Elem. – Rou and the Great Race

Fong, Pam. Rou and the Great Race. Reycraft Books, 2020. $17.95. 978-1-478-86952-8. Unpaged. Grades K-2. 

Rou and her grandma walk the streets of their brown and gray city, surrounded by tall buildings, metal trees, and passersby with robot pets. Grandma remembers a time when the city was alive and flowers beautified the gray surroundings but with growth came Power People who collected all the flowers for themselves. Now, children compete for a single flower in the annual Great Race. Rou is determined to win the flower for her grandma, but when she comes in last all she finds is a sad little stem with petals strewn about. Rou collects the stem, takes it home, and nurtures it into an entire garden which she shares annually at the Great Share. Fong uses colors to show the stark contrast between lively Rou, always clad in red like the flowers she grows, and the depressing brown city. Children will take away a story of kindness, both the lack of it from the Power People and the abundance shown by Rou and Grandma as they give away their flowers. Adult readers will see a more cautionary tale about power, city development, and greed mixed with Rou’s kindness.

THOUGHTS: An unusual but likeable story; readers will root for Rou.

Picture book                    Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem. – Quiet Down, Loud Town!

Heim, Alastair. Quiet Down, Loud Town! Clarion Books, 2020. 978-1-328-95782-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Quiet Down, Loud Town! follows an elephant who thinks the town around him is too loud, and he has no problem telling them that. As he goes through his day, the loudness of his environment keeps frustrating him until he finally snaps and yells, “Quiet down loud town!” However, the elephant learns that perhaps quiet isn’t what he needs either as he struggles to fall asleep, and then becomes the one being too loud. The illustrations are bright and colorful, with lots of added details to enjoy as the reader goes through the book.

THOUGHTS: This is an extremely fun book to read aloud with students, or for students to go through on their own. Highly recommended for an elementary school collection.

Picture Book            Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Everything Naomi Loved

Yamasaki, Katie, and Ian Lendler. Everything Naomi Loved. Norton Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-324-00491-2. Unpaged. $18.95. Grades K-2.

Naomi loves 11th Street, the place where she calls home. It has everything she and her family needs, including Mister Ray’s Automotive, pizza by the slice, a laundromat, her best friend (Ada), and more. One by one, however, 11th Street begins to change. They build a fancy building where her favorite tree once stood, and Ada moves away when they tear her family’s building down. Mister Ray explains to Naomi that things change, but they can keep the things they love with them by painting them into a mural. Mister Ray paints a beautiful tree, and he helps Naomi paint Ada underneath it. Eventually, Naomi’s family also moves out of their 11th Street home, but thanks to Mister Ray, she is able to take her memories with her. This is a beautifully written story about carrying memories we hold dear with us throughout the changing seasons of life.

THOUGHTS: This would be an excellent book to hand to a young reader whose family plans to move away in the near future. Perhaps readers, after finishing the story, could paint a portrait of all the things they hold dear, which they could take with them wherever they go. The book would pair well with other titles set in the city, such as Sydney Smith’s Small in the City (2019) or Marcie Colleen’s The Bear’s Garden (2020). Together, these titles would provide a comprehensive portrait of life in a constantly moving, ever changing city. Overall, this is a touching story with an important message about embracing positive memories when things change.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – The Bear’s Garden

Colleen, Marcie. The Bear’s Garden. Imprint, 2020. 978-1-250-31481-9. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK- 2.

Where most people in the city see an empty lot, one little girl sees potential. She imagines what the lot could be–a beautiful place to grow and play. She begins to care for the delicate seedlings that grow in the lot. When the girl has to leave the city, she decides to leave her stuffed bear behind to care for the garden. Amazingly, with a little help from the community, her dreams begin to come to life, and the little lot becomes everything she imagined it could be. An inspirational story about the power of dreams, dedication, and community, this book will inspire readers to find beauty in the most ordinary places.

THOUGHTS: Because this book was inspired by the true story of a community garden in Brooklyn, New York, there are many extension activities that could be done with it. Students could research and/or take a virtual field trip to the Brooklyn Bear’s Pacific Street Community Garden. They could brainstorm projects that might be done in their own community to beautify a particular area. The book could be paired with other gardening books for a unit on gardening, or paired with Sydney Smith’s Small in the City (2019) for a display about life in the city.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

MG – What Lane?

Maldonado, Torrey. What Lane? Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020. 978-0-525-51843-3. $16.99. 125 p. Grades 3-6.

Biracial Stephen pals around with his white friend Dan in their gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood, but lately, Stephen is noticing he is viewed more negatively by the janitor or passers-by than his paler friend. Dan is sympathetic and though he is oblivious to the harsher treatment Stephen gets as they course around their city streets, he doesn’t deny his friend’s feelings and tries to understand. Dan’s cousin Chad who recently moved nearby and drops over frequently is the opposite. Author Torrey Maldonado depicts Chad’s parents as more into their phones and social lives than the well-being of their son and has them voice micro-aggressive remarks about Stephen. Chad challenges Stephen and his white friends to some dangerous pranks; and Stephen fears, rightfully, that if the group gets caught, he’ll get the blame. His African-American dad counsels him with “the talk” warning him how to behave if stopped by the police, though his white mother thinks eleven-year-old Stephen is too young to lose his innocence. Stephen’s Black friend Will shares the same cautions as Stephen and agrees that Chad is up to no good and questions Stephen’s closeness to his white friends. At a basketball game, Stephen purchases a bracelet that says, “What Lane?” to remind him of a basketball star that could play all the moves. A thoughtful person, Stephen struggles with the different groups and decisions around him. When Chad plays a hurtful trick on Stephen, Dan and his other white friends are allies and call out Chad’s bad behavior; Will and his friends come to Stephen’s rescue. In this coming-of- age novel for young middle school students, a likeable, relatable Stephen trusts he can enjoy the friendship of all different kinds of people and is able to fit into all types of worlds as long as he is true to himself.

THOUGHTS: A teacher himself, Maldonado has a great ear for middle school dialogue and a keen eye for capturing middle school dynamics. This book can be a relevant read aloud for all children but particularly relatable to children of color. It brings up some delicate but real situations that would encourage healthy discussion (for example, when Dan and Stephen are play fighting, an older white lady assumes Stephen is attacking Dan). I think it is a must buy.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA FIC – A Long Way Down; When Its Real; Turtles All the Way Down

Reynolds, Jason. A Long Way Down. Atheneum, 2017. 978-1-4814-3825-1. 306 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

The day before yesterday, Will’s older brother Shawn was shot and killed. Will experiences intense grief: “the new empty space, / where you know / a tooth supposed to be / but ain’t no more.” But, Will lives by the neighborhood code: don’t cry, don’t snitch, get revenge. So he retrieves his brother’s gun from its hiding place and heads for the elevator, prepared to seek justice for Shawn’s death. Most of the novel takes place over the roughly one-minute, eight-story elevator ride that follows. At each floor, the elevator stops and someone from Will’s past steps on. First is Buck, wearing his own RIP Buck t-shirt. Next is a girl, Will’s friend Dani who was shot and killed when she was just eight. As the elevator descends, and the Will’s deceased friends and family members join him, he begins to question the necessity and wisdom of vengeance. The book closes on a chilling note, leaving readers to ponder some big, unanswered questions.  THOUGHTS: In this poetic, thought-provoking, and intriguingly structured novel-in-verse, Jason Reynolds depicts the ripple effects of violent crime on the young man left behind.

Realistic Fiction       Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down. Antheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2017. 978-1-481-43825-4. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

The rules in Will’s neighborhood are simple: 1. Crying, don’t. 2. Snitching, don’t. and 3. Revenge, do. But Will’s decision to avenge his brother’s murder is anything but simple. As Will travels down the elevator with Shawn’s gun (Shawn had a gun?!) tucked into his waistband, he is prepared to murder his brother’s killer. New passengers slow his ride at each floor. Readers will quickly understand each of these passengers is dead, he or she is connected to Will, and they each have something to tell him before he steps off on the ground floor.  THOUGHTS: Having recently listened to All American Boys and a Jason Reynolds interview about his writing, I knew I had to read Long Way Down. Readers of all types will be drawn into Will’s story and devour this fast-paced novel in verse. Though tough topics and violence are depicted, this is a book for many readers, especially those who are reluctant.

Realistic Fiction     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Watt, Erin. When It’s Real. New York: Harlequin, 2017. Print. 978-0373212521. 416 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

This novel starts out like a Disney channel movie, which is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your view of Disney made-for-TV movies, and, like most Disney movies, the novel ends up being a sweet romance that will capture the attention of any teen girl or boy who enjoys teen dramas. Oakley Ford has been breaking teenage hearts since he landed on the music scene as a young adolescent. But, in his older teen years, he has hit a rut and needs something in his life to get him motivated to write and perform. His publicists decide that he needs a “wholesome” girlfriend to change his image in the media. Enter Vaughn Bennett, whose sister works at the media firm and who catches the eye of Vaughn’s team. They tell her they will pay her to be Oakley’s girlfriend, and since she and her sister are raising their younger brothers after the death of their parents, she decides it’s something she must do for her family. The usual ensues- Oakley annoys and intrigues Vaughn, Vaughn annoys yet arouses something in Oakley that makes him want to write music again. The characters are interesting if a bit predictable, and the plot suffers from the same misfortune, but teens will eat up the romance between Oakley and Vaughn. There is drinking, drug use, and sexual references, which does cause the novel to venture out of the realm of the chaste Disney film. THOUGHTS: This is another romance to add to your collection for those who love Sarah Dessen but are looking for a more exciting location and a variety of characters not generally found in Dessen’s novels. Recommended for high school libraries.

Romance     Lindsey Meyers, Shadyside Academy

 

Green, John. Turtles All The Way Down. New York; Dutton Books, 2017. Print. 978-0525555360. 304 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Anything with John Green’s name on it will cause excitement among young adults everywhere, whether they read his books or watch his humorous, yet instructional, videos. Turtles All The Way Down does not veer far from his standard fare of engrossing teen dramas, but it does offer a unique and honest glimpse into the life of one dealing with severe anxiety and OCD, and how her struggle affects those around her. Aza Holmes is our tragic hero, trying to manage her OCD and anxiety while living a “normal” life. She spends time with her mom (her dad passed away when she was younger), hangs out with her friend Daisy, and does well in school. She also, however, constantly changes a bandage on her hand, fears catching bacteria, especial C.Diff, and tumbles constantly into “thought spirals.” When billionaire Russell Picket goes missing, Daisy convinces Aza to help her investigate the disappearance, mostly to acquire the $100,000 reward. Aza knows his son from a summer camp when they were younger, and a chance meeting rekindles their friendship and begins to lead to something more. But, can Aza maintain a relationship while managing her OCD?  John Green does an excellent job of portraying Aza. Her inner dialogues perfectly exemplify one with OCD, and the constant state of helplessness one finds oneself in when dealing with intrusive thoughts and irrational actions. THOUGHTS: John Green has once again given us an intriguing story of a unique (or is it?) teen experience. Highly recommended for young adults and adults who deal with teens struggling with mental health issues.

Realistic Fiction       Lindsey Meyers, Shadyside Academy

 

Green John. Turtles All the Way Down. Dutton Books, 2017. 978-0-525-55536-0. 286 p. $19.99. Gr 9-12.

John Green’s long-awaited new novel is here, and it’s his best one yet. Sixteen-year-old Aza and her best friend Daisy take notice when local billionaire Russell Pickett disappears. The reward for information in his case is a hundred thousand dollars, and Daisy is sure their sleuthing will lead to clues and ultimately to the reward. After all, Aza spent summers at “sad camp” with Russell’s son, Davis, after his mom and her dad died, so reconnecting with the Pickett family isn’t hard. As Aza and Davis reconnect and begin to fall for each other, Aza’s always present anxieties and compulsions begin to spiral, and readers are shown what it’s like to live every day consumed by claustrophobic, obsessive thoughts. Aza’s voice is raw and heartfelt, and Green also throws in a hefty dose of nerdery and humor that will win over teen and adult readers alike. THOUGHTS: Green’s latest is an unflinching, honest look at mental illness that is at times challenging to read, but will linger with readers long after finishing.  If you buy one book this year, it should be this.

Realistic Fiction      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School