Ali, S.K. Misfit in Love. Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-44275-7. 320 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.
It’s two days before her older brother Muhammad marries Sarah, the love of his life, and Janna is looking forward to the arrival of Nuah, who she finally is ready to tell “yes, I like you back.” They’re at her father’s Mystic Lake, IN estate, though Janna has had her own strained relationship with her dad. Due to Sarah finishing her Master’s degree and her family throwing their own official reception next year, wedding plans have been left up to Dad and Muhammad which means Janna has been there helping for weeks. It’s been nice to spend time away from home, even with stepmother Linda and the laddoos, Muhammad and Janna’s half siblings. Janna is excited to see her mom again, however awkward this huge family event may be, but she didn’t count on an attraction to Sarah’s gorgeous cousin, her mother’s distraction with an old friend, and a brooding sad guy who seems to get Janna. Still, she’s determined to reconnect with Nuah who, despite Janna’s best efforts, seems distracted himself. As friends and family arrive for the celebration, Janna experiences a whirlwind of emotions.
THOUGHTS: With appearances by beloved characters from other Ali books, this is a must have addition to high school romance collections.
Kelly, Erin Entrada. We Dream of Space. Greenwillow Books, 2020. 978-0-062-74730-3. 391 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.
This story, told in multiple points of view, follows the Nelson Thomas kids (Cash, Fitch, and Bird) as they navigate life through 7th grade in the mid 1980s. Cash, the oldest sibling, is repeating 7th grade and is in danger of having to repeat it again if he doesn’t get his act together! Fitch spends all day trying to keep his temper in check and every afternoon in the arcade, and Bird, Fitch’s twin, just wants to be an astronaut. With their parents constantly arguing and emotionally distant from their children, Bird just wants someone to notice her. Spending her days dreaming of becoming the first shuttle commander, while following every step of the coming Challenger launch, has left Bird wanting. Wanting to be noticed, wanting to belong, and wanting to be in space. This book contains a section about the Challenger Disaster and a page of resources to learn more.
THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection. Kelly does it again with her captivating writing. Will be in my Top 5 for 2020.
Realistic Fiction Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy
A new baby boy arrives at the robot family home – some assembly required. Big sister Cathode (a.k.a. Cathy) is delighted, and anxious to help mom and dad assemble little Flange. But, like grownups throughout time, mom Diode shoos Cathy aside, certain this is a job for adults. When little Flange proves more difficult to assemble than predicted, Di calls in her brother, Manifold. In stereotypical male style, Manny eschews the directions and makes a few “improvements.” As family and friends gather with treats (mmm, greased gears!) to celebrate the new baby, Di, ignoring Cathy’s insistence that updates need to be installed, initiates Flange, with disastrous results. But wise Cathy has a scheme. With the assistance of robopet Sprocket, Cathy distracts the adults long enough to rebuild the baby according to the plans, saving the day and the family. But wait! There’s more! What’s this left in the box? In classic, understated Wiesner style, Robobaby pokes fun at adult behavior. Brief speech bubbles contain the minimal text, leaving the creative artwork to captivate the reader’s attention. Young readers will relate to Cathy’s annoyance at being pushed aside, and celebrate her success in getting little Flange operational at last. As always, Wiesner’s illustrations beg for multiple viewings to fully appreciate their detailed cleverness.
THOUGHTS: Children young and old will enjoy the story of big sister Cathy saving the day for the bumbling adults with their all-too-familiar behaviors, as well as soak up the rich, engrossing illustrations. The story only improves with subsequent readings. Another winner from Wiesner.
Farina, Laura. This is the Path the Wolf Took. Kids Can Press, 2020. 978-1-525-30153-7. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.
Big brother loves reading to his little sister, but the stories he imagines are never quite like the ones mom or dad tell their daughter. Rather than wolves terrorizing little girls, grandmas, and pigs, all the characters make friends and have ice cream. It seems big brother does not do scary. Happy stories are his comfort zone. But his little sister sees BORING where he sees safe. Faced with losing his audience, can he confront his fears and create a story that will entertain his sister? This rollicking tale, complemented by Elina Ellis’s comic illustrations, addresses every young reader who wriggles through suspenseful fairy tales, while sharing a sly wink with older, braver readers. They will recognize the stock staple elements of fairy tales, and giggle over how big brother reimagines each story to his peaceful satisfaction. When big brother finally ups his storytelling game, readers will be surprised at who is left with the feeling that something bad is about to happen.
THOUGHTS: A delightful look at fairy tale story elements, as well as addressing the fears of timid readers. Imaginative text pairs with delightfully humorous illustrations for a winner of a book, recommended for all collections serving young readers.
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.
Lang, Heidi. Wrong Way Summer. Amulet Books, 2020. 978-1-419-73693-3. 268 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.
“Claire no longer believed her dad.” She used to, and sometimes she still wanted to, but when she discovered what really happened to her mother, that she wasn’t stolen by a troll king, that she wasn’t a pilot on the world’s fastest jet, a scientist working on a new crayon color, or even a secret agent infiltrating a pride of lions, she stopped believing her out-of-work father’s endless supply of tall tales. So when he pulled into the driveway with an old van and declared that this was a summer of adventure, that they would fix up the van and travel the country living the “hashtag vanlife,” Claire knew there was much more to the story. Told from Claire’s point of view as they travel from one city to the next, the reader slowly learns why the family is living in a van, and why Claire’s mother is no longer in the picture.
THOUGHTS: Nestled underneath the fantastic tales told by Claire’s dad is a story about homelessness and poverty, although it may not be immediately apparent to a reader who doesn’t recognize the subtle clues. The reveal of the whereabouts of Claire’s mother is quick with few details, but it should be enough to satisfy most readers. There are students in our libraries who need to read a story about an unreliable parent and the burden that is felt when the child has to act as the responsible one.
Realistic FictionMelissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD
Lowry, Lois. The Willoughbys Return. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-42389-8. 182 p. $17.99. Grades 4-6.
The Willoughby family is back in this entertaining sequel. After being frozen in the snowy Swiss Alps for thirty years, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby have thawed, apparently none the worse for wear, except for being behind the times. The couple, who were not the most caring parents, decide to return home and reunite with their children, who are now technically older than them. During the time of their absence, all four children were adopted by Commander Melanoff, who married their nanny. The eldest son, Tim, succeeded the Commander as CEO of a successful candy company. At least, it was successful until the government banned all candy as unhealthy. Next door to the mansion lives the Poore family, who like their name, is in very reduced circumstances. They open a bed and breakfast and the first guests are Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, whose stay is cut short after eating a salad of poisonous leaves prepared by the unwitting Mrs. Poore. Eventually, the Willoughbys are reunited and the parents thaw out their relations with their children, as they adjust to the new world of Google, FaceTime and Skype. Even the hapless Mr. Poore, an unsuccessful traveling encyclopedia salesman, returns home penniless, but with some glittery rocks, which will change his family’s life forever. The author speaks to the reader in occasional footnotes, which provide additional plot details or explain a reference.
THOUGHTS: This satirical “rags to riches” and “riches to rags” story is sure to delight fans of Lemony Snicket’s books and those who can appreciate a parody of those classic orphan stories.
Humorous Fiction Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
Applebaum, Kirsty. The Middler. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-31733-9. 262 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.
Eleven year old Maggie is a middler, nothing special like an eldest, and is mainly ignored and invisible in her town of Fennis Wick. When Maggie meets a “wanderer” who lives outside the boundary, she decides she wants to step up and get noticed by trying to capture her. Once Maggie steps outside her town and into the boundary that has always kept her isolated, everything she has ever known and believed gets turned upside down. Join Maggie in this dystopian adventure that exposes the lies her town has told for years and changes the way of their world forever. Fans of The Giver will love this debut novel!
THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection.
Florence, Debbi Michiko. Keep It Together, Keiko Carter. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-60752-9. 293 p. $15.67. Grades 3-6.
Keiko Carter likes her friendships like she likes her chocolate—high quality, sweet, and smooth. Unfortunately, as Keiko and her two best friends start seventh grade, their friendship is anything but. Audrey joins the Fall Ball committee and declares that they need to find boyfriends, so they can all go to the dance together. The problem is, the boy Audrey has set her sights on is the boy Jenna has been texting all summer. Plus, Jenna is not sure she wants to continue letting Audrey always get her way, and now they aren’t talking to each other. Keiko finds herself caught in the middle between her feuding friends, and she has no idea how to keep the peace. Tensions at home add to her problems, not to mention her feelings for a boy that Audrey will never approve of and a new boy who gets between Keiko and Audrey. Should Keiko compromise her needs to bring her friends back together, or will Keiko find that standing up for herself is the sweetest treat of all?
THOUGHTS: Middle school girls will recognize Keiko’s friendship struggles, but there are lessons about relationships and knowing yourself that are appropriate for boys as well. This is a good story about finding your voice.
Realistic FictionMelissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD
Kephart, Beth. The Great Upending. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-4814-9156-3. 259 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.
Sara has what she needs: her younger brother, Hawk, her parents, the family farm with all its wonder. Hawk is her best friend, and together they navigate life. When a gentleman rents the converted silo on the farm, Sara and Hawk are expressly told to not bother Mister. But, being 12- and 11-years old, they wonder, they spy, they uncover secrets. Sara also has those things in her life she wishes she didn’t have: a drought that is pushing the farm into bankruptcy, a heart condition requiring surgery, and Marfan syndrome, which has caused her to grow taller than her mother already. Sara is tired of being gawked at and whispered about when she is in town, and is miserable about the anxiety and strain her condition puts on her parents. The bankers have turned down a loan application, telling her father that the farm has no value as collateral, leaving the family struggling to find funds for her surgery. This is a secret Sara keeps from Hawk, which begins to put a strain on their relationship. However, the secret the siblings uncover about Mister just may change many lives. This is a lyrically written book first about family, then about the rare condition of Marfan syndrome. Sara’s voice is wonderfully nuanced, as she rockets between being a child and a girl with too many burdens for her age. Her and Hawk’s spying on Mister definitely crosses boundaries, but galvanizes the pair into a wild scheme in which Sara finds purpose and a way to forget about her health issues. Readers will fall in love with Sara and root for a happy ending for everyone.
THOUGHTS: This lovely book addresses a medical condition with which most people will not be familiar. But while Sara’s illness is the nudge that drives the plot, it does not take over. Sara is a memorable character who has Marfan syndrome, not because she has Marfan syndrome. The theme that shines throughout is the closeness of family. This story will linger after the last pages.