Elem. – My City Speaks

Lebeuf, Darren. My City Speaks. Illustrated by Ashley Barron. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30414-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-3.

A young girl takes readers through a day of exploring her city the way she experiences it – through sound. Though readers may not notice the narrator’s visual impairments, the intricate illustrations – a combination of cut-paper collage, watercolor, acrylic, and pencil crayon, with some digital assembly – show her using a white cane and yellow tactile paving at a crosswalk. Sounds from the city help highlight things one may not notice with so many beautiful sights – “hasty honks, impatient beeps, distant chimes, reliable rumbles, speedy sirens and urgent clangs.” A fun pre-reading activity would be to ask students to close their eyes and identify sounds they hear then compare what they hear with what they see.

THOUGHTS: This title is an opportunity to discuss diverse abilities and show children how similar people’s experiences may be, regardless of ability. Highly recommended for picture book collections, especially those seeking representation.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The Chance to Fly

Stroker, Ali, and Davidowitz, Stacy. The Chance to Fly. Amulet Books, 2021. 978-1-419-74393-1. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

After moving across the country and leaving her best friend Chloe behind, Natalie Beacon feels a little lost. She finds some solace in belting Broadway showtunes and hanging with her dog, Warbucks. Her father believes that getting her back on a wheelchair racing team will make her feel better, and it might have…until Nat sees a flyer advertising open auditions for a teenage production of Wicked! Without her parents’ permission or knowledge, Nat auditions with the hope of playing Nessarose, the only Broadway character that is in a wheelchair. Yet even if she makes it into the show, Nat knows she will constantly worry about how her wheelchair might get in the way: what if backstage isn’t wheelchair accessible? What if the dance moves are too complicated for her? What if her parents don’t think she is capable of doing something on her own without their help? Determined and eager, Nat sets out to prove to everyone that she is not defined by her wheelchair.

THOUGHTS: Ali Stroker, co-author of this book, knows firsthand about Nat’s predicament. She is the first actress in a wheelchair to appear on a Broadway stage AND win a Tony Award, Broadway’s highest honor. This middle grade novel is packed with show tune lyrics and Broadway references. Readers will be charmed by (and also relate to) Nat and her friends. Her story is proof that no one should give up on their dreams.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Real

Cuject, Carol, and Peyton Goddard. Real. Shadow Mountain, 2021. 978-1-629-72789-9. 304 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8.

Charity can clap, jump, kick, shrug, and make movements just like everyone else – except she can’t control WHEN her body makes these movements. This also means she can’t talk – while she can solve complicated math problems and memorize passages from literature, Charity cannot communicate. Her diagnosis is autism, which means her brain is wired differently than other neurotypical students her age. Charity goes to a special school for students with different challenges and abilities. However, when her mother realizes just how badly the adults are treating Charity in that school, she fights to get her into a regular public school. The principal, however, is not supportive; he thinks Charity’s uncontrollable movements will disrupt the other students in the school. But the special education teacher and Charity’s mom believe that she can do it. The problem is, Charity isn’t sure she can. She hopes that she can prove to everyone in the school that she is a capable, intelligent young lady – even if she can’t always make her body cooperate.

THOUGHTS: Real gives a picture into the mind of a student who is not neurotypical. Peyton Goddard, one of the authors, writes this book based on personal experiences she had as a teenager in the hopes of showing readers that inclusion and protection of this vulnerable population is a necessity in schools and in society. This book is a must-have for middle grade libraries and would be an excellent book club pick.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Show Me a Sign

LeZotte, Ann Clare. Show Me a Sign. Scholastic Press, 2020. 269 p.  978-1-338-25581-2. $ 18.99. Grades 4-7.

Part Historical Fiction and part Thriller, this story is set in 1805 Martha’s Vineyard and follows 11 year old Mary. Mary is one of the many deaf inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard who descended from a small town in England. This genetic abnormality passes over some, yet inflicts others. However, life on the island is normal for the deaf and hearing alike. Most inhabitants speak their own form of island sign language as well as English. Life is normal until a young scientist from Boston comes to the island to study this abnormality. In trying to uncover the cause of deafness, Andrew captures Mary as his specimen and absconds with her to mainland Boston. Tortured by her captor, and realizing that she is different for the first time, Mary must find a way to escape and return to her family. Follow Mary as she escapes with the help of some Vineyard friends and finds her way home to her family and friends. The afterword includes a short history of deafness on Martha’s Vineyard, Sign Language, and the Wampanoag Tribe.

THOUGHTS: Such an interesting and unforgettable story that is rooted in history. LeZotte is deaf herself and does a fantastic job of bringing you into the world of Mary.

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

Tags: Deafness, Kidnapping, Sign Language

MG – Lila and Hadley

Keplinger, Kody. Lila and Hadley. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-30609-5. 256. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Hadley has a right to be angry. Her mom is going to jail for stealing money from her boss, so Hadley has to live with the sister she hasn’t seen in three years. To make matters worse, her vision is failing due to retinitis pigmentosa, a condition meaning she will eventually become legally blind. Depressed and angry that her life is spinning out of control, Hadley reluctantly visits the animal rescue where her sister works. Despite not being a “dog-person,” she is surprised when Lila the pitbull takes a liking to her. Since she has no other plans during summer break, Hadley begrudgingly agrees to help foster and train the dog. While Hadley helps Lila, the dog also helps her with mobility training, lessons Hadley takes to learn how to use a cane, and meet a new friend. Together, the pair slowly become comfortable enough for Lila to find her forever home and Hadley to forgive her family for their faults and accept the help and love she needs.

THOUGHTS: A cute but predictable novel that young middle grade students will enjoy, especially animal lovers. The narrator’s casual language and the easy ending may be off putting to some readers, but the book will be a good addition to an upper elementary or middle grade collection needing diverse stories.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

MG – Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey

Newman, Magdalena, and Nathaniel Newman. Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-1-328-63183-1. 327 p. $16.99. Grades 7-8.

Nathaniel has always felt normal despite living with Treacher Collins syndrome (TC), a condition diagnosed at birth which causes bones in his face to grow and others not to grow, causing breathing and hearing difficulties. Nathaniel and Magda, Nathaniel’s mother, recount the story of his life from infancy to his teenage years. Throughout his life, Nathaniel had over sixty procedures to correct craniofacial differences caused by TC. Despite the challenges, Magda and her family were determined to give Nathaniel a normal childhood, full of video games, pets, bike riding, and sibling rivalries. When he turned 11, Nathaniel chose to have his largest procedure yet which would eventually allow him to reach a lifetime goal, to swim submerged in water for the first time. Each chapter begins with a black and white cartoon which entices readers to finish the chapter. The story is told from two perspectives, as indicated by different font styles for each narrator, and includes flashbacks to Magda’s life growing up in Poland. Both Nathaniel and Magda teach all children to separate “who someone is from what he looks like.”

THOUGHTS: Readers of R.J Palacio’s Wonder will easily recognize this story and will enjoy learning how the book and movie positively affected the lives of “Wonder Kids” around the world. Middle Grade readers interested in digging deeper into Teachers Collins syndrome or those who enjoy reading books about diverse kids, will enjoy Nathaniel’s and Magda’s story.

617.5 Medicine and Health            Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

Picture Books – Magic for Sale; Bruce’s Big Move; Silent Days, Silent Dreams; After the Fall

Clickard, Carrie. Magic for Sale. Holiday House, 2017. 9780823435593. Unpaged. $16.95.  Gr. K-3.

Georgie McQuist is on a mission to find the ghost that is rumored to be hidden in Miss Pustula Night’s magic shop on a dare from his classmates. This shop is full of magical supplies, like “mirrors that talk back to you.”  After entering the shop, Georgie falls into the basement through a hidden trap door. There he finds the unhappy ghost, who has been banished to the basement until he completes an inventory of its contents. The boy and the ghost accomplish the task, much to the dismay of Miss Night, who demands that Georgie leave immediately.  That he does, with a friendly monster in tow. The boy takes the monster to school for Show and Tell, which scares his classmates who initiated the dare.  Clickard is very clever in her use of rhyming text, which follows an AABBA pattern throughout the text.  The placement of the text adds a creative touch on some pages. Shelley’s illustrations are done in pen, ink, and watercolor.  The full bleed images are very detailed and children will enjoy poring over them to examine the magical artifacts. The characters and objects are depicted in a whimsical style and are appropriate for young children. THOUGHTS: This book is perfect for children who like their scary monster stories on the mild side.  A good addition to elementary collections.

Picture Book, Fantasy        Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District


Higgins, Ryan T. Bruce’s Big Move. Disney Hyperion, 2017. 978-136800354-4. 40pp. $17.99. Gr K-3.

Bruce, the grumpy bear who unexpectedly became a mother to four geese and three mice who won’t move out, is back in this third edition in the series. With so many animals sharing his den, Bruce finds it’s too crowded, messy, chaotic, and loud. He tries to get rid of the mice, but they just won’t leave. So, Bruce leaves instead. He packs up his geese and heads off on his scooter in search of quieter lodgings. After finally settling on a secluded lake cabin, Bruce is happy, but the geese are mopey and missing the mice. It isn’t until the moving van pulls up and the mice begin making themselves at home that Bruce realizes some things will never change. Readers who’ve enjoyed this unconventional family’s story will find plenty to chuckle about as Bruce tries his hardest to reclaim his peaceful lifestyle before ultimately embracing his new reality of home.  THOUGHTS: Pair this title with Vera Brosgol’s Leave Me Alone! for a storytime centered around caregivers searching for sanity amongst the chaos of their crowded homes.

Picture Book       Anne Bozievich, Southern York County


Say, Allen. Silent Days, Silent Dreams. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017.  978-0-545-92761-1. 63pp. $21.99. Gr 3-6.

James Castle was deaf, mute, dyslexic, and autistic, but nothing got in the way of his creative genius. Born in 1899, he spent his entire life living and creating art in attics and chicken houses on Idaho farms. Castle was a self-taught, untrained artist, and more than 15,000 pieces of his artwork survive today. This fictional story, narrated by Castle’s nephew, is based on real-life information, letters, and interviews about the artist. After studying Castle’s style and researching the mediums he used, including burned matchsticks, saliva, sharpened sticks, soot, and shoe polish, Caldecott-winning illustrator Say created this book’s images using some of the same mediums and drawing on Castle’s original artwork as inspiration. The result is a unique tribute to a largely unknown American artist, one who overcame any obstacle he encountered to fulfill his innate desire to create. A lengthy author’s note describes how Say first learned about Castle, and it also discusses his own process of creating this book’s unique illustrations.  THOUGHTS:  Although lengthier than many traditional picture books, this title could be used in conjunction with other books about people overcoming disabilities or as part of a biography unit. Art teachers may be interested in highlighting the unusual mediums Castle used to create his artwork.

Picture Book       Anne Bozievich, Southern York County


Santat, Dan. After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again. Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 978-1-62672-682-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-5.

After his classic and well-known accident, Humpty Dumpty has a tough time getting back into his usual routine. He loves watching birds (which is, of course, why he was hanging out on a high wall in the first place) and his fear of heights now prevents him from being close to them. Even the top grocery store shelf with the most delicious cereals and his bunk bed are no longer options. One day, Humpty gets an idea to make a paper airplane bird. He knows it’s hard, but he keeps trying and trying through several failed attempts until his paper bird can fly high in the sky, close to the birds in his place. When his bird lands on top of the wall, Humpty almost gives up again, but then he thinks of all the hard work he’s put in and all the things he’s missed. He’s very scared, but he manages to climb the wall, one step at a time, “…until I was no longer afraid.” A final surprise makes this story of simple, real emotions even better. THOUGHTS: Santat’s beautiful, carefully designed illustrations help convey the range of Humpty’s emotions and struggle. Share this story with any group who could use help broadening their growth mindset.

Picture book             Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District


Beastly Bones; Annie Van Sinderen; A Step Toward Falling


Ritter, William.  Beastly Bones.  Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2015. 978-1-61620-354-2.  304 p. $17.95.  Gr. 7 and up.

In this sequel to 2014’s Jackaby, paranormal detective R.F. Jackaby and his assistant, Abigail Rook are back with a mystery that has its beginnings in a “chameleomorph”, a supernatural creature that takes on the form of what it has last eaten.  One of New Fiddleham’s residents is murdered shortly after her cat is possessed by a chameleomorph.  Fortunately, Jackaby is able to diminish the creature by feeding it insects.  Shortly after this incident, another strange murder takes Jackaby and Abigail to nearby Gad’s Valley and an unusual archeological dig.  It soon becomes apparent that a chameleomorph (living in the body of a fantastic, destructive creature) is to blame for the increasing number of murders.  The bigger question is, who released the paranormal creature and why would he want to draw Jackaby and Abigail away from New Fiddleham?  THOUGHTS: Beastly Bones is just as funny, interesting, and clever as the first book in the series.  There is an added level of social commentary regarding the role of women that gives this story additional depth.  This book is highly recommended for any junior or senior high school library.

This novel is at least as enjoyable as its predecessor, and it may be even more enjoyable in some ways; characters are more deeply developed, and the plot is a bit easier to follow.  Jackaby is still eccentric, but he is a more fully realized eccentric.  Just when the reader thinks he is being inattentive, Jackaby delivers bits of wisdom including the following, “people think that when we arrive at a crossroads, we can choose only one path, but- as I have often and articulately postulated- people are stupid.  We’re not walking the path. We are the path….Of course, you can choose both.”  This is truly an empowering message for Abigail, and all young women who feel that they must choose between love and adventure/career.  Beastly Bones is truly an entertaining and intelligent book.

Mystery; Paranormal          Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School


Ritter, William. Beastly Bones. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Young Readers, 2015. 978-1-61620-354-2. 295 p. $15.99. Gr. 7-12.

After surviving her first investigation with the eccentric detective R.F. Jackaby, Abigail Rook decides to assist him in this sequel to Jackaby.  When Mrs. Beaumont is discovered dead, Jackaby launches into two separate investigations, but Abigail turns her attention to the mystery of fossils unearthed in Gad’s Valley. Abigail’s father is a paleontologist, and she still wants his approval, so when a body is found near the dig site and the police send for Jackaby, she has the opportunity to combine her love for investigation and paleontology. Joining the investigation is exiled police officer Charlie Cane who also happens to be a shape-shifter. Accompanied by Hank Hudson, the detectives launch a full investigation. After discovering the remains of one the most terrifying creatures to ever exist, bones begin to disappear. Jackaby and company must solve the mystery before the body count increases. Ritter mixes humor, adventure, mystery, gore, and romance exceptionally. With two cases left to solve, readers will have to patiently wait for a third volume in the series. THOUGHTS: Beastly Bones is an enjoyable reading experience that continues to develop Jackaby and Rook as two detectives reminiscent of Holmes and Watson. With multiple cases going on at the same time, readers will be kept guessing.

Fantasy, Paranormal     Graig Henshaw, Littlestown Senior HS/Maple Avenue MS




Howe, Katherine.  The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.  978-0-399-16778-2. 379 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Wes Auckerman is an aspiring filmmaker who is taking a summer course at NYU.  While helping a friend film a seance, Wes meets an intriguing, mysterious girl named Annie.  As he begins to spend time with her, he comes to realize that she is actually a ghost alternating between her previous life in NYC during the 1800s and present-day NYC.  When Wes and Annie begin delving into Annie’s past in search of her missing ring, they uncover some dark secrets and must hurry to rectify things before Annie runs out of time.  All the while, Wes works against his own deadline as he documents their adventures on camera in an attempt to complete a memorable film project for his summer class.  THOUGHTS: The book is an interesting mix of paranormal romance and historical fiction.  Fans of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series will enjoy this novel for its paranormal romance elements, but fans of historical fiction will enjoy the story just as well for its contrast between 19th century NYC and present-day NYC.

Historical Fiction; Paranormal        Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School




McGovern, Cammie. A Step Toward Falling. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. 978-0-06-227113-6. 364 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

When Emily witnesses the sexual assault of a developmentally disabled student named Belinda during a high school football game, she fails to take action. Likewise for team member Lucas Kessler, who also walks away instead of getting help. As a disciplinary action, both teens are required to volunteer with a Boundaries & Relationships class for adults with developmental disabilities at the Lifelong Learning Center. Thrown into volunteering together, the two develop a tentative friendship that blossoms as they work together to stage a production of Pride and Prejudice, featuring Belinda in a lead role, as a way to make things right. Alternating chapters from Belinda’s perspective describe the chain of events leading up to her being outside the locker room, alone and vulnerable on that fateful game night. In her innocent, unfiltered voice she also describes, among other things, her love of Pride and Prejudice. The classic smartly lends A Step Toward Falling some themes of looking beyond appearances and social strata to truly get to know people. McGovern’s second novel (after Say What You Will, 2014) has a relaxed pace, but the dual narration, skillful unraveling of the truth about the night of the attack, and true-to-life relationships will hold the reader’s interest throughout. THOUGHTS: The many important messages in this novel go down easily with a sweet spoonful of realistic romance!

Cammie McGovern’s sister, Elizabeth McGovern, is an actress on Downton Abbey! Learn more about Cammie McGovern, including her role in founding Whole Children, by watching this Epic Author Facts clip.

Realistic Fiction   Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School