YA – Bookish and the Beast

Poston, Ashley. Bookish and the Beast. Quirk, 2020. 978-6-836-9193-8. 283 p. $18.99. Grades 6-10. 

Poston continues her delightful, fairy tale based Once Upon a Con series with a reworking of Beauty and the Beast to which Belle would give her stamp of approval. In the “no good deed goes unpunished” category, high school senior Rosie Thorne attempts to return a run-away dog with disastrous results. Following the dog into an apparently vacant house, she discovers a swoon–worthy library, filled with the books of the Starfield space saga universe, the very books her recently deceased mother read to her growing up. When Rosie is startled by another individual in the house she attempts to flee, accidentally dropping a rare first-edition in the pool. Sopping wet, Rosie learns the house is currently occupied by Starfield bad-boy actor Vance Reigns, serving a parental imposed timeout from his celebrity antics. She is now on the hook to organize the library, with the assistance of the self-absorbed star, to work off her debt. As if Vance Reigns would deign to dirty his hands working with books. But as any bibliophile knows, books have a magic all their own, and surely some magic will happen between the book-loving beauty with the mousy brown hair and the gorgeous guy hiding behind a beastly bad-boy persona. The book is populated with an appealing supporting cast of diverse characters, including Rosie’s bisexual librarian father and a gender-fluid best friend, and in a sop to series fans, Poston offers a few brief appearances by characters from the previous two novels. The Gaston plotline does double duty emphasizing that in the relationship world No should always mean No. While the plot is grounded in the Starfield Excelsi-Con world of the previous two books, the Con plays only a minor role this time, which should open the book to a wider romance audience.

THOUGHTS:  A thoroughly delightfully romp through Beauty and the Beast. Rosie is independent, feisty, and sweet, and while she deserves her happily-ever-after, she would have been OK without it. A solid purchase for collections where romance and fairy tale rewrites are popular, as well as an addition to LGBTQ+ collections.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Scavenge the Stars

Sim, Tara. Scavenge the Stars. Disney Hyperion,  2020. 978-1-368-05141-5. $12.99. 377 p. Grades 9-12.

“To inherit the sky, you must first scavenge the stars.” In this retelling of the classic novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, Amaya has been living on a ship called The Brackish for years. She became indentured after she was sold by her family to work off a debt. It’s a rough life, and like the other “water bugs” that share her fate, she’s counting down the days until she’s free. Their cruel captor and captain renames each indentured child, and on his ship, she’s known only as Silverfish. After rescuing a man from drowning, she hopes she will be rewarded with riches. Instead, he makes her an offer she can’t refuse. Meanwhile, Cayo Mercado is trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his father after getting into debt from gambling. He starts working at the family owned shipping company, but when his sister comes down with ash fever, his choices are limited, and he winds up back in the life he tried to leave behind. Unknowingly, Amaya and Cayo’s lives become intertwined, and both characters must untangle a web of secrets and lies to reveal the surprising truths about the people they thought they knew and trusted.

THOUGHTS: This book was fantastic! I was hooked from the very beginning to the last page. It’s full of twists and turns, secrets and betrayals, and characters fueled by revenge and justice. As in The Count of Monte Cristo, the classic novel this book is loosely based upon, revenge is never as simple as it seems, and no one can really be trusted.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA Fiction – Wolf Hour; Unearthly Things; Book of Dust (Bk. 1); Hell & High Water

Holmes, Sarah Lewis. The Wolf Hour. New York: Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-10797-6. 320 p. $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Sarah Lewis Holmes has written an interesting, if overly long, take on classic fairy tales.  Using the familiar tropes of the wicked witch, the haunted wood, and the wayward child, Holmes spins the stories of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood on their heads.  The story is told from three perspectives: Magia, the daughter of a woodcutter; the Pigs – Biggest, Little, and Littlest; and Martin, a wolf. Magia’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps and chop the special wood from the trees in the Puszka, the dark forest that borders her home.  Magia’s mother has other plans for her though; she wants Magia to use her prodigious singing talents to make a name for herself in the city.  While Magia is happy that her singing soothes her mother’s pregnancy pains, she does not want to make a career out of it.  The Pigs’ dream is to get their mother back; they have been told by the witch that the only way to do so is to play out their story, over and over again: get chased by the wolf, take shelter in the house made of bricks, trick the wolf into climbing into the chimney where he falls to his death into a pot of boiling water. Martin’s dream is to stay safe in his tower of books and find the safety and love that he experienced before his mother was killed by a human.  Martin’s mother always warned him to stay away from stories, because they can suck you in, and you can lose yourself, and so Martin was raised on books of facts.  And then there’s the witch, the puppetmaster holding all of the strings.  Eventually, the characters all find themselves in the same story, and, for better or worse, need to figure out how to extract themselves in order to set things right.  THOUGHTS:  While the book definitely lags in the middle, and Holmes takes her time getting to the real meat of the story, her premise is clever, and the characters are well-drawn.  The love that each of these characters (other than the witch, perhaps) feels for their families is palpable and heartbreaking. Hand this book to lovers of fairy tales, and those who enjoy a slow-burning plot.

Fantasy        Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Gagnon, Michelle. Unearthly Things. Soho Teen, 2017. 978-1-61695-696-7 278p. $21.99.  Gr. 8 and up.

After Janie’s parents are killed in an accident, she is shipped off to a family in San Francisco, her dad’s best friend, supposedly. She is thrown into a world where buying an $800 dress seems to be the norm, while back home in Hawaii, that money could have paid a lot of bills. Janie is sent to a private school where everything seems foreign; she can’t even wear comfortable shoes to school. Things get pretty sinister and creepy as there seems to be a ghost in the house that is bothering Janie more than the other residents in the house. The motivations of her benefactors come into question.  Between that and the haunting, Janie does not feel safe anymore, but what can she do?   THOUGHTS: This is a fast-paced book that is more than a little sinister with plot twists galore. It is a retelling of Jane Eyre, that moves quickly. Students who have not read Jane Eyre would still enjoy this suspenseful tale.

Horror; Suspense      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Pullman, Philip. The Book of Dust. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-37581-530-0. 464 p. $22.99. Gr. 7-12.

Fans of Pullman’s classic His Dark Materials series will be delighted to re-enter the world of Lyra Belacqua. Set several years before The Golden Compass, Dust focuses on Malcolm, a twelve year old boy working at his parents’ inn on the River Thames. In his spare time, Malcolm helps the nuns with odd jobs around the local priory and takes care of his precious boat, La Belle Sauvage. The quiet of his little town is disrupted when the nuns take in orphaned baby Lyra, and Malcolm and his daemon Asta begin to pay special attention when curious visitors begin to frequent the inn. One of those visitors is Hannah, who befriends and exchanges information with Malcolm, and works to decipher the mysterious alethiometer device. Another guest is one less kindly; a strange man and his disfigured hyena daemon, who Malcolm believes is trying to kidnap Lyra. When a terrible storm begins to flood the town, Malcolm must set out on La Belle Sauvage to protect Lyra at any cost. THOUGHTS: A rich, absorbing fantasy set in the familiar, parallel world crafted by Pullman so many years ago. This exhilarating read is the beginning of another trilogy.

Fantasy     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Pullman, Philip. La Belle Sauvage. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 9780375815300. 449 pp. $22.99. Gr. 8 and up.  

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series has always been a favorite of mine and countless other fantasy fans. The long wait since the publication of The Amber Spyglass is rewarded with the first novel in Pullman’s new companion trilogy, The Book of Dust.  La Belle Sauvage is a welcome return to the fantastical, alternate world of England in the early 20th century.

This story follows 11-year old Malcolm Polstead, a charming and observant boy who works in his family’s inn near Oxford. By chance he finds a clue meant for a Resistance spy, who is working against the totalitarian Magisterium. The clue leads him to a friendship with Dr. Hannah Relf, a master of the alethiometer and the spy’s local contact in Oxford.  Intrigue builds as many characters come to town in search of information about a mysterious baby who has been left under the care and protection of nuns in the village. Malcolm and a local servant girl, Alice, become the protectors of baby Lyra as she comes under threat from agents of the Magesterium and a flood of biblical proportions. The three children and their daemons take refuge in Malcolm’s trusty boat, La Belle Sauvage, in search of Lyra’s father Lord Asriel.  THOUGHTS: Readers will be more than satisfied with this captivating adventure tale with terrific and complex new characters, an intriguing plot and the promise of more adventures to come. One of my favorite books of 2017.

Fantasy      Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Landman, Tanya. Hell and High Water. Candlewick Press, 2017. 978-07636-88752.  $17.99 312 pp. Gr. 7-12.

Caleb Chappell and his father make a living as traveling performers of Punch and Judy shows in 1752 England.  Caleb admires his father Joseph, who has creative, technical and moral understanding, so it is a blow when his father is wrongly imprisoned.  Rather than death, Joseph is sentenced to be sent to the colonies.  For Caleb, it feels like death.  But his father tells him to find his aunt (unknown to him) who will care for him, and he will find him again, “come hell or high water.”  His aunt and cousin Letty accept him, unlike the rest of the town who suspects him of everything due to his skin color.  Survival in their small town of Tawpuddle is dependent upon dangerous sailing trips and the wishes of nobleman Sir Robert Fairbrother.  Then Caleb is shocked to find his dead father’s body washed ashore, identifiable only by his ring.  But while Caleb summons help, the ring is stolen and the man buried, meant to be forgotten.  But much, much more is amiss, and Caleb’s determination to prove the man was his father leads him to unearth a landslide of secrets and power in this small seaside town.  THOUGHTS: A well-crafted and twisty tale with the right amount of suspense, atmosphere and characterization (even the puppets) to intrigue readers. With a focus on unmasking racism, sexism and the power of class structure to determine one’s fate, this is not to be overlooked.  

Historical, Mystery      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area School District

Picture Books – The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes; Snowflake in my Pocket; Miguel & the Grand Harmony

Compestine, Ying Chang, The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-4197-2542-5. 32pp. $17.99. Gr K-3.

This variation on the traditional Hans Christian Anderson tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes features nine-year-old boy emperor Ming Da. Ming Da’s corrupt advisors think he is too young to rule, so they take advantage of him, stealing silks, rice, jewels, and gold. When he looks outside the palace windows, Ming Da sees poor, hungry children begging in the streets. He longs to help them, but it isn’t until his tailors come with his new robes for the Chinese New Year parade that Ming Da hatches his plan. Instead of wearing the ornate robes they initially present, Ming Da enlists the tailors’ help in sewing together old rice sacks decorated with vegetable juices. When he appears in front of his advisors wearing these sacks, he explains that they are magical and that only honest people will be able to see their true splendor. Wanting to mask their corruption, the advisors gush about the rice sacks and agree to have the tailors design magical robes for them as well. One by one, the advisors try on their new robes, and they each want to look more splendid than the others. They bring back the silks, rice, jewels, and gold to finance the creation of the supposedly elaborate robes. Ming Da uses the rice, silks, and gold to feed and dress the poor, and on the morning of the New Year’s Day parade, the advisors march behind the young emperor wearing their own rice sack robes. Amongst themselves, they keep up the charade of complementing each other on the clothing’s splendor, but a young boy in the crowd points and laughs at their rice sacks, and the embarrassed advisors flee the country. Ming Da replaces them with honest ministers and rules wisely and fairly for many years. David Roberts’s vibrant pen and ink and watercolor illustrations feature intricate details such as Chinese scrolls and latticework, and the ornate details pop against plain white backgrounds. Careful readers will also enjoy searching for the emperor’s pet cricket and mouse who appear in almost every spread. A note on the final pages describes the author’s personal history with this fairytale and her childhood in China that inspired this retelling.  THOUGHTS:  This retelling will fit nicely with fairytale units and activities where students compare an original fairytale and a variation. Also use it for Chinese New Year celebrations and storytimes.

Picture Book    Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Bright, Rachel. Snowflake in My Pocket. Kane Miller, A Division of EDC Publishing: 2017. 978-1-61067-551-2. 32pp. $12.99. Gr K-2.

This is the gentle story of a wise old bear who has seen many seasons and a young squirrel who has seen only three. Together, the pair explore every corner of their forest home, and one night, Bear declares that the snow is on its way. Squirrel has never seen snow before, and he is overjoyed when he sees a wintery wonderland outside his tree the next morning. He can’t wait to play outside with Bear, but Bear has come down with a cold and must rest in bed. Squirrel promises to have fun for both of them and heads outside for a day of rolling, making snow angels, and building snow bears. Even though Squirrel has fun, he still misses his friend and decides to catch a snowflake to take home to Bear. He finds the perfect one, puts it in his pocket, and heads home. But, when he tries to show Bear the snowflake, there is nothing in his pocket. Bear tenderly explains that snow comes and goes, but other things, like their love for one another, last forever. Snowy scenes pop in Yu Rong’s papercut art, and her detailed illustrations ensure children will notice subtle details with each repeated reading. THOUGHTS: This title is perfect for snowy storytimes, and it could also be used to jumpstart discussions of students’ favorite snowy day activities. Pair this with Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County

 

De la Pena, Matt.  Miguel and the Grand Harmony.  Disney Press, 2017. 978148478149. Unpaged. $17.99.  Gr. K-4.

This beautifully crafted book tells the story of a boy called Miguel who lives in a Mexican village and yearns to play music.  Inspired by the Disney Pixar film Coco, it is told in first person by the muse of music called La Música, who is depicted as a fairy by illustrator Ana Ramírez, an artist at the Pixar studios. De la Pena begins this story by telling the reader how music shapes and is a part of people’s lives in a wedding, quinceañera or a funeral and keeps “gray at bay.”  Músicos play in the village, where we meet the boy watching the musicians, but who are shooed away by his abuelita who states that their music will upset “Madame Coco,” an old woman in a wheelchair.  Unknown to his family, the boy has an attic room where he “plays” a broomstick guitar to recorded music.  Músicos again perform in the village and the boy is enraptured with the sound. Once again his abuelita chases them away.  The boy finds a guitar and begins to teach himself how to play.  The music he creates appears to bring happiness to Madame Coco as she smiles with delight at the boy’s music.  Ramirez’s drawings depict a Mexican village and are done in bright colors with lots of details.  On several pages, she has placed vibrantly colored flowers and music notes, which are small in the beginning of the story, but are huge by the end when the boy plays the guitar.  This lavishly illustrated book is a delight to the eyes. De la Pena has created a book that shows us the importance of music in our world and how it colors and brings harmony to our lives.  This book stands alone for the most part, but there are some questions left unanswered that might be answered in the film. Why is the boy’s abuelita concerned about the music upsetting Madame Coco?  Who is Madame Coco?  Who is the man that played music to “his little girl”? THOUGHTS: This book will be popular with readers who have seen the film.  It will also be useful for music teachers as a read aloud and will inspire young musicians.  The art in this book may make it a Caldecott contender.  De la Pena’s book is a worthwhile purchase and will add diversity to elementary collections.

Picture Book     Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

MS Fiction – Guitarist Wanted; Snow & Rose; Well That Was Awkward; Rosemarked

Brezenoff, Steve. Guitarist Wanted (Boy Seeking Band Series) Capstone Press, 2017.  978-1-4965-4448-3. 96 p. $19.54. Gr 5-8.

Finding just the correct members for a band is challenging for Terence Kato. Moving is difficult enough, but now he needs to add members to the band that have different skills or backgrounds. The book concludes with trivia regarding music terms to see if you would make the band.  THOUGHTS: Students will appreciate the fast pace story and look forward to  reading the Boy Seeking Band series.

Realistic     Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

Martin, Emily Winfield. Snow and Red. Random House, 2017. 978-0-533-53818-2. $17.99. 224 p. Gr. 4-7

Life drastically changes when their father never returns from the woods. Their mother is distraught, and their lavish lifestyle is exchanged for a little dwelling in the woods. While in the woods the sisters come across a goblin. Snow’s birthday wish is for everything to go back to the way it was before. Shortly after, Snow and Rose save a bear stuck in a hunting trap. Also in the woods, they meet The Librarian of unique objects and Ivo, an underground dwelling boy. What objects will they find and what happens to their new friends?  THOUGHTS: The illustrations and enchanting chapter artwork are sure to draw in the most reluctant reader and add additional excitement to the readers that are naturally drawn to fairy tales.

Fantasy, Fairy Tale    Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

Vail, Rachel. Well That Was Awkward. Viking, 2017. 9780670013081. $16.99. 314p. Gr. 5-8.

Gracie and Sienna are best friends. Gracie realizes she has feelings for a classmate, AJ, and is upset to find out through their good friend, Emmett, that AJ likes Sienna. Emmett and Gracie have known each other since they were young, and Gracie doesn’t realize that Emmett has a crush on her. All she knows is that her friend, Sienna, needs her help crafting the perfect witty texts to AJ. It breaks Gracie’s heart to help her friend build a relationship with the boy she has a crush on, but she does it because she is a good friend. It makes her feel even worse when AJ’s return texts are romantically funny. Unbeknownst to them, Emmett is the one writing AJ’s return texts because AJ doesn’t know what to say. To complicate matters, Gracie is living in the shadow of a sister, Bret, that passed away before Gracie was born. She feels tremendous pressure to be the perfect daughter and keep her parents happy.  THOUGHTS: This is a great middle-grade retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac. I’m always looking for good books for my 7th graders, and I was happy to have found this one that has realistic banter and situations.

Realistic Fiction            Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Blackburne, Livia. Rosemarked. Hyperion, 2017. 978-148478855-4 390p. $17.99.  Gr. 6 and up.

Zivah is the youngest healer her village has ever seen.  When an outbreak of the Rose Plague breaks out among the soldiers stationed in her village, of course, she has to help.  When she becomes infected, she survives but is “Rose Marked,” meaning she will live for only a short time longer and is contagious.  Dineas is a soldier who was captured by the Amparans and tortured.  He also gets the plague, but survives as “Umber Marked.” He is immune to the Rose Plague.  Zivah and Dineas meet under stressful circumstances and do not like each other, yet they take on a mission to go to the capital city to try to help overthrow the Amparans.  There is much intrigue and deception involved.  THOUGHTS: This is a very smart book that made me marvel at its cleverness at how quickly I was involved in this world.  Fans of The Ember in the Ashes will enjoy this one.

Fantasy      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Blackburne, Livia. Rosemarked.  Hyperion. 2017. 978-1-48478-855-4. 390 p.  $17.99. Gr. 6 and up.

A tale of political intrigue and espionage told in the alternating voices of two teens living under an oppressive regime.  Zivah is a gifted healer who has trained her entire life to reach the level of a master.   As she celebrates her achievement, a battalion of the occupying Amparan Army falls ill with rose plague, the contagious disease that kills most who contract it within a few days.  A lucky few survive for a few more years, but they are “rosemarked“ with red blotches,  contagious and forced to live apart from the general population.  The luckiest few survive the disease and become “umbertouched”, covered with dark spots that indicate the person is completely cured and immune to further infection.  Zivah herself falls to the disease, rosemarked and destined for a lonely and uncertain future. But she is remembered by the Amparan general whose life she saved; he rewards her with an offer to live in the capital and train with the medical experts there.  As she ponders that offer, she meets Dineas, a young warrior from the rebel Shihadi tribe, who has escaped from the Amparan prisons.  Umbertouched after his bout with rose plague, he is now on a quest for vengeance against the Amparan leaders. The two teens, so different in temperament and outlook are brought together by their tribal leaders to fight against the empire. Together, they travel to the capital to spy on and sabotage the rulers. They come to rely heavily on each other and a strong attraction begins to form as they work on their dangerous mission. Rosemarked is the first book in a new political fantasy/adventure series.  The novel is slow to start but builds in intensity as the teens go deep undercover to strike against the oppressive regime. The novel explores such themes as social and racial prejudices, medical ethics and the fight of a conquered people against oppression.  There is solid character development with heroes and villains who are nuanced and fully fleshed out individuals, each with positive and negative traits that humanize them and make them believable.  THOUGHTS: Recommended for fans of tales such as The False Prince or Ember in the Ashes. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers waiting eagerly for the next volume.  

Fantasy; Adventure           Nancy Summers, Abington  School District

Picture Books – Goldfish Ghost; Life; Three Billy Goats; Peterrific

Snicket, Lemony. Goldfish Ghost. Roaring Brook Press, 2017: ISBN 978-1-62672-507-2. 36pp. 17.99. Gr. K-3.

Goldfish Ghost is born in a bowl in a boy’s bedroom, but after floating and staring at the ceiling for a while, he becomes bored and drifts through the air towards the room’s open window in search of some company. He floats over the town’s fishing pier, past some shops, and near the haunted lighthouse. He considers befriending a flock of seagulls, but they are too noisy and are preoccupied with the fishing boats. Everyone he passes in town already has a companion, so he drifts toward the beach. All the beachgoers are busy reading, sunbathing, digging, or swimming, and no one pays him any attention there either. He does spot the ghosts of deceased sea creatures floating over the water, but Goldfish Ghost doesn’t feel quite at home on top of the ocean either. As night falls, Goldfish Ghost hears a voice calling to him from the haunted lighthouse. The ghost of the lighthouse keeper scoops him up, each recognizing that they finally have the sort of company they’ve been searching for. This title’s India ink and watercolor illustrations are filled with fun visuals including families enjoying a day at the beach and people navigating through a seaside town, and students will likely spot new details each time the book is reread. Observant readers will also spot other ghosts, including some old-fashioned beachgoers, in the detailed illustrations.  THOUGHTS:  Although this story’s main character is a ghost, this is not the typical creepy, scary ghost story. Instead, it’s a story about finding friendship and a place to belong. It also presents a fresh perspective about dead pets and will be a winner with readers who enjoy slightly eerie yet comical stories.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Rylant, Cynthia. Life. Beach Lane Books, 2017.  978-1-4814-5162-8. 43pp. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

This book beautifully pairs Cynthia Rylant’s lyrical text with Caldecott Honor-winner Brendan Wenzel’s stunning paintings of the natural world and its many animals. The result is striking; a concise, yet powerful tribute to life’s many twists, turns, mountains, valleys, and surprises. Each page contains only a line or two of text, letting Wenzel’s vibrant paintings shine. The book begins succinctly, noting that life begins small. Following pages depict a baby elephant and a tiny seedling growing beneath the sun’s rays and the moon’s glow. Several animals express what they love most about life, describing simple things such as sky, grass, sand, and rain. Subsequent pages depict how life might not always be easy or beautiful, showing animals braving dark skies, fierce winds, craggy mountains, and thorny underbrush. But eventually, the wilderness ends, and new roads are visible. In a beautiful spread featuring a deer watching a flock of birds fly across a moonlit sky, Rylant reminds readers that life is always changing, and it’s worth waking up each morning to see what a new day holds.  THOUGHTS: This inspirational book can be shared with guidance counselors who could perhaps use it to reassure students who are having a challenging time or who are facing some obstacle in their life. It will also be a good fit for units exploring animals and their many habitats, and it shines as an example of how to boil writing down to just the most essential words and ideas.

Picture Book      Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Pinkney, Jerry. The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Little, Brown, and Company, 2017. 978-0-316-34157-8. 40pp. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

With beautiful pencil and watercolor illustrations and a freshly-imagined ending, Jerry Pinkney breathes new life into this classic tale. Many original elements remain: three billy goats wish to cross a troll-guarded bridge so they can graze on the opposite river bank’s green grass. The littlest billy goat goes first, and he convinces the troll to spare him, promising a bigger billy goat will be crossing soon. His prediction is correct, and soon, a second goat attempts to cross. The troll threatens to gobble him up, but he urges the troll to wait for Big Billy Goat Gruff. Sure enough, Big Billy Goat Gruff comes crashing across the bridge, and when confronted by the troll, he lowers his head and charges, knocking the troll into the water. In the water, a giant fish demands to know who is splish-splashing in his river, and he threatens to gobble up the troll. The troll escapes and paddles back to the riverbank. He finds himself on the opposite side of the river, however, and he watches as the entire herd of billy goats crosses over the bridge to eat the green grass on the hillside. Careful readers will notice that this is not the end of the story, however. On the last page of the book, the troll begins gathering stones to build himself a new house, and the littlest billy goat races over the bridge to help him. The final endpapers depict goats traveling freely back and forth across the bridge, as well as other goats coming to assist the troll with his building, suggesting that these characters might ultimately work out a peaceful coexistence.  THOUGHTS:  This stunning retelling is destined to become a classic, and readers will pour over the artwork again and again. The reimagined ending offers readers the chance to experience bullying from a fresh point of view, and it opens the door for discussions about big ideas such as confronting adversity, forgiveness, redemption, and tolerance. This will be a valuable addition to all elementary collections.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Kann, Victoria. Peterrific. Harper, 2017.  978-0-06-256357-6. 36pp. $18.89. Gr. K-3.

Pinkalicious is back, but this time, her brother Peter is the star of the story. Peter’s goal is to build a block tower high enough to reach the stars, so while he builds, Pinkalicious borrows wagon-loads of blocks from all the neighbors. Peter’s tower grows and grows, but once he’s high in the sky, he realizes it can be lonely, and a little scary, at the top. When he spies a high-flying bird passing by, Peter brainstorms an idea for leaving his tower, and once he reaches the ground, he’s quick to imagine ideas for how to construct an even better one. There’s lots to look at in this book’s brightly colored mixed media digital illustrations, and readers will enjoy spotting trains, a slinky, crayons, binoculars, and other toys tucked in among the blocks of Peter’s growing tower.  THOUGHTS: This book is perfect for teaching elements of Design Thinking since Peter works through Asking, Imagining, Planning, Creating, and Improving as he builds his tower. He begins by asking himself how he might create a tall, tall tower. Then, he imagines designing a structure tall enough to reach the stars, and he plans by drawing pictures of his ideas. He uses blocks, tape, rope, and glue to create and hold together his tower, and he continuously adds more blocks so he can improve his design. Once he’s at the top of the tower, he also realizes the tower has some problems: there’s no way to get down, and it might be structurally unsafe. Once he’s safely on the ground again, Peter draws a plan for a new and improved tower, underscoring the ideas in the circular Design Thinking process.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Early Elementary – Perfect Pinatas; If Sharks Disappeared; Dragons Love Tacos 2; Beauty & the Beast

McDonald, Kirsten. The Perfect Piñatas. Magic Wagon, a division of ABDO, 2017. 978-1-62402-183-1. Unpaged. $19.99. Gr. 1-3.

This is part of the early reader series Carlos & Carmen in which there are over 10 books. Carlos and Carmen are twins getting ready for their birthday. Shopping with their Abuelita for piñatas is fun, but they have to find the perfect ones. After several stores of amusing, but ultimately unsatisfactory paper mache objects, the children find their ideal piñatas. Yet this presents another problem as they soon discover, they want to keep and play with their new toys! They cannot imagine smashing them to get at the candy and toys inside. Luckily, their Abuelita has a wonderful solution. THOUGHTS: A great read-aloud multicultural book to add to the collection, but the sprinkling of Spanish words is difficult for early readers.

Fiction Early Reader   Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

This book is discouraging. At first I was so excited for find a series with Latinos for early readers, until I read the book. They have Spanish words throughout the text with absolutely no indication that they are another language. This is difficult for non-bilingual children who are just learning to read. There IS a Glossary, but it is in the back, and no way to tell what words will be in it while reading. I am going to put it in my collection, but am tempted to write a disclaimer in the beginning about the Spanish words and highlight them in the text so it will be easier for the students to decypher.

 

Williams, Lily. If Sharks Disappeared.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017.  9781626724136.  Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

In this text, the author presents the reader with an interesting look at food chain dynamics in the ocean, while keeping it accessible for younger students.  The opening two pages will grab their attention, as Williams begins with an explanation of the ocean environment with its many sea creatures.  This includes a scary shark, which appears to be coming right out of the page toward the reader with open mouth and sharp teeth! The author explains terms like “apex predator” and shows a timeline of the evolution of the shark.   An interesting illustration shows the role of various marine animals in the food chain and who eats whom.  Williams’s illustrations have a touch of whimsy and the images will not frighten children.  The author discusses the effect of the loss of ocean predators and how it would change the composition of the ocean and eventually affect humans and land animals.    There is a glossary, bibliography and list of websites.  The author also includes information about how sharks can be protected.  THOUGHTS: There is a lot of information in this text and it is presented in a simple, but clear way. Readers will gain a good understanding of the importance of food chains and the effects on other living creatures if a link in the chain is broken. This book will work well in science units, but many children will enjoy reading it on their own. This one is a first purchase for elementary collections.

Science Nonfiction      Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

Rubin, Adam and Daniel Salmieri. Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel. Dial Books, 2017. 978-0-525-42888-6. $18.99. Unpaged. Gr. K-3

They’re back! Those taco-loving dragons from the 2015 PAYRC award-winning book by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri have their very own sequel. This time around, the world is facing a taco crisis: No More Tacos! The intrepid young hero decides to solve the problem by going back in time, to the infamous taco party (before the dragons eat the spicy salsa, of course), and grabbing some tacos, with which he can plant taco trees. Lots of mayhem and silliness ensue before the successful completion of the mission. While you might not have thought the original book needed a sequel, those students who know the first book will rejoice at another romp with the dragons.  For younger students, it provides a wonderful reason to expose them to the delightful works of Rubin and Salmieri (read Secret Pizza Party as well). THOUGHTS: The final double-spread illustration is worth purchasing the book, even if you do not think the sequel stands up to the original. Your students will love it.

Picture Book     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Rylant, Cynthia. Beauty and the Beast. Disney Hyperion, 2017.  978-142311981-4. 40pp. $16.99. Gr. K-3.

This rich retelling of the classic story focuses on the themes of loneliness and love. It begins by introducing a father and his three daughters. The family was once well-off, but after a failed business venture, they now live modestly. The two older daughters resent this misfortune, but the youngest, Beauty, accepts the new life without complaint. When their father receives news about his former business, he rides off to port, but he becomes lost in the forest during a blizzard. His horse leads him to a stony castle where he dines and takes shelter. The next day, when leaving the castle, he spies a single rose blooming in the garden, and he cuts it. Immediately, a terrible Beast is upon him. The Beast seizes the father as a servant, but he ultimately agrees to exchange him for one of his daughters. Beauty refuses to lose her father and insists on taking his place. She is prepared for the Beast’s terribleness, but he treats her kindly, giving her beautiful gowns, delicious food, and never making her do any serving work. Together, they walk the gardens and read sonnets, but when the Beast asks Beauty to marry him, she turns him down, explaining that she doesn’t love him. When Beauty’s father falls ill, the Beast allows her to go care for him, believing he’ll never see her again. In her absence, he begins dying of a broken heart, but Beauty returns to him just in time to say, “I love you.” Her love breaks the spell, and the Beast is transformed back into a handsome prince. The muted, pastel tones of this book’s full-bleed illustrations perfectly complement the tenderness and love Rylant uses to reimagine this timeless story.  THOUGHTS:  This book will be useful for sparking discussions about the differences between the book and the movies. It is a perfect addition to fairy tale collections, and it should prove popular with both teachers and students alike.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MS Fantasy – Lilliput; Broken Ground

lilliput

Gayton, Sam. Alice Ratterree, Ill. Lilliput. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree, 2015. 978-1-56145-806-6. 251p. $16.95. Gr. 4-8.

Lily has tried many times to escape from Lemuel Gulliver and has failed in over 30 plans. Gulliver is working to finish his book about his travels called Book of Travels, and Lily is his proof of the tiny inhabitants of Lilliput. As they are staying in a room about Plinker’s Timepieces, it is Finn who discovers Lily. Since Finn was an orphan, Plinker purchased Finn and makes him his apprentice and in charge of winding his devious clocks that can move quickly when wanted or even explode.  Finn must wear a waste-not-watch which tightens if he does not use timely wisely. Lily is able to disengage the watch. Lily now sees the sights of London. In their travels they meet a kind chocolatier named Mr. Ozinda, who helps them plan an escape for Lily to find her home. Part of the plan is to rescue the Swift bird from the clock and obtain Gulliver’s Book of Travels. While well planned out, not all goes according to plan. Violence takes place, and while Gulliver makes his apology, his life is lost, and Plinker is put in jail. Lily makes it back home safely, and Finn starts an adventure on board with Mrs. Ozinda. The book is constructed with a prologue, three parts, an epilogue, and an afterword. Detailed black and white illustrations are throughout the novel.  THOUGHTS: The adventure and intrigue allow the reader to devote time to this book. Lilliput has the potential to spark an interest in learning more about the original Gulliver’s Travels.

Fantasy; Action/Adventure; Classic Retelling     Beth McGuire, Wendover MS

 

broken

Schwab, Victoria. Broken Ground. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-87695-7. 186p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

Broken Ground continues the adventures of Meilin, Rollan, Abeke, and Conor in book two of  Fall of Beasts, a strand of the best selling Spirit Animals series. The Greencloaks face huge difficulty in trying to heal Conor from the Wyrm. They also observe another concern as the bonds with Spirit Animals are getting looser everywhere. The heroes are divided into two groups. Conor fights, becoming snake-like, and Meilin hears voices as they travel in the cave. Rollan needs to be less aggressive and not challenge the sea while he and Abeke work together.  Through their missions it is evident that enemies come in all shapes and sizes. There is a new group to the heroes called  “The Red Cloaks.” Members of this group wear an animal mask and oppose Zerik, but much is still a mystery regarding the group. At the castle in Stetriol, Tasha summons one of the Great Spirit Animals, Ninani, the swan. If Tasha accepts, she will be the first Greeencloak from Stetriol. Rollan relates to the magnitude of her decision, as he thought often about his choice and mentorship from his friend the late Tarik. While they wish to keep Tasha’s calling a secret, it is not kept long whatsoever and the city rejoice with the news and launches fireworks. THOUGHTS: Add this book to your collection! Allow students to read the books in whatever order they wish (though you may want to assist some students with the order). Since the series is written by familiar authors to your students, you may want to consider shelving the books by series or creating a special sign or bookmark helping the students locate the novels as they move through the series.

Fantasy; Action/Adventure    Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School