MG – The True Definition of Neva Beane

Kendall, Christine. The True Definition of Neva Beane. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-32489-1. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

While Neva Beane’s parents are on a summer singing tour abroad, she and her sixteen-year-old brother, Clay, are staying with their grandparents in West Philadelphia. The new girl across the street, Michelle Overton, is only a year older than Neva, but Michelle’s full figure and bikini outfits has Neva feeling inexperienced and babyish. In addition, Clay is preoccupied with the community organizing Michelle’s father is spearheading, and Neva’s best friend Jamila is busy preparing for her family vacation in Ghana. It’s a hot time in the city this summer, though. People are protesting unfair practices in housing and wages.  Against his grandparents’ orders, Clay is surreptitiously leading the youth branch of the protests. Although they were activists when they were younger, Nana and Grandpa now believe their duty is to protect their grandchildren which means keeping them away from the protests. Neva feels left out, but so does her grandmother—especially when her grandson forges her signature on the permission slip for a protest. Twelve-years-old and on the cusp of being a teen, Neva grapples with many conflicting feelings: she’s intimidated by Michelle but admires her, too; she values her friendship with Jamila, but they seem out of step; she’s homesick for her parents but doesn’t want her selfishness to stop their success; she’s wants to support the good cause but is anxious about protesting. Christine Kendall has produced a middle grade novel that recreates a Black American neighborhood against the backdrop of a tumultuous summer. Not only is the appealing character of Neva well-developed and identifiable to other readers her age, but the other characters are equally as genuine. Neva’s fascination with words is an added bonus to the book. This page-turning book will be a favorite and also boost the reader’s vocabulary!

Realistic Fiction    Bernadette Cooke  School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: With the mention of familiar street names and places and the extremely relatable main character and timely setting, this book will fly off the shelves at my library. This book is an incentive to learn how to use the dictionary and improve one’s vocabulary and spelling. Food for thought in classroom social/emotional discussions is Neva’s processing of social activism.

MG – Becoming Muhammad Ali

Patterson, James, and Alexander, Kwame. Becoming Muhammad Ali. Jimmy Patterson Books, 2020. 978-0-316-49816-6. 310 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8.

We all know about the legend that is Muhammad Ali, but few know about the boy called Cassius Clay. This book, written partly in verse and partly in prose is a must read for any sports loving reader. Told in ten rounds, like a boxing match, Clay’s friend Lucky tells part of the story (written by Patterson) while Cassius’ voice is told in verse (written by Alexander). Learn how the events of the day shaped Clay into Ali and how sheer determination and self belief led to Clay’s success. A bibliography is included.

THOUGHTS: A first purchase for any middle grade library collection.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

MG – Cub; Stepping Stones; From the Desk of Zoe Washington

Copeland, Cynthia L. Cub. Algonquin Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-616-20848-6. 240 p. $12.95. Grades 4-7.

Cynthia Copeland delivers a fantastic middle grade graphic memoir! In the fall of 1972, the halls of Litchfield Junior High have something in common with Wild Kingdom: every kid is either predator or prey. Cindy has perfected the art of playing dead to get the “predators” to lose interest in her. She doesn’t have to play dead in art or English class, though, where she shines. Beloved English teacher Mrs. Schulz recommends Cindy for an internship with a female reporter at the local paper. Attending local events with Leslie, Cindy learns the ropes of recording facts, gathering quotes, and crafting an informative story with an attention-grabbing lede. “To make it into the paper,” Leslie advises her, “a story has to be great: accurate, fair, complete, concise.” The same could be said for a successful memoir! It is a joy to watch Cindy’s confidence blossom as she finds her voice through journalism. Full-color panels with a variety of layouts depict her journey of empowerment in bright, tween-friendly colors with just a tinge of nostalgia. Despite the time period specifics, Cindy’s seventh grade year – spent juggling friend drama, a nice boy who almost looks like John Denver when the lights are dim, and her new job as a “cub” reporter – is one that every preteen girl will relate to.

THOUGHTS: This heartfelt, engaging graphic memoir, complete with lovingly depicted growing pains, is a surefire recommendation for fans of Raina Telgemeier.

Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Knisley, Lucy. Stepping Stones. Random House Graphic, 2020. 978-1-984-89684-1. 224 p. $12.99. Grades 3-7.

After her parents’ divorce, Jen and her mom relocate to rustic Peapod Farm in upstate New York. Jen misses her dad, her old apartment, and the delicious food in the city. She’s also disillusioned with the farm’s constant chores, nasty geese, and especially her mom’s annoying new boyfriend Walter. Things look up with the discovery of barn kittens and mail-order chicks, but the weekend addition of Walter’s daughters, Andy and Reese, puts a damper on the fun. Andy, an insufferable know-it-all, seems to thrive on one-upping Jen and calling out her weak math skills when the girls work the Peapod table at the local Farmer’s Market. But with a little luck and extra effort, there’s hope for these part-time sisters to find their common ground. Lucy Knisley lovingly depicts Peapod Farm and the market with lush green foliage, colorful flowers, and aqua skies. Jen’s unspoken emotions are conveyed through her body language and flushed cheeks. Many readers will expect more growth (and definitely a much-needed apology or three) from bossy Walter, but they will also identify with Jen’s frustration when she feels unheard, and her perspective that the adults always (however unfairly) get the last word.

THOUGHTS: With Stepping Stones, graphic memoirist extraordinaire Lucy Knisley has created a standout middle grade graphic novel. As mentioned in the Author’s note, Knisley’s own story closely aligns with Jen’s, and we readers can only hope that she has more stories in store for this age group!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Marks, Janae. From the Desk of Zoe Washington. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-87585-3. 291 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Zoe has just had the best twelfth birthday party ever, making cupcakes with her besties at a real bakery. She’s now one step closer to fulfilling her dream of competing on the Kids Bake Challenge and becoming a professional pastry chef. She returns home to the surprise of her life: a letter from her father, Curtis, who Zoe has never met in person because he has been incarcerated for her entire life. Zoe is intrigued, but confused; after all, her father is a convicted criminal, guilty of murder. But in his letters, Curtis sounds … Nice. Supportive. Caring. With the assistance of her grandmother (and unbeknownst to her mom and stepdad), Zoe begins exchanging letters with her father. When Curtis claims his innocence, Zoe decides to investigate. With the help of her best friend, Trevor, she begins a quest to find Curtis’s alibi witness. She also awakens to the occasional injustices of our criminal justice system.

THOUGHTS:  In her debut novel, Janae Marks balances the serious with the sweet. Zoe (who is part of an upper-middle class, mixed-race family) is sometimes mature well beyond her twelve years. Still, she is an endearing heroine on a life-changing quest for the truth. Readers with an interest in the criminal justice plotline may want to pick up Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults by Bryan Stevenson to learn about the real people whose lives mirror Curtis’s story.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Meet Zoe Washington: a 12 year old African American girl who loves to bake (she dreams of competing on the Kids Bake Challenge on Food Network), has a best friend Trevor (who lives next door), and has a good relationship with her parents (her step dad is white). On her 12th birthday, Zoe checks the mail to find a letter addressed to her, from her father (Marcus) who is in jail for murder! Zoe has never heard from him before, so this letter is a huge surprise.  She decides to write him back, but does not share this decision with her mom. At first their communication is awkward, but once she finds out that Marcus claims innocence, Zoe decides she is going to help free him. With the help of Trevor and her grandmother, Zoe finds his alibi for the day of the crime. Once they catch Zoe in her lies, her mom and step dad are furious that Zoe has been in contact with Marcus and ground her, but once finding out the details, eventually soften and help Zoe on her quest to free Marcus.

THOUGHTS: This a great example of an age appropriate book that deals with wrongful imprisonment and racial inequality. An impelling story, this is a must purchase for any middle school library.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Upper Dublin SD

Elementary NF – Zaha Hadid; Europe’s Best Soccer Clubs; Harriet Tubman; Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Winter, Jeanette. The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid. Beach Lane Books, 2017. 978-1481446693. 32 pp. $17.99. Gr. Pre-K – 5.

As a child in Iran, Zaha Hadid grew up visiting natural places and ancient ruins. Throughout her life, the memories of these locations never leave her. Hadid travels to London to attend school and becomes an architect. The book presents the obstacles Hadid had to overcome, as a young female math-loving grade school student and as a Muslim at a Catholic school. Hadid was selected as the winner of an architecture contest twice, but the city refused to build the concert hall she designed because of her gender and ethnicity and the building’s unconventional style. Hadid perseveres and prevails, with the author showing in simple elegant images how seashells became sports stadiums and marsh grass inspired buildings that resembled waving. THOUGHTS: A valuable addition to any library collection, this well-told, inspirational story highlights the accomplishments of a woman who overcame great challenges because of her gender, her religion, where she came from, and her unconventional ideas.

Biography; Picture Book          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

Europe’s Best Soccer Clubs. ABDO, 2018. $22.95 ea. $183.60 set of 8. 48p. Gr. 3-6.
Avise, Jonathan. FC Barcelona. 978-1-5321-1131-0.
Carothers, Thomas. Juventus FC. 978-1-5321-1134-1.
Karpovich, Todd. Manchester United. 978-1-5321-1135-8.
Kortemeier, Todd. AC Milan. 978-1-5321-1129-7.
Kortemeier, Todd. Real Madrid CF. 978-1-5321-1136-5.
Marthaler, Jon. Arsenal FC. 978-1-5321-1130-3.
Marthaler, Jon. FC Bayern Munich. 978-1-5321-1132-7.
Seidel, Jeff. Chelsea FC. 978-1-5321-1133-4.
European soccer seemingly gains in popularity in the United States with every passing year. In an effort to better inform U.S. fans about their favorite teams, ABDO has recently released a new eight volume series entitled Europe’s Best Soccer Clubs. Each volume outlines the history of the club, highlights well-known players and matches from club history, and discusses club traditions. The volume received for review, Arsensal FC, spotlights one of England’s most popular football clubs. Not only does this volume explain the basic information about the club, it also includes information about the various leagues and cups present in European football. The text is supplemented by current and historical photos as well as fact boxes, a timeline, glossary, and a website to obtain further up-to-date informational links on the club. THOUGHTS: If your school has soccer fans, you will want to add this series to your collection. While biographies of individual European players are not uncommon for middle grade readers, books that focus on individual clubs fill a void in the soccer nonfiction market. Recommended.
796.334 Soccer     Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

 

Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Before She Was Harriet. Holiday House, 2017. 9780823420476. Unpaged.Gr. 2-5.

Cline-Ransome takes us on a journey through the life of Harriet Tubman in this unique picture book biography. Told in reverse chronological order, the book describes the various roles that Tubman played as an important figure in American history.  Some of these may not be as well-known to young readers, such as nurse, Union spy, and suffragist. Each page discusses one of these roles in simple yet lyrical text and is accompanied by full bleed illustrations by the award winning illustrator James Ransome.   Most illustrations depict Harriet on a large scale, so that she is the main focus of each two page spread. The story comes full circle as it begins and ends with Harriet as an old woman. The concept of journey is conveyed even further by the metaphor of the train and other modes of transportation, such as the boat in the river and the soldiers riding horses.  Ransome includes an illustration of a train in the countryside before the title page.  On the title page itself, we see a woman waiting for this train.  At the end of the book, we meet this woman again, now knowing that this is Harriet, who is free to ride this train wherever she chooses.   The author is perhaps sending the message that Harriet is no longer “riding” the Underground Railroad as an oppressed person because she is now free. THOUGHTS:  This is a beautiful book that deserves a place in every library collection.  While not a detailed account of Tubman’s life, this tribute is a wonderful introduction.  Young readers will gain a better understanding of Tubman’s many accomplishments and how one person can change the world.

Biography; Picture Book         Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

Winter, Jonah. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1419725593. 32 pp. $17.99. Gr. 2-5.

This biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is told as a picture book court case. With unusual and eye-catching illustrations, this highly reviewed version of Bader Ginsburg’s life shows her courage and fortitude in the face of prejudice and gender discrimination. Starting with her father and continuing through her education and being a working mother, Bader Ginsburg proves to everyone that she wins against inequality.  THOUGHTS: This is a great introduction to any research project about overcoming hardships to succeed. Particularly appropriate in highlighting women in leadership roles.

Biography; Picture Book     Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School