YA – Work With What You Got: A Memoir

Clark, Zion, and James S. Hirsch. Work With What You Got: A Memoir. Candlewick Press, 2023. 978-1-536-22421-4. 232 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Born in prison with a rare congenital condition that left him without legs, and given up by his drug-addicted mother, Zion Clark faced a lifetime of bias and underestimation.  However, he maintains that negative stereotypes of being African American and being part of the foster care system were also large obstacles in his life.  The instability and the lack of training and oversight are two problems plaguing the foster care system, where the reality is, “who’s going to listen to a ten-year-old?” He acknowledges the help of some amazing people as he grew up: his first two foster families, his wrestling coach, and his adoptive mom. Their combined messages supporting his self-worth; determination; and hard work; combined with the outlets of music, athletics and faith, led Clark away from a gang and crime. Clark became a formidable athlete, first in wrestling, then in wheelchair road racing. Now a motivational speaker, Clark inspires others with his life story and overcomer attitude.

THOUGHTS: This honest memoir is riveting reading, appropriate for middle and high school.        


Elem. – Friendship Goals (Series Fiction)

Reid, C.L. Friendship Goals (Emma Every Day). Picture Window Books, 2022. 978-1-515-87181-8. $16.99. 27 p. Grades K-2.

Emma is an 8 year old in third grade. She lives with her parents, has a brother named Jaden, and a best friend named Izzie