Elem. – Pony Girls (Set 2) Series Fiction

Mullarkey, Lisa. Pony Girls (Set 2). Abdo Publishing, 2020. 978-1-532-13646-7. $20.95 ea. $83.80 set of 4. Grades 2-5.

Charlie. 978-1-532-13646-7.
Gracie. 978-1-532 13647-4.
Paisley. 978-1-532-13648-1.
Zoey. 978-1-532-13649-8.

Charlie loves being a camper at Storm Cliff Stables, but some things just make her belly swishy swashy. She wants to be able to go on a full trail ride and jump the vaults, but she just can’t seem to do it without her belly causing troubles and her heart going thump, thump, thump. Thankfully her friends, Aunt Jane, her mom, and Dr. Bell have helped her with different strategies to keep her nerves away. She will become a full Warrior and be able to achieve her goals, if she keeps visualizing them and doing her very best!

THOUGHTS: The ability in this book to discuss anxiety issues and panic attacks is absolutely phenomenal. The coping strategies listed in here are great strategies that readers can use to help keep nerves at bay and help reduce anxiety. A great choice for a young reader who is interested in horses or animals and may be dealing with their own fears and anxieties.

Realistic Fiction         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

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

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

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

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

Fantasy, Paranormal Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – The Girl and the Dinosaur

Hughes, Hollie. The Girl and the Dinosaur. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-547-60322-0. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

In a town by the sea, Marianne spends her days digging for dinosaurs on the sandy beach. Nearby fisherfolk worry that the solitary girl should try to find friends instead of bones. But Marianne’s persistence pays off when bone by bone, she assembles a skeleton she dubs ‘Bony.’ As evening falls, Marianne leaves Bony on the beach, promising to return the next day. Before falling asleep, she wishes for the bones to come to life, and under the bright stars, her wish comes true. A longneck dinosaur flies through the sky, picks up Marianne, and she rides on its back as they begin an evening of adventures. From swimming in the ocean to visiting an enchanted forest filled with fairies, unicorns, and giants, it’s definitely a night to remember. Finally, the pair ascend a tall mountain and rise into the clouds, visiting an island populated by other children and their dinosaur friends. Readers will be enchanted by this world filled with gentle dinosaurs and other magical creatures. Watercolor, pencil, and collage illustrations in muted tones perfectly mirror the imagination and fantasy of the rhyming text.

THOUGHTS: This fanciful  story will be popular with dinosaur lovers, particularly girls. Marianne is a confident and imaginative protagonist who is up for any adventure the evening has in store.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Tags: Picture book. Dinosaur fiction. Friendship. Stories in rhyme.

MG – Golden Arm

Deuker, Carl. Golden Arm. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. $17.99. 978-0-358-01242-9 . Grades 5-8.

Sixteen-year-old Laz Weathers may be slow, but he sees his future baseball prospects pretty clearly. His solid pitching gets no real training and won’t get noticed in his small, poor district. His own weak academics, his stutter, and his ‘tics’ in response to anxiety don’t do him any favors, either. It’s Laz’s younger half-brother, Alberto, who people respond to, and who will speak up when Laz can’t or won’t. But this summer, Alberto’s father has returned and moved in with their mom in their trailer park, causing initial resentment and adjustment by both boys. Laz convinces Alberto to stick with the scrappy baseball team led by Coach L—, who coaxes and cajoles thirteen youths to join the team, then badgers coaches of established teams to compete. Thanks to Laz’s pitching, they often win, which gets him noticed. Laz learns that his family must move (the trailer park will be razed for a high-rise) and that his district will eliminate baseball for his senior year. This allows Laz to join another team, if they’ll have him. A coach who noticed his “golden arm” will give Laz a chance, but can he leave when Alberto is being drawn into drug dealing? Just when Laz has the perfect chance to shine in a championship game, Laz learns his brother is in serious danger from his drug-abusing friends, and it doesn’t matter if Alberto has used, sold, or not–he’s the immediate target. Laz’s choices show his character and alter everything for his future.

THOUGHTS: Deuker shines with baseball scenes and infuses each interaction with tension and a sense of doom. This is hard to put down and will pull in baseball fans and non-fans (the sports writing is that superb). Readers will root for Laz, even as they see everything stacked against him. When the novel ends, I found myself wondering about a sequel showing Laz’s choices in a tough environment over the next 5-10 years, and how his integrity will be tested. This powerful, timeless novel melds baseball with the pressures of class status, mixes dreams with hard reality, and the result is a first-choice novel not to be missed.

Sports Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Nowhere on Earth

Lake, Nick. Nowhere on Earth. Alfred A. Knopf, 2020. 978-1-984-89644-5. 292 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Emily would do anything to protect her little brother, Aiden, even stowing away on a bush plane when the men in black start following him around town. But crashing in the Alaskan wilderness wasn’t in the plan. However, the rapid arrival of men with guns, shooting at them, propels Emily into action. She, Aiden, and Bob, the injured pilot, head out across the dangerous landscape, trying to put distance between themselves and the hunters, making their way towards safety. The book opens with the plane crash and the adrenaline doesn’t let down. Emily’s and Aiden’s backstories are revealed as the story unfolds, including Emily’s tempestuous relationship with her parents. Emily does come to appreciate the myriad survival lessons her ex-special-ops father taught her, as well as the beauty of the Alaskan territory, but deeply resents her parents for moving from Minneapolis and forcing her to leave behind her beloved ballet. The book begins as an adventure-survival tale, but then evolves into so much more, including a massive plot-twist and several thought provoking ethical issues. A few threads could have been more fully developed, including a hint that the plane crashed due to sabotage, but readers will be forgiving.

THOUGHTS: This hard to pigeon hole book should find a home with a wide variety of readers. Perfect for those who prefer a book that grabs you from the first page, but also gives satisfaction to readers looking for some depth.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Maya and the Rising Dark

Barron, Rena. Maya and the Rising Dark. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-10622-7. 291 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

When Maya notices the colors around her fading away, it seems like something out of the stories her father tells her, stories of ancient gods, magic and scary creatures. When she and her friend Frankie encounter terrifying werehyenas, only to be saved by Frankie suddenly throwing bolts of lightning, Maya learns that her father’s job as a structural engineer is a bit more complex than he ever let on. He is an Orisha, a god, whose job it is to maintain the veil between this world and the Dark. Maya, along with Frankie and her other friend, Eli, are all godlings, or half-Orisha. When Maya’s father disappears during a trip to fix the veil, Maya is convinced that she must find a portal to the Dark and rescue her father. Her loyal friends accompany her on a journey undertaken with love, but maybe not a lot of thought and planning. Maya and Eli have not yet discovered if they possess powers, leaving the three vulnerable to attack by the darkbringers, as well as the Lord of Shadows, a sinister creature haunting Maya’s dreams. This captivating story offers a new entry in the demi-god genre, showcasing the less known mythology of the Yoruba religion, originating in western Africa. Unique among the genre, Maya, her family and friends live in an Orisha enclave; many of her neighbors are also Orisha, and she is surrounded by other godlings. The vibrancy of the community in which Maya resides adds a warmth to the narrative, as Maya never has to search out for other individuals like herself; she has a built-in support network. The tale is suspenseful, replete with deliciously creepy characters, and filled with love – family, friends and neighbors.

THOUGHTS: A noteworthy addition to the mythology based adventure collection. Hand to fans of Percy Jackson, Sal and Gabi (Carlos Hernandez) or Aru Shah (Roshani Chokshi).

Fantasy – Mythology          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Kind of a Big Deal

Hale, Shannon. Kind of a Big Deal. Roaring Brook, 2020. 978-1-250-20623-7. 400 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Back in high school, Josie was kind of a big deal. A talented actress, she left school early to take Broadway by storm. Only, it didn’t quite work out the way it was supposed to. Now, a Broadway failure with monumental credit card debt, she’s living in Missoula, Montana, working as a nanny and trying to recapture that magnificent life she remembers, back when she was a big deal. After impulsively purchasing a romance novel one day while taking her adorable charge, Mia, to the park, Josie opens the book (the first she’s read since The Scarlet Letter in school) and shortly finds herself experiencing the plot from inside the story. A la The Wizard of Oz, the story is peopled with individuals she passed around town: customers in the bookstore, the sales clerk, individuals in the park. Josie is both fascinated and terrified by the experience: she likes the take-charge person she is in the story, but struggles to get back to reality and make sure Mia is safe. But the adventure is addictive, and once Josie finishes reading the first book, she’s back for more. As Josie genre-jumps, the experiences work as bibliotherapy, assisting her in assessing her life, and realizing she needs to move on from high school, and let her supportive best friend and her boyfriend move on as well. But, it turns out, the creative muses are not done with Josie, and when she gets wrapped up in one book too many, she will need to rely on all the skills and knowledge she has gained to save herself, as well as others trapped in the world of stories. Hale presents a delightful YA story. Josie is an appealingly sweet character, and her journeys inside the books will be amusing to any reader. Like Josie’s book hopping episodes, the plot refuses to stand still, continually twisting in another direction until the surprise ending. While Josie is on the cusp of adulthood, the book is refreshingly free of sex, profanity, and other vices. Like on the stage, Josie is the star, and she is all the story needs. Readers will cheer for her to realize she is a big deal, in the story of her own making.

THOUGHTS:  Hale’s YA entry is a bubbly read with a deeper message. Dedicated readers will enjoy the genre spoofs (the dystopian ordeal is far and away the best segment), but it will be interesting to see if students not yet through high school can relate to Josie needing to walk away from those years and move on. I hope so! I want more Hale YA books.

Fantasy (Realistic)          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 – Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas; Twinchantment; A Talent for Trouble; Mean; The Friendship Lie

Lashner, William. Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas. Disney/Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-04128-7. 310 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

If Elizabeth Webster was unprepared when middle school celebrity Henry Harrison asked her to tutor him in math, she was thoroughly speechless when she discovers he really needs help dealing with a headless ghost who appears in his bedroom. Angry teenage spirit Beatrice Long has requested Lizzie’s help, telling her, “Save me, save him”. While Lizzie wants no part of exorcising Beatrice, she guesses her long absent father is somehow involved, and sets out to find him. When she learns he works for the law firm Webster & Son, Attorneys for the Damned, awkward pieces begin to fall into place. But with her father missing, Lizzie is on her own to placate Beatrice, solve the mystery of her death (and find her head), as well as rescue her father. And, apparently, take her place as a litigator before the Court of Uncommon Pleas. Lucky for Lizzie, she has the support of her best friend, Natalie, and her long despised stepfather (maybe she was wrong about him?), as well as several new friends who enthusiastically help her polish her litigation skills. How did Lizzie go from fly-under-the-radar middle schooler to Elizabeth Webster, barrister, facing down the fallen angel Abezethibou? Part mystery, part ghost story, and totally fun, Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas touches on family relationships as well as being willing to trust and to extend yourself.

THOUGHTS: Hand this rollicking good time to readers looking for a humorous book, as well as those who enjoy a light mystery or a spooky book.

Realistic Fantasy (Paranormal)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Allen, Elise. Twinchantment. Roaring Brook, 2019. 978-1-534-13288-7. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Being a princess means you can do whatever you want, and everyone has to listen to you, right? Normally in stories this is true, but for Flisarra her very existence is technically illegal. You see, the princess known as Flisarah is actually twins Sarah and Flissa, and in their kingdom being a twin is illegal as is anything else seen as magical. A long time ago magic was common and used everywhere. When one Mange tried to use dark magic to take over the kingdom, rules were created and only chosen mange are allowed magic for the protection of the kingdom. Flissa and Sarah must be very careful and never be seen together. That all changes when their mother is sick, and they believe it is because of a curse. The princesses now must sneak across their kingdom and enter the magical realm to bring back the very mange who tried to take over the kingdom. As they travel they discover life and what they have been taught may not always be what it seems.

THOUGHTS: This book would be great for students who like the fantasy genre and books like Harry Potter. The way the girls work together and build friendships throughout the book makes it a great middle grades read.

 Fantasy          Arryn Cumpston Crawford Central SD


Farrant, Natasha. A Talent for Trouble. Clarion, 2019 (US Edition).  978-1-328-58078-8. 258 p. $16.99. Gr. 5-7.

Alice Mistlethwaite has been sent off to Stormy Loch, a boarding school in Scotland, by her Aunt Patience and her father, Barney. Aunt Patience hopes that this will be a new start for the whole family who is grieving over the death of Alice’s mother. Naturally a shy child who loves to write fantasy stories, Alice is apprehensive and lonely, and despite evidence to the contrary, she is devoted to her father. On the train ride to school she meets Jesse, another lonely child who feels lost and is worried about living up to the reputation of his older brothers. Then there is Fergus Mackenzie, who is very bright, plays mean pranks, and doesn’t know how to focus his gifts. Major Fortescue, the headmaster is reminiscent of Dumbledore. Seemingly formidable he, as the reader will discover, knows just how to get his charges on the right path to self-understanding. The three students are assigned team for the Year Sevens’ orienteering challenge in the hills of Scotland. This leads to perilous adventures through the rough terrain. Not only must they survive the trek, but they also escape some villainous characters who are after Alice because of her father.

THOUGHTS: The unidentified narrator really involves the reader and draws us into the story. The ending is not what most would expect – a grand reunion of father and daughter. It is so very difficult to realize that your parent is not the hero and that you have misplaced trust in your dead-beat dad. Life’s lesson can be hard, but Alice is much stronger as are the others.

Realistic Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Sayre, Justin. Mean. Penguin Workshop, 2019. 978-1-524-78795-0. 232 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8. 

Set in the same world as his other novels, Husky and Pretty, Justin Sayre delivers a poignant look at what it means to find yourself when you don’t know where to start. Ellen was once told she gets one adjective to describe herself when she gets to high school, and it turns out she’s mean. She doesn’t try to be; she just has trouble holding back her opinions because why should she have to? Together with best friends Ducks and Sophie, Ellen experiences regular school and, on her own, Hebrew school while preparing for her bat mitzvah. At school, everything is changing. Girls are starting to become boy crazy and change who they are. At Hebrew school, is she starting to become boy crazy herself? And what does that mean? Does she now have to change who she is? Throughout the novel Ellen navigates life’s ups and downs with friends and family all while trying to answer the one essential question: on the day she becomes a woman, what kind of woman does she want to be?

THOUGHTS: Mean was a charming read about what it takes to grow into who you are meant to be and the people who help you along the way.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Donnelly, Rebecca. The Friendship Lie. Capstone Editions, 2019. 978-1-684-46061-8. 267 p. $15.95. Grades 4-6.

Cora Davis’s parents know all about garbage, literally. They study where garbage goes after we toss it, and Cora has spent many an afternoon digging through garbage and sorting it. Lately, Cora feels like her life has been thrown in the trash when she and her best friend Sybella stop talking. 5th grade is not turning out the way that Cora wanted it to be. Woven throughout the book are also diary excerpts from a diary of a girl named Penny Ellen Chambord. The diary plays a large part in the friendship between the two girls and causes them to be able to see things from the other person’s perspective. There is also a family element, as Cora’s parents are separated, and that is causing tension in the family. Cora is a twin, and the relationship she has with her brother, who is the complete opposite of her, plays a rather large role. While Cora’s friendship is falling apart, her parents’ marriage is falling apart. Her mother is away for most of the book, and Cora ‘calls’ her and leaves her voicemails, which are a great insight into how Cora is feeling, both about her parents’ relationship as well as her former friendship with Sybella.

THOUGHTS: There is a major focus on garbage and the science of garbage, so that might turn some readers off. However, at the heart of the book is a sweet story about two friends who have to work at their friendship and learn that friendships change and grow. Overall, I think this book is a great representation of what it’s like for girls and boys to deal with friendships.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy

MG – The Poison Eaters; A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying; Lalani of the Distant Sea; Midsummer’s Mayhem

Jarrow, Gail. The Poison Eaters: Fighting Danger and Fraud in Our Food and Drugs. Calkins Creek, 2019. 978-1-629-79438-9. 157 p. $18.99. Grades 5-12 (and up).

When people moved to cities and towns and no longer grew and prepared their own foods, new industries helped supply their needs. The concern for what you put in your mouth has been around for a long time. Reading this book is educational and a bit horrifying. Did you know that before 1900 some canned and commercially prepared foods contained such “preservatives” as borax, copper sulfate, and formaldehyde? And what was in your tasty sausage – meat scraps swept off the factory floor and worse! Then there was the use of cocaine in tooth drops for teething babies (No wonder they slept so well!). The Poison Eaters tracks the “pure food” movement from the 1880’s to present day. It follows the career of Harvey Washington Wiley, born in 1844, who passionately campaigned for laws that would regulate how food and, later, medicines are prepared and sold. This was not an easy task with big business and politics blocking the way. Surprising allies including Colliers Weekly and the Ladies’ Home Journal as well as women’s clubs helped educate the public. Still the pure food and drug law did not pass until 1906, and that law almost immediately needed more stringent standards. It took tragedy to get tighter regulations. The Food and Drug Administration still has controversies in its methods, but at least it has been able to get stiffer regulations for food processing and protect the public from dangerous drugs such as thalidomide. The fight for good food continues.

THOUGHTS: Gail Jarrow grabs the reader’s attention. She makes the story readable with her biographical treatment of a Harvey Wiley and others. The book is not just historical but has relevance to today’s readers. The author has provided the reader with well researched facts and back matter that can lead to further investigation, including websites and an extensive bibliography.

344.73; Federal Drug Administration; Food law and legislation          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Armstrong, Kelley. A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying. Puffin, 2019. 978-0-735-26535-6. 268p. $16.99. Grades 5-9.

