Elem. – Bitsy Bat, School Star

Windness, Kaz. Bitsy Bat, School Star. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-665-90505-3. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Bitsy Bat has big star dreams but is nervous. It’s her first night at a new school, and she’s worried she isn’t ready. After a quick review of raising her wing, painting friends, and sharing snacks Bitsy feels more confident in going to school. As Bitsy flies into Crittercrawl Elementary, readers will see things from Bitsy’s perspective. While the beginning of the story features the bats right side up (close observers will note them hanging not standing), Bitsy’s school looks like a typical elementary classroom with tables and chairs and a variety of students. After her initial confusion over sitting in a chair, Bitsy feels dizzy from being wrong side up. Then she doesn’t paint like her classmates, and her snacks make them squeal. Constantly being told she’s doing things “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” makes Bitsy “Screeeeeeech!” with awful feelings of never, ever fitting in. After being comforted by Mama and Papa, Bitsy flies home and  dreams she was “a very small star.” Refusing not to attend school, Bitsy’s Mama and Papa have some good advice for her, explaining how “Everyone shines a little differently.” With a few tools to help her feel safe, Bitsy is ready to share her big star idea. Will her classmates and teacher like Bitsy’s idea, or will it be another way for her to feel like she’s doing everything wrong?

THOUGHTS: The book ends happily then shares more about autism and an author’s note in which Windness compares herself with Bitsy (no, she doesn’t fly or hang from her toes). Highly recommended for elementary collections, this title will help teachers promote an inclusive environment which celebrates the many different ways we each are special stars.

Picture Book

MG – Good Different

Kuyatt, Meg Eden. Good Different. Scholastic Press, 2023. 978-1-338-81610-5. 346 p. $18.99. Grades 4-7.

Selah, a seventh grader at Pebblecreek Academy, is on sensory overload. All her life, Selah’s mother has encouraged her to hold in her feelings—to be ‘Normal’—in public settings, but everything begins to crumble after Selah begins to feel her inner ‘dragon’ trying to escape. In a moment of desperation, Selah hits a classmate who keeps touching Selah’s hair. This impulsive action puts her status as a Pebblecreek student into question. With the help of a teacher, a friend, and her Pop, Selah works to learn more about herself and express feelings through poetry. Unfortunately, not everyone is empathetic or kind along the way. Selah is neurodivergent; throughout the verse novel, she begins to discover her triggers and how to navigate (rather than hide) her feelings and emotions in this moving coming-of-age story.

THOUGHTS: Written in verse format, this story has powerful emotional depth and offers readers a realistic window into growing up on the autism spectrum. Fans of stories like Forget Me Not, Real, Can You See Me?, and Counting by 7s will love Good Different by Meg Eden Kuyatt, a neurodivergent author. Because Selah goes undiagnosed for a large part of the story, the book sheds light particularly well on struggles that girls on the autism spectrum often face as they feel they must mask their sensory feelings, passions, and emotions. This title is highly recommended for all middle grade literature collections.

Realistic Fiction

YA – Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl

Shrum, Brianna R., and Sara Waxelbaum. Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl. Inkyard Press, 2023. 978-1-335-45365-5 . 304 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

During a party game of spin the bottle – with her boyfriend Chad in the circle – Margo Zimmerman realizes something: She really likes kissing Viv Carter. Margo is gay. After doing research on how to be part of the gay culture and lifestyle, really a few months of failed internet searches, Margo goes to a local club’s teen night dressed in her gayest attire. Pushing her autism brain aside, Margo gives it her best shot and fails epically. All she manages to do is amuse fellow swimmer Abbie Sokoloff, a queer classmate with quite a reputation. Determined to learn from the best, Margo asks Abbie to teach Margo her how to be gay. It isn’t until Abbie needs something from Margo – help improving her grade in AP US History class to prevent the revoking of her admission to Florida International University – that the two strike a deal. Gay tutoring for AP US tutoring, and Margo is more than ready to learn and to school Abbie. As the two (from very different groups at school) get to know each other, they also become friends, possibly more. But do opposites attract and can these two very different teens open up to each other, or will this friendship implode?

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for both of these characters and their quirks as they get to know each other and themselves. With graduation only a few months away and mature relationships, this romance is best suited for high school readers.


MG – Ellen Outside the Lines

Sass, A. J. Ellen Outside the Lines. Little, Brown and Company, 2022. 978-0-759-55627-0. 331 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8.

A school trip to Barcelona is a big undertaking for someone like Ellen, who likes to be surrounded by schedules, routines, and familiar friends and family. However, with her best friend Laurel and her father, called Abba, on the trip with her, Ellen is determined to make the two-week experience work by using the rigid but safe framework of her life to cope with any challenges she might face. When her class arrives in Spain, however, she realizes her familiar routines will be disrupted with new friends, new experiences, and new obstacles, and she must work to expand her ideas about life, friendship, and family in order to grow and become a better, more complex version of herself. 

THOUGHTS: The new friends Ellen makes throughout this book really allow her to explore many preconceived notions she has always held about the world around her. Ellen’s Jewish faith also plays a big part in the story, highlighting the way her parents support her as she navigates questions about what her faith means to her, how important her culture is to her everyday life, and how she handles the faiths and cultures of those around her. Barcelona is an interesting backdrop to this story and helps to illustrate the importance of new experiences in life.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – The View from the Very Best House in Town

Trehan, Meera. The View from the Very Best House in Town. Walker Books, 2022. 978-1-536-21924-1. $17.99. 261 p. Grades 4-7.

Asha and Sam have been friends forever. Sam is obsessed with astronomy, Asha with architecture, and both love playing the video game Househaunt on their phones. Each friend suspects the other is on the Autism Spectrum, but the pair have never discussed their diagnoses. When Sam is accepted into elite prep school Castleton Academy, Asha has to face public middle school without her best and only friend. In the center of town, high on a hill, sits the ostentatious mansion named Donnybrooke, home to pretty and popular Prestyn Donaldson. Years ago Asha was invited inside but has since been banned by Prestyn’s overbearing, social-climbing mother. Asha marvels over the home’s unique architectural style and years to return to study the building. Adjusting to life at Castleton is not easy for Sam, who struggles socially until Prestyn appears to befriend him. But is Prestyn truly Sam’s friend? How do friends treat each other? Is an alliance with a friend who is manipulative and mean worth it? Told from the alternating perspectives of Sam, Asha, and the mansion Donnybrooke, this book examines the true meaning of friendship and acceptance. The characters (including that of the mansion itself) are beautifully depicted with extreme sensitivity and care taken to portray the inner thoughts and feelings of the students identified on the Autism Spectrum.

THOUGHTS: Debut author Meera Trehan is a lawyer who has represented many families whose children have unique and diverse educational needs. She is also mother to a daughter with Autism. The story itself is fabulously entertaining. The Donnybrooke chapters are a highly amusing investigation of human behavior. It is the complexity of the characters and their families that won me over in this novel. This book would make a fabulous classroom read aloud, and offers many opportunities for discussions about families, friendships, Autism, kindness, acceptance, and the value and worth of success.

Realistic Fiction    Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

MG – Real

Cuject, Carol, and Peyton Goddard. Real. Shadow Mountain, 2021. 978-1-629-72789-9. 304 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8.

Charity can clap, jump, kick, shrug, and make movements just like everyone else – except she can’t control WHEN her body makes these movements. This also means she can’t talk – while she can solve complicated math problems and memorize passages from literature, Charity cannot communicate. Her diagnosis is autism, which means her brain is wired differently than other neurotypical students her age. Charity goes to a special school for students with different challenges and abilities. However, when her mother realizes just how badly the adults are treating Charity in that school, she fights to get her into a regular public school. The principal, however, is not supportive; he thinks Charity’s uncontrollable movements will disrupt the other students in the school. But the special education teacher and Charity’s mom believe that she can do it. The problem is, Charity isn’t sure she can. She hopes that she can prove to everyone in the school that she is a capable, intelligent young lady – even if she can’t always make her body cooperate.

THOUGHTS: Real gives a picture into the mind of a student who is not neurotypical. Peyton Goddard, one of the authors, writes this book based on personal experiences she had as a teenager in the hopes of showing readers that inclusion and protection of this vulnerable population is a necessity in schools and in society. This book is a must-have for middle grade libraries and would be an excellent book club pick.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Talking Is Not My Thing

Robbins, Rose. Talking Is Not My Thing. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-802-85549-7. Unpaged. $16.99. Grades K-2.

Talking Is Not My Thing follows a brother and sister, the sister being nonverbal; however, there are thought bubbles so you can see her thoughts even though she doesn’t have any dialogue. The sister mentions that she tries to speak; however, “the words don’t’ come out right”; as well as showing her being overwhelmed by too much noise and wishing she could turn her ears off. Near the end of the book, the sister can’t find her stuffed bunny, so she runs outside to get it causing her brother to follow her in the dark with a flashlight.

THOUGHTS: This book does an excellent job of showing how nonverbal children communicate with the world around them as well as each other.

Picture Book           Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Can I Play Too?

Cotterill, Samantha. Can I Play Too? Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-525-55346-5. $14.81. Unpaged. Grades PreK-1. 

Two young boys build a train track, but things start to sour when one friend’s vision of a perfect train setup doesn’t include his pal’s opinions or choices. A scuffle ensues, and both friends are upset and frustrated. A helpful grown-up steps in and uses a train-themed picture book to explain, “Friends have traffic signals too.” Thoughtful discussion and role-playing help the boys learn about flexibility and social cues, and a second try at playing trains goes much smoother. Created by an author/illustrator on the spectrum, “Can I Play Too?” is part of Samantha Cotterill’s “Little Senses” series. The dust jacket says, “…Samantha wanted to make books that would allow kids to recognize themselves in a playful, fun, yet therapeutic way.” Each title in the series explores a topic that might be relatable for kids on the autism spectrum or kids with sensory issues, although “Can I Play Too?” works well on a social-emotional curriculum too.  

THOUGHTS: Pencil and ink illustrations using traffic light colors support the theme of traffic signals used by trains and friends. An excellent series for all young kids.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

MG – Can You See Me?

Scott, Libby, and Rebecca Westcott. Can You See Me? Scholastic.2020. 978-1-338-60891-5. 358 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Co-authored by Rebecca Westcott and Libby Scott, an eleven-year old neuro-diverse girl, Can You See Me? uniquely captures the inner feelings of Tally Adams, an autistic British sixth grader. Through Tally’s eyes, the reader learns of the frustrations and perceptions an autistic person experiences navigating teachers, friends, and family while transitioning to the more sophisticated world of middle school. Luke, a classmate suffering from his own trauma, bullies Tally because he unwittingly views her autism as weird. Tally receives the brunt of Luke’s anger and loses her few friends when she tells the teacher Luke stole the answers to an upcoming quiz. As Tally tries to fit in at school and adjust her behavior at home, she finds comfort and courage in wearing a tiger mask and companionship in the old, three-legged dog the family is taking care of for their elderly, sick neighbor. Tally is a treasured part of a loving and supportive family, but she sometimes tries the patience of her father and older sister, Nell. Westcott and Scott do a fine job creating a window into the world of autism as well as providing tips for how to cope best with the autistic personality (both Tally’s mother and a sympathetic drama teacher are pros). After selected chapters, Tally as narrator relates excerpts from her journal which gauge her anxiety level and note the pros and cons of autism. Though the ending is somewhat abruptly idealistic–Tally’s fair-weather, catty friends proclaim that they need her and one even confesses she told the entire class Tally is autistic. Tally’s response to both, though, is authentic. She tells the girl that the information was not hers to share and she refuses to offer the girls the cookies her mother suggests she share. Overall, this book gives a particular view of autism not seen in other novels that can lead to understanding and rich discussion.

THOUGHTS: Mockingjay, A Boy and a Bat, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Rain Reign. . . no shortage of books featuring a person with autism. In Can You See Me? however, the reader can relate not only to the behaviors associated with autism, but also with the times any of us have been called out for our quirks or feeling different or not fitting in. This book is ideal for character studies, even for comparing it with R. J. Palacio’s format of Wonder: How does Tally’s sister Nell feel always sacrificing her needs for Tally? Why is it difficult for Tally’s friend, Layla, to stay loyal to Tally?, etc. The title and cover refer to the tiger mask Tally sometimes dons when she needs to face hard situations. The cover art is so busy, the background obscures the title of the book; though that may be the goal, the artwork looks amateurish and the result makes the cover forgettable.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes

Orr, Jennifer. Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes. Capstone Editions, 2020. 978-1-68446-077-9. 239 p. $16.95. Grades 3-6.

Abigail Hensley is a twelve-year old genius who knows a lot about everything – anthropology, criminal trials, even the French language. Skipping two grades in school means she knows a lot more than other girls her age. Abigail also knows herself – she doesn’t like others intruding on her personal space and she has a definite aversion to germs. The one topic Abigail doesn’t know much about is how to make real friends. All of that is going to change, however, when she arrives at Camp Hollyhock, determined to make a real friend for the first time in her life. Like any good anthropologist, Abigail uses scientific research methods and writes detailed notes as she studies her cabinmates for their sidekick potential. Although her observations are off to a good start, she is thrown off from her meticulous plans when a crime is committed in her own cabin – and she becomes the prime suspect. Abigail has to use her research methods and observations so she can clear her name and hopefully make a friend before her time at camp is done, even if the answers she seeks may be the opposite of what she thinks.

THOUGHTS: Although author Jennifer Orr doesn’t make it clear in the book, Abigail could be on the autism spectrum, which is evident as she hates invasion of her personal space and struggles to understand social norms. However, Abigail’s journey to make a friend can ring true for any middle grade reader, genius or not. Her scientific commentary on the nuances of young female friendships are humorous yet relatable. All readers can understand that friendship may not be an exact science, but when the elements align, it can be quite wonderful.

Mystery Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD