MG – My Own Lightning

Wolk, Lauren. My Own Lightning. Dutton, 2022.  978-0-525-55559-9. $17.99. 307 p. Grades 6-8.

This sequel to Lauren Wolk’s award-winning, Wolf Hollow, picks up at the close of that fateful school year. Annabelle McBride has survived classmate Betty’s bullying and the death of the traumatized World War I veteran Toby, but she still is trying to make sense of all the puzzle pieces that school year gave her and how she should view herself and her world. While helping the teacher clean the schoolhouse, she meets Mr. Graf, a man she perceives as charming and friendly, who is searching for his lost dog. On the way home, a storm kicks up and Annabelle is struck by lightning. An unknown person saves her life. Afterward, her senses seem heightened, and she feels an affinity to animals, especially dogs. Not only is Mr. Graf’s dog missing, but Annabelle’s brother, Henry, cannot find his dog, Buster, either; and neighbor, Andy (who was Betty’s accomplice in bullying Annabelle) has lost his dog as well. When Annabelle meets new neighbor, the dour Mr. Edelman, she thinks he is mean. Despite this scary first impression, when she hears barking from the Edelman property, she investigates and finds a secret animal rescue shelter. Neighbor Andy, Annabelle’s nemesis, has been sleeping in the family’s potato house to escape his abusive household. His past behavior overshadows the kindness he displays with the animals. All of these characters mix together for a sort of human mystery that Annabelle navigates that summer, both in pursuit of the lost dogs as well as a realization that people are not always what they appear. Though the lightning seemed to sharpen her perceptions, Annabelle has to figure out for herself who is sinister and who is truly kind. In the process, she learns not only about others, but also about herself.

THOUGHTS: The language in this book is delicious. The descriptions of the family suppers, the city of Pittsburgh, and the farmland are lush and rich with unique imagery. Wolk has the talent to create authentic characters; even the minor ones ring true. Sensitive readers will appreciate Annabelle’s struggle to detect who is an enemy and who is a friend and learn from her realizations that it is never a waste of time to look deeper into a person’s actions and behavior before judging them. Use this book for great examples of lush imagery.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – One Turtle’s Last Straw: The Real-Life Rescue That Sparked a Sea Change

Boxer, Elisa. One Turtle’s Last Straw: The Real-Life Rescue That Sparked a Sea Change. Illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-37246-3. $17.99. 40 p. Grades PK-3.

Beautifully illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns, this nonfiction picture book shows the journey of a discarded plastic drinking straw. The straw is thrown away properly in a garbage can, but is blown out of the can by high winds. The straw travels into the sewer system and eventually makes its way to the ocean, where it is consumed by an olive ridley sea turtle. The turtle struggles to breathe and eat with the straw lodged in its nose and throat. Rescued by Dr. Nathan Robinson and Dr. Christine Figgener, the turtle is saved when the straw is carefully removed. The turtle is able to return to the ocean. Based on a true story, and the video-taped documentation of the rescue operation that has been viewed on YouTube over 150 million times, this book introduces young readers to the impact of single-use plastics on our environment. The afterword by marine conservation biologist Christine Figgener, PhD, and the author’s note, include additional details of the rescue and photographs of the real-life turtle. Also included are brief stories of young people who have made significant contributions to the reduction of ocean pollution, bibliography, and resources for further exploration.

THOUGHTS: This story is told very simply in words and pictures to help young children understand the impact a single piece of trash can have on the environment. Never scary or gory, the book ends happily with a young girl ordering a meal in a restaurant. As she remembers the story of the rescued olive ridley sea turtle, she orders her drink without a straw. The message is that very small, simple changes can have a big impact on our environment.  

597.92 Turtles          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Rescue at Lake Wild

Johnson, Terry Lynn. Rescue at Lake Wild. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 978-0-358-33285-9. 181 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6. 

Madi, who idolizes Jane Goodall, loves rescuing injured wild animals. She learned how to rehabilitate animals from her beloved Nana, who died four years ago, and is determined to follow in her footsteps. Madi’s parents, however, have had enough of her exploits and forbid her to bring any more animals home. But when Madi and her two best friends, Jack and Aaron, find a pair of dead beavers that have been shot, they investigate the beaver dam and find two orphaned beaver pups. Madi vows to save the pups, parental restrictions notwithstanding, and Jack, a future game warden, sees a mystery to be solved. The three 12-year-olds proceed, despite all common sense, to try to hide the beaver pups from Madi’s mom, track down why the beavers are provoking animosity in the town, and discover who is killing them. Johnson (Ice Dogs and others) scores again with this book for younger readers. The mystery provides a plot, but the heart of the story is Madi’s love of animals. Her struggles to raise the pups with the skills necessary to return to the wild make for fascinating reading, and readers will learn much about beavers, and wildlife rehabilitation. Madi is creative, inventive, and determined to do the right thing, even though she ends up making a huge personal sacrifice. Madi and Aaron are white, Jack, on the book cover, appears to have darker skin.

THOUGHTS: A great choice for animal lovers.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG -The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy

Heider, Mary Winn. The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy. Little, Brown & Company, 2021. 978-0-759-55542-6. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

For freckled-faced, dark haired Louise and Winston Volpe, the center of the galaxy is the 50-yard line of a football field in honor of their ex-quarterback player and now missing father, Lenny Volpe. Life was tough before their father disappeared, a victim of too many head-crushing plays as a Chicago Horribles team member, Mr. Volpe had trouble with his cognitive skills and executive brain function. After three years gone, the siblings burrow into their respective worlds: Winston taking up the tuba and Louise initiating a Science Club in order to experiment with ways to find her father. Flipping back and forth between eighth-grade Winston’s and seventh-grade Louise’s life, author Mary Winn Heider creates sympathetic characters trying to unravel an incredible mystery. Because their mother is buried in work and debt, the brother and sister are on their own a lot and the story takes place mostly at school. Winston’s friend and fellow tuba player, Frankie—who has a pigment condition—insists that the faculty of Subito School are an organized crime ring, and Winston willingly joins the investigation, spurred on when the teachers throw their tubas off the school’s roof. Louise, on the other hand, rejects the overtures of friendship from the other nerdy club members, even after they volunteer to use club dues for a bake sale to recoup the ruined tubas. She is more determined in perfecting a glowing GLOP cream and freeing the Chicago Horribles Football Team’s mascot, a bear. She does, however, develop an appreciation for pop star Kittentown Dynamo’s music. The two worlds collide at the football stadium’s half-time show: tubas, sinister teachers, Kittentown Dynamo, and the bear. Though the infiltration of the stadium and the bear rescue are far-fetched, they are entertaining. To balance this, the ending of this realistic fiction is not all wrapped up, but the characters do come to a healthy place in their family relationships and acceptance of their father’s demise.

THOUGHTS: When I started this book, I saw thin traces of other books in The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy: a less cerebral Wrinkle in Time where the daughter uses science to try to find her father;  James Ponti’s  City Spies where the kids are free-roaming, figuring their own solutions to problems and the adults are “other” and on the fringe; Jacqueline Woodson’s  Before the Ever After where the father has brain injuries from sports. Heider, though makes this book her own and uses unusual plot twists to lead these grieving siblings who are focused on their own sadness back to each other. Perhaps fourth graders would like this book, too; I extended the grade to 8 because Winston and Frankie are eighth graders and seem like they are headed for more than friends status by the book’s conclusion (he lets Frankie comfort him with a hug and he is thrilled to take Frankie to the Aquarium Dance).

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Animal Rescue Friends

Hashimoto, Meika & Gina Loveless. Animal Rescue Friends. Andrews McMeel Publishing. 2021. 978-1-5248-6806-2. $9.99. Gr. 2-4.

What do you do when you find a stray dog that is friendly, smart, but has no collar? While keeping the dog may be what you want, is it the best choice to make? Maddie makes this discovery when she finds a lost dog she calls Boyd. While she wants to keep Boyd, her mother has her take Boyd to Animal Rescue Friends, an animal sanctuary. There, Maddie will find a place for Boyd, a new job for her helping animals, and even may make a friend or two!

THOUGHTS: This Epic! Original book follows several kids who all help or rescue animals in some way! This book is for the pet lovers of the world, with relatable situations, all presented in a fun comic-book style format.

Graphic Novel         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Saucy

Kadohata, Cynthia. Saucy. Atheneum Books, 2020. 978-1-534-47597-7. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 3-6. 

As one of a set of quadruplets, Becca frequently worries about who she is, and what is her “thing.” Her brother Jammer is an obsessive ice hockey player. Her brother K.C. is a math and science genius, who theorizes our existence is actually a simulation designed by another life form. And other brother, Bailey, composes music. But Becca just can’t figure out what makes her unique. So when she finds a dying piglet while on a family walk one evening, she believes she has found her calling: saving Saucy, so dubbed because of her obvious attitude. But Becca quickly learns that sickly pigs require expensive veterinary care, and healthy pigs are rambunctious and destructive. And grow rapidly. But Becca, having spent her 12 years trying not to take up time and money, because Jammer’s hockey and Bailey’s medical needs (he is in a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy) take up so much of the family’s resources, feels she’s owed some leeway. Besides, everyone in the family is falling in love with Saucy. Eventually, the siblings determine Saucy escaped from a large commercial pig farm, and Saucy is sent to live at a nearby pig sanctuary. The story is lovely, slice-of-life Kadohata writing (she shows off her hockey-mom chops again), and the relationship between the four siblings is sweet and caring. As different as the four are, they support each other, a revelation that seems to surprise Becca, who is used to feeling outside and overlooked. The conditions of large pig farms are detailed when Becca and her brothers sneak into a building one night to see where Saucy came from. While the transition from sweet animal story to commercial meat producing exposé is a bit awkward, readers will no doubt be properly appalled.

THOUGHTS: A sweet story perfect for readers who love animals, or are realistic fiction fans. Any reader with siblings will sympathize with how Becca feels out-of-step with her brothers. A first choice for most libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD