Elem./MG – The Magical Reality of Nadia

Youssef, Bassam. The Magical Reality of Nadia. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-67481-1. 176 p. $14.99. Grades 3-6.

The Magical Reality of Nadia is a realistic fiction that follows Nadia, a 6th grade student who loves facts, and loves sharing them with her friends and classmates. Some fun facts about her: her family moved from Egypt when she was 6 years old, she collects bobbleheads, and she has a hippo amulet she wears that is actually from Ancient Egypt. One day there is a new student that comes to Nadia’s school who teases her about her heritage which causes some issues with her friends and throws Nadia for a loop. The other thing that throws her for a loop? The amulet around Nadia’s neck starts glowing! She finds that her amulet was holding a secret, which is hilarious and helpful at the same time!

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing transition novel, for a student who isn’t ready for longer chapter books. There are black and white illustrations found throughout the novel, which break up the book. This is a great book to have in any upper elementary/middle school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – The Life I’m In

Flake, Sharon G. The Life I’m In. Scholastic Press, 2021. $18.99. 978-1-338-57317-6. Grades 9-12.

In Sharon G. Flake’s best selling novel, The Skin I’m In, Charlese–Char–Jones is the confident bully wreaking havoc on the life of the diffident and vulnerable Maleeka. In The Life I’m In, African-American Char appears as the main character, still inwardly grieving for the loss of her beloved parents, and continuing to make bad decisions. Her older sister and guardian, Juju, has begun to get her life together–stopping the house parties and securing a job in a bank–and needs Char–sixteen and a seventh-grade drop out–to live with their grandparents in Alabama. At the start of this reluctant bus trip, Char is flippant and rude, comical and outspoken. The passengers are alternately annoyed and amused by her unself- conscious antics. When young, white mother, April gets on the bus with her three-month old biracial baby, Char’s maternal instincts urge her to assist April. Bound for a job, April shows the distressed signs of living rough on the streets. To provide for her child, she sells narcotics and sexual favors to truck drivers; she suppresses suspicion about this new employment that requires she pay for the position. When April disembarks the bus with baby Cricket in tow, naive Char decides she will go out on her own and not continue to Alabama. Thinking it is temporary, she volunteers to take care of Cricket when April’s aunt never shows up at the bus station and well-dressed and smooth talking Anthony arrives as April’s ride to Florida. Char enlists all her resources to persuade a hotel proprietor to rent her a suite; she figures out and procures the necessary baby supplies with the money from Juju; she contacts Juju and even the newly reconciled Maleeka to tell them of her actions if not her whereabouts. Char may talk a good game, but she is young, inexperienced, and a virgin. When Char’s funds dwindle and her efforts to find work are hindered by her motherly duties, she runs into Anthony again and, in an attempt to save Cricket, finds herself a victim of sex trafficking. Author Flake describes the depravity of Char’s existence during this time delicately, but does not stint on the truth. Char receives some solace in the community of other girls in Anthony’s pack, who seem to be of different races and backgrounds. When she eventually escapes and is reunited with Juju, Char needs the help of not only her sister, but also Maleeka, her former teacher, Ms. Saunders, and professionals to survive the trauma and feel truly free. The fluid text reflects Char’s actual voice, and her first-person narration gives an intense look into her complex feelings and her maturity as she tries to survive under egregious conditions. Although the stress and suffering Char conveys is painful to read about, readers will find this a compelling book.

THOUGHTS: This is a harsh story to tell, and Sharon Flake tells it well. The book serves as a mirror for those who have suffered sexual abuse or trauma of any kind as well as a window into the lives of people who have experienced homelessness and poverty. The reader leaves feeling not pity but understanding and an admiration for the resilience and effort exerted by trauma victims. It acts as a call for all to refrain from rash judgements and to be kind. Char’s second escape from Anthony seems contrived (would the driver wait for Char as she says good-bye to Maleeka?); however, readers will be rooting for the happy ending.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – Super Fake Love Song

Yoon, David. Super Fake Love Song. G.P. Putnam & Sons, 2020. 978-1-984-81223-0. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Asian-American Sunny Dae is a nerd, into Dungeons and Dragons with his best buddies, Jamal and Milo and anticipating multiple followers when they broadcast an interview with the much admired Lady Lashblade. Then he meets Cirrus Soh, the daughter of a Japanese couple who do business with his own workaholic parents. To impress Cirrus, he takes on the persona of his rocker-brother, Gray. His older brother has returned from his Hollywood pursuit for fame with his tail between his legs. Depressed and disillusioned, Gray succumbs himself to his basement room only to be drawn out to mentor the fledgling band Sunny and his pals have formed as they rehearse for the annual high school talent show. As Sunny’s feelings for Cirrus deepen, he becomes more conflicted about his duplicity: he is pretending to be a rocker and gaining Cirrus’s admiration and the longer he pretends, the more he likes the confidence and attention he is getting from others, including Gunner, his former bully.  When the day for the show comes, the Immortals pull it off, until a drunk Gray interferes. Author David Yoon has a knack for clever dialogue. His narrator, Sunny, weaves DnD references with contemporary situations that are fun for teens. Sunny is wealthy and lives in a posh area of Rancho Ruby in California. Though he is intelligent and good-looking, he still deals with insecurities and feelings of being a loser. However, the charmed life he leads refutes that claim. For those looking for a light romance enhanced by good writing, Super Fake Love Song may be just the thing.

THOUGHTS: Dungeons and Dragons fans will appreciate Sunny’s obsession. Romance fans will like the different male perspective. Though the genre is realistic fiction, the circumstances and events that occur in this book are fantasy to many of the teens who may pick up this book. In one section Sunny gives his take on the extravagant party Cirrus throws when her parents leave her home alone: “Such phenomena occurred solely on insipid television shows written by middle-aged hacks eager to cash in on the young adult demographic” (224). This comment may be a prediction for Super Fake Love Song.

Realistic Fiction/Romance          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Speak Up, Molly Lou Melon

Lovell, Patty. Speak up, Molly Lou Melon. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 978-0-399-26002-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Molly Lou Melon is back for more adventure with her friends. As she plays with her animal friends, Molly Lou’s mother reminds her to “Be true to yourself;” take responsibility for the things you do, good or bad;” “Accept peple for who they are and listen to their ideas, even if they are different from yours;” and “Use [your strong voice] to speak up for anyone who might need your help.” In the fall when Molly Lou goes to school, she needs to apply these lessons with her friends and the class bully. At every opportunity Molly makes her friends, Ronald Durkin and Gertie; the new kid, Garvin Grape; and even the class bully Bettina Bonklehead feel welcome as she lives the values her mother taught her. Even when owning her mess (alone), Molly Lou finds a way to make cleanup an adventure and remain positive.

THOUGHTS: Elementary libraries will not want to miss this additional title about Molly Lou Melon. Molly Lou is a recognizable and important character in children’s literature, and students will delight in her newest adventures. A must-have for elementary libraries, this title will be great for lessons on friendship, bullying, and making good choices.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The Queen Bee and Me

McDunn, Gillian. The Queen Bee and Me. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-681-19751-7. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 5-7

Meg has always been joined at the hip of best friend Beatrix, except for the times when Beatrix freezes her out. Afraid of angering Beatrix and losing the benefits of being her friend, Meg decides to follow along while Beatrix plots to bully new student Hazel and her mom out of town. When Meg and Hazel get partnered up for a bee project in a science elective, Meg struggles between following her passion for science and doing whatever it takes to keep Beatrix from getting angry. It turns out Meg and Hazel have a lot in common, and they have fun together. Can Meg stand up to Beatrix even if it means risking years of friendship and the comfort of having a best friend? By the end of the story, Meg faces many of her fears, including a fear of bees, oral reports, and standing up to Beatrix which makes a sweet, but predictable, ending. 

THOUGHTS: As an adult reader, I had trouble finishing the book due to the predictable storyline. I anticipate young readers enjoying and relating to this story once they have the book in their hands and time to read.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

Upper Elem/MS – Pottymouth & Stoopid; Beach Party Surf Monkey; Genevieve’s War; Ban this Book

Patterson, James and Chris Grabenstein. Pottymouth and Stoopid. Little, Brown and Company, 2017. 978-0-316-34963-5. $13.99. 305 p. Gr. 3-6.

Michael and David have been best friends since preschool. Both have corrosive nicknames bestowed on them by cruel peers and thoughtless teachers. David was tagged as Stoopid in preschool; Michael, due to his penchant for inventing outrageous words, was dubbed Pottymouth by a substitute teacher in third grade. Now the two boys, along with their friend Anna, suffer through school, tormented by their classmates and scorned by teachers for their over-the-top imagination and restlessness. But everything changes when a new TV show airs, based on the antics of the boys and their friends. Even though the show is wildly popular, it only aggravates tensions at school, until David learns his “ex-dad” is behind the show. Eventually, the boys achieve fame for all nerds and see the bullies cut down. Both boys come from challenging home lives; Michael is in foster care, and it is eventually revealed they both test as geniuses, causing trouble because they are bored in school. Teachers and administrators are uniformly portrayed as incompetent at best, cruel at worst. But students will love the potty humor and sweet revenge of the story. THOUGHTS: Patterson and Grabenstein know how to write to their audience.  While many parts of the book made me cringe, young readers will relate and thoroughly enjoy the book.  A great step up for Captain Underpants fans.

Realistic Fiction; Humor     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Grabenstein, Chris. Beach Party Surf Monkey. Random House, 2017. 978-0-553-53610-2. $13.99. 301 p. Gr. 3-6.

Entertainer extraordinaire and part-time detective P.T. Wilkie is back in this second entry to Chris Grabenstein’s Welcome to Wonderland series. P.T. and his friend Gloria are on a mission to have a new beach party revival movie filmed at his family’s St. Pete Beach, Florida, motel. The pair prove successful, but that’s when the real problems start. The teen pop idol star can’t act and has no chemistry with his Oscar-winning female costar. Plus, someone is out to sabotage the movie. Could it be the owner of the mega-hotel next store who is pressuring P.T.’s mom to sell the Wonderland Motel? P.T. and Gloria have their hands full trying to keep the movie on schedule, determine the culprit behind the dirty deeds, and control You-Tube star Kevin the Monkey. Can the creative pair of friends save the movie and the motel?  THOUGHTS: A delightfully fun read from funny guy Grabenstein. Hijinks and mayhem abound, and will keep students entertained to the last page.

Realistic Fiction, Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Giff, Patricia Reilly. Genevieve’s War. Holiday House, 2017. 978-0-8234-3800-6. $16.95. 222p. Gr. 4-8.

Genevieve and her brother, Andre, were spending the summer of 1939 with their Alsatian grandmother at her farm in France near the German border. Andre leaves early to return home to the States, but when it is time for Genevieve to leave, she surprises herself by impulsively deciding to stay. Genevieve was not particularly drawn to her dour grandmother, but she is concerned for the elderly woman on the eve of the German invasion. The two become dependent on each other as German troops establish themselves in the town and a German officer billets himself at the farmhouse. As time passes, Genevieve and her grandmother grow close as they attempt to eke out an existence in the ravaged village, and Genevieve learns about the father she never knew. The stakes become even higher when Genevieve hides an injured member of the resistance in their attic. THOUGHTS : A beautifully crafted, suspenseful story that immerses the reader in daily life in wartime France deftly conveying the suspicion that takes over the community as no one knows who to trust.

Historical Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Gratz, Alan. Ban This Book. Tom Doherty, 2017. 978-0-7653-8556-7. $15.99. 243 p. Gr. 3-6.

Quiet fourth grader Amy Anne is appalled to learn her favorite book, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, has been banned from her school library. A classmate’s mother felt the book promoted lying, stealing, and running away from home, and the school board vindicated her claim. Amy Anne goes to the board meeting but is too shy to speak up. Soon additional books disappear from the library. Starting a one-girl protest, she begins to read the banned books, then shares them with her classmates. Soon, the Banned Book Locker Library is born with the illicit books quietly passed around the school. Unfortunately, when the library is discovered, the school librarian is fired. The students come up with an ingenious plan to fight back and show the parent, as well as the school board, the innate folly of banning books. THOUGHTS: All librarians should treat themselves to this book (it’s dedicated to librarians) with Gratz’s knowledgeable treatment of the school book banning issue. For students, it’s a great introduction to the topic. The book contains a Reading and Activity Guide in the back, making it great for a classroom read-aloud or lit circle.

Realistic Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD