MG – Two Degrees

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

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

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

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Sprinkles and Swirls

Schaefer, Lola M. Sprinkles and Swirls. Little Simon, 2022. $17.99 ea. Unpaged. Grades PreK-1. 

A Cool Day at the Pool. 978-1-665-90332-5.
Oh, What a Show! 978-1-665-91795-7.

Adventurous best friends (and cupcakes) Sprinkles and Swirls have returned in two new graphic novels. In A Cool Day at the Pool, the pair enjoy a fun day out at the pool, where they enjoy swimming, floating in inner tubes and going down the water slide. After swimming, they relax on the beach towels in the sun, but their sweetness soon attracts some ants! They take a break and travel to the nearby Spray-Ground to enjoy the water there before returning to the pool to wrap up the day on the diving board. In Oh, What  a Show!, Swirls wants to sign up for the talent show, but Sprinkles protests she has no talent. Sprinkles tries out some of the talent the other participants are planning to do–gymnastics, juggling, and biking, but she is unable to master any of them. The pair decide to help the ants in building the talent show stage, but an accident with a hammer leaves Sprinkles bleeding (and the sight of blood makes Swirls a little woozy). Despite Swirls’ encouragement, Sprinkles just can’t seem to discover her talent, and she gets increasingly upset. Swirls needs some help in practicing for her dance routine, so Sprinkles agrees to help out…and she discovers her talent–dancing! They decide to team up and enter the contest, where they are a big hit!

THOUGHTS: This enjoyable series is a great way to introduce young readers to the concept of graphic novels. In fact, the book starts with a few panels in which Sprinkles and Swirls explain to readers how to read the graphic novel format. The panels and text are large and use simple text, ideal for young readers. Both books emphasize the importance of friendship, being a supportive friend, and working as a team. A worthwhile purchase for schools serving younger elementary students looking to add to their graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – The Daredevils

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

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

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

Realistic Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

Elem. – Hiking to the Top:  What’s Happening on the Mountain

Varnai, Elizabeth S. Illustrated by Kate Hartley. Hiking to the Top: What’s Happening on the Mountain. Vista Court Books, 2022. 978-0-962-84224-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PK-3.

Young readers explore and discover with a mother and son as they hike to the top of Lookout Mountain in Hiking to the Top: What’s Happening on the Mountain? by the author of Good Morning, Loon. Hiking challenges, such as climbing rocks and balancing on fallen trees, and common animal discoveries such as water striders and fawns are detailed in the text and illustrations. Camouflaged animals also are highlighted on many pages with names and thought bubbles. Throughout, the author and illustrator depict a sense of joy and discovery in being outdoors and spending time together while also sharing basic hiking information and nature facts. Back matter expands on the text for older readers, including information on hiking safety as well as natural history information on each of the animals in the book and additional sources of information.  

THOUGHTS: This book will appeal to both animal lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike and provides a strong introduction to outdoor adventures for classrooms embarking or expanding on an outdoor or nature center field trip. Kate Hartley’s realistic watercolor illustrations immerse readers in the book’s setting and entice readers to step beyond the page into their own adventure. In addition, the detailed back matter provides a launch point for research. A strong option for populations with access to outdoor adventure.  

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

YA – Rise of the Snake Goddess

Elder Moke, Jenny. Rise of the Snake Goddess (Samantha Knox #2). Disney-Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-06727-0. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 7 & up.

Desperate to be a part of the prestigious archaeology program at the University of Chicago, Sam Knox embarks on an impulsive trip to the island of Crete. The clues she deciphers lead her to the legendary girdle of the Snake Goddess. Triumphant with her find, Sam plans to use this find as proof she deserves to be admitted to what has always been a “boys club.” However, before she can show her misogynist professor her find, the girdle is stolen and a series of catastrophic earthquakes suddenly begin to hit the island. Sam and friends Joana and Bennet Steeling must find the thief and return the girdle to its rightful place before the magic of the Snake Goddess is fully released upon the island and the world. As the chase brings them deeper into Cretian and Minoan mythology, deadly encounters with legendary creatures abound, including the infamous Minotaur.

THOUGHTS: This is a fantastic follow up to the first Samantha Knox title, Curse of the Specter Queen. Readers will enjoy the friendships, light romance, and adventures that mark popular YA fiction. A quickly-paced novel paying homage to Indiana Jones and The Mummy movie series, Snake Goddess takes readers through the legends of Knossos and Crete while infusing the story with a touch of magic. Knox herself is tempted by the magic of the Snake Goddess, but the story takes readers on an adventure through archaeological digs, swanky boat parties, and the legendary labyrinth.

Adventure          Natasha Lewis, Whitehall-Coplay SD
Historical Fiction
Fantasy

MG – Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting

Brown, Roseanne A. Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting. Disney Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-06636-5.  400pg. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Serwa knows that fireflies aren’t just harmless bugs; in her world they are vicious vampires known as adza that come from southeastern Ghana. Serwa and her family are slayers, and they are responsible for protecting the public from these creatures. When her parents get called on a special mission, Serwa knows this is her chance to shine but her parents have other plans and leave her with an aunt and cousin to keep her safe. Serwa now has to navigate the most difficult thing she’s ever had to deal with before… middle school! As things are settling down and Serwa is finding her footing, an adza attacks her school and it is up to her to figure out what is going on and protect the school and community. 

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing addition to the Rick Riordan presents books! This book is highly engaging, fast paced, and has wonderful character development throughout the pages. The ending will leave the reader wanting the next book in the series right away. This book is highly recommended for middle school collections. 

Fantasy             Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – The Lost Ryu

Cohen, Emi Watanabe. The Lost Ryu. Levine Querido, 2022. 978-1-646-14132-6. 200 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

This book explores an alternate history full of magical realism where dragons or “ryu” are real; some big ryu even helped Japan fight in WWII, but now most big dragons have disappeared. Even though they both care for small family dragons as pets and companions, Kohei and his new friend Isolde want to try to find a “big” dragon and bring back the majestic creatures who were lost after the war. Kohei is also trying to discover more about the father who passed away when he was three and reconnect with his mother and grandfather, who both seem stuck in the past. Will Kohei and Isodle ever discover where the big ryu have gone, and will that discovery help to heal all the terrible scars the war has left on the world?

THOUGHTS: Students who like historical fiction and fantasy will like this imaginative take on friendship, family, and Japanese dragon mythology. Kohei is Japanese, Isolde is Japanese-Jewish, and the story uses their mutual love of dragons to help them deal with the complicated history of Japan, World War II, and the Holocaust. The relationships in this book also show the struggles of children who cope with the trauma suffered by their parents and contain hopeful messages about learning how to move forward after tragedies have happened within a family.

Historical Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl

Kagawa, Julie. Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl. Disney-Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-06819-2. Grades 4-7.

Shinji, a 13-year-old orphan, is being raised by his globe-trotting Aunt Yui, who is constantly searching for unique artisan products for her store, Lost River Outfitters. While aimlessly wandering a marketplace in a corner of Africa along the Zambezi River, he comes across an unusual, snake-like statue that calls to him. Literally. Shinji no sooner takes possession of the Coatl idol when trouble starts. Armed men attempt to force the Mezoamerican figurine from Shinji, eventually kidnapping the boy and taking him to the headquarters of the Hightower Corporation. There, Shinji makes an ally in Lucy, a computer prodigy his own age and they begin to unravel the mystery of the Coatl, which has turned into a tattoo on Shinji’s arm. They plot their escape and form an alliance with the mysterious Society of Adventurers and Explorers to complete the mission of the Coatl before it drains Shinji’s life away. This action-packed middle grade adventure holds its own in the increasingly crowded field of mythology-based series. Shinji is a relatable character, who wise-cracks at the wrong time and frequently allows his frustration to get the better of him. Lucy provides a cool foil to Shinji, with secrets of her own that propel the story forward. Kagawa deftly spreads suspicion among all the adults, leaving Shinji and the reader not sure who to trust, keeping up the suspense until the end of the book. While the story does have a Disney tie-in, it is minimally invasive. The characters are widely diverse, with Shinji being Asian; Lucy white; and the members of the Society of Adventurers and Explorers cueing as Black, Indian and white, and include a wheelchair Explorer who flies drones.

THOUGHTS: If you don’t object to the minor Disney plug woven into the story, this is a solid choice for a magic-based action/adventure story. Not as heavily immersed in mythology as Percy Jackson, it should entertain readers just looking for a fun story that is hard to put down. Sequels would seem to be forthcoming.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem./MG – Skandar and the Unicorn Thief

Steadman, A. F. Skandar and the Unicorn Thief. Simon and Schuster,  2022. 978-1-665-91500-7. 448 p. $18.99. Grades 4-7.

If you are like most people, you think of unicorns as beautiful, sparkly creatures, possibly with rainbow poop. Skandar knows the truth: unicorns are nasty, carnivorous creatures who would sooner eat you than warmly nuzzle you. Yet Skandar, like all his 13-year-old friends, is anxiously awaiting exam day, the day when Mainlander students find out who will be chosen to go to the Island where the unicorns live, bond with a newly hatched unicorn and become a revered unicorn rider. To Skandar’s horror, everything seems to fall apart the morning of the exam. Yet, that night, a mysterious rider appears at his home, whisking him off to the island under a cloak of secrecy. Skandar successfully hatches a unicorn, begins training, and makes three close friends, but Skandar carries a secret burden he fears will get him exiled from the community. This thrilling, action-packed adventure takes elements of Harry Potter and Star Wars and creates an unforgettable start to a new series. The boarding school setting (the coolest boarding school ever – set in tree houses) provides opportunity for friendship building, as well as the requisite bully to threaten the peace. There is an evil haunting the Island that only Skandar can confront. And then there are the unicorns. Steadman shines with the world building of the unicorns. They are way cooler than traditional unicorns. Scary, dangerous, and potentially evil, but definitely worth the risk. The rider-unicorn bond is to be envied. The conclusion of the book definitely signals sequels. Skandar cues white, but his close friends include brown-skinned Mitchell and Bobby with a Spanish mother. Incidental students are a variety of ethnicities. 

THOUGHTS: This unique fantasy should fly off the shelves. For students too young to read Diana Peterfrund’s Killer Unicorn series, Skandar will be a delightful introduction to less-cutesy creatures. This can’t-put-down epic should be a first purchase where fantasy books are popular. 

Fantasy        Nancy Nadig  Penn Manor SD

Elem./MG – Mapmakers and the Lost Magic

Chittock, Cameron. Illustrated by Amanda Castillo. Mapmakers and the Lost Magic. RH Graphics, 2022. 978-0-593-17286-5. Unpaged  $12.99. Grades 3-6.

Mapmakers and the Lost Magic  is a debut graphic novel by Cameron Chittock and Amanda Castillo and is intended to be the first in a series of books that follow the main character, Alidade, and her adventures. Alidade constantly pushes the boundaries of what is expected in her community, Alden–which is ruled by the Night Coats–and inevitably lands herself and her best friend, Lewis, in trouble. In the course of her forbidden explorations of the territory surrounding Alden, Alidade discovers a secret entrance to the Valley Lodge, which belonged to the Mapmakers, once the peacekeepers of the valley that Alidade and Lewis call home. Though the Mapmakers are long gone, Alidade finds a hidden map in the lodge and releases Blue, a Memri brought to life by the Mapmakers for the purpose of supporting all life in the valley in their quest to live peacefully and in harmony with their surroundings. All is not peaceful, however, and Alidade’s curiosity and resentment of the Night Coats’ rule leads to her pursuit of becoming a Mapmaker herself under Blue’s tutelage as well as increased insight into the Night Coat’s control of Alden.

THOUGHTS: The Mapmakers’ use of maps to advance its fantasy storyline is unique and well-developed. The book contains subtle environmental messages and lessons about friendship and teamwork that are nearly seamlessly woven into the story, and Amanda Castillo’s illustrations will be accessible both to readers who love the simplicity of the Babysitters Club graphics and those who are attached to more detailed fantasy in graphics. Back matter includes a nature journal entry from Alidade documenting her world; activities, such as crafts and recipes that connect to the story; information on the creation of the graphic novel; and notes from the author and illustrator. There is much here for the reader who is curious about the creation of a graphic novel and the writing process. I think this book will appeal to many of our readers and fly off the shelves. Highly recommended.

Graphic Novel          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD
Fantasy