Elem. – Horse Power: How Horses Changed the World

Thermes, Jennifer. Horse Power: How Horses Changed the World. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-419-74945-2. $18.99. Grades 2-5.

For thousands of years, horses have worked, played, and lived side-by-side with humans. Throughout time, the use of a horse has evolved and adapted with the increase in life and technology of the human race. Horses have been used for farming, transporting people and goods, and entertainment. As the world has changed and evolved, horses have moved throughout six different continents, ranging in a variety of species, showing the true power of a horse.

THOUGHTS: A picture-book set-up of the history of horses throughout time. This book, meant for elementary readers, provides illustrations, labels, and interesting facts that explain how horses have helped mankind.

636.1 Horses          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Negative Cat

Blackall, Sophie. Negative Cat. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2021. 978-0-399-25719-3. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

After 427 days of asking, a young boy’s family finally agrees to let him adopt a cat. Part of the deal is that he has to feed it, clean up after it, keep his room neat, write to his grandmother, and read for 20 minutes every day. The boy admits he isn’t such a great reader, but he agrees to the conditions before his parents change their minds. He picks out the perfect cat at the rescue shelter, renaming his new pet Max. He’s excited to show Max his new bed, toys, and treats, but Max seems unimpressed. He also doesn’t show any reaction to being tickled, listening to jokes, or seeing his scratching post. Instead, Max stares at the wall, puts his tail in the butter, and leaves hairballs on the rug. The boy’s sister labels Max a negative cat, and his parents call the shelter to have a conversation. It’s only when the boy begins his dreaded task of reading – sounding out words slowly while reading them aloud – that Max begins to show some affection and form a bond with his new owner. An Author’s Note at the end of the book credits the Animal Rescue League of Berks County, Pennsylvania for inspiring the book’s ending. Blackall describes how she read an article about the Rescue League’s Book Buddies program which encourages children to practice their fluency by reading out loud to cats. 

THOUGHTS: Readers will enjoy Blackall’s spirited digital artwork, particularly the emotions displayed by Max the cat and the rest of the family members. Share this title with animal lovers and reluctant readers who may just need a little feline inspiration to jump-start their own reading. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Best Day Ever!

Singer, Marilyn. Best Day Ever! Illustrated by Leah Nixon. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-1-328-98783-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Told from the point of view of a very energetic little puppy, Best Day Ever! follows two friends through a day that starts out great and ends up with some trouble. From stealing hot dogs (not the bun) to swimming in the lake, this pup has a day full of adventure. When he makes a mess of himself, though, the best day suddenly becomes the worst day. Can sweet this duo find their way back to the best day ever? Digital illustrations bring these characters to life. The pet’s human is a boy in a wheelchair who can do a lot of the same activities that able-bodied children do. Illustrated by a paralyzed artist, this title has disability representation as a subtle message for children.

THOUGHTS: Readers will love brainstorming about their own best days and talking about things pets do. Best Day Ever! lends itself well to a writing prompt about best days or a creative writing piece about the silly things pets might be thinking. Hand this one to any pet lover.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – The Longest Letsgoboy

Wilder, Derick. The Longest Letsgoboy. Chronicle Books. 978-1-452-17716-8. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-3. 

This is the story of one old dog’s final walk with the child he refers to as his “foreverfriend.” The dog’s playful first-person narration allows readers to experience the world through his eyes and through his made-up language. On the last day of his life, he and a young girl take a long walk through an autumn woods. The dog smells familiar scents and sees the same animals and trees he’s seen many times before, but on this walk, he moves slowly and feels tired. With his one good ear, he listens carefully to bird calls, telling him they will keep an eye on his “foreverfriend.” Later that evening, as shadows stretch across the yard, the dog circles and settles one final time. Although this is one of the most emotional sections of the book, Catia Chien’s masterful abstract illustrations lighten the tone and communicate what is happening to the dog in an age-appropriate way. The beautiful pages show the dog passing peacefully into a sky filled with bright colors, and it’s clear he feels no pain. Throughout the book, the colors in the mixed media illustrations morph to deftly match the emotions being expressed throughout the seasons of the year and the seasons of life. 

THOUGHTS: While this is clearly a story about loss, it’s also a story about love. The special bond between the girl and her dog is beautifully portrayed, and both the text and the illustrations will strike a chord with any reader who has experienced the loss of a pet. Share this title with guidance counselors to begin conversations with students who may be grieving their own loss. 

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MG – Alone

Freeman, Megan E. Alone. Aladdin, 2021. 978-1-534-46756-9. 404 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Maddie, a twelve year old girl, plans the perfect sleepover night at her Grandmas. Unfortunately, her friends cancel, and Maddie spends the night alone – only to wake up to everyone gone. Maddie learns that an “imminent threat” has forced mass evacuations and her divorced parents never knew that Maddie was alone. Maddie must now fend for herself and hope that help comes soon. Maddie visits the empty homes and starts to gather items necessary to survive for the next few weeks. But weeks turn into months, and months into years and Maddie’s only company is a rottweiler named George. On her own Maddie faces looters, tornadoes, a devastating fire, and a flash flood while navigating springtime at her mom’s house and winters at her father’s home. Maddie uses her local library to gain knowledge, and find hope that rescue will soon arrive.

THOUGHTS: A wonderful survival story with a strong female character that will leave you rooting for her. The story is well written, and fans of Life as We Knew It and Hatchet will enjoy this adventure. The author provides a variety of challenges for Maddie to face, while showing how to be brave and creative in overcoming obstacles.

Adventure          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh Middle School

Elem. – This Old Dog

Brockenbrough, Martha. This Old Dog. Levine Querido, 2020. $17.99. Unpaged. Grades K-2. 

Old dog is happy to see another day though his old knees hurt and his old back aches. “The speed of life since the girl was born is fast fast fast, and old dog likes to take things slow.” While the story explains that he wants plenty of time to find a just-right rock or smell each blade of grass, the illustrations show that old dog just doesn’t get that time anymore because “…the rest of the world has lots to do.” Old dog wishes for a friend who wants to take their time on walks and savor the delights of nature. Much to his delight, his family’s daughter starts to walk and toddles directly to him! Suddenly, old dog and his girl are inseparable and enjoy plenty of time together smelling the grass, finding those just-right rocks, and walking together through the world.

THOUGHTS: As a parent with two old dogs and two small kids, this book really tugged at my heartstrings. A sweet story for any dog lover.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

YA – Six Angry Girls

Kisner, Adrienne. Six Angry Girls. Feiwel and Friends. 2020. 978-1-250-25342-2. $17.99. 262 p. Grades 9-12.

Raina Petree got dumped by big crush boyfriend, Brandon. Emilia Goodwin got dumped by the pompous all-male Mock Trial Team. They join forces to salvage their senior year by forming an all-female Mock Trial Team in their Pittsburgh suburban high school of Steelton drawing on Raina’s drama skills and Millie’s knowledge of the law and research. Adapting the title of the 1950’s movie, Twelve Angry Men, these six angry girls (all but one Caucasian)–overcome heartbreak and self-esteem issues to create a strong challenge to their male counterparts and a serious threat to other Mock Trial Teams as they compete for Nationals. Told in alternating chapters narrated by either Raina or Millie, the book develops a girl power story with the message that people need to stand up for what is right and, especially, stand up for oneself. Author Adrienne Kisner also manages to weave in a subplot involving knitting. Raina searches for an outlet for her grief and joins the knitting group at The Dropped Stitch, a local yarn store. Not only does she learn to cast on and purl, she finds herself involved with activists trying to stop the election of a local magistrate because of his history letting off misogynists and blocking legislation for reproductive rights. Their rebellion manifests itself in yarn-bombing the courthouse with knitted female genitalia. In a twist, the targeted judge turns up volunteering in Mock Trial. At the knitting shop, Raina meets new student Grace who is happy to join an extracurricular activity. Millie falls for Grace and begins to value herself and her time, separating her needs from her helpless father who expects Millie to be chief cook and bottlewasher after her mother moves to Ohio. Though told in a light-hearted manner, the book addresses serious topics, contains a full-range of LBGTQ+ characters, and models the strengths and weaknesses of adults in young people’s lives. What begins as a revenge against the boys story builds with each club meeting, practice, and competition to a triumph of self-identity and self-worth.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: The cover illustration depicts a diverse group of girls, but the two main characters are white. Author Adrienne Kisner is emphasizing gender identity: Millie and Grace form a romantic relationship; Izzy, a minor character, is transgender; the Mock Trial court case for the win centers on gender discrimination. Some parts to be aware of: The Dropped Stitch crew are not shy about using anatomically correct terms, and a smattering of curses appear throughout the dialogue, making it more a high school choice than middle grade. This book has the same feminist fight tone of Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu; and if this suburban, western Pennsylvanian high school resembles yours, Six Angry Girls is an attractive purchase.

MS Fantasy – Lilliput; Broken Ground

lilliput

Gayton, Sam. Alice Ratterree, Ill. Lilliput. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree, 2015. 978-1-56145-806-6. 251p. $16.95. Gr. 4-8.

Lily has tried many times to escape from Lemuel Gulliver and has failed in over 30 plans. Gulliver is working to finish his book about his travels called Book of Travels, and Lily is his proof of the tiny inhabitants of Lilliput. As they are staying in a room about Plinker’s Timepieces, it is Finn who discovers Lily. Since Finn was an orphan, Plinker purchased Finn and makes him his apprentice and in charge of winding his devious clocks that can move quickly when wanted or even explode.  Finn must wear a waste-not-watch which tightens if he does not use timely wisely. Lily is able to disengage the watch. Lily now sees the sights of London. In their travels they meet a kind chocolatier named Mr. Ozinda, who helps them plan an escape for Lily to find her home. Part of the plan is to rescue the Swift bird from the clock and obtain Gulliver’s Book of Travels. While well planned out, not all goes according to plan. Violence takes place, and while Gulliver makes his apology, his life is lost, and Plinker is put in jail. Lily makes it back home safely, and Finn starts an adventure on board with Mrs. Ozinda. The book is constructed with a prologue, three parts, an epilogue, and an afterword. Detailed black and white illustrations are throughout the novel.  THOUGHTS: The adventure and intrigue allow the reader to devote time to this book. Lilliput has the potential to spark an interest in learning more about the original Gulliver’s Travels.

Fantasy; Action/Adventure; Classic Retelling     Beth McGuire, Wendover MS

 

broken

Schwab, Victoria. Broken Ground. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-87695-7. 186p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

Broken Ground continues the adventures of Meilin, Rollan, Abeke, and Conor in book two of  Fall of Beasts, a strand of the best selling Spirit Animals series. The Greencloaks face huge difficulty in trying to heal Conor from the Wyrm. They also observe another concern as the bonds with Spirit Animals are getting looser everywhere. The heroes are divided into two groups. Conor fights, becoming snake-like, and Meilin hears voices as they travel in the cave. Rollan needs to be less aggressive and not challenge the sea while he and Abeke work together.  Through their missions it is evident that enemies come in all shapes and sizes. There is a new group to the heroes called  “The Red Cloaks.” Members of this group wear an animal mask and oppose Zerik, but much is still a mystery regarding the group. At the castle in Stetriol, Tasha summons one of the Great Spirit Animals, Ninani, the swan. If Tasha accepts, she will be the first Greeencloak from Stetriol. Rollan relates to the magnitude of her decision, as he thought often about his choice and mentorship from his friend the late Tarik. While they wish to keep Tasha’s calling a secret, it is not kept long whatsoever and the city rejoice with the news and launches fireworks. THOUGHTS: Add this book to your collection! Allow students to read the books in whatever order they wish (though you may want to assist some students with the order). Since the series is written by familiar authors to your students, you may want to consider shelving the books by series or creating a special sign or bookmark helping the students locate the novels as they move through the series.

Fantasy; Action/Adventure    Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School