Elem. – My Brother Is Away

Greenwood, Sara. My Brother Is Away. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-0-593-12716-2. Unpaged. Grades K-3. $18.99.

Drawing from her own family background, Greenwood has penned a story which will resonate with children experiencing feelings of loss and abandonment due to the incarceration of a family member. The unnamed narrator is a young girl who is sad that her brother no longer lives with her and her parents. She misses his storytelling and remembers when they would fly kites or when he carried her on his shoulders as they gazed at the stars. Her classmates and the neighborhood children ask where he is, but the only answer she gives is that he is busy, even though she would like to say that he is at a job or with friends. One day a student reveals to everyone on the school playground that the “brother did something bad,” and the young girl goes through the emotions of embarrassment and then anger directed at her brother. Her parents comfort her and explain that they will visit her brother soon. After a long trip, the family arrives at a “building ringed with silver fences,”-a prison. The siblings reunite, and the girl understands that even though he is not at home he still loves her. As she sees the other family visitors, she realizes she is not alone in this situation. In the author’s note, Greenwood reveals that her own brother was incarcerated for eight years when she was a child. Just like the narrator in this story, the author felt alone and was comforted by seeing other visitors at the prison. Uribe’s illustrations are done in Photoshop. The colors are soft and muted, which help create a melancholy, but reassuring, tone.

THOUGHTS: This picture book handles a sensitive topic in a way that is accessible to young children and will be appreciated by families and guidance counselors. A touching story that is a must-have for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, PSLA Member, Retired

Elem. – My Life Begins!

MacLachlan, Patricia. My Life Begins! Katherine Tegen Books, 2022. 978-0-063-11601-6. $16.99. 119 p. Grades 3-6.

Jacob is 9 years old. His greatest wish is to have a puppy, perhaps even a whole litter of puppies. Puppies are not in Jacob’s immediate future, however. Jacob’s mother is having triplets. Jacob refers to his newborn siblings as The Trips. The Trips don’t do much at first. The family must dress them each in different colors to keep track of which is which. Jacob watches his exhausted parents as they feed, dress, and rock the triplets to sleep. When a school research project is assigned, Jacob decides to study the changes in the lives of the newborns as they grow and mature. He titles the project “A Litter of Trips – from Birth On” and begins to keep notes on their development. The early journal entries claim The Trips do nothing and are all the same. Then, one night Jacob is awakened by a crying baby. Knowing his parents could use a rest, Jacob realizes he can change and feed her himself. As he comforts Lizzie, he is rewarded with her first smile. Suddenly Jacob realizes that his newborn sisters each have a distinct personality. The Trips all have favorite ways to get attention. Char, the quiet one, will wave her hands excitedly when Jacob passes, Kath, the bold one, will make vocal noises, and Lizzie will smile and take Jacob’s hand. As The Trips grow, so too does Jacob. He begins to realize he no longer thinks of the triplets as The Trips, but he is not sure exactly what to call them. When Mom returns to work, the family hires Mimi, an experienced mother of five, to help out. Mimi, who is adored by the entire family, sees Jacob’s kind, caring nature. Mimi helps Jacob to understand “the girls” and himself. Jacob finishes his school report with an in class visit by the triplets, who he now refers to as his “sisters.” Jacob comes to realize that as we mature our lives begin again and again with new experiences, new people, new skills and interests. Told partly in journal entries, and partly through narrative, this is a delightful look at the first year of life through the eyes of an older brother. Illustrated with great care by Daniel Miyares. 

THOUGHTS: An utterly delightful read that will resonate with children and adults alike. 

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

YA – Tin Man

Madson, Justin. Tin Man. Amulet Books, 2022. 978-1-419-75104-2. 219 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Solar is a senior but instead of feeling like her whole life is ahead of her, she feels scared and uncertain. The death of her grandmother, who was also her best friend and mentor, has shaken Solar to her core. Fenn, her little brother, is confused and saddened by her change in personality. The two of them used to work on building a rocket together, but now Solar has little interest in much of anything, especially if it involves Fenn. Campbell is a tin man, a woodsman who wants more in his life than just chopping down trees. Against his father’s wishes, Campbell receives a heart and leaves home to work through all of the feelings he suddenly has. Fenn, Solar, and Campbell become unlikely friends and together, they work through all of their difficult feelings to understand what life has to offer them.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is a heart-warming story of how friendship can help heal feelings of loss and confusion. Read closely to see other objects and symbols from The Wizard of Oz peppered throughout Tin Man. 

Graphic Novel                Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Room for Everyone

Khan, Naaz. Room for Everyone. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-43139-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Musa and Dada are off to Nungwi Beach in Zanzibar when, along the way, Dada stops the bus to pick up an old man with a broken bike. Musa argues that there’s no room for the man and his bike, but Dada insists there is plenty of space. They make room, and before long, Dada stops again to pick up a herder with two goats. Again, Musa argues there is no room, and again, they shuffle around and make space. This pattern continues throughout the book until, by the end, it’s Musa insisting that there is room for everyone. Ultimately, they reach the beach, where they all pile out to enjoy a day under the sun. Rhyming text and detailed, colorful, mixed-media illustrations make this a very lively, engaging read.

THOUGHTS: I love everything about this book! Not only does it convey the subtle message that there is always room for new friends and experiences, but it also provides readers with a glimpse of African culture. A glossary in the back explains unfamiliar words like daladala (a shared minibus), baghala (a boat used by people living near the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean), and more. This is a solid purchase for social studies classrooms and/or elementary library collections.

Picture Book           Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

YA – You’d Be Home Now

Glasgow, Kathleen. You’d Be Home Now. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-525-70804-9. 400 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

For her whole life Emory’s family has been well-known in the town of Mill Haven. Her great great grandfather founded the mill that employed many of the town’s families for generations. But the mill has been abandoned for some time, and people have very different opinions about what should become of the space. Emory also is the little sister of Joey who overdosed and passed out while his best friend Leonard caused a life altering car accident, one that devastated their small town and Emory’s family. Now Emory is known as someone who was in the car when Candy died. Joey is on his way back from rehab, and their older sister Maddie is away at college. With workaholic parents who aren’t always around, Emory is tasked with keeping an eye on Joey who has been given some pretty serious restrictions to keep him “on the right path.” Always feeling invisible in the shadow of her perfect sister and self-destructive brother, Emory has been a good girl, a rule follower. But Emory needs someone to see her. Next door neighbor Gage, who Emory has had a crush on, shows her attention, though secretly, and it feels good for someone finally to notice her even if not out in the open. Despite some questionable choices, Emory is managing and keeping an eye on Joey. Until she isn’t. Secrets are brought to light, Joey disappears, and Emory loses herself. Will she pick up the pieces and figure out who she wants to be before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Emory and Joey while cringing at some obvious warning signs. Glasgow writes a compelling, character driven novel that shines light on addiction’s impact on family, friends, and community. Teens will appreciate the authentic portrayal of serious issues.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, SD

YA – Luck of the Titanic

Lee, Stacey.  Luck of the Titanic. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-524-74098-6. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Luck of the Titanic begins as Valora Luck is getting ready to get on the most luxurious ocean liner in the world, or at least that’s her plan. She is looking to find her twin brother and start a new life as a circus performer in New York City. However, her twin brother Jamie has other plans, and they do not involve being a circus performer. They both have different versions of their childhood, growing up with their parents, and while Valora is desperately trying to rekindle the flame that she recalls, her twin has a very different recollection of their childhood. All of that gets set aside, however, when the Titanic hits the iceberg that seals the ship’s fate. Will Valora escape with her brother to start her new life that she dreamed of?

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderfully written historical fiction novel that deals with family dynamics in a very real and authentic way. The relationship between Valora and Jamie felt very authentic, and the reader will be able to picture them doing their circus acts on the ship. 

Historical Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Kyle’s Little Sister

Jeong, BonHyung. Kyle’s Little Sister. JY, 2021. 978-1-975-33589-2. $24.00. 207 p. Grades 4-7.

6th grader Grace and 8th grader Kyle just started a new year of middle school. Grace, an avid gamer who often feels awkward in social situations, has always struggled in her role as Kyle’s younger sister, since he is one of the most popular and athletic kids at school. Grace’s best friends, Amy and Jay, try to help her forget about living in her big brother’s shadow by organizing game nights and sleepovers, but soon boy-crazy Amy devises a match-making scheme that breaks up the three girls’ friendship in a devastating way. As Grace and her friends struggle to navigate school gossip, popularity contests, and the difficulties of growing up, Kyle begins to reach out to his sister and repair their tumultuous sibling relationship in a way that is realistic and heartwarming. A brief autobiographical sketch at the end of the book also introduces readers to the author/illustrator of the book and to her artistic writing process.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is perfect for fans of Reina Telgemar and Svetlana Chmakova.  Middle schoolers, especially kids that are dealing with all the struggles of young adult friendships, will have no difficulty relating to Grace’s feelings and eagerly will devour this book to find out if the story’s characters find resolutions to their problems.

Graphic Novel          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

YA – Six Crimson Cranes

Lim, Elizabeth. Six Crimson Cranes. Hodder & Stoughton, 2021. 978-1-529-37026-3. 454 pg. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Shiori has a secret – she has forbidden magic. As the only princess of Kiata, if her secret came to light it would have disastrous implications.  Usually Shiori keeps her secret concealed except on the day of her betrothal ceremony. That day, her stepmother Raikama notices and banishes the young princess with a curse, turning Shiori’s brothers into cranes and for every word she speaks one of her brothers will die.  Shiori is left alone and unable to speak; she sets off to find her brothers and figure out a way to save them. While she is looking for a solution, she discovers there is more to her stepmother’s deceit than meets the eye. Will Shiori be able to save herself, her brothers, and her kingdom?

THOUGHTS: This was amazingly well written, with memorable characters and great pacing throughout. Elizabeth Lim does a great job of weaving in the elements of the original fairy tale while also making the reader feel that they are reading something new. This is a must own for every high school and public library collection, as well as a must read for any fan of fantasy.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City

Heidicker, Christian McKay. Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-25018-144-2. 386 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

O-370 only knows of life on the farm. The elder foxes tell him stories about wild foxes who have adventures beyond anything he can imagine. O-370 and his cousin, R-211 dream of having their own adventures like Mia and Uly, the foxes they hear about in the stories. Even though they want to have adventures, they also know that the farm is a good place for them. All the foxes who live here get food twice a day and have a warm place to sleep. Best of all, when they are done at the farm, they get to go to The Barn, a special place where foxes eat centipedes all day and play with all the foxes that have gone before them. One night, O-370 is desperate for an adventure and slips out of his cage to explore The Barn. What he discovers sends him running into the forest and to the edge of the nearby city. After meeting a group of tough city foxes, O-370 realizes he may not have the skills to survive away from the farm. O-370 decides he must use the strategies in the stories he heard as a young kit to survive in the city.

THOUGHTS: In the follow-up novel to Scary Stories for Young Foxes, author Heidicker follows a similar format. He intersperses the story of O-370 with an older fox storyteller who is relaying O-370’s story to kits. Fans of his first novel will be happy to see previous characters Mia, Uly, Beatrix Potter, and others make appearances throughout the book. This book is a great addition to middle grade libraries, especially for young fans of horror and animal stories.

Horror/Fantasy          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers

LaRocca, Rajani, and Chaaya Prabhat. Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-623-54129-3. unpaged. $15.99. Grades K-2.

The sibling holiday of Raksha Bandhan was coming soon, and Bina wanted to make the traditional bracelets for her brothers by herself this year. First she does some investigating to find out each brother’s color preferences. She learns that Vijay likes blue best but green the least; Siddharth loves green but can’t stand orange; and Arjun’s fav is orange but not blue. As readers will guess, once the process of putting together each personalized bracelet begins, Bina needs to do some problem solving. The patterns that come from her process are fun, allowing readers to play the part of Tara, the faithful family dog, to help Bina when she is stuck. Prabhat creates a colorful animated world to enjoy, and LaRocca adds her cultural note and math connections at the end to help make Bina’s story special.

THOUGHTS: The bracelet patterns are not advanced, but serve as a starting point to bigger pattern projects. The holiday of Raksha Bandhan gets a rare spotlight which siblings both familiar and new to the day should appreciate. This is a solid series to celebrate “Math, diversity, and the power of story.” Recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

In preparation for Raksha Bandhan, an Indian holiday celebrating the bond between brothers and sisters, Bina, who has three (sometimes annoying) older brothers, decides she is old enough to make bracelet gifts with the help of her dog Tara. Bina works to figure out each brother’s favorite and least favorite colors as well as special interests to create a unique bracelet for each one. While investigating, she learns more about each of her brothers and asks them not to call her names like Giggles, Piggles, and Wiggles. After a trip to the craft store with her mom, Bina has the right colored beads and “extra-special beads for extra-special brothers.” She has to figure out the right colors and patterns, being careful not to use colors her brothers don’t like and to have repeating patterns on each bracelet. With Tara’s careful supervision, will Bina be able to make unique bracelets for each of her brothers. An author’s cultural note, exploring the math, and website (https://www.charlesbridge.com/pages/storytellingmath) are included for extension activities.

THOUGHTS: A beautiful celebration of siblings, Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers is an excellent addition to elementary collections looking to add holiday representation and family stories. Highly recommended (and be sure to check out other Storytelling Math titles at the link above).

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD