they struggle to maintain a wealthy facade. The Snow family motto demands it: snow lands on top. Head gamemaker Dr. Gaul pairs each tribute with a Capitol Academy mentor. Coriolanus is paired with District 12’s Lucy Gray Baird, who immediately becomes a fan favorite due to her songbird voice. Coriolanus falls for her and, upon seeing the horrific conditions where the tributes are kept before the games, arranges for her to have food and medical care, a precursor to tribute treatment in the later books. But he still has strong loyalty to the Capitol. This is much different from his peer, Sejanus. He views The Hunger Games as unjust, and at times, Coriolanus sees his point. As his love for Lucy Gray deepens, he is conflicted. He believes in her but also in the Capitol. Most of all, he believes he needs to make something of himself in order to keep proving that snow always indeed lands on top.

Thoughts: Readers will want to simultaneously empathize and loathe Coriolanus. He wants to make the right decisions, but there are already glimpses of what he will become in later books. Fans of The Hunger Games will love discovering the origins of the trilogy’s most important symbols, such as the mockingjay and Victors’ Village. For those who have never read The Hunger Games, it serves as a good start. Similar to its predecessors’, the book does have a fair amount of blood and violence and is better suited for high school readers who are sure to enjoy this action-packed origin story.

Dystopian Fiction     Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

MG – 96 Miles

Esplin, J.L. 96 Miles. Starscape, 2020. 978-1-250-19230-1. 266 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

96 Miles by J. L. Esplin has the look and feel of an apocalyptic novel. Twelve-year-old John and eleven-year-old Stewart Lockwood are the offspring of single-parent and survivalist, Jim Lockwood. Their father is away on a business trip when a massive power outage strikes their area of the Nevada desert. The boys are unfazed because they have six months’ worth of water and supplies, plus a generator. What they don’t anticipate is the ruthlessness of people as materials grow scarce and the situation drags on. Forced at gunpoint to abandon their property, the narrator John immediately assumes the role of protector, a position his younger brother sometimes resents. He sets out to walk to Brighton Ranch, the home of a close family friend, 96 miles down the highway, in three days. Before long, the brothers are accompanied by two other children, Cleverly Iverson and her little brother, Will. John reluctantly accepts them on their journey at Stew’s urging, and he soon realizes the benefit of their presence, especially Cleverly, a selfless, intelligent girl who is mature beyond her twelve years. Newcomer J. L. Esplin unpacks the plot gradually, feeding the reader a bit of information to put together the puzzle. She transcends the expected blisters, sunburn, and dehydration to make 96 Miles a page-turner full of surprise and suspense that made this reader gasp aloud at least twice. Though the narrative is dire, the author provides the deftly drawn characters with senses of humor and sufficient depth to deem them worthy of their self-named tag, Battle Born. This moniker takes on a significant meaning when it becomes apparent that “survival of the fittest” is an innate impulse even in these likeable characters.

THOUGHTS: This book gives lots of survivalist tips that teachers may be able to incorporate into science lessons. Critical thinking skills are also relevant because John is challenged to make important decisions that effect his life and the lives of his companions. Different times in the story “survival of the fittest” is put to the test causing discomfort or generating discussion. Is there evidence at the end that the Battle Born are willing to let bygones be bygones? Stew and the family friend have diabetes, a factor that lends to the urgency of the quartet’s travels. Reminiscent of Susan Beth Pfieffer’s Last Survivor series and Mike Mullin’s Ashfall.

Action/Adventure          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

YA – Infinity Son; All Your Twisted Secrets; The Kingdom of Back; The Between; The Upside of Falling; This is My Brain in Love

Silvera, Adam. Infinity Son. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-98378-7. 353 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Twin brothers Emil and Brighton grew up idolizing Spell Walkers, the Celestials who use their powers to maintain order. But now that they’re turning 18, Emil thinks his brother needs to put the hero-worship aside and face the future realistically. But Brighton thrives on subscribers and likes on his Celestials of New York YouTube channel, and he wants fame so bad he can taste it. When the pair are attacked by a Spector, one who drank Celestial blood to acquire powers, mild mannered Emil erupts in rare Phoenix Fire, to his amazement and Brighton’s cold envy. The family is brought to a Spell Walker compound for protection, and Emil is convinced to join the unit, even though he is an introverted pacifist who isn’t sure the Spell Walkers always use their powers for good. As Emil reluctantly assists in missions, Brighton becomes the team’s public relations director, while his jealousy of his brother, and his disgust with Emil’s pacifism, continue to degrade the one invincible bond between them. Silvera adds another dimension to the superhero genre with his action-packed book. Emil’s reluctance to be a hero contrasts sharply with Brighton’s driven need for fame and power. The Celestials are morally ambiguous, even though they believe their actions are done for the greater good. There are no clear heroes and villains here, and Emil illustrates the danger of having powers others desire. Several big reveals later in the book set the stage for an eagerly awaited sequel.

THOUGHTS: Well developed characters paired with action and suspense make this book a winner. Hand this to fans of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades series or other superhero readers.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Urban, Diana. All Your Twisted Secrets. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-90821-6. 390 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

The beginning of the book starts off so tritely: six stereotypical high school students are notified they have won a prestigious scholarship. The music nerd, the jock, the alpha cheerleader, the stoner, the valedictorian, and the genius loner all show up at the restaurant for the dinner/scholarship presentation, only to find out something is horribly wrong. Then the addictive wild ride begins. Narrated by Amber, the music nerd, the six find themselves locked in a basement dining room, with a ticking bomb, a loaded hypodermic needle, and a note that warns the students that within an hour, one of them must be killed with the poison loaded hypodermic, or the bomb will explode and they all will die. Flashbacks fill in the back story, as the minutes tick down and the frantic teens turn on each other in order to survive. As the plot unfolds, the relationships between the six are uncovered, and true feelings ruthlessly rise to the surface. Subtly woven throughout is the backstory of Amber’s brilliant older sister who committed suicide due to cyberbulling.The suspense is top notch, and you cannot put the book down until its shocking, gut wrenching conclusion.

THOUGHTS: This cross between Karen McManus’ One of Us is Lying and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is sure to fly off the shelf. The ending scarred me for weeks.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lu, Marie. The Kingdom of Back. Putnam, 2020. 978-1-524-73901-0. 313 p. $18.99. Grade. 7-12.

Once upon a time there was an extraordinarily talented pianist who was also a gifted composer, by the name of Mozart. Nannerl Mozart. The older sister of the Mozart still adored the world over, Nannerl knows from a young age that, as a woman, her moment in the spotlight will be fleeting. Her father constantly tells her so. He values her musical ability as a means to earn money and recognition for the family, but once she reaches marriageable age, her public performances will end. As for her compositions, well, don’t be ridiculous. Women don’t compose. Lu takes the bare bones of what is known about Mozart’s sister, and weaves an enchanting historical fantasy that pulses with the frustrations Nannerl must have felt being a gifted woman in a society who had no need of such a person. As the siblings toured Europe, performing for royalty and earning the fame and fortune their father desired, they amused themselves by inventing the kingdom of Back. It is this magical realm that drives Lu’s story. In the kingdom, Nannerl is offered the opportunity of lasting fame, to have her name and her music remembered through the ages, but it may be a bargain too costly to make. Lu skillfully crafts the loving relationship between the siblings, and how Nannerl chafes under her father’s restrictions. She tantalizingly creates a scenario where young Mozart is influenced by Nannerl’s compositions, seeks her help with his own compositions, and even has her compositions published under his own name, all the more intriguing  because the world will never know how much Nannerl truly did influence her brother. This unique blend of fact and fantasy creates a world the reader will remember, as well as brings to light a talented woman too long lost to history.

THOUGHTS: This gorgeously written, uniquely plotted book may take some booktalking, but readers will be enthralled once they read a few pages.

Fantasy (Historical)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Hofmeyr, David. The Between. Delacorte, 2020. 978-0-385-74475-1. 376 p. $17.99. Grades 7+.

One moment Ana Moon is a normal high school girl, sneaking out to meet her best friend, Bea. The next, the train they’re riding on freezes in place and time, and a monstrous creature snatches Bea and takes off. When a shocked Ana makes it back to her dad’s flat, everything has changed. Dad is different; the flat is slightly different; and, most disturbingly, when Ana calls Bea, she is told that Bea died a year ago. By the time Malik, a cute guy Ana had been flirting with on the train, shows up at her bedroom window in the middle of the night, it barely registers as odd. Malik explains to Ana that she is no longer in the world she knows. She is a Pathfinder who can fall between the seven worlds. Bea has been taken by a reaper, and Ana must trust Malik, a fellow Pathfinder, if she hopes to find Bea. Ana enters a society she can barely comprehend, joining Malik’s clan and working with him and his team. As Ana is indoctrinated into her new reality, it becomes evident that she is not just a new Pathfinder, but perhaps the one Pathfinder who is the key to the mystical Seventh Gate. She may be the one to stop the war between the Pathfinders and the brutal Order. Hofmeyr compacts what might have been a seven volume series into one energetic, action packed story. Ana is a dynamic heroine, who plausibly grows into her new role while traversing continuously shifting ground. Her single minded goal of rescuing Bea, is never forgotten, and is a rare display of a literary friendship that is not overshadowed by romance. While there is an attraction between Malik and Ana, Bea remains her focus.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: action, friendship, romance, betrayal. It should find a home with Sci Fi readers as well as action/adventure fans who appreciate a few battle scenes in their books.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Light, Alex. The Upside of Falling. Harperteen, 2020. 978-0-062-91805-5. 279 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

Reclusive, bookish Becca flat out does not believe in true love. Not after her parents’ messy, painful divorce. But, aggravated by her former best friend’s taunting about Becca’s lack of a lovelife, Becca spontaneously declares she is in a relationship. This might have fallen flat seconds after it came out of her mouth had not high school hunk Brett Wells come over, thrown his arm around her and confirmed that they are secretly dating. It turns out he is in need of a girlfriend to satisfy his good-old-boy father. So begins a relationship born of mutual convenience, that turns into a needed friendship for both of them. And could it even end up in love? This Wattpad romance doesn’t cover any new territory, but it is light, sweet, fun, and just the sort of addictive story that will be devoured by dedicated romance readers. Sadly, 10 pages from the end, the book loses continuity. While young readers most likely will not notice or care, it reveals the need for an editor’s hand.

THOUGHTS:  I adored this book for 269 pages. Then the characters acknowledge their love by immediately having (off page) sex, despite the fact that Brett’s mother had him when she was 17, and his father repeatedly discusses how he had to give up on his college plans and football future to stay home and help raise Brett. (And despite the fact that a few weeks ago Becca had never even kissed a boy.) This likely will not bother most readers, who will thoroughly enjoy the dreamy romance.  

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gregorio, I. W. This is My Brain in Love. Little, Brown, 2020. 978-0-316-42382-3. 367 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

Jocelyn is stunned when her father announces that the family’s restaurant, A-Plus Chinese Garden, is floundering and he may move the family back to New York City from Utica, NY. Will is crushed when he fails to garner a plum editorial position on the school newspaper. Jocelyn convinces her father to hire a social media consultant to improve the restaurant’s visibility. Will finds himself needing a summer job. Jocelyn hires Will. The pair bring a boatload of baggage to the table from the start. Will, of mixed Nigerian and American heritage, filters the world through the lens of an African American male teenager, and suffers with anxiety. Jocelyn is almost crippled by her family’s emotionally reticent Asian culture. The pair click and begin dragging the restaurant into the digital era. Not unexpectedly, sparks fly, only to meet the disapproval of Jocelyn’s strict, racially prejudiced parents. But what seems like a trope-fulfilling romance veers off into a thoughtful exploration of mental health when Jocelyn’s erratic mood swings begin to trigger Will’s anxiety. Will, who has been in therapy for years, notices that Jocelyn may have some undiagnosed issues herself, but knows broaching the topic could cause a rift in their nascent relationship. As Jocelyn struggles to confront her depression, she finds an unexpected ally in her mother, who reveals she has been taking depression medication for years. Told from the alternating perspectives of Will and Jocelyn, the story maintains its relationship-cute vibe while honestly exploring mental health issues in teens, including the pros and cons of taking medication. A subplot involving Will tutoring Jocelyn’s younger brother, who clearly suffers from ADHD, as well as a reference to a friend with autism, may feel like a few issues too many  but does not detract from the story and might pique recognition in a reader.

THOUGHTS:  This book is a winner. An adorable romance exploring racial issues as well as mental health topics, it should fly off the shelf. Purchase multiple copies.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Rachel’s Roses; Art Sparks; Chapter Two is Missing; Money Sense; How Winston Delivered Christmas; Stargazing; Ants; Cooking Class; Gracie La Roo

Wolff, Ferida. Rachel’s Roses. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44365-9. 100 p. $15.99. Grades 2-5.

Rachel Berger is a third grade girl who lives in the Lower East Side of New York City during the early 1900s with her mother, father, grandmother, and little sister Hannah.  The family struggles economically, especially since her mother quit her job to start her own dressmaking business. As the big sister, Rachel is tired of her little sister copying her and following her around. Rosh Hashanah is approaching, and Rachel is hoping she can have a new skirt for the occasion and that it will be different from her sister’s. There is no money for new clothes, but Rachel’s mother gives her money for new buttons. At the trimmings store, she spies 3 beautiful buttons with roses in them. Although she does not have enough money to pay for them, she asks the shop owner to put them aside and says she will earn the money to buy them before the holiday. Rachel is able to find a job doing errands and purchases the buttons. Her feelings for her sister are out to the test when Hannah goes missing and Rachel must decide if the buttons can be put to better use for the sake of her family. The author creates a 19th century atmosphere with her description of the street vendors and school life, and the author’s note explains more about her own family’s customs during Rosh Hashanah. Lucas’s black and white illustrations appear frequently throughout the text and help the reader visualize life in the early 20th century. 

THOUGHTS: This is a charming book that is perfect for independent readers who are not quite ready for lengthy texts but want to expand their horizons beyond series titles. Although this is not an essential purchase, it is a worthwhile addition to elementary library collections.

Historical Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD


Abrams, Marion, and Hilary Emerson Lay. Art Sparks. Storey Publishing, 2019. 978-1-635-86211-9. 175 p. $26.95. Grades 2 and up.

This highly appealing craft book, born of the authors’ Summer Craft Barn classes, is sure to delight crafters of all ages and interests. After an introduction to basic craft materials, the book is divided into 6 categories of crafts: painting, drawing, paper art, felt and fabric, art and nature, and sculpture. The projects run from simple to more complex, but none feel beyond the ability of tween and older crafters, or youngsters with adult assistance. Materials required for most projects are basic craft supplies, and other items are obtainable at a craft store. Each project outlines materials needed; full color photos illustrate step-by-step instructions and are so engaging you want to dive right in. There are multiple crafts inspired by a variety of international cultures, each accompanied by a brief explanation of the significance of the art to the culture. Most crafts can be wholly completed by the young crafter, but the authors advise that glue guns be used with adult supervision, and knife work completed by adults. The only questionable point is the suggested use of styrofoam meat trays, which, while the book notes they should be washed thoroughly before use, parents may prefer to avoid.

THOUGHTS: This book will be an excellent addition to a library craft section, as well as a great purchase for the young crafter in your life.

745.5 Crafts          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lieb, Josh. Chapter Two is Missing. Razorbill, 2019. 978-1-984-83548-2. 48 p. $17.99. Grades K+.   

Chapter One opens with a bang when the panicked narrator announces that Chapter Two is missing, and this riotous story is off and running. In the meta tradition of David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs and Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, the elements of a book become the story. Milo the Janitor relocates periods (to, perhaps, create an ellipse?) and heaps pagefuls of M’s in the middle of another page. Detective McGarrigan has no news on the case, but no news is good news, right? Delightful comic illustrations by Kevin Cornell (The Chicken Squad) propel the humor along. When the who-done-it is finally revealed, readers may be too busy laughing to care.

THOUGHTS: While young readers may giggle at the drawings, the clever humor will appeal to older readers as well, and a close inspection of the illustrations will also prove rewarding.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Money Sense: An Introduction to Financial Literacy. Crabtree, 2017 and 2019. $17.70 HC. $7.95  PB. $106.20 set of 6. 24 p. Grades K–3.

Eagan, Rachel. Why Does Money Matter? 2017.  978-0-778-72666-1. 332.4
—. Why Should I Save for a Rainy Day ? 2017. 978-0-778-72663-0. 332.024
—. What Do I Want? What Do I Need? 2017. 978-0-778-72664-7. 332.024
—. Learning about Earning 2017. 978-0-778-72665-4. 331.2
—. Meeting Needs in Our Community. 2019. 978-0-778-75185-4. 338
—. Trade in Our Global Community.  2019. 978-0-778-75186-1. 382

This series makes economics accessible for younger grades. These books introduce young children to the basic concepts such as supply and demand, needs and wants, and goods and services. General statements are illustrated with child friendly examples. The two most recent books, Meeting Needs in Our Community and Trade in Our Global Community, reach out into local and global economics and the interdependence of our global community. Back matter includes books for further reading, websites, a glossary, and an index. Each book has a link to Crabtree’s secure website which has additional digital content. 

THOUGHTS: Economics should be studied even by younger students. These books can really have an impact, but I think they should be used intentionally, backed up by hands on activities. Because there are different Dewey classifications, I have included the specific number with each title above.

Financial Literacy          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Smith, Alex T. How Winston Delivered Christmas. Silver Dolphin, 2019. 978-1-68412-983-6. 175 p. Gr. 1-5. 

In delightfully retro style, Alex T. Smith tells the story of Winston, a plucky little city mouse, who finds a lost letter on Christmas Eve. The trouble? The letter is addressed to Santa Claus, and he will never receive the letter at this late hour unless Winston does something, and fast! Winston travels across the city, meeting helpful new friends like avian odd couple George and Edna who provide some intel on Santa’s location, and rat Eduardo Fromage who shows Winston the finer points of life inside a fancy department store. Winston finally makes his way to Fortesque’s Department Store where he hopes to meet up with Santa Claus, but he realizes that he’s too late. Never one to give up, Winston attempts to fly himself to the North Pole, only to crash land in a serendipitous twist that makes his life (and the life of the letter writer!) very happy, indeed. Smith tells the story in 24 ½ chapters, meant to be read as an Advent story throughout the month of December. The vintage-looking illustrations are gorgeous and evoke a vision of long-past big city holidays, bustling with men in suits and fedoras and ladies in dresses and hats, all bustling about carrying towers of packages carefully wrapped at the department store (rather than delivered by Amazon). Christmas crafts, recipes, song lyrics, and activities are peppered throughout the book, and every page is decorated with a small illustration, flourish, or bit of whimsy that generally lend the book a very festive air. It’s a beautiful book and story that deserves to be shared with a special child in your life.

THOUGHTS: Buy a copy for school and a copy for home, and enjoy sharing with Christmas-lovers young and old.

Action/Adventure          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD


Wang, Jen. Stargazing. First Second, 2019. 978-1-250-18387-3. 208 p. Grades 3-6.

Moon is unlike anyone Christine has ever known growing up as a Chinese American. Christine plays the violin and likes American pop music while Moon loves singing and dancing to K-Pop. Christine’s parents are very strict while Moon’s mother is very easy going. Christine’s family makes their dan dan mian with pork while Moon and her mother are vegetarians (and Buddhists). Moon also has a reputation for having a hot temper and quick fists. The girls realize quickly, however, that they really like each other…they become quick friends and expand each other’s worlds. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret, that she’s really a celestial being, and she has visions that let her see her friends in the sky. Christine struggles with her own insecurities as Moon becomes more popular, and it isn’t until Moon has a seizure at a friend’s birthday party that everyone learns the truth: Moon’s celestial visions are being caused by a brain tumor. Moon needs Christine more than ever, but Christine can’t face Moon after an unkind incident at the birthday party. In the end, Christine’s father helps her see that she needs to be herself to be happy, and she and Moon make up and face the new world together. This book is loosely based on author/illustrator Jen Wang’s own childhood and personal experience with a brain tumor. Several of my students have read and loved it! Our district has very few Chinese American students, and this book portrayed a community authentically to my students, a group of kids who likely know very little about this culture.

THOUGHTS: An excellent title for fans of realistic middle-grade graphic novels.

Graphic Novel          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD


Kenney, Karen Latchana. Ants: Secrets of their Cooperative Colonies, Capstone Press, 2019. 978-1-543-55553-0. 32 p. $7.95. Grades 3-4.

Did you know that there is an ant called Honeypot Ants that have abdomens the size of grapes? This book takes the reader through an ant’s life and why they live together. The text of the book is definitely for upper elementary; the pictures and models are eye catching, and there are great captions. When there are new words, they are highlighted in red and defined at the bottom of the page making following along with this book easy to do. This Fact Finder book is one in a series where readers get to learn secrets about some interesting insects and animals.

THOUGHTS: I would love to use this book in a center, teaching students how to read for information. This book is also a great example of text structures while being friendly for younger grades to follow along.

595.74 Ants          Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD


Cook, Deanna F. Cooking Class: Global Feast, Storey Publishing, 2019. 9781635862300.P143. $28.95. Gr 1-5

Cooking Class: Global Feast is an awesome cookbook filled with recipes from around the world written specifically for children. The table of contents is easy to read and divided by types of meals from breakfast to dessert. Each recipe includes the flag of the country from where the food is traditionally made. There is also a table of contents by country, allowing students to  plan a fully immersive experience easily. The book also starts with lessons for students who may not be comfortable in the kitchen. Going into the book the recipes are rated from one spoon, meaning they do not involve baking or cutting, to three spoons which asks that there is an adult or older sibling helping. Each recipe also has pictures of the process. I love this part of the book because it allows children to check their work and see if it looks similar to the picture. Readers are also introduced to each child who is baking with a mini biography about them.

THOUGHTS: My daughter has not put this book down. From the moment I got it home my 9 year old daughter has been planning meals and testing her baking chops. Baking and cooking is a great way for students to be comfortable with measurement and to experience science. The lessons at the beginning helped her to know what tools she needed to get and how to read the recipe.

641.5 Cooking           Arryn Cumpston Crawford Central SD


Qualey, Marsha. Kristyna Litten. Gracie La Roo: At Training Camp. Picture Window Books, 2019. 978-1-515-83777-0. 35 p. $14.58. Grades K-2.

It is time for swim camp, and all Gracie wants to do is swim. Why then are all of her friends busy and worried about everything else. Gracie gets frustrated when practice keeps getting rescheduled for poster making, and costume designing. Gracie ends up spending the day alone. What she does not realize is that even when she is alone her other teammates depend on her and value her opinion. They keep calling her in to help with their problems. When Gracie finally has had enough and goes to her room, the rest of the team ends up in a fit. Gracie points out that they have lost focus and leaves to swim. 

THOUGHTS: The illustrations and words in this book are simple and easy to follow. This is a great beginning chapter book that could easily also be used as a social story for students. Friendships are hard, and like Gracie we don’t always agree with what friends are doing and sometimes we need to remind our friends what is important. The discussion questions and writing prompts at the end of the story would make this a great beginning of the school year read aloud for younger elementary students.

Early Chapter Book          Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD

MG – Maybe He Just Likes You; Good Enough; Klawde; Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic; The Okay Witch; Over the Moon; Other Words for Home; Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club; Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky; The Story Web; Dragon Pearl

Dee, Barbara. Maybe He Just Likes You. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-43237-6. 283 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

When do you decide enough is enough? Seventh grade Mila is excited to celebrate her friend Omi’s birthday after lunch with a thoughtful gift and a group hug with her other friends Max and Zara. This moment between friends is perfect – that is until the basketball boys come over and hug them too, lingering on Mila. This small moment makes Mila uncomfortable, and it doesn’t stop there. The boys find ways to bump into Mila, make comments, and invade her personal space. Afraid to tell her mom, the principal (who is also the boys basketball coach), or her guidance counselor, Mila’s emotions spiral out of control. Mila tries to tell her friends what is going on, but they shrug it off, saying that’s just how boys are. But when a friend comes to Mila with information about a “scorecard” and another friend steps forward and says it happened to her too, Mila finds the strength to speak up for herself and stop the unwanted attention.

THOUGHTS: This middle grade novel does a perfect job of exploring the #metoo movement and how harassment and innocent “jokes” can end up affecting others. The story will bring you all the feels – joy, anger, shock – and leave you feeling like you may know someone this book is perfect for. The book also explores different relationships between characters and the strength a person has to stand up for themselves.

Realistic Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Petro-Roy, Jen. Good Enough. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-12351-0. 261 p. $16.99. Grades 7-9.

Twelve year old Riley doesn’t think she’s good enough, fast enough, talented enough…the list goes on and on. Tired of being compared to her “golden” younger sister Julia, Riley starts running excessively, skipping meals, and having a bad attitude. And it gets worse! At school she is being picked on for what she looks like and how she eats, which leads Riley down the path to an eating disorder. Riley’s parents decide she needs to be hospitalized in order to find the path to recovery. The story is presented as a journal of Riley’s experiences while hospitalized – her struggle with anxiety, food issues, and her parents’ constant judging and disappointment. The program requires strict meal planning, therapy sessions, group activities, and even counting out loud while you go to the bathroom. Riley meets several girls in the program all while dealing with the loss of her best friend and discovers that she is more than the voice in her head telling her she’s “not enough.” Will Riley’s parents accept her for who she is and not just as someone with a problem? Does Riley have the power to be in control of herself? A must read!

THOUGHTS: Perfection. Petro-Roy does a fantastic job of approaching a delicate subject as she is someone who battled an eating disorder. The journal style of writing allows readers to feel as if they are taking the journey with Riley day by day and makes for a fast read. The story deals with so much more than recovering from an eating disorder and allows readers to see that we all have flaws that make us who we are.

Realistic Fiction         Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Marciano, Johnny, & Emily Chenoweth. Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat: The Spacedog Cometh. Book 3. Penguin Workshop, 2019. 978-1-524-78724-0. $14.99. Grades 4-8.

The third epic adventure of Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat! As Klawde continues to plot his return to his home planet and take over from the tiny evil kitten who has taken command, he is unaware that there are others looking for him: the most loyal beasts of all…dogs! Barx has been given the mission to capture and return Klawde to his home plant to pay dues for blowing up one of their most amazing plants! As Barx travels to Earth, he realizes just how wonderful it is, especially Klawde’s master Raj. While the animals fight and attempt their vengeful missions, Raj is suffering with his own problems. His parents are out of town for a few weeks for a conference vacation, so his Ajji, grandmother, is staying with him. All she cooks is weird, un-American food and decides to throw him a birthday party. How will Raj deal with Ajji, as well as dealing with Klade being…Klawde!

THOUGHTS: I was so excited to see the third book to this hilarious series! The addition of the dog characters brought forth more excitement and perspective to the “dog vs. cat” personality stereotypes. A great third book for the Klawde lovers!

Adventure/Action/Fantasy          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Russo, Kristin J. Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic. Orchard Books, 2019. 978-1-228-18736-6. 48 p. $25.95. Grades 5-8.

In a subseries of Part of the Perspectives Library, Viewpoints and Perspectives takes a look at how various people may have different views about some of the most known events in history. In Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic readers get a look inside the Titanic through the eyes of three very different passengers. Using first person stories inset with facts about the ship and a timeline of the events, this title takes readers through what the sinking of the Titanic was like for a first, second, and third class passenger. This book is a nice mixture of pictures and stories, allowing for students not to be overwhelmed by the amount of text to read. With a mixture of historical black and white, recreated color, and pencil drawings readers get a look back in time. The simplicity of the pages and clear nonfiction text structure lends this book to be a great introduction to text structures including table of context, index, timeline, and captions. The book includes ideas for teachers in the sidebars to help lead research or a lesson on the Titanic.  

THOUGHTS: The unique look into different classes on the Titanic would allow students to see how classes were separated and the prejudice against the lower classes even while evacuating the boat. A book like this could, and others in this series, be used in middle schools to see how prejudices have changed throughout history.

910.9 History, general          Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD


Steinkellner, Emma. The Okay Witch. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-43146-1. 271 p. $20.99. Grades 4-8.

Moth believes she is a typical Halloween loving teenager, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. After studying the history surrounding Founder’s Bluff and the persecution of witches, Moth suddenly discovers that she may have special “powers.” After an incident with the school bullies and a talking cat at home, Moth confronts her mother for the truth. Yes, Moth is from a long line of witches, and with her mother’s diary and her new found powers, she is about to discover the truth. The witches of Founder’s Bluff were real…and they are still alive. Moth learns to navigate middle school (including a new boy who keeps bumping into her), harness her powers against her mother’s wishes, and meet her very ancient grandma. Travel with Moth through past and present as she discovers her heritage and becomes an “okay” witch.

THOUGHTS: This debut graphic novel will delight middle schoolers as Moth discovers who she truly is. The illustrations are whimsical and eye-catching, while the story just flows across the frames through a series of chapters. Graphic novel readers will want to pick this novel up, especially if they enjoy the element of magic.

Graphic Novel            Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Lloyd, Natalie. Over the Moon. Scholastic Press, 2019. 978-1-338-11849-0. 291 p. $14.95. Gr. 4-8.

The Dust has taken away the light from the stars in Coal Top, made the villagers feel hopeless, and forced children to work for measly wages. Mallie cleans the home of a well to do family in the “Down Below.” The work is hard and does not pay enough to help protect her brother from being taken by the Guardians and sent to the mines to work. When a mysterious flyer appears and offers an opportunity for orphan boys to earn riches, Mallie knows this is her chance to save her family. Mallie quickly discovers that the task is to tame and ride a Starbird into the Dust above in order to retrieve gold dust. Up for the challenge, she doesn’t back down and struggles with her disability as well as the others who wish she wasn’t there. With the help of her friend Adam, and her loyal Starbird Leo, Mallie finds she can be successful. But when she discovers the leader, Mortimer, is up to something dark and sinister, Mallie decides she must expose the truth. Risking her life and her family’s, Mallie races against the Dust and Mortimer to prove that the stars really do exist.

THOUGHTS: You can’t help but cheer for Mallie as she struggles to protect her family, discover the truth, and overcome obstacle after obstacle. The characters are well developed and the whimsy of flying horses and dust puppets make the story come to life. Fans of Lloyd will not be disappointed with this title that pulls at your heart strings and reminds you to shoot for the stars.

Science Fiction            Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Warga, Jasmine. Other Words for Home. Balzer and Bray, 2019. 978-0-062-74780-8. $16.99. 352 p. Grades. 4-8.

Jude, young immigrant from Syria adjusts to her new life in Ohio. She had to flee with her pregnant mother, leaving behind her father and older brother. There is so much change living with her uncle, aunt, and cousin who is in the same grade. Although her aunt and uncle are accommodating, her cousin Sarah is a bit jealous of the attention and practically ignores Jude at school. School is a challenge. She thought her English was good in Syria, but in the United States pace of life is so much faster, including the language! Life is definitely not like the American movies she used to watch with her friends. Jude is a resilient girl. She makes friends with others in ESL (English as a Second Language) and meets Layla who is also Muslim. She wants to fit in, and one of her real motivations is the musical. She works really hard to try out, perfecting her English and learning about drama. This annoys Sarah and her friends who Jude thinks of as “SarahMinaHarperStone” (They seem to lack individuality.). Jude is concerned for Amal, her new baby sister. Amal, whose name means Hope, will be an American, not an immigrant. Jude realizes that home is where the people you love and those who love you are. It is where you feel you belong, and Jude works very hard to create a place for herself.

THOUGHTS: Jude voices very real concerns about fitting in, prejudices against Muslims, and the safety of her father and older brother who are still in Syria. The reaction to a bombing in the Middle East and subsequent vandalism of Layla’s family property is both upsetting to the community and an opportunity to bond. Warga’s use of verse to tell the story makes it accessible and poignant as the succinct wording and rhythm evoke emotions and meaning.

Realistic Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Nicherson, Sara. Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club. Dutton Children’s Books, 2019. 978-1-101-99442-9. 240 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Josh is starting fifth grade at a new school, a fresh start, where no one knows of Josh’s multiple invisible friends. Only Josh’s friends are not imaginary; they just can’t be seen by anyone else. But the friends are all gone, buried at his old house. Until Big Brother shows up again on Josh’s first day of school. Big Brother dispenses advice, comfort, and companionship. But Josh is not the only student in his class with an awkward friend. Lucas has an invisible friend, Maxie, and Josh can see her too. While Big Brother gently guides and encourages Josh to be brave and try new experiences, Maxie seems a bit more malevolent. When she engineers a meeting between the two boys, she may be dangerously replaying her sad history. But Lucas and Josh discover real friends are powerful also.

THOUGHTS: A unique look at processing death and maturing. Readers who feel they see the world differently than those around them will definitely relate to Josh and Lucas.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Mbalia, Kwame. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. Rick Riordan Presents, 2019. 978-1-368-03993-2. 482 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Tristan is having a difficult time recovering from the school bus accident that left his best friend Eddie dead. Frustrated, his mother sends him to spend some time with his grandparents down south in Alabama. Grandma warns Tristan to stay away from the bottle tree, a traditional structure to capture haints, or spirits, at the edge of the forest. Tristan would have gladly done so, but that night he is awoken by a small, sticky figure sneaking in his room. Gum Baby has come to steal Eddie’s journal, and Tristan chases her into the forest, attempting to reclaim his cherished memento. When Tristan punches the bottle tree in frustration, he inadvertently creates a hole in the sky and is pulled into another world, where the stories his grandma used to tell him and Eddie come alive. Another mythology/folklore based adventure from Rick Riordan’s imprint, Tristan Strong brings alive the tales of the deep south, featuring Brer Rabbit, John Henry and, of course, Tristan’s reluctant sidekick Gum Baby. Tristan is sent on a quest to find the trickster god, Anansi, who can weave the sky back together. While Tristan is convinced he cannot save anyone (he broods that he failed to save Eddie), he discovers heroes do not necessarily have to be strong, or even brave, and he is more than capable of saving the world of his new friends from destruction.

THOUGHTS: This lightning fast, rollicking tale will win many fans, as well as introduce them to Black American folklore. Tristan and Gum Baby are a new dynamic duo that provide constant laughs as they attempt to save the day.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Blakemore, Megan Frazer. The Story Web. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19525-4. 321 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7. 

When Alice was little, her magical father would regale her with wondrous stories. But now Alice’s world is broken in so many ways. She no longer socializes with friends, she quit her ice hockey team, and even nature seems out of whack, with forest creatures making their way into town. She believes everything stems back to that something she did that made her father go away. But Alice can no longer maintain her invisible persona. The animals know; Alice’s classmate, frequently bullied Melanie, knows; and her best friend, Lewis, knows. The story web, a fragile creation of spiders, spun to record the stories of man, is broken. If it is not fixed soon, the world will be in peril. Alice’s father had explained the story web to her when she was young, and now Alice must look past her grief and fear to work with Melanie, Lewis, and many caring individuals, to repair it. But when the stories Alice remembers from her father don’t rebuild the web, the children realize they must find their own stories, as painful as they may be. The plot unfolds at a leisurely pace, through various viewpoints, including several animals. Much like spinning a web, individual threads eventually weave together in a breathtaking finale. The storyline of Alice’s father, who is eventually revealed to be suffering from PTSD, also takes time to uncover, and is never explained directly, but rather through oblique comments, reminiscences, and finally a conversation between Alice and her father.

THOUGHTS:  While the climax is riveting, it will take a patient reader to navigate to that point. Hand this lovely, heartwarming story to a reader who enjoys the journey as well as the destination.  

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lee, Yoon Ha. Dragon Pearl. Rick Riordan Presents, 2019. 978-1-368-01335-2. 320 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl, one of the first titles published under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, will delight young readers who like their fantasy informed by the trappings and tropes of science fiction. Lee imagines a world—a thousand worlds, actually—inspired by Korean mythology, and then sends it – them – spinning off into outer space. The young protagonist, Min, is a shape-shifting fox disguised as a human to avoid the persecution her species has long suffered. When her brother disappears, she sets off in search of him, planet-hopping through the universe on a grand and dangerous adventure. The plot moves at a breathless, breakneck pace as Min pilots a rocket ship and has run-ins with ghosts, dragons, and pirates.  

THOUGHTS: A top-notch #own voices entry in the sci-fi/fantasy genre that subtly addresses issues of identity and acceptance.  Highly recommended for middle schools.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

YA – The Virtue of Sin; The Prom; There’s Something About Sweetie; The Starlight Claim; Rules for Vanishing; The Toll; The Speed of Falling Objects

Schuren, Shannon. The Virtue of Sin. Philomel Books, 2019. 978-0-525-51654-5. 420 p. $17.99. Grades 8 and up. 

Girls and boys don’t get to speak to one another – not in this community, not until they’re married. But, as usual, youth finds a way. When it is time for a Matrimony for all those of age, Miriam is sure that she knows who will choose her. The night, however, doesn’t go as planned, leaving Miriam to question everything she’s ever known. Married to an outsider who she doesn’t love (and who apparently doesn’t believe) Miriam is faced with a choice: comply and become the docile wife of someone she doesn’t want or face the reality that Daniel, their voice of God, may not be all that he claims to be. As the world begins to shift around her, Miriam begins to find her own path in a life that has always been dictated for her.

THOUGHTS: Miriam’s story is a powerful depiction of the control that people can hold over others and the determination it takes to let yourself be free. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Mitchell, Saundra. The Prom. Viking, 2019. 978-1-984-83752-3. 212 p. $17.99. Grades 7 and up.

All Emma can dream of is dancing with her girlfriend at prom. One special, magical night where the two of them can not only be seen in public but be normal. However, that’s entirely too much for Edgewater, Indiana to handle. When the PTA finds out that someone different wants to disrupt their perfect prom, crisis mode ensues. Emma, a cover artist on YouTube, makes headlines nationwide after taking the PTA (and their new exclusive rules) to task in her latest video. Before she knows it, big names are stepping to her side while her town turns its back, and Emma is left in one big, complicated situation when all she wanted was something so simple.

THOUGHTS: Based on the hit Broadway musical, this heart-wrenching description of the challenges LGBTQIA+ youth face is all too real. From the bullies and the isolation to the unexpected support and acceptance, readers will feel every step of the way as they follow Emma along her journey. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Menon, Sandhya. There’s Something About Sweetie. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-41678-9. 376 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Sweetie Nair is phenomenal. She’s sweet and kind, a star athlete, a model daughter with a perfect life and, oh yeah, she’s fat. Growing up fat in an Indian-American household hasn’t been simple for Sweetie; her mom is constantly trying to get her to lose weight so she can have an easy life, and society always has something to say about the way she looks. When Sweetie is offered the opportunity to date the ultra-attractive Ashish Patel, a star basketball player and ladies’ man, she learns the truth about just how far her mother’s prejudices go. Not to be deterred, Sweetie decides to take matters into her own hands: it’s time to show the world just who she really is.

THOUGHTS: Set in the same world, this companion novel will fill the When Dimple Met Rishi sized hole in your heart. 

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Wynne-Jones, Tim. The Starlight Claim. Candlewick Press, 2019. 978-1-536-20264-9. 240 p. $17.99. Grades 8 and up. 

Nate Crow has grown up spending summers at his family’s isolated cabin on the lake learning how to respect nature and the elements. Joined by his friends Dodge and Paul, the boys lived idyllic childhoods enjoying their surroundings in the fair weather. But come fall, it’s time to secure the cabin and head for sturdier lodging. It’s possible to winter in the cabin, sure, but life is as hard as the snow is deep and with only one train in or out of the area the isolation could be deadly. When Dodge goes missing and is presumed dead after a winter excursion to his cabin, Nate is haunted by dreams of his former best friend. He knows he needs to do everything he can to ensure that Dodge is not still out there, alive but hurt. Nate makes the arduous hike to the cabin, only to find that the isolated cabin isn’t deserted after all. Miles away from anyone who could help, with limited supplies and a blizzard moving in, Nate must figure out how to survive.

THOUGHTS: The Starlight Claim is a thrilling survival story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. This book has a bit of everything and will appeal to anyone interested in the outdoors, life or death survival, and jail breaks. 

Action/Adventure        Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Marshall, Kate Alice. Rules for Vanishing. Viking, 2019. 978-1-984-83701-1. 402 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

The tale of Lucy Gallows has lived on in Briar Glen for generations. Legend has it that once a year a road will appear in the woods, and the ghost of Lucy Gallows will appear. Those who follow the road are supposedly granted a wish. Sara’s sister Becca disappeared one year ago right around the time the road should have appeared. When Sara finds a journal of Becca’s with clues to the road, she knows where Becca went and is determined to go after her. Despite having resolved to go alone, former friends rally to join Sara on her journey, none of them knowing the challenges, dangers, and sacrifices that lay ahead- after all, the road doesn’t want them to leave.

THOUGHTS: While the story was more gory than I usually like to see, I appreciated that the plot line was original. The road was lined with challenges both fantastic and psychological with horror elements that truly made it a gripping and haunting tale. 

Horror Fiction         Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Shusterman, Neal. The Toll. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-481-49706-0. 625 p. $19.99. Grades 7+.

Good and evil forces are aligned to fight for the fate of human and scythekind in this gripping and satisfying conclusion to the highly popular Arc of a Scythe series. Even in a perfect word designed by an advanced AI to solve all of humanity’s problems, the foibles and weakness of humans derail the best laid plans. The power within the worldwide Scythedom is being consolidated under the self-serving control of Scythe Goddard and the ugly realities of bigotry, fear mongering, and political intrigues are on display. Our favorite characters seem helpless, the honorable Scythe Faraday has retreated in despair to an atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Citra and Rowan are found in the wreckage after the Endura disaster and are now hunted by Goddard’s minions. Also on Goddard’s hitlist is Greyson Tolliver, the sole person to whom the Thunderhead speaks and the spiritual leader to the Tonists. The Thunderhead, by its own law, cannot intervene in the affairs of the Scythedom. But can a small group of thoughtful, committed, major characters change the fate of the world? Overall, an engaging and thought-provoking read.

THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for Grades 7+. This book already has a long waiting list for fans of this top notch dystopian sci-fi series; our library purchased two additional copies to meet demand. Interest in the series should continue as a motion picture is in the works.

Science Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Fischer Richardson, Nancy. The Speed of Falling Objects. Harlequin/Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-335-92824-5. 336 p. $18.00. Grades 9 and up.

Danny is not like her absentee father in any way. He’s the in-your-face TV personality “Cougar,” a world-famous survivalist that is always flying off to exotic locations with celebrities to show the television audience how to survive in whatever dangerous situation unfolds. Danny’s given name is actually Danger Danielle Warren, but because that’s the opposite of her careful, quiet personality and because her father, who left her and her mom when he struck it rich with his television show, is the one who christened her with that name, she goes by Danny instead. She’s certain that her father is disappointed in her because she isn’t daring and athletic like him, and she suspects she is also the cause of her mom’s bitterness toward her dad. Danny’s caution stems from her struggles with her balance and perception due to a childhood accident that caused her to lose an eye. When Danny is just about to turn seventeen, and after years of neglect, Cougar reaches out to her for the chance of a lifetime to go to the Amazon Rainforest with him and one of the most popular heartthrobs in the world for an adventure. She jumps at the chance to prove her worth even though her mother is against it. The book takes a dark turn when there is a plane crash, and Danny is confronted with the truth of her father and a family secret and her need to summon her own survival skills to try and make it out of the jungle alive.

THOUGHTS: Although the characters and events were a bit contrived, it made the story possible, so I can forgive them. This book will appeal to some of my students who will enjoy the survival aspect. Fair warning that many people die while trying to survive the plane crash and rainforest, and there is romance.

Action/Adventure          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

YA – The Nickel Boys; Don’t Date Rosa Santos; The Babysitter’s Coven; The Grace Year; How it Feels to Float; Dig; Inside Out; Ordinary Hazards

Whitehead, Colson. The Nickel Boys. Doubleday, 2019. 978-0-385-53707-0. 213 pp. $24.95. Grades 10+.

As a young black man in Tallahassee, Florida, in the early 1960s, Elwood Curtis has a vision for his life. The album Martin Luther King at Zion Hill (the best gift he ever received from his grandmother and guardian, Harriet) instilled his belief in King’s message of progress through peace, and he plans to join the Civil Rights movement. An ambitious high school student, Elwood enrolls in a college course, but in an almost absurdly tragic turn of events, he hitches a ride in a stolen car. Thus begins his time at Nickel Academy, a Florida reform school. Though he endures terrible abuse at Nickel, the friendship of another boy named Turner sustains him. Likewise, Turner trusts and confides in Elwood. Interspersed chapters from Elwood’s adult life in New York City provide glimpses of the lasting impact of the trauma suffered all those years before. Just as Elwood tries “without success to figure out why his life had bent to this wretched avenue,” so will readers of this virtuosic novel.

THOUGHTS: It’s difficult to find words that haven’t already been used to praise Colson Whitehead’s unique body of work, but The Nickel Boys is truly something special. An author of rare caliber, telling an essential story in spare and chilling prose. It’s adolescent characters make it a fine crossover selection. Elizabeth A. Murray’s recently published nonfiction title, The Dozier School for Boys, would be a fitting companion piece.

The Dozier School, which closed in 2011, inspired this story. For more information and footage of the school grounds, watch a YouTube video or two, starting with https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cY2Oh9fRSn4&t=4s.

Historical Fiction (Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

In the middle of the 1900s, there was not a lot of equality, especially in the south. The Nickel Boys is set both in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and in modern day. Based on true events, the tale centers around Elwood and Turner’s stay at Nickel Academy, a reformatory center for boys of all races in Florida. Although both boys ended up at the academy for different reasons, they become friends and supports for each other in a place that is brimming with abuse, racism, and corruption. Just as Elwood strived to participate in the Civil Rights movement before his placement, he tries to find a way to follow in Dr. King’s footsteps from afar, despite Turner’s hesitance. There are flashforwards to present day featuring a former student at the academy. 

THOUGHTS: This book did not read as fast as I thought it would, but the ending shocked the foundation of what I thought I understood about this horrible piece of history. It’s worth reading until the end, just for that feeling. The Nickel Boys is a good addition to any library looking to enhance their collection with a fictionalized specific story during the Civil Rights movement in 20th century America.

Historical Fiction.                 Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Moreno, Nina. Don’t Date Rosa Santos. Hyperion, 2019. 978–136803970-3. $17.99. 325 p. Grades 8 and up. 

The Santos women are cursed… or at least that’s what they and their community of Port Coral, FL believes based on their pasts. The curse? Any man they love will perish in the sea. Rosa’s grandfather died at sea in a storm as he and her pregnant grandmother escaped Cuba, and Rosa’s father who also loved the sea perished in a storm when Rosa’s mother was pregnant with her. For this reason, as Rosa explains in the book’s opening line, “The Santos women never go to the sea.” But as Rosa prepares to graduate high school and tries to make a college decision, the curse is the least of her worries… at least until she meets Alex, a super cute and mysterious boy who – of course – is a sailor. Avoiding Alex is difficult as Rosa is paired with him on a mission to save the port and its annual Spring Festival. While Rosa works on projects for the Spring Festival – and navigates her feelings for Alex – her college decision deadline looms in the back of her mind. She longs to take advantage of one school’s study abroad program to see her family’s homeland in Cuba, but she knows that would upset her grandmother who left Cuba for a reason and does not want to see her granddaughter go back. As Rosa’s primary parental caretaker (since her photographer mother is constantly traveling the country), her grandmother’s opinion matters a lot. Throw in a missing golden turtle that’s part of a school tradition, and that rounds out this novel’s array of conflicts. 

THOUGHTS: A cute tattooed sailor boy who bakes? (Can you say “unicorn?”) Still, Don’t Date Rosa Santos manages to be fluffy and feel-good yet complex and even surprising with a satisfying ending. The conflicts between these three Santos women become primary for most of the book, and female readers of any age can relate to their familial relationship struggles. Readers may find the characters’ Cuban culture and history engaging, though there are many times when the characters speak a line or two in Spanish, and readers who have any less than rudimentary knowledge of the Spanish language might find they need to look up words. Overall, highly recommended for fans of YA Contemporary. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Williams, Kate. The Babysitter’s Coven. Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-0-525-70737-0. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Esme Pearl has a babysitter’s club. Okay, so it’s not like THE Babysitter’s Club, it only has two members, but it still counts. Together with her friend Janis, the club offers babysitting services around town. One night, things start to get weird, and someone that resembles The Goblin King from Labyrinth shows up and attempts to kidnap the child Esme is watching. Deciding that can’t possibly have actually happened, Esme resolves to put the event behind her and tries not to let it freak her out of a job. Events begin to snowball when a new girl appears at school and wants to join the club right around the same time Esme begins to notice that she is able to move things with her mind. The two find they have supernatural powers in common and work to learn their abilities while trying to keep the kids safe. But when an inter-dimensional demon shows up, who’s going to do the same for them? 

THOUGHTS: This was an exciting new take on a classic club. Author Kate Williams wrote a book that is not only imaginative but also culturally relevant by including many references that today’s teens will automatically understand and enjoy.

Fantasy (Paranormal)         Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Liggett, Kim. The Grace Year. Wednesday Books, 2019. 978-1-250-14544-4. 416 p. $16.99. Grades 9 and up. 

At 16 girls become dangerous. They are told they have magic, magic that turns them into sirens disrupting the very fabric of society. In order to continue to live in Garner County, 16 year old girls must be sent away for that year, the grace year. They must rid themselves of their magic in order to return as non-disruptive members of society, young women ready for marriage. Tierney James knows her grace year is coming but knows almost nothing about it given that women are forbidden to speak about what happens during that year. All she knows is that each year fewer and fewer girls return. Banished to an encampment, preyed upon by poachers, the girls must attempt to survive a whole year exposed to the elements with a finite food supply and powerful magic that threatens the sanity of every girl involved. All she has to go on are the few words she was warned with “Trust no one… Not even yourself” (Liggett 56).

THOUGHTS: Nothing is what it seems in this extraordinary tale. This is an incredible story of fantasy, adventure, and survival with underlying currents of feminism. The Grace Year kept me engrossed from cover to cover.

Action/Adventure, Fantasy (survival)          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Fox, Helena. How It Feels to Float. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2019. 978-0-525-55429-5. 384 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

This book makes my heart hurt for Biz, the main character who often talks to her late father as she struggles through life as a teenager. Set in Australia, this novel deals with grief, mental illness, and sexuality all written by someone who lives with mental illness. Biz doesn’t feel particularly attached to anyone or anything after a mis-kiss with her best friend and a sexual assault incident on the beach. A new, mysterious boy at school saves her in so many ways by the end of this book. 

THOUGHTS: This is a strong representation of so much of what young adults are going through in today’s world. The clear truth of Biz’s situation make her easy to relate to and the writing flows so effortlessly and beautifully. Another must have on any contemporary school library shelf.

Realistic Fiction         Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


King, A. S. Dig. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2019. 978-1-101-99491-7. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 11-12.

What do fleas, a shovel, pot, cancer, and a freak have in common? You won’t know until the end of this twisty family saga. King makes weird choices throughout this book that constantly make you question what you just read and then make you question what you believe in your soul. Dig is told from the point of view of five teenagers that don’t seem to have much in common, and they really don’t have much in common except potatoes.

THOUGHTS: This book made me squirm and made me think about things in a way that books haven’t done in a long time. It’s gritty and difficult to keep characters straight at times, but well worth the brilliance of what it will do to your soul. Recommended for hearty readers who can handle multiple points of view and difficult subjects including racism, murder, and abuse.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

A.S. King has written another interesting, metaphor-filled story about a multi-generational family trying to understand themselves, the choices they’ve made, life, and how they fit in their families and the wider world. The surrealistic elements King includes add to the feelings of confusion and despair that the teen protagonists and their parents and grandparents wrestle with. Although the story seems to focus on five teens it also examines the grandparents, Marla and Gottfried, and how their choices affected not only their children, but also their grandchildren. (The middle generation only plays a supporting role in the story.) Some of the teens go by labels like: The Shoveler, CanIHelpYou, The Freak (who is the most surreal), and The Ring Mistress (who takes delight in her Flea Circus). This story addresses many topics, like sexual assault, drug use, dysfunctional families, mental illness, cancer, and white privilege/racism and how each of those things can reverberate through generations. Every generation needs to dig their way out of the toxic blight caused by the generations that proceeded them. The overarching message is to love each other more.

THOUGHTS: I have read every book A.S. King has written and have enjoyed almost every one, but I really enjoyed reading Dig. Because it was told from so many points-of-view, I found it more challenging to get to know the characters initially, but I found myself still thinking about them days after finishing the story. I read it over the course of two days, and I didn’t want to put it down. I can’t wait to book talk this to my 9th grade students.

Realistic Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Maddox, Marjorie. Inside Out:  Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises. Daffydowndilly Press, 2020. 978-1-950-46245-5. 61 p. Grades 7-12.

Pennsylvania author Marjorie Maddox’s ingenious little book of poems is chock-full of mentor texts that will not only educate, but also delight, budding tween and teen poets.  Most of the poems explain a poetic form or concept while at the same time serving as an example of it. “Couplet,” for instance, is a couplet describing a couplet: “Poet twins all dressed in rhymes / stroll side-by-side in two straight lines.”  Maddox’s poetry is easy to understand and yet full of clever wordplay and delightful images. Also included in the book are creative and fun poetry exercises with clear, detailed instructions, as well as a glossary of poetic terms. 

THOUGHTS: This is a unique, useful, and flat-out charming book. Aspiring young poets will love it, and so will teachers looking for resources for poetry units in middle and high school language arts classes. Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries.

 811  Poetry          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Grimes, Nikki. Ordinary Hazards. Wordsong, 2019. 978-1-629-79881-3 325 p. $19.99  Grades 7-12.

 “It’s a long story, but I’m a poet, /  I can cut it short,” Nikki Grimes promises in the prologue of her memoir-in-verse, Ordinary Hazards. She’s not kidding. In this heartrending but ultimately hopeful story of her formative years, Grimes evokes in a few words what would take most writers paragraphs to explain. Her story is not always easy to read. The daughter of a schizophrenic mother, Grimes endured abusive babysitters, horrific foster homes, and sexual assault. The memoir also has a meta-biographic aspect, as Grimes addresses the damage trauma does to memory:  she is left with “scraps of knowing / wedged between blank spaces.” Grimes shares how she reaches out to old friends and family members to fill in some of the gaps, and reconstructs her childhood journal as she imagines the rest. Despite the tough subject matter, the book is sprinkled with wry wit that will appeal to teen readers.  Ultimately, a portrait of a talented young woman who learns to rely primarily on her faith, a few trusted friends, and her own ingenuity, and eager to give back to a world that has given little to her, emerges. The book ends on a hopeful note, with Grimes meeting her soon-to-be first mentor, James Baldwin.

THOUGHTS: The subject matter of the book lends itself to more mature readers; however, Grimes writes sensitively and with as much decorum as ugly topics allow, with the result that the book is accessible to middle as well as high school students. The writing here is really unparalleled. Grimes, the 2017 winner of the Children’s Legacy Award, may have just published her best work to date. An essential purchase, as important a work as Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.

Biography          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley