MG – The Prettiest

Young, Brigit. The Prettiest. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-626-72923-0. 301 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Eve Hoffman writes poetry, wears her high-school aged brother’s oversized shirts to distract from her curves, and buries her head in a book so as to not be noticed. She is the most surprised of all her eighth grade classmates to find herself in the top slot on the Prettiest List at Ford Middle School in suburban Michigan. As the principal and teachers try to root out the list’s instigator, both girls on the list and off suffer backlash. Prettiest by Brigit Young is told through the perspectives of the main characters: Eve, a well-developed, shy girl from a conservative Jewish family; Nessa Flores-Brady, her best friend, a theater junkie and a large, Latinx girl; and Sophie Kane, a determined blonde-haired girl whose bossiness and make-up mask the shame she feels about her family’s economic situation. When the ringleader of the mean girls, Sophie, gets knocked off her pedestal and relegated to number two on the list, she realizes the pretense of her groupies and reluctantly joins forces with Nessa and Eve to take down the person who they believe compiled the list. Aided by Winston Byrd, a lone renegade from the popular boys, their chief suspect is Brody Dalton, a wealthy, handsome, and entitled young man who has verbally abused or offended many of his classmates with no remorse. The trio enlist other wronged girls calling themselves Shieldmaidens. They bond in genuine friendship and sisterhood as they plot to expose Dalton’s crime in a public way at the finale of the school play. What starts off as a 21st Century equivalent to a simple slam book story becomes a feminist’s rallying cry for girls to be judged on their merits, not their looks, and for all middle school students to resist fitting into a mold to gain acceptance. It also uncovers the nuances of each person’s story. For example, the arrogant Dalton is the sole student whose parent never attends school events. Young’s talent for echoing the authenticity and humor of preadolescent dialogue enables her to tackle important issues with a light touch. This highly readable work reveals the insecurities embedded in a middle school student’s life: not being cool enough, popular enough, and the pain caused by too much attention and not enough.

THOUGHTS: Though there is some show of diversity here (an African-American girl, a girl in a wheelchair), the emphasis is on the pressure middle school students—especially girls—feel to look and behave a certain way. Lots of discussion points in this book: from the insults the girls receive and their collective show of power to the students’ bandwagon attitude and the sympathetic– but mostly ineffectual– response of the teachers and principal. Prettiest may present as a “girl” book because of its feminine cover and title, but it is definitely a book for all genders to read. For more tales of positive girl power: read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu in high school.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – The Box Turtle

Roeder, Vanessa. The Box Turtle.  Dial Books, 2020. Unpaged. $17.99 978-07352-3050-7  Grades K-2.

When Terrance the turtle is born without a shell, his parents provide a shell and a name, “both of which fit just right.”  Terrance grows and finds his shell keeps him dry, safe, and able to share space with a friendly hermit crab. But one day, three turtles pronounce his shell “weird,” and Terrance begins a search for a substitute. He finds–and discards–a mailbox (it “showed to much cheek”), a hat box, a jack-in-the-box, a boom box, a lunch box, a flower box, a treasure chest, and a kitty litter box (which “stunk”). It is then that his unnamed crab friend offers his own shell, and Terrance realizes that the crab is “so much more than just a shell,” and a turtle is, too! He seeks out his original shell and after refurbishing it, walks proudly once more, this time easily dismissing the bully turtles’ “weird” claim.

THOUGHTS: This title works for social-emotional learning about the concepts of friendship and accepting oneself (and others) for who they are.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Believe

Mathison, Julie. Believe. Star Creek Press, 2020. 978-1-735-00371-9. 230 p. $8.99. Grades 6-8.

The first time they met, Sabrina “came out of nowhere” according to Melanie, an imaginative 5th grader at the experimental school Buckminster Elementary. As they develop a friendship, Sabrina helps Melanie cope with her mother’s disappearance and a father who prefers to spend time creating art than paying attention to his daughter. After being cast as Peter Pan in the upcoming school musical, Melanie learns to stand up against the school bully and make true friends by being her authentic self. As the one year anniversary of her mother’s disappearance approaches, Melanie confronts her anxieties stemming from her family’s tragic past and finds that forming real, honest connections with her loved ones can help heal pain better than any make-believe world ever could.

THOUGHTS: Readers identifying as outsiders will connect with the main character in this story as well as middle grade readers struggling with difficult life experiences including divorce, death, and bullying. Readers should have a basic knowledge of Peter Pan in order to deeply understand Melanie’s emotions and grief. Some older readers may not have the patience to read the story entirely, especially if they pick up on key details early on that lead to revelations at the end of the story.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – Felix Ever After

Calendar, Kacen. Felix Ever After. Balzer + Bray, 2020. 978-0-062-82025-9. $18.99. 354 p. Grades 9 and up.

In the summer before his senior year of high school, it seems like everyone around Felix Love is falling in love… except him. Ironic, isn’t it?  Even though he desperately wants it, Felix has a complicated relationship with love. Felix’s mom left when he was a kid and hasn’t spoken to him since. When he was 12, he realized he is a guy, not female, the gender assigned to him at birth. Though his dad has helped him with his transition, he still does not call Felix by his name, simply referring to him as “kid.” Now, Felix continues to question his identity, a feeling he describes as a “niggling” that just isn’t quite right. While at a summer program at his New York City art school, someone displays stolen photos of Felix before his transition along with his deadname in the school gallery, something he has kept secret from his classmates and did not plan to reveal. In the aftermath of the gallery, an internet troll sends transphobic messages to his Instagram account. With all that is happening in his life, how can Felix Love fall in love when he doesn’t feel he deserves it? The quest to find the person who bullied Felix becomes more than just that; as Felix and his best friend Ezra seek out revenge, Felix forges unexpected friendships, finds himself in the middle of a love triangle, and learns more about himself. This raw, emotional YA contemporary explores a plethora of race and LGBTQ issues and teaches readers that age-old lesson that in order to fall in love, you first need to learn to love yourself.

THOUGHTS: Kacen Callender has written a primer on transgender youth and the issues they face in their second YA novel. Seeing the world through Felix’s eyes provides awareness and empathy. I would recommend this novel to any student of any background, whether they are looking for a protagonist they can relate to or they want to be a better ally. Sensitive readers may appreciate a warning that there is a lot of inappropriate language in the novel, but that shouldn’t detract from this powerful and important novel full of loveable, imperfect teen characters. Highly recommended for all collections.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

MG – Mañanaland; Nat Enough; Black Brother, Black Brother; On the Horizon

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Mañanaland. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-15786-4.  251 p. $16.53. Grades 3-6.

Maximiliano Córdoba has a lot. He has his hard-working, bridge builder father and his loving Buelo who cooks delicious dinners and tells fantastic stories. He has a best friend, Chuy, and a group of neighborhood boys with whom he plays soccer. He even has a playful dog named Lola. But it is what Max doesn’t have that occupies his thoughts. He doesn’t have the strength that Ortiz has when he throws the fútbol out of the goal, and he doesn’t have a pair of Volantes, which would ensure his success at tryouts. He doesn’t have the freedom to attend a summer clinic in Santa Inés with his friends. And most of all, he does not have a mother. He doesn’t know where she is or why she left, and his Papá will not tell Max anything about her. “When you’re older, I’ll explain more,” is what he hears from his Papá, but he wants answers now, and he may just get them sooner rather than later. The new soccer coach expects all players to have a birth certificate to try out for the team, and Max learns his mother took his documents with her when she left. With Papà out of town in search of Max’s documents, Max finds himself thrust into an adventure of a lifetime. Will the legend his Buelo has been telling him his whole life lead Max to the answers he seeks? And will Papà finally accept that he can be trusted?

THOUGHTS:  Middle school is a time for students to explore their strengths and weaknesses and also to test the boundaries of the freedoms that come with growing up. Many middle schoolers will see themselves in Max and their parents in his Papà. The folklore adds interest to this coming of age story. Pam Muñoz Ryan’s fantasy novel is a self-discovery tale for every upper elementary and middle school library.

Fantasy          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD


Scrivan, Maria. Nat Enough. Graphix, 2020. 978-1-338-53821-2. 235 p. $21.59. Grades 3-6.

Natalie Mariano is not enough. She is not cool enough, not athletic enough, not talented enough. Whatever you need to make you enough for middle school, Natalie doesn’t have it–at all. And to make matters worse, her best friend, Lily, seems to have changed her mind about wanting to be friends with Natalie, so now she is not enough for Lily either.  Add in a disastrous first day of gym class; bully Shawn Dreary, who barks at Natalie every chance he gets; and a Jell-o frog dissection debacle, and Natalie is sure that she will never have what it takes to make it in middle school. But maybe Natalie has it all wrong. Instead of focusing on what she isn’t, maybe Natalie should focus on what she is. With the help of some new friends and some old hobbies, a story contest and some new-found confidence, maybe Natalie will discover that who she is, in fact, is exactly enough.

THOUGHTS: Every middle school student has been in Natalie’s shoes at one point, whether it is a falling out with a friend, that awkward feeling when trying something new, or an embarrassing moment that everyone sees. Her epiphany is gradual, but the progression is logical, and even the bullies have evolved by the end. Maria Scrivan’s debut graphic novel is a perfect fit for upper elementary and middle school libraries.

Graphic Novel    Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD


Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Black Brother, Black Brother. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-49380-2. 239 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

Donte Ellison fit in in New York, in his multiracial neighborhood. He fit in at his old school. He does not fit in in his new white neighborhood, and he certainly does not fit in at his new school, Middlefield Prep. His brother, Trey, fits in, and everyone wants to know why Donte can’t be more like Trey. But Trey has light hair and blue eyes like their father, and Donte has dark hair and brown eyes like their mother, and this makes all the difference at Middlefield Prep, and makes Donte a target of bullies, especially Alan. When Alan throws a pencil at another student, Donte is immediately blamed. Frustration turns to anger, and Donte finds himself in handcuffs in the back of a police car. No one in his school sees him. They only see the color of his skin, and Alan has made sure that Middlefield Prep is a miserable place for Donte to be. A week of suspension gives Donte time to plan his revenge on Alan, but is revenge really what Donte needs? A mentor, some new friends, and an athletic outlet provide Donte with support, purpose, and a goal that goes far beyond Alan and revenge.

THOUGHTS:  Middle grade students, regardless of race, will understand Donte’s anger and frustration with not being seen or heard, but his story will resonate most with BIPOC students. White students will benefit from reading this novel as a window into the experiences of their BIPOC classmates.  A must-read for students and teachers alike.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD


Lowry, Lois. On the Horizon: World War II Reflections. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-12940-0. 75 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Inspired by her own personal memories, Lowry has created a wonderful contemplative work about two major events that occurred during World War II. The text, told mostly in verse, contains a single reflection per page concerning specific incidents or individuals during the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the bombing of Hiroshima. These short remembrances are about some who perished and some who survived. In Hawaii, one of the Anderson twins survives the attack on the Arizona, and his ashes are buried with his brother years later. Frank Cabiness saves his watch that is stopped at 8:15, the time of the attack. The author deftly contrasts this story with Hiroshima. Four year old Shinichi Tetsutani is riding his red tricycle when the bomb falls and is buried with his bicycle. Shinji Mikamo survives the bombing, while his father does not. All he can find in the ruins is his father’s watch that is stopped at 8:15.  It is details like this that make these stories come alive for the reader. The illustrations by Kenard Pak are done in pencil and add to the thoughtful tone. Part of the story is autobiographical. Lowry was born in Honolulu in 1937 and remembers playing on the beach with her grandmother while a giant ship passed by on the horizon. As an adult, she later realized this was the Arizona. As a child, she returned to Japan after the war and while riding her bicycle, sees a young boy that will become a famous author.

THOUGHTS: Lowry’s work is a masterpiece made powerful by the stories of real people who were impacted by these historical events. These poignant tales will linger in the reader’s mind for a long time. This is an essential purchase for all elementary and middle school libraries.

940.54 World War II          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD

MG – Dream within a Dream; My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich; Child of the Dream; Best Friends

MacLachlan, Patricia. Dream within a Dream. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2019. 978-1-534-42959-8. 119 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Thirteen year old Louisiana and her ten year old brother Theo are spending the summer on Deer Island with their grandparents. Louisa, who loves to write, would rather be with her parents on their latest bird watching expedition, but her brother wants to stay on the island forever and read books. Grandfather Jake is losing his vision and is trying to etch faces into his memory before he loses it completely. Louisa meets other inhabitants of the island, including 14 year old George and his family. She experiences her first kiss with George, and the theme of romantic love is peppered throughout the story. George’s parents say that romance helped pass the time during a severe storm, Louisa’s grandparents enjoy slow dancing without music, and George touches his fingers to Louisa’s lips and dances close to her in the water. The plot deals more with feelings than events. The only real conflict in the story occurs when the parents return to the island intending to take their children on the next expedition. The parents are surprised and somewhat saddened to learn that the siblings want to stay on the island with their grandparents.

THOUGHTS: Hand this one to readers who prefer relationship books without much plot development and to fans of MacLachlan’s other books.

Realistic Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD


Zoboi, Izi. My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich. Dutton, 2019. 978-0-399-18735-3. 250 p. $16.99  Grades 4-8.

Ibi Zoboi’s (American Street) historical fiction middle grade novel with a sci-fi vibe features Ebony-Grace Norfleet Freeman, or, as she likes to call herself, E-Grace Starfleet. Ebony-Grace hails from Huntsville Alabama, where she lives with her mother and, up until recently, her beloved grandfather, one of the first Black engineers at NASA. When trouble brews, Ebony-Grace is sent to Harlem for what is supposed to be a few weeks with her father. Southern girl Ebony-Grace does not take to the hustle and bustle of New York City, which she calls “No-Joke City.” Harlem in 1984 is a vibrant place, but Ebony-Grace finds hip-hop, breakdancing, and double-dutch more unfamiliar and alien than outer space. As weeks drag into an entire summer, she retreats into an imaginative world fed by her love of Star Trek, Star Wars, and NASA. The girls in the neighborhood think she is crazy: they tell her she has no “Flava,” and nickname her “ice cream sandwich.” Ebony-Grace never completely assimilates, but more importantly, she starts to appreciate people and perspectives different from her own. The story, setting, themes, and characters are all unique and compelling, but the narrative thread is often difficult to follow. There is a thin line between the bizarre stories going on in Ebony-Grace’s head and the actual goings-on of 126th St. in Harlem that results in an overarching sense of hyperreality. Some cartoon panels illustrating Ebony-Grace’s fantasies are included throughout.

THOUGHTS: A fascinating but flawed book. Many readers are likely to find My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich too frustrating to finish (even if the awesome cover draws them in), but the book may find an appreciative audience among young teens and tweens who love Star Trek and Star Wars, and, like Ebony-Grace, sometimes feel like aliens in the real world. A possible purchase for middle school libraries where science fiction is popular. 

Historical Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Ebony-Grace’s world knows no bounds. Her beloved grandfather, a pioneering black engineer with NASA, has shared his love of space with her and encouraged her dreams.  Her imagination has conjured up a universe populated with villains and heroes where she and her grandfather battle evil so good can triumph. When a hushed up crisis with her grandfather erupts, Ebony Grace is sent to New York City to spend time with her father. Harlem of 1984 is a whole different galaxy from Huntsville, Alabama. The Harlem girls are doing double-dutch, playing in the fire hydrants, rapping and breakdancing. Her New York friend, Bianca, no longer wants to act out make believe space missions, telling Ebony-Grace to grow up. Ebony longs to go home, and to talk to her granddaddy, but she is continuously redirected from contact with him. The truth of her grandfather’s trouble is needlessly mystified. There are hints of a possible scandal, amplified when Ebony learns he no longer works at NASA. Only at the end of the book does the reader discover the truth, that he is dying in the hospital. Throughout her Harlem summer, Ebony tries to balance her true self with the kids in Harlem, locking away her “imagination place,” as she attempts to figure out how to be part of a very different crew. Near the end of the book Ebony makes a friend who shares her passion for space and returns to Huntsville more knowledgeable about dealing with alien life forms in their home environment, and a more mature understanding of her imagination and dreams. 

THOUGHTS: Ebony Grace is a spunky protagonist whose lively imagination shines. Readers will identify with Ebony not knowing how to fit in and will root for her to follow her dreams. 

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich follows Ebony-Grace who lives in Alabama in 1984. When the book opens, she is headed to New York City to spend the summer with her father which she is not happy about. Ebony-Grace and her grandfather share a love of space and Star Trek, and she feels like an alien coming to New York City. This place is nothing like her hometown, and she misses her family and her grandfather especially. Ebony-Grace struggles to make friends and fit into the new life that she is forced into. It is never stated that Ebony-Grace has a disability, but there is something going on as you read through the novel. There is also something going on with her grandfather, but that is never directly addressed or even dealt with. The book mainly focuses on Ebony-Grace trying to make friends and trying to fit into New York City.

THOUGHTS: I have read the other two books published by Ibi Zoboi (Pride and American Street) and those were geared for Young Adult audiences; meanwhile, this book is clearly for middle grade readers. The main character feels like she has some form of autism, or Aspergers, but there is nothing stated within the book. The main character is extremely well created and thought out; her friendships and problems with getting friends feels realistic and true to life. I really enjoyed this book and hope that Ibi Zoboi writes more middle grade.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy


Robinson, Sharon. Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963. Scholastic Press, 2019. 978-1-338-33113-4. 240 p., $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Sharon Robinson tells of her coming awareness of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s when she is thirteen. After his retirement from baseball her famous father, Jackie Robinson, is active in the civil rights movement, but has sheltered his children from the harsher realities. They live very comfortably outside of New York City in mostly white suburban Stamford, Connecticut. Although her parents have their children join Jack and Jill of America, an organization which is dedicated to leadership development in young African Americans, the children feel isolated as there are few African Americans in town. When she hears the speech by George Wallace, declaring “segregation now, segregation, tomorrow, segregation forever,” Sharon begins to wonder where her place is in this struggle. Her parents realize that they need to expose their children to more. During 1963 the Robinsons host fundraisers at their home to help support the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and attend the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Shortly after this triumphant summer of activism, the four young girls were killed when a bomb blew up at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Sharon and her family were overcome with sadness but found strength to carry on.

THOUGHTS: This is a well-rounded story in that Sharon blends her activism with other teenaged concerns such as the first dances, boys, riding her horse, and getting along with her brothers. The importance of this book shows that even though she has lived a privileged life, she wants and needs to be connected with the people who are still struggling for equal rights.

973.92, 92, Autobiography, Memoir, Civil Rights         Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Hale, Shannon. Best Friends. Roaring Brook Press (First Second). 2019. 978-1-250-31745-2. 239 p. $21.99. Grades 4-7.

Shannon’s looking forward to 6th grade and is thrilled that she has become one of the popular girls but learns that navigating the social tract can be very tricky.  Today’s cool songs and TV shows can be out-of-date by tomorrow. She finds that there are traps and petty power plays as the “rules” change seemingly arbitrarily.  Shannon gets upset when her friends try to trick her, or she realizes that she is falling into some of the same habits as the “mean” girls. Shannon begins to question her so called friendships as she starts to decide what she wants. Does she really want to be nasty and hurt others? To help herself cope with different situations, Shannon is writing a fantasy about Alexandra a lonely rich girl who is going through some of the same issues. Shannon also struggles with her teacher who accuses her of not paying attention. It is another teacher who recognizes Shannon’s skills, boosting her confidence. When it is time to select courses for seventh grade, Shannon has the self-understanding and courage to choose what she wants, her own direction.

THOUGHTS: Sixth grade can be a time of growth, but it can also be very stressful as preadolescent girls (and boys) try to discover who they are. At one point being part of a group is important, but does it come at a cost? Through her own experience Shannon Hale offers insight and guidance.  

Graphic Novel          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired

MG – Wildheart; Soaring Earth; A Circle of Elephants; Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse; Lizzy Legend; The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA; Searching for Lottie

Bertagna, Julie, and William Goldsmith, Illustrator. Wildheart: The Daring Adventures of John Muir. Yosemite Conservancy, 2019. 978-1-930-23893-0. 128 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

As a boy in Dunbar, Scotland, John Muir was sent to school in 1841 when he was just three years old, but he longed to be outside, playing and learning amongst the wild things that he loved. Years later, after a family move to Wisconsin, an eye injury nearly robbed John of his sight but inspired his true calling: exploring and preserving nature. As part of his campaign to protect America’s forests and natural features, he co-founded the Sierra Club and helped to create our National Parks. He also went camping with President Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite for four days in 1903, inspiring “Teddy” to preserve 148 million acres of land! William Goldsmith’s rough, energetic sketches are appropriately tinted in natural shades of rust, moss green, berry, and ice-blue. The characters’ body postures imply the mood and action more distinctly than any detailed facial expressions (which are generally lacking). A handful of Scottish expressions may confuse readers (e.g., “Ta” for thanks) but ample context clues and a helpful Glossary will assist in deciphering them. 

THOUGHTS: This middle-grade graphic biography of the first modern environmentalist, told in a first-person voice, will inspire readers to cherish our precious planet, and to take action to protect it! John Muir’s legacy is a treasured reminder that “We are part of nature, and its wild heart is part of us.” Additional information for interested readers is available at the webpage for the John Muir National Historic Site

Graphic Novel / Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Engle, Margarita. Soaring Earth. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-42953-6. $18.99. 192 p. Grades 7+.

Margarita’s idealism and longing to see the world are described beautifully in verse in this companion memoir to Enchanted Air. In this book Margarita is now a young adult in high school and beyond. It is set during the tumultuous Vietnam War Era, and the war and protests, Civil Rights movement, moon landing, and the Grape boycott and strike are described. Although younger readers might not have the knowledge to fully appreciate those historic events, Margarita’s struggle with fitting in and finding out who she is will resonate with everyone. Margarita finds herself at ground-zero of the hippie/free speech movement when she enrolls at UC Berkeley for college. She struggles with her fears of not being perfect, especially with her writing, and she finds out that the prestigious university turns out not to be a great fit for her which leads to her dropping out and drifting around CA and NY on a path of self-discovery. Her longing to travel the world, especially her beloved Cuba, which has been closed to her due to the Cold War, and the prejudices she experiences due to her Cuban heritage are also examined. Margarita Engle is the 2017-2019 Young People’s Poet Laureate.

THOUGHTS: It isn’t necessary to have read Enchanted Air to appreciate this beautifully written novel in verse. It would be perfect to use for a social studies book club during a 1960s unit.

Memoir; Verse          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Dinerstein, Eric. A Circle of Elephants. Disney Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-01658-2. $16.99. 260 p. Grades 4-8.

13-year old Nandu, a Tibetan, was found as a two-year old orphaned in the jungle being guarded by a pack of dhole (a type of wild dog). He was adopted by Subba-Sahib, the good man who runs the Royal Elephant Breeding Center at the edge of the Borderlands in Nepal. Nandu has a special relationship and empathy with the animals of the jungle but he considers the tusker, Hira Prishad, the bull elephant he oversees, his brother. The story of Nandu and the horrors of the Ivory Trade is described in such a beautiful and realistic way that it is easy to forget that this is a work of fiction. The earthquake at the beginning of the book is a bad omen: the harbinger of drought and the return of Maroons (poachers) who are looking for ivory in the tusks and horns of the elephants and rhinos. In addition to the mutilation of animals for their ivory, there is a side story about young girls being sold into slavery (it is not explicit sex slavery, but it is implied) which may be difficult for younger middle grade readers. The book examines the relationship between humans and other animals and as Nandu believes “that our purpose in life is to look out for each other.”

THOUGHTS: This book will enlighten the reader about the evils of poaching and how it is possible for people to have meaningful relationships with animals, especially elephants. A Circle of Elephants is the sequel to What Elephants Know but it wasn’t necessary to have read that story to enjoy this book. This beautifully written story would be a great addition to any library.

Realistic Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Vaught, Susan.  Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-42501-9. 309 p. $17.99. Grades 5 and up.

Jesse is not like the other kids in her middle school – she’s extremely temperamental, with a proclivity towards hitting people she dislikes; she doesn’t always bathe on a regular basis; she’s “on the spectrum”; and her mother is a Master Sergeant stationed overseas in Iraq. Needless to say, she’s not the most popular girl in school, which doesn’t bother her in the least. What does bother her, however, is the group of bullies – Rykyer (aka: Jerkface), Chris, and Trisha (aka: the cockroaches) – who harass her on a daily basis and never seem to get in trouble for it. When Jesse’s father, a teacher at the high school, is arrested and accused of stealing money for the library fund, Jesse, along with new kid, Springer, take it upon themselves to investigate. Springer is Jesse’s foil – a big, non-confrontational, soft-spoken boy who doesn’t believe in violence. They share a love of puzzles, outside the box thinking, and Sam-Sam, Jesse’s beloved Pomeranian. Jesse pushes Springer to fight for what he believes in, and Springer grounds Jesse when she goes into a panic spiral; in fact, he’s one of the only people in her life that truly seems to accept her exactly as she is. Vaught has created two very different, yet equally compelling, protagonists; it is easy to feel Jesse’s anger and frustration towards her bullies, as well as Springer’s kindness and compassion when he stands up for Jesse. Equally well-drawn are Jesse’s mother, who instills in Jesse a deep well of inner strength, and Jesse’s great-aunt Gus, who spends the majority of the book exasperating Jesse’s father. Though Jesse’s bullies come off more as caricatures than three-dimensional characters, and their antics become disturbingly malevolent in tone and action, they serve to further Jesse and Springer’s resolve, as well as their bond; their friendship is truly the grounding force in this middle-grade novel, and readers will find themselves rooting heartily for both of them.

THOUGHTS: A perfect novel for outside the box thinkers, lovers of mysteries, and literally kick-butt female protagonists. With absolutely no romance, and a beautifully crafted platonic friendship between members of the opposite sex, this is a book that you can comfortably hand to a 9 year old, as well as a 14 year old.

Realistic Fiction         Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Smith, Matthew Ross. Lizzy Legend. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-42024-3. 236 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

13-year-old Lizzy Trudeaux loves basketball and spends hours each day practicing her ball-handling and shooting skills. One day, she receives a mysterious phone call from a robot asking her what her wish is, and she wishes to never miss another shot. When this dream surprisingly comes true, she finds herself signing a contract to play for the Philadelphia Bells, a nearby professional basketball team. It’s not long before she becomes a media sensation. Will she, however, be able to continue her dominant performance when her wish is reversed? A fast-paced sports fantasy, this title will resonate particularly with young female athletes.

THOUGHTS: While the premise of this story is a bit unbelievable, the relatable characters, encouraging message, and fast pace of the story make this a solid selection for middle school collections. Lizzy may have gotten to where she is with a little help from her wish, but she is an extremely hard worker regardless. She’s also tough and courageous, putting her heart and soul out on the court even after her wish is reversed. Lizzy is definitely a role model for young girls, showing that with a little hard work and determination, they can do anything they set their minds to. The short chapters are broken up by interviews and imaginative social media posts throughout the story, making the book very accessible to young readers.

Fantasy Fiction (Sports)           Julie Ritter, PSLA


Woods, Brenda. The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019. 978-1-524-73709-2. 194 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Twelve-year-old Gabriel Haberlin, white resident of the small, post-WWII town of Birdsong, South Carolina, is ecstatic when he receives a brand new Schwinn bicycle for his birthday. On his very first ride, however, he runs a red light and is nearly struck by a car and killed. Luckily, Meriwether Hunter, an African American veteran, pushes him out of the way just in time. Feeling indebted to Meriwether, Gabriel convinces his father to offer Meriwether a job at his auto shop. The two soon become friends, and Meriwether teaches Gabriel to view the world through the eyes of others.  In doing so, Gabriel witnesses the unfairness and powerlessness experienced by African Americans living under Jim Crow laws in the segregated South, and for the first time in his life, he begins to question the way of the world. A realistic and thought-provoking coming-of-age story, this book has a lot to teach young readers about the post-WWII South.

THOUGHTS: Use this book in a history class to reinforce topics like segregation,  Jim Crow laws, the 761st Tank Battalion, and the KKK. History buffs will also enjoy simply comparing post-WWII life to life today, as there are plenty of references to prized possessions of the past, including a Buick Roadmaster and a Kodak camera with film. Additionally, this story will appeal to fans of Rita Williams-Garcia. Definitely consider purchasing this authentic, eye-opening work of historical fiction.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, PSLA


Ross, Susan L. Searching for Lottie. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44166-2. 170 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

When twelve-year-old Charlie must research a family member for a school project, she decides to focus on her namesake, her great aunt Lottie (short for Charlotte). Lottie disappeared during the Holocaust, and because she was Jewish, her family presumes that she was killed. Through her research, Charlie discovers that she and Lottie have a lot in common. They are both sensational violin players, and they could both be described as brave and determined. The more she learns, the more adamant she is to figure out what exactly happened to Lottie. Did she perish during the Holocaust as her family always thought, or did she miraculously survive? Readers will be just as curious as Charlie to solve this puzzle and won’t be able to stop turning the pages until all of their questions are answered.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful selection for middle school readers.  Charlie is an extremely relatable character who experiences many young adolescent norms throughout the story, including sibling rivalry, close friendships, a crush on a boy, and nerves during a musical audition. This would be a great complement to any Holocaust unit, or it could be used to introduce a project on genealogical research. References to Jewish culture present even more opportunities for learning. The short chapters and fast-moving narrative make it easily accessible, and the level of suspense will most certainly make readers want to finish the book. Give this to mystery lovers, history buffs, or students who want to learn more about genealogical research or Jewish culture.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, PSLA

Elem. – The Journey of York; Tyrannosaurus Rex; You Make Me Happy; The Friendship War

Davis, Hasan. The Journey of York:  The Unsung Hero of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Capstone Editions, 2019.  40 p. 978-1-543-51282-3. $17.95. Grades 3-5.

Written in first person, this account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is told from the viewpoint of York, the African American enslaved man who accompanied the men on the journey. The text is written in a diary format and begins with an explanation of the formation and mission of the Corps of Discovery in the front matter and how William Clark ordered his slave York to join the expedition. There is one diary entry per two page spread with the text on one side and full bleed illustrations on both pages. The author discusses the friendship that York had with one of the men, Charles Floyd, who was the only one who died on the journey. Hasan shows how York was not treated as an equal, but how the Native Americans at times thought York was the leader of the group and called him “Big Medicine.” The text highlights all the main segments of the journey, like the stay at Fort Mandan and Fort Clatsop, but does not go into much detail. Hasan points out that York was permitted to vote with the rest of the party on the location of the final camp in Washington State. However, he points out that Clark did not include York’s name on the report to President Jefferson, thus depriving him of a reward of money and land. In the author’s note, Hasan discusses some theories about York’s fate after the expedition. Also included are a list of resources and a statement that Davis did extensive research on this topic and consulted with a historian. The author points out that he has taken creative license with York’s thoughts and feelings, for which there is no documentation. Harris’s colorful illustrations make the story come alive. The details of the clothing look authentic and depict the leaders of this military operation in uniform.  

THOUGHTS: This narrative of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is a good introduction to this chapter of American History and provides a unique viewpoint. It would be interesting to compare and contrast other texts in which York was not the principal narrator or to Pringle’s American slave, American Hero: York of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This attractive text is part of a Capstone collection of narrative nonfiction picture books.

910  Geography and Travels          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
917.3 United States
92, 921 Biography
973.4 Washington through Jefferson Administration


Cole, Bradley. Tyrannosaurus Rex. (Dinosaurs 4-D) Pop!, 2019.  24 p. 978-1-532-16183-4. $19.00  Grades K-2.

Brachiosaurus. 978-1-532-16178-0
Stegosaurus. 13: 978-1-532-16181-0
Triceratops. 13: 978-1-532-16182-7
Ringstad, Arnold.  Allosaurus.  978-1-532-16177-3
Coelophysis. 978-1-532-16179-7
Diplodocus. 978-1-532-16180-3
Velociraptor. 978-1-532-16184-1

This text on dinosaurs is designed for young paleontologists. The author uses simple text consisting of two to three sentences per page. On each page, there is an engaging drawing or photograph. The short chapters discuss the behavior and diet of this ferocious predator as well as some information about the T. Rex’s fossilized remains. The term 4D in the series title refers to the fact that the reader can scan the QR code, which leads to a site containing activities and lesson plans.

THOUGHTS: This book will appeal to the dinosaur lover who will enjoy looking at a photograph of a foot long T. Rex tooth. Purchase where dinosaur books are in demand or need updating.

567.912 Dinosaurs          Denise Medwick, retired, West Allegheny SD


Prasadam-Halls, Smriti. You Make Me Happy. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19849-1. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Two unlikely friends, Fox and Porcupine, demonstrate the joys of a true friendship. Lighthearted rhyming prose “You make me happy/you make me sing./ There’s a bounce in my footstep like bunnies in spring.” (Prasadam-Halls, 1) and brightly colored full-page illustrations combine to make a joyful, endearing read about enjoying the company of a loved one. Refreshingly happy, this is an all around feel-good book to share with young children.

THOUGHTS: Light and carefree, this book is sure to be a favorite read aloud.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, PSLA Member


Clements, Andrew. The Friendship War. Random House, 2019. 173 p. 978-0-399-55759-0. Grades 3-5. $19.99.

This is Clements’ latest story of school and friendship. Grace is a sixth grader who unintentionally starts a fad in school after bringing in some buttons from her grandfather’s business. Soon the whole school begins trading buttons, which creates friction between Grace and her best friend Ellie. Things become competitive and disruptive, leading Grace to take drastic steps in an attempt to end the button craze. Clements provides some interesting information about buttons and their materials through the character of Grace’s new friend Ben. The story also touches on the issue of grief after the loss of a grandparent. 

THOUGHTS: Fans of Clements’ other works will enjoy his latest offering. The target audience will be able to relate to the topics of friendship, bullying, and following the latest trend, and this title will surely hold the reader’s interest. Purchase where Andrew Clements books are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD

Upper Elem./MG – Escape from Aleppo, Origami Fun, You Go First

Senzai, N.H. Escape from Aleppo.  Paula Wiseman, 2018.  978-1-481-47217-3.  326 p.  $16.99  Gr. 5-8

As the civil war intensifies in Syria, Nadia’s family decides they must flee their beloved city of Aleppo as it literally crumbles around them. However, Nadia, who has been traumatized by the bombing, freezes at the wrong moment and ends up separated from her family.  Determined to find them, Nadia joins a mysterious, frail old man who she knows only as Ammo Mazan, who promises to help her. But Ammo Mazan clearly has a secret agenda of his own, and Nadia is not sure if she can trust him. The two of them join up with two orphan boys as the story progresses, and the little group makes their way toward the Turkish border.  On the way, they meet people trying to preserve the city’s history. They also make a few narrow escapes as they navigate their way toward freedom. The story moves back and forth between two time periods, before and after the escape, so the reader also learns about Nadia’s life in Aleppo with her family before the escape.

THOUGHTS:  This book includes more exposition than storytelling or character development, but it contains a lot of interesting and useful information about the Syrian conflict and the Arab Spring as well as Syrian history, and the writing is clear and age-appropriate. Recommended for students who are interested in the topic (as opposed to those looking for a thriller), and for libraries looking to increase the diversity of their collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Hardyman, Robyn, and Jessica Moon. Origami Fun. Bellwether, 2018. 24 p. $19.95 ea. $159.60 set of 8. Gr. 3-7.

Aircraft. 978-1-62617-707-9.
Birds. 978-1-62617-708-6.
Dinosaurs. 978-1-62617-709-3.
Farm Animals. 978-1-62617-710-9.
Holidays. 978-1-62617-711-6.
Jungle Animals. 978-1-62617-712-3.
Ocean Animals. 978-1-62617-713-0.
Pets. 978-1-62617-714-7.

Origami has been a popular hobby with many students for years, and now is appearing in schools as part of the Makerspace movement. The Origami Fun series aims to teach upper elementary and middle school students the art of paper folding. Each volume offers basic folding tips/instructions, and then provides details on how to create eight unique origami items. Each volume also offers factual information about the real-life animal, planes, holidays, etc. For example, in the Farm Animals volume readers not only learn how to create origami sheep, cows and goats, they also will learn basic information about sheep, cows and goats (what they eat, what their role is on the farm, etc).

THOUGHTS: This series is a great option for schools with origami fans or looking to enhance their Makerspace collection. The instructions for creating the origami items are clearly numbered and illustrated and can easily been understood by origami novices. Recommended.

736.9 Origami          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD


Kelly, Erin Entrada. You Go First.  Greenwillow, 2018. 978-0-062-41418-2.  304 p.  $16.99  Gr. 4-7.

This novel from 2018 Newbery award-winner Erin Entrada Kelly (Hello Universe) switches between the points of view of 11-year-old Ben Boxer, who lives in small-town Louisiana, and 12-year-old Charlotte Lockard, who lives just outside of Philadelphia. Both Ben and Charlotte are having a rough week:  Ben’s parents have announced they are getting divorced, and Charlotte’s father has just had a heart attack. Worst of all, neither of them has a close friend with whom to share their misery. Ben and Charlotte have been online scrabble friends for a while, but, desperate for someone to connect with, Ben decides to start texting, and then talking, with Charlotte, and they offer each other advice and support. Yet, rather than baring their souls to each other, they talk around rather than through their problems, keeping things light and pretending everything is rosier than it really is. Too, it is clear that both kids ultimately will need friends in real life as well as online.  The ending is hopeful, but not triumphant, as Charlotte and Ben discover that tackling life’s problems takes time and patience as well as determination, and things don’t always turn out the way you plan.

THOUGHTS: Expectations are high for an author coming off a Newbery win. This book is excellent, but it is a quiet, subtle novel that could easily fly under the radar and may need some booktalking to find the right readers.  Entrada, who is Filipino-American, addresses many of the same issues and themes she has in her previous novels here: friendship, bullying, kindness, diversity, and self-discovery. Her writing is top-notch. Highly recommended for older elementary and middle schools.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

YA FIC – Bad Call; Foolish Hearts

Wallenfels, Stephen. Bad Call. Hyperion. 2017. 978-1-48476-813-6. $17.99. 312 p. Gr. 6 and up.

The three, star tennis players at an exclusive California boarding school break the rules to take a secret weekend camping trip to Yosemite.  Ceo, the charismatic playboy of the group, arranges the trip, luring his teammates into a quest to hike the rugged trails of the national park and hopefully find the remnants of a drug smuggler’s plane that crashed in the 70s.  Unknown to Colin and Grahame, Ceo has also arranged for a girl he met at a summer drama camp to join them. Ellie, a soccer stand out and aspiring artist takes a risk and skips out on a college visit to take this spur of the moment adventure with her summertime crush.  As the four arrive in Yosemite Valley, the unpredictable late fall weather and simmering tensions between the boys threaten their weekend plans and their lives. The story is told from the perspectives of Colin and Ellie, who are the heart and conscience of the tale. The strained relationship between the wealthy and manipulative Ceo, scholarship student Colin whose father has just died, and Grahame, an athletic powerhouse with a competitive grudge against Ceo, is revealed through flashbacks of the past school year.  Thoughts: The story starts slow, establishing the characters’ connection, but quickly builds in suspense as the trip turns into a harrowing survival tale. Recommended for fans of adventure fiction.

Realistic Fiction      Nancy Summers, Abington School District

Mills, Emma.  Foolish Hearts. Henry Holt and Co. 2017.978-1-62779-937-9.  $17.99 314 p. Gr. 7 and up.

Claudia, a high school senior on the fringes of the in-crowd, finds herself the unwilling witness to the break-up of Iris and Paige, the cutest couple at Prospect Landower School for Girls. When discovered to be eavesdropping, Claudia becomes a target of mean girl Iris’ wrath. But as the school year begins, Claudia and Iris are unwillingly paired to work on a class project and after they nearly fail this first assignment their teacher forces them to participate in the school play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a co-production with their brother school.  The two girls form a tentative pact, which grows into an unlikely friendship that grows stronger as the year goes on. Meanwhile, the play introduces Claudia to Gideon, the male lead in the play, and a romance begins though Claudia, stung from her first boyfriend’s indifference, doesn’t feel she is worthy of his attention. Another curve comes when Claudia discovers that her best friend, Zoe and her brother are dating. I was slightly disappointed with the all too common cliche of the popular and gorgeous boy falling for the unpopular and nerdy girl. But overall, Foolish Hearts is a positive tale which focuses more on the power of friendships between the girls and their growing realization of the need to accept the people they love as they are, not as they wish they were. Thoughts: A good selection for reluctant readers and fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han will certainly appreciate this light-hearted and heart-warming story.

Realistic Fiction      Nancy Summers, Abington School District