Elem. – One Thursday Afternoon

DiLorenzo, Barbara. One Thursday Afternoon. Flyaway Books, 2022. 978-1-974-88837-1. $18.00. 40 p. Grades K-3.

When Granddad picks Ava up after school on Thursday, she just wants to go home. She is having a bad day and would just like to be alone. Granddad suggests the two go for a picnic and to the woods to paint together. He promises not to talk so that the two can be alone together. Granddad drives to a nature trail, where he and Ava have a quick snack and then set up to paint. Granddad encourages Ava to use all of her senses before she uses her paintbrush. Ava takes time to be aware of the smells, sights, and sounds of the woods, and she finds herself suddenly overcome with emotion. She explains to Granddad that she is upset because her school practiced a lockdown drill today. Granddad listens patiently, gently acknowledges Ava’s feelings, and admits that he too was scared of emergency drills when he was in school. As the two continue to paint and talk, Ava begins to feel better. Talking helped, as did being in nature, concentrating on her senses, and creating art. Throughout, Granddad provides an excellent example of how to be a good listener and how to approach discussing difficult and scary topics with young children. 

THOUGHTS: Simple and straightforward, this is a beautiful picture book that will be an excellent addition for school library Social-Emotional Learning collections. DiLorenzo is careful never to detail the specifics of the lockdown drill or the reasons schools have to practice them. Granddad only promises to listen and be present for Ava. A well-crafted story that models active listening and provides an excellent example of how to handle tough conversations with children who are anxious. 

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Brave Every Day

Ludwig, Trudy. Brave Every Day. Alfred A. Knopf, 2022. 978-0-593-30637-6. $24.99. 40 p. Grades PK-2.

Camila worries all the time. When she worries, she likes to hide. Her world is filled with what ifs and can’t. Classmates make fun of Camila. Her teacher doesn’t seem to understand or notice how anxious she is. When a field trip to an aquarium overwhelms Camila, she tries to hide behind a potted plant. She isn’t alone. Kai, who loves everything about the ocean and its inhabitants, is also overwhelmed by the crowd, the noise, and the opportunity to touch a real live stingray. Kai begs Camila to go with him to the Sea Friends Meet & Greet exhibit. Camila is nervous, but realizes helping her friend makes her want to try to overcome her own fear. Camila steps out of her comfort zone and enters the exhibit with Kai. Here she learns about a sea creature who hides to protect itself: the octopus. Camilla returns to school eager to share what she has learned, and encouraged to try to be brave when she has the urge to hide. End notes include questions for discussion, and a recommended reading list.

THOUGHTS: Many children bravely face challenges big and small at school every day. This social-emotional book can provide comfort for children with anxiety, with simple language to use when feeling worried or overwhelmed. The book can also help to educate peers on the difficulties their classmates encounter and the bravery they show every day in many small ways. Beautifully illustrated in cool, layered, aquarium tones by Patrice Barton.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

YA – Teen Challenges (Series NF)

Teen Challenges. ABDO Books, 2022. 112 p. $28.00 ea. or $224.00 for the set of 8. Grades 7-12.

Buckley, A. W. Body Image and Dysmorphia. 978-1-532-19625-6.
Burling, Alexis. Unplanned Pregnancies. 978-1-532-19631-7.
Duling, Kaitlyn. Social Media and Digital Stress. 978-1-532-19629-4.
Hand, Carol. Bullying. 978-1-532-19626-3.
Hogan, Christa C. Family Conflicts and Changes. 978-1-532-19627-0.
Lusted, Marcia Amidon. Puberty. 978-1-532-19628-7.
McKinney, Donna Bowen. Substance Addiction. 978-1-532-19630-0.
Mooney, Carla. Academic Anxiety. 978-1-532-19624-5.

The eight books in ABDO’s Teen Challenges series are well-chosen topics affecting teens today. Body Image and Dysmorphia showcases clearly-written text, colorful current photos, and helpful sidebars and end material: essential facts, glossary, index, source notes, and resources. Without bias or shaming, the book clearly describes body dysmorphia as a growing problem among teens, both male and female. Chapters cover how body image forms, comorbidity, society’s contribution to body image disorders, and treatment options.

THOUGHTS: It is refreshing to see new ideas covered in a series focusing on social issues, like body dysmorphia, academic anxiety, and digital stress. The book is largely helpful and hopeful, and readers will take away empathy and optimism. Recommended for middle and high school.

300s Social Issues Affecting Teenagers          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
600s

MG – The Summer of June

Sumner, Jamie. The Summer of June.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-53448-602-7. 188 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

June Delancey decides that this summer is going to be a season of change. Her goals include conquering her extreme anxiety and becoming a fierce, independent female along with her single mother.  Now that they are free from her mother’s boyfriend (to June’s relief), the two of them can tackle summer together. June’s anxiety can be overwhelming at times; to cope, she pulls whole chunks of hair from her scalp, leaving bloody, scabby patches. Her first order of business for the summer is shaving her head, and her mother follows suit in support of her daughter. At the public library, where her mother works as a librarian, June finds comfort. She meets a boy named Homer Juarez who also likes to hang out at the library. But June knows that it is only a matter of time before Homer realizes her anxiety makes her unworthy of a friendship and so she keeps her distance. June also finds comfort in starting a community garden on library property. When an event causes her anxiety to completely spin out of control and the cranky head librarian threatens to destroy her beautiful garden, June has to face her anxiety head-on before everything falls apart.

THOUGHTS: This moving story about family, friendship, and mental health is perfect for any middle grade student who worries. A sweet note from the author in the back encourages anxious students to embrace themselves as they are and know that they deserve to be seen. Sumner’s book would be a solid purchase for upper elementary and middle grade libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Love Radio

LaDelle, Ebony. Love Radio. Simon & Schuster, 2022. 978-1-665-90815-3. $19.99. 310 p. Grades 9-12.

Danielle Ford’s romantic mother has a big wish for her only child, to experience a great love story. That wish struggles to come true in Ebony LaDelle’s, Love Radio, a debut novel that is as much a homage to the great city of Detroit as it is to first love. High-achieving senior, Dani has been shut off from her friends and dating after a traumatizing sexual encounter with a college boy the previous summer. Keeping this secret from her besties and devoted parents, she buries herself in writing the perfect college essay to get into her dream school, New York University (NYU). When she has an awkward meeting in the library with classmate, Prince Jones, a popular teen disc jockey and local radio personality (DJLove Jones) who mixes love advice with music, she makes an assumption she regrets and wants to rectify. Told in alternating voices, the romance between Prince and Dani is enchanting. Prince shows a maturity beyond his years, perhaps because he has accepted much of the responsibility of taking care of his seven-year-old brother Mookie and household duties since his single mother received her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Prince has fallen hard for the guarded Dani and is determined to make her fall in love with him in five dates. After inviting himself over to her comfortable home to take out her braids, he plans two movie-worthy dates to a roller rink and bookstore. Dani starts to open up, reconnect with her friends, and dissolve her writer’s block. When she reciprocates with one equally perfect date to the Motown Museum, though, their intimacy triggers bad memories and she breaks it off with Prince. As Dani faces her trauma, she has the support of loving parents and patient friends as well as the therapy of writing unsent letters to her literary idols, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Prince, too, acknowledges his need to suppress his dreams because of his home obligations and, with help, makes a plan for his future. Both characters come to realize that they are surrounded by a network of loving people who will support and help them achieve their goals. Characters are African-American.

THOUGHTS: Students in the mood for a dreamy romance will eat up this book. The author has an ear for teen dialogue and is from Michigan. Any readers familiar with Detroit will recognize the branding of different places (if I am ever in Detroit, I’m heading for that Dutch Girl Donuts) and the description of the neighborhoods. Dani and Prince are so wise; the thoughtful dates are out of this world; the child to parent relationships are so close. Though the romance doesn’t play out physically much, Dani’s traumatic encounter occurs when she a friend takes her to a frat house where she barely escapes date rape. After several dates, Dani leads Prince to her bedroom and encourages a sexual encounter, but Prince is reluctant to proceed. The portrayal of family is warm and loving, especially the way Prince helps out his sick mother. Though the letters to literary idols seem to be a critical link to Dani’s recovery from trauma, the book names Dani’s idols as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Roxane Gay, Jesmyn Ward in the beginning chapter, but she only focuses on Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. One of Dani’s friends is sick of appropriation and plans a hair fashion show. Lots of references to music. Some bad language. For those who are sticklers, the timeline is a little wonky: would college kids be on campus in the summer? (maybe).

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Jennifer Chan is Not Alone

Keller, Tae. Jennifer Chan is Not Alone. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-31053-3. 277 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

When Jennifer Chan goes missing, the entire community of Norwell, Florida is worried. But no one is more worried than her Korean-American classmate Mallory Moss, who knows of two possible reasons why Jennifer ran away. One of those reasons involves aliens. When Jennifer moved across the street from Mallory before school started, she confided in Mallory about her space research. According to Jennifer, aliens exist and they are trying to make contact with humans on earth. Jennifer knows that she has the code needed to help these aliens make contact, and she wrote all of her research down in her notebooks, which she lets Mallory take home to read. Unfortunately, Mallory knows that her friends Reagan and Tess will think Jennifer is absolutely crazy, so she distances herself from Jennifer as soon as school starts. But Reagan and Tess immediately start teasing Jennifer, and Mallory has no choice but to join in or she will lose her hard-earned popular status at school. This leads to reason number two of why Jennifer is missing: The Incident. Mallory believes that aliens may have taken Jennifer and realizes that Jennifer’s notebooks might hold the clues for how to reach her. However, Mallory knows that if she searches for Jennifer, her part in The Incident might be revealed and make her the most hated girl in school. Mallory must figure out what is more important: what other people think about her or finding Jennifer before it’s too late.

THOUGHTS: This is the first novel for Tae Keller since winning the Newbery Award for When You Trap a Tiger, and it does not disappoint. Keller tackles serious issues tweens and teens face in a compelling and gentle way, the most prominent being the cost of being popular at the expense of others. This book is a must-read and a must-buy for middle grade students.

Realistic Fiction            Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Join the Club, Maggie Diaz

Moreno, Nina. Join the Club, Maggie Diaz. Illustrated by Courtney Lovett. Scholastic, 2022. 978-1-338-83281-5. 229 p. $7.99 (pbk.). Grades 3-6.

Reminiscent of Frazzled by Booki Vivat, Join the Club, Maggie Diaz by Nina Moreno has as its protagonist a Cuban-American girl ready to start seventh grade in middle school whose friends seem to have found their niches while she is still searching for hers. As the short, sweetly illustrated novel opens, Maggie’s mother is finishing her accounting degree, the Diaz family has welcomed a new baby brother, and their grandmother has come to live with the family in Miami after their grandfather’s death. Until her tiny house is completed in the family’s backyard, Abuela has become Maggie’s roommate. She is not shy about providing Maggie with unsolicited direction and advice (in Spanish). Maggie’s aim to be independent and grown up is thwarted by her lack of a cell phone, her busy parents’ strict rules, and the overshadowing of her seemingly perfect older sister, Caro. Intertwined seamlessly in the plot is Caro’s LBGTQ+ relationship with her tutoring buddy, Alex, and Mrs. Diaz’s positive acceptance of their relationship. Pressured to appear like she is fitting in, Maggie tells little white lies and tries joining every club she can. The one catch to admission to a club, however, is good grades. Maggie finds herself overextended and in over her head and her grades are slipping. If that happens, her prize of a cell phone and more freedom go out the window. With humor and pathos, Maggie muddles through and finds strength in unexpected people. Young readers will identify with Maggie’s struggles to find her special thing and keep up with her schoolwork in an unfamiliar environment of both a new school and a new stage in life.

THOUGHTS: Fitting in and finding one’s place in middle school is not an easy task. Books that have characters failing and trying at the same thing can be encouraging. It helps that Join the Club, Maggie Diaz is a quick read. Maggie’s up and down relationship with her grandmother is also a connection with real life. A fun and relatable read, especially for reluctant or struggling readers.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – The Greatest Thing

Searle, Sarah Winifred. The Greatest Thing. First Second, 2022. 978-1-250-29722-8. 352 p. $25.99. Grades 7-10.

Winifred begins her sophomore year of high school feeling very alone after her two best friends transfer to a private school. She reconnects with an old friend, Mathilda “Tilly” Martel, and makes fast friends with April and Oscar, two students whose photography class overlaps with Win’s independent study period. The trio bonds over music, pop culture, and especially creating a limited edition zine together. Despite these positives, Win wrestles with deep anxiety, self-esteem and body image issues, and disordered eating. For example, she’s lactose intolerant but indulges in ice cream to punish herself for enjoying food. She also struggles with an emerging crush on Tilly … or maybe Oscar? … and wonders if “a relationship would fill the hole that ache[s] in my chest all the time.” When Win’s self-loathing spirals into self-harm, her guidance counselor steps in and recommends professional help. This thoughtful, sensitive graphic novel features softly shaded artwork (created in Clip Studio Paint) that complements Win’s moods and emotions. In particular, the red-tinted darkroom provides a safe space for Win, April, and Oscar to reveal their vulnerabilities.

THOUGHTS: There is so much to savor in The Greatest Thing. Readers will embrace Win’s exploration of her identity, her relationships, and her artwork. Potentially triggering content is handled with great care, and Sarah Winifred Searle includes a list of resources at the close of the book.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Growing Pangs

Ormsbee, Kathryn. Growing Pangs. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-30129-6. 249 p. $20.99. Grades 4-7.

As a homeschooled kid with bright red hair, freckles, and crooked teeth, Katie knows she is a little different from most kids her age. But as long as she has her best friend Kacey, none of that matters. The pair head off to spend their summer at Camp Aldridge, and that’s when things begin to change. Katie notices that Kacey gets very jealous when Katie hangs out with other people at camp. When they both start at their homeschool co-op for the year, Katie’s circle of friends continues to grow while Kacey shrinks back into the sidelines of Katie’s life. One aspect of Katie’s life that hasn’t gotten smaller is the “buzzing” in her mind. The buzzing orders her to accomplish tasks like turning a faucet on and off ten times. If she completes the task, nothing bad will happen to Katie or the people in her life. When Katie finds out she needs oral surgery and that Kacey is moving away before their friendship can be repaired, the buzzing gets louder and louder. Katie realizes she needs help from her parents to take control of her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

THOUGHTS: Katie is insightful for her age yet also relatable. Her struggles mirror the pressure and anxiety tweens face every day. This semi-autobiographical graphic novel will most definitely appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier and the Sunny series.

Graphic Novel           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Sixth-grader Katie Ormsbee has a lot going for her. She’s homeschooled and enjoys a busy schedule full of theater, music lessons, gymnastics, church, and weekly homeschool co-op. She’s very close with her bestie, Kacee, though there’s tension when Katie expands her circle to include some new friends. In addition to some typical preteen drama (braces! a bad haircut!), Katie experiences “buzzing thoughts,” which artist Molly Brooks depicts through bees buzzing around Katie’s head. “They told me what to do like a big, buzzing bully,” Ormsbee writes. These intrusive thoughts, which are outlined in thick lines resembling storm clouds, manifest in compulsions such as tying and retying her shoelaces, or turning the faucet on and off ten times. The thoughts tell Katie that these actions will prevent bad things from happening, and repeating them does make her feel better … but only for a little while. As the thoughts become more difficult to live with, Katie’s parents realize that she needs professional counseling to help her cope. As Katie begins to understand her anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, she also discovers that she isn’t as alone or “weird” as the thoughts have made her feel. This absorbing graphic novel is divided into four seasons, with color palettes and early-2000s clothing to match. Katie is an appealing protagonist throughout; even when she’s hurting, she’s thoughtful and kind.

THOUGHTS: Growing Pangs (inspired by Katie Ormsbee’s own childhood) really captures the tween years, especially the role of friendship and feelings of isolation, with the additional layer of mental health issues. 

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – The List of Unspeakable Fears

Kramer, J. Kasper. The List of Unspeakable Fears. Atheneum, 2021. 978-1-534-48074-2. 273 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Essie O’Neill has experienced a lot in her ten years. Life in New York City in 1910 can be hazardous. After the death of her beloved Da, Essie becomes more and more fearful of things both ordinary and extraordinary, to the point where her life is severely curtailed. When her mother suddenly announces that she has remarried and she and Essie will be moving, with her new husband, to North Brother Island, Essie’s fears go into overdrive. North Brother Island is an isolation ward for individuals with incurable diseases, such as smallpox. Once installed on the island, Essie’s night terrors grow worse and she becomes convinced there is a ghostly presence in the house. She fears her new stepfather, a doctor at the quarantine hospital, certain he is responsible for the disappearance of many nurses who work on the island. But maybe Essie has reason to be afraid. Why does her stepfather roam the island in the middle of the night? Who is opening her locked bedroom door? And then there is the island’s most famous resident: Typhoid Mary. This pint-sized gothic tale contains plenty of moments to give young readers delightful shivers, but also weaves in a fascinating historical foundation, including life on North Brother Island, Typhoid Mary’s fight to leave her forced quarantine on the island, and the horrific fire aboard the steamboat General Slocum. Themes of the story touch on dealing with grief and the death of a parent, overcoming traumatic experiences, and the universal childhood frustration of not being taken seriously by adults. Essie’s patient stepfather proves endearingly adept at treating Essie with respect and providing the guidance she needs to find a path to recovery.

THOUGHTS: This just-spooky-enough story, with twists and turns, should captivate readers, who will sympathize with Essie’s fears and frustrations.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD