Upper Elem/MS – Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race; Wishtree; Fish Tree

Grabenstein, Chris. Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race. Random House, 2017. 978-0-553-53606-5. $16.99. 279 p. Gr 3-6.

Kyle, Akimi and the other library lovers from Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemonchello’s Library and  Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics are back for a new game. Mr. Lemoncello, the P.T. Barnum of libraries, has created the Fact-Finding Frenzy to debut his new Nonfictionator technology, interactive holographic displays. Pairs of the young library trustees compete against each other for the chance to travel around the country promoting Mr. Lemoncello’s newest game. Grabenstein does a nice job keeping the series current by introducing Abia, a Muslim girl. In addition, the competitors find themselves abandoning the game to save Mr. Lemoncello’s reputation when rival game-makers accuse him of plagiarizing the idea for his very first game. The four finalists dig into researching Mr. Lemoncello’s background, learning to check facts and verify fake news to save their hero from shame.  THOUGHTS:  With the excitement generated by the Nickelodeon movie, this will be a welcome addition to the series. It is at least as good as the first book in the, if not better. The emphasis on research and verifying what we read on the internet is a timely, important message for students.  

Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Applegate, Katherine, and Charles Santoso. Wishtree. Feiwel and Friends, 2017. 978-1-250-04322-1. $16.99. 216 pp. Gr. 3-6.

Red has been growing, living, watching, and even speaking for 116 years. Most people don’t stop to listen, but they do come to leave wishes on branches every year as a neighborhood tradition. In that time, things have changed, yet some things remain the same for the old oak tree. Wishes have come and gone, and the residents of the tree continue to share with Red and learn from its wisdom. When the word LEAVE is carved in its trunk, Red wonders if it’s the end of the family living next door, perhaps even the end of the wishtree’s life. Can Red make one more wish come true, and can tolerance and friendship save the day?  Katherine Applegate continues her trend from The One and Only Ivan and Crenshaw to shed light on unique points of view and stories that matter and move. The amazing illustrations from Charles Santoso fill the pages with wonder and whimsy. Stop and pause and listen as Red shares a tale you won’t soon forget.  THOUGHTS: I must say that I loved the message, but was equally delighted by the humor and imagination that Applegate shows in bringing this tree’s world to life. The relationship between the animals, and their naming traditions, and the friendship of Red and a crow named Bongo are inventive, natural, and remarkable at the same time. Students could easily relate and play along with naming their neighborhood creatures. Hopefully, they would also hold discussions about acceptance and wish for a better world.

Realistic Fiction; Magical Realism     Dustin BrackbillState College Area SD

Napoli, Donna Jo, and David Wiesner. Fish Girl. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 978-1-537-90518-1. $25.00. 186 pp. Gr. 3-6.

Come see the mysterious Fish Girl! She lives inside the Ocean Wonders aquarium and is protected by Neptune himself, her keeper and caretaker. Fish Girl is indeed a mermaid, but she is told that she must stay hidden from humans and can’t talk or walk. She is still curious and lonely, though the aquatic animals and her devoted octopus friend care for her. When Neptune isn’t watching, she makes a friend, explores beyond her boundaries, and may just unravel some truths about her life and world. David Wiesner uses his amazing artistic vision from work like Flotsam to fill the panels of this graphic novel passion project. Donna Jo Napoli brings voice to the Fish Girl as she navigates her adolescence and questions whether she is a protected treasure or a captive. There are unresolved questions and wonders galore at the ending, but young readers will be captivated by the “mysterious Fish Girl.”  THOUGHTS: This is a great debut graphic novel for Wiesner, though many will recognize that he uses panels effectively in his other picture books. This would be great for a book club discussion and brings in bits of mythology and mystery that deserve further analysis. Another worthy project idea would be for students to study the traits of the other ocean creatures who dwell in the Ocean Wonders. Fun book to explore!

Graphic Novel; Fantasy      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

YA Fiction – Mask of Shadows; What to Say Next; My Favorite Things is Monsters; Strange the Dreamer

Miller, Linsey. Mask of Shadows. Sourcebooks, 2017.  9781492647492. 352 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Orphaned street thief, Sallot Leon, is permitted to enter the audition to become the next member of the Left Hand of the Queen, a group of four assassins who serve as advisers and protectors of the throne. These four are named for the gems of the rings worn by the Queen: Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, and Opal. When the last Opal is killed, Sal and 22 others compete to gain the position which will elevate the winner to enjoy the riches, security, and honor that will come with a new noble status. Borrowing heavily from titles such as Hunger Games and Throne of Glass, the plot follows the Auditioners, who must fight to the death to earn the coveted spot at court. The 22 contestants are virtually indistinguishable from one another with no real character development for any of them; each are masked for the competition and known only by their assigned numbers.  Sal, now known as Twenty Three, wishes to leave a life of thievery behind but also has a hidden agenda to avenge the destruction of her homeland and people. In one of the more original and interesting aspects of this tale, Sal‘s character is gender fluid and prefers to be addressed by the pronouns of “they” and “them”. Unfortunately, the gender identity for Sal seems to revolve around what clothing they are wearing that day. A romance with a noblewoman who serves as a tutor for the Auditioners unfolds and the sexuality between the two is presented matter of factly.  The only obstacle to such a romance in this world is Sal’s lower-class status, which would change if they win the contest. Mask of Shadows details the growing violence and intrigue between the Auditioners, as the competition advances and many of these scenes are gripping, violent, and gory.  But overall, the story lacks strong character development and the world building is not fully realized. Sal’s backstory is only briefly visited and there is no real explanation or insight into the magic and shadows which caused the destruction of the old-world order, or the war between the kingdoms that led to the current shaky political reality.  THOUGHTS: This YA fantasy with a strong gender-fluid character has an interesting premise and action-packed competition sequences. A secondary purchase for fans of violent fantasy.

Fantasy          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

 

Buxbaum, Julie. What to Say Next. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-553-53568-6. 292 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Julie Buxbaum, author of the very enjoyable Tell Me Three Things, returns with the even better What to Say Next! David Drucker is a little unusual. He’s brilliant but awkward in social situations; he’s a diligent fan of order and routine, and he was once diagnosed with Asperger’s (but that’s just a label). He also keeps a notebook full of lists, rules, and notable encounters with his classmates at Mapleview High School. He’s got a particularly detailed entry on Kit Lowell, who attended his childhood birthday parties and smiled at him when their names were announced as Mapleview’s only National Merit semifinalists. Now, after 622 days of eating lunch alone, David is joined by Kit, whose father died in a car crash just one month ago. None of Kit’s popular friends know what to say or how to act around her, and David’s bluntness is a welcome change of pace. When David’s notebook is stolen and posted online, followed by the reveal of two huge Lowell family secrets, the opposites-attract couple needs each other more than ever.  THOUGHTS: This winning, dual perspective novel focuses on the “friend” in girlfriend and boyfriend relationships. It’s a perfect choice for fans of realistic romance with a serious side, such as Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and When We Collided by Emery Lord.

Realistic Fiction     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Ferris, Emil. My Favorite Things is Monsters. Fantagraphics Books, 2017. 978-1-60699-696-2. unpaged. $39.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Emil Ferris’ mind-bogglingly good graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, hinges on the murder of Anka Silverberg, who is shot and killed in her apartment. Her downstairs neighbor, 10-year old Karen Reyes (an unusual girl who identifies with comic book monsters) decides to put on her detective hat and crack the case. In late 1960s Chicago, suspects abound. Anka’s personal history, depicted through tape-recorded interviews and an extended story within the story, reveal a damaged woman with a haunted past. Karen, meanwhile, longs to be changed into a werewolf so that she can “turn” and somehow save her own dying mother. One serious drawback: even after finishing this doorstop of a debut (which introduces a new mystery in the final pages), readers will have to wait until 2018 for Volume 2 and a resolution to the mysteries. THOUGHTS: This is a unique reading experience that raises more questions about monsters than it answers, and does so with beautiful style. Mature themes such as prostitution and violence are depicted visually, so this is recommended for older teens.

Graphic Novel     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Taylor, Laini. Strange the Dreamer. Little Brown, 2017. 978-0-316-34168-4. 544 pp. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

A city with no name. A boy with no past.  A girl with no future.  Though it sounds bleak, Laini Taylor’s newest novel, Strange the Dreamer, is a magical, imaginative, heartbreaking story that will leave readers on the edge of their seats.  Lazlo Strange is an orphan, and a dreamer, with little memory of his childhood, save for the day that the name of the city was taken from him, and replaced with the name “Weep.” Consumed with a desire to know more, Lazlo, through an accident of fate, becomes a librarian, and garners all he can about the enigmatic city, including its language. When an entourage from Weep arrives, looking for people to come help solve a mysterious problem, Lazlo jumps at the chance. Meanwhile, in Weep, Sarai, a blue-skinned demi-goddess, is stuck; she and her three companions are trying to navigate an increasingly grim future by using their gifts, bestowed upon them by their god and goddess parents. Sarai is a dream walker, but uses her abilities to bestow nightmares on the people of Weep, punishing them nightly for their treachery.  When Sarai enters Lazlo’s dream, it unleashes an unexpected and intense series of events that will forever change the lives of the dreamers, and all of those around them. THOUGHTS:  I absolutely loved this book.  Laini Taylor has really come into her own as an author, and this is a much more nuanced, sophisticated novel than her previous efforts.  While the romance between Sarai and Lazlo feels a little rushed, the world-building, the characters, the setting, and the tension between characters makes up for it ten-fold.  Highly recommended to all fantasy lovers.

Fantasy     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Laini Taylor, author of the fantastic Daughter of Smoke & Bone series, is back with another incredible fantasy novel. Orphan Lazlo Strange works as a junior librarian and spends his days researching and dreaming. Since childhood, he has been obsessed with the lost city of Weep, a city which most of his peers claim is simply a legend. One day, a mythical Godslayer visits the library, and Lazlo finds an opportunity to go searching for his beloved lost city. In Weep, Lazlo finds his dreams haunted by a beautiful blue-skinned girl. Who is she, and why can they see and speak to one another? The mysteries of Weep deepen, and Lazlo finds himself embroiled in a centuries-old war between gods and mortals. This is truly a spectacular, lyrical story that will appeal to all fantasy readers. THOUGHTS: Taylor is an incredibly talented writer, creating a vast world with true to life characters and words that jump off the page. Fantasy fans will adore this and clamor for the next book in the series.

Fantasy     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School