Elem. – Jeanie & Genie: The First Wish

Granted, Trish. Jeanie & Genie: The First Wish. Little Simon. 2021. 978-1-5344-7466-6. $17.99. Grades K-4.

Jeanie Bell likes things to be simple, logical, and easy to understand. It makes life, after all, simple, logical, and easy to understand! All is well until there is a new girl at school, Willow Davis, who is the exact opposite of those things! Willow, while nice, is more free-spirited and creative while Jeanie likes to follow the rules. The girls become unlikely friends, which only becomes more amazing when Jeanie finds out that Willow is a genie and can grant wishes! Willow hopes to become an amazing genie and does not wish to lose her powers, so she is training to be the best genie she can be! Can these girls have a magical friendship or is this secret too big to hold onto?

THOUGHTS: A delightful beginning to a fun reading series. For readers who may want to start a fantasy novel, but may not be sure how to, this is a nice beginner book with fantasy-elements!

Fantasy          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Bark Park: Scouting for Clues

Dougherty, Brandi. Bark Park: Scouting for Clues. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2021. 978-1-524-86474-3. $6.99. Grades K-2.

Bark Park: Scouting for Clues is the second book in the Epic! Originals Bark Park series! Scouting for Clues contains new adventures for Scout and his friends in the dog park. First, his blueberries go missing! Scout remembers where he left his blueberries and cannot believe that they are all gone! Scout will have to retrace his steps to figure out where his blueberries have gone. As the book continues, Scout continues to face new adventures, solve new problems, and make new friends along the way!

THOUGHTS: A great story to add to any beginning reader’s/animal lover’s bookshelf! This book contains colorful illustrations with easy to read text that will delight young readers.

Adventure          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Uncharted: Stories of Survival (Series NF)

McGregor, Harriet. Uncharted: Stories of Survival. Bearport, 2021. $19.95 ea. $119.70 set of 6. 24 p. Grades 2-5. 

Blown Away by a Blizzard! 978-1-64747-030-2.
Destroyed by a Hurricane! 978-1-64747-031-9.
Flattened by an Earthquake! 978-1-64747-032-6.
H
eat Wave Horror! 978-1-64747-033-3.
Lightning Strike Survivor! 978-1-64747-034-0.
Tornado Terror! 978-1-64747-031-9.

These action packed graphic novel stories recount various true stories of individuals who had to survive natural disasters. This reviewer had the opportunity to review Blown Away by a Blizzard!, which recounted the story of Randy Kraxberger, a skier who was trapped in the wilderness of Olympic National Park during a blizzard. Kraxberger had to build a snow cave to survive overnight during the blizzard and stay alert with exercise sessions to ward off hypothermia. Thankfully, in the morning he was rescued by park rangers. At the conclusion of the story, a two-page informational spread (not in graphic novel format) defined a blizzard and explained the science behind how blizzards form. Safety tips were also presented.

THOUGHTS: This action-packed, non-fiction graphic novel series is sure to be a hit. Readers will be kept on the edge of their seats as they wait to see how the individual will survive their situation. A worthwhile purchase for elementary libraries looking to expand their non-fiction graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD
363 Survival Stories

YA – Down Comes the Night

Saft, Allison. Down Comes the Night. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-62363-8. $18.99. 400 p. Grades 9-12.

Wren Southerland is a healer in the queen’s guard, but when she disobeys orders to heal a young man, she’s dismissed from the guard by her aunt, Queen Isabel. This also separates her from the best friend she’s in love with: Una. As a captain of the queen’s guard and Wren’s superior, Una cannot understand why Wren disobeyed orders, and returns to her post in the guard without her. When Wren receives a letter from Lord Lowry asking her to come to his home, Colwick Hall, to heal one of his servants of a mysterious illness, she decides to accept the position rather than head to the mines as the queen commanded. With the hope that this decision will get her back in the good graces of the queen, she travels to Colwick Hall only to discover that the ill servant is actually Hal Cavendish, the enemy of her kingdom. Known as the reaper, Hal has taken many lives, but like Wren, he’s at Colwick Hall looking for redemption, and together, they discover they may be able to stop the war and save both of their kingdoms from destruction.

THOUGHTS: Down Comes the Night is perfect for readers looking for a standalone fantasy. Saft’s tale is also a dark, gothic romance. Wren is grieving the loss of one relationship while discovering another, and even though Wren possesses the power to heal through magic, readers will still be able to connect with her as she struggles to please her aunt while staying true to herself as she discovers her place in the world.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – Amber & Clay

Schlitz, Laura Amy. Amber & Clay. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-536-20122-2. 532 p. $22.99. Grades 5-9.

Told in the alternating voices of Rhaskos and Melisto, this book transports readers to the richness of life in Ancient Greece. Rhaskos is a Thracian slave, serving his masters and making his way through the world with his wits, his passion for art, and his camaraderie with donkeys. Melisto is the daughter of wealthy Greek parents who, try as they might, cannot stifle her wild spirit within the confines of a weaving room. They lead incredibly different lives, but their paths cross when Rhasko’s mother appears in Melisto’s house as a slave. Brightly drawn and multi-dimensional, these two Greek youths are easy to like, even if they are not always easy to understand, and readers will cheer for them when they finally meet and work together to fulfill their destinies.

THOUGHTS: This is the latest offering from Newbery-prize-winning author Laura Amy Schlitz, and it does not disappoint with its lyrical prose and abundant historical details. Full of ancient Greek culture, references to gods, goddesses, and the philosopher Socrates himself, fans of Greek mythology will be happy to immerse themselves in the time and place of this story.

Fantasy Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – City of the Plague God

Chadda, Sarwat. City of the Plague God. Disney-Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-05150-7. 400 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7. 

Sik, a thirteen-year-old Iraqi-American, lives with his mother and father in New York City, running a family deli specializing in middle-eastern food. He and his parents mourn his older brother, Mo, who was killed while traveling in Iraq. Alone in the deli one night, Sik encounters two scary guys in the back alley, eating rats and talking in rhyming couplets. Then Sik meets their boss, an insect infested, maggot producing 10-foot monster who proceeds to demolish the deli looking for something he says Mo stole from Iraq. If that wasn’t weird enough, Sik is saved by a pint-sized ninja, who turns out to be Belet, the new girl in his class at school. And if THAT isn’t weird enough, Belet is the daughter of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. Ishtar explains to Sik that his nighttime visitor was Nergal, the Mesopotamian god of war and plague, and New York City has just become an immortal battle zone. Another entry from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint introduces middle grade readers to really ancient mythology – stories from the Fertile Crescent. The original super hero, Gilgamesh, appears in the story, having renounced his former violent ways. This story is not for the faint of heart. Bugs, blood, and bile dominate in this action-packed adventure. Characters come back from the dead, and Sik must visit the underworld in his pursuit of Mo’s mysterious treasure. Learning about Sumaria was never so much fun! Sik is a charming character who cares deeply about his family, and resents his brother for dying, while Belet desperately wants a family like the one Sik treasures.

THOUGHTS: Those students who may have previously eschewed the RRP family of books will be drawn in by the delightful grossness of this story. Readers may not run for a translation of Gilgamesh, but they will undoubtedly be more receptive to learning about Mesopotamia in history class.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Ali Cross Like Father, Like Son

Patterson, James. Ali Cross Like Father, Like Son. Little, Brown, 2021. 978-0-316-50013-5. 294 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Ali Cross, son of Patterson’s famous literary detective, Alex Cross, is back in the second book of the series. Ali loves his father’s work, and when his friends are in trouble, he jumps into the situation, determined to use his own talents to solve the problem. Ali and his best friends are at a local D.C. music festival, waiting to see their friend Zoe’s mom perform, when gunshots ring out. Ali races to see if Zoe is OK. He eventually finds her in the backstage maze of semi trucks, RVs and trailers, only to realize she has been shot. Ali rallies his investigative team to discover what happened, but they run into a roadblock in Zoe, who seems determined to keep Ali from finding out the truth. Ali Cross is a delightful upper middle grade and middle school series. Ali is one of the most realistic characters in tween detective fiction. He lies to his Nana Mama and gets in trouble (then lies again). He feels guilty, he makes mistakes, and he loves his family. The plot embraces current issues such as homelessness, police violence, and the proliferation of black shooting victims, balanced with Ali’s personal experience with police work. Ali and Zoe are Black, and other friends are diverse.

THOUGHTS: A well-crafted story from a master storyteller. Patterson is the king of pacing, and the story will keep even reluctant readers engaged. Topical issues add some depth to the book. Mystery fans should enjoy the series, which will lead them to Alex Cross books when they’re older.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – The Memory Thief

Anderson, Jodi Lynn. The Memory Thief. Thirteen Witches Book 1. Aladdin, 2021. 978-1-481-48021-5. 325 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Rosie finds great comfort in writing fantasy stories with happy endings, to compensate for her less-than-perfect life with a mother who cannot remember she has a daughter. But when Rosie’s best friend, Gemma, suggests the girls are getting too old for stories, Rosie, shocked and hurt, burns her writings. Later that night, the ghosts come. When a young boy ghost realizes Rosie and Gemma can see them, he takes it up himself to educate Rosie of her family’s heritage. Armed with The Witch-Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, Rosie learns of the existence of 13 witches, who steal the good from inside of people. Her mother, the last known witch hunter, was cursed by the Memory Thief. Now that Rosie has triggered her own sight, the witches will be aware of her existence and will come for her. Anderson, author of the ethereal Midnight at the Electric, creates an equally luminous fantasy for middle grade readers. The main characters are fully nuanced, and the evolution of friendship is a major theme in the story. The layering of the magical world over the ordinary world is an element sure to pull in readers, as they cheer for Rosie and Gemma to succeed in holding off the darkness. This is the first book of the series, and the ending will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next volume. The main characters are presumed white.

THOUGHTS: This is a top-notch fantasy with three dimensional characters to whom readers can relate. There should be a wide audience for the book, beyond fantasy readers.

Fantasy (Magical Realism)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Realm Breaker

Aveyard, Victoria. Realm Breaker. Harper Teen, 2021. 978-0-062-87262-3. 563 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Aveyard returns with a lush new fantasy series that feels like a cross between King Arthur and Game of Thrones. A new player has come to the Ward, a man with the power to open Spindles, portals between realms. Spindles have not been opened for generations, not since the Immortals traveled into the Ward and found themselves stranded, unable to return to their home. But now Taristan has stolen the sword to create spindles, and begun releasing monsters and undead creatures into the world. Those knights who survived the initial battle between good and evil realize what Taristan is unleashing, yet few rulers care to believe them. The Immortal Domacridhan knows what it will take to stop Taristan – an individual with Corblood, and a Spindlesword – and he sets out to locate 17-year-old Corayne, an illegitimate daughter of the Cor lineage, who yearns for adventures her pirate mother refuses to grant her. The group gradually enlarges to seven unique characters, including a squire who lost his Lord at the first battle; a forger; a bounty hunter; a witch; and Sorasa, an assassin who steals the story. With no support from the monarchs of the Ward, the ragtag group proceeds to try to close the spindles before their world is set ablaze. This first book in the series has a great deal of scene setting to accomplish, and Aveyard evokes a fascinating world of exotic lands and characters of all ethnicities and skin tones. A detailed map on the endpapers assists readers in keeping track of the sprawling territory, and at times the proliferation of characters, locales, and realms can be overwhelming, but the story is gripping and delightfully satisfying. While Corayne seems to be set up as the main character, the story rotates between all the voices, and each character is a well-developed personality: Andry, the 17-year-old squire has nobility ingrained in him, but slowly develops the ruthlessness needed to survive their quest; Dom, the Immortal, does not quite understand mortals; and Sorasa, the female assassin, just might have a heart under her tough persona. There is no shortage of action, battles, monsters, daring escapes, and breathtaking betrayals.

THOUGHTS: Fantasy lovers should flock to this new series and be waiting on the edge of their seats for the sequel.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Corayne an-Amarat is the daughter of a pirate, but she hasn’t had any adventures of her own. When she discovers that she’s the last of an ancient line, her world is changed forever. Corayne begins a journey along with Domacridhan of Iona, an immortal sworn to protect her, the assassin Sorasa Sarn, squire Andry Trelland, the forger Charlon Armont, bounty hunter Sigil of the Temurijon, and a witch named Valtik. Together, this fellowship sets out to stop Erida of Galland, the queen who chose to ally with villainous Taristan of Old Cor from using spindle magic to tear a rip between worlds, and save the Allward realm from their destruction.

THOUGHTS: This book reminds me of Game of Thrones but for a YA audience. The story is told through the perspective of a large cast of characters. Some of the characters are good and set out to defend their world while others, hungry for power, make questionable decisions that will determine the course of the future. Within the fantastical world of Realm Breaker, readers will experience action, adventure, and ancient magic along with pirates, assassins, and monsters. This also would be a great book recommendation for readers who aren’t looking for a strong love story, and it’s perfect for any fan of the high fantasy genre.

Fantasy           Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – Ninja Kid: From Nerd to Ninja

Do, Anh. Ninja Kid: From Nerd to Ninja!  Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-58523-0. $6.99. 192 p. Grades 2-5.

This illustrated novel for younger readers tells the story of Nelson, a nerd from Duck Creek. Nelson wakes up on his tenth birthday and discovers that he’s a ninja! The last ninja on earth! With the help of his grandmother’s inventions, Nelson finds a way to save the day from giant hairy spiders invading his town. He even learns of family secrets about his father’s ninja past and disappearance. This is the first book in a new series.

THOUGHTS: This illustrated novel is action packed and will appeal to reluctant readers. The humor and common theme of not fitting in will resonate.

Early Chapter Book          Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School