In the kingdom of Tamarel, twelve-year-old Rowan will be the queen. Her twin brother, Rhydd, will be trained as the Royal Monster Hunter. Rowan wishes that their roles were reversed, but she is the older twin.  When disaster happens and Rhydd is badly hurt and their aunt is killed by a gryphon, the most deadly of monsters, her wish comes true. There are politics involved with this change. The scheming Herward makes a challenge, saying that his children should be the heirs. A compromise is reached, but Rowan must seek training immediately from the famous Wilmot. Her trip to his home is filled with encounters that will keep the readers on the edge of their seats. She and her companions face kidnappers; ambushes; and monsters of all sorts including giant spiders, warakins, manticores, and the gryphon. The descriptions of these encounters are very vivid. These trials test Rowan’s abilities and readers will admire her ability to think things through. Rowan knows what it is to be a leader, even at a young age. When Rowan and her companions return with the gryphon, not all is resolved.  This is a good first book in the series, satisfying readers but hinting at more adventure. Rowan’s Monsters: A Field Guide at the end of the book is very helpful.

THOUGHTS: Rowan is level headed as is her mother who now is queen. She looks at things scientifically and often has to dispel the superstitions that abound with monsters. Rowan expresses a respect for individuals, both human and monster. Often she revises her plans to take feelings into account. Armstrong has created an interesting fantasy world. I hope as the series continues that the readers will get to know more about its inhabitants, both human and monster. The next book in the series, The Gryphon’s Lair is will be published in June 2020.

Fantasy, Adventure, Mythological creatures          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Kelly, Erin Entrada. Lalani of the Distant Sea. Greenwillow Books, 2019. 978-0-062-74727-3. 400 p.  $16.99.  Grades 3-7.

“There are stories of extraordinary children who are chosen from birth to complete great quests . . . . This is no such story.  Sometimes, you are an ordinary child. Sometimes, you choose yourself.” So begins Newbery-winning author Erin Entrada Kelly’s latest tour de force, Lalani of the Distant Sea, an intricately crafted magical tale inspired by Filipino folklore. The people of Sanlagita, a mythical island cursed by drought, pin their hopes for redemption on the nearby island of Isa. Tragically, every sailor who has attempted the journey, including Lalani’s father, has drowned before reaching its shores. The Sanlagitans are sure evil lurks in the waters, but what can they do but keep sending their finest in hopes that someone will eventually prevail? On an island of poverty-stricken people with little power to change their circumstances, Lalani is among the poorest and least powerful. Not only is her father dead, but her mother is dying, and the only possible cure is rumored to be available on Isa. Out of desperation and guilt as much as boldness and bravery, Leilani determines to set sail herself. Most of the book is told from a close third-person perspective. We get not only Lalani’s viewpoint, but also that of several important secondary characters. However, some chapters are told in the unusual second-person perspective, allowing readers to put themselves directly in the shoes (or, more aptly, fins, paws, or claws) of various magical creatures.

THOUGHTS:  A gorgeously written fantasy from an #ownvoices author. Lalani is an absolutely delightful heroine, a child who would rather be ordinary but is driven to take extraordinary measures to advocate for herself, her family, and her people. Kelly’s use of point of view is brilliant; it adds to the richness and complexity of the text and yet is never confusing for the reader (a difficult trick to pull off). Highly recommended for elementary and middle school libraries.

Fantasy Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland SD


LaRocca, Rajani. Midsummer’s Mayhem. Yellow Jacket, 2019. 978-1-499-80888-9 352 p. $16.99  Grades 4-8.

Shakespeare meets the Iron Chef in this madcap midsummer’s night mash-up by debut author Rajani LaRocca. 11-year-old Mimi, the daughter of an Indian-American mother and a white father, has three talented older siblings who are often in the spotlight, leaving Mimi—nicknamed “Mimi Mouse”–feeling small and unimportant. When the town’s new bakery announces a contest sponsored by a television cooking show celebrity, Mimi, who loves experimenting in the kitchen, decides her chance to shine has arrived. But the bakery’s owner is a woman shrouded in mystery, and Mimi soon realizes that some of the confections sold in her shop have an odd impact on the customers who consume them. Mimi’s attempt to reverse the enchantments affecting her father, siblings, and their friends, while simultaneously creating a winning recipe, makes for a unique, fast-paced read.   

THOUGHTS: There is a lot going on in this novel. The many threads connecting plot, characters, setting, and theme do occasionally get tangled. But it’s also a lot of fun, and older elementary and middle school students with an interest in drama, Indian mythology, or baking will eat this up.   

Fantasy Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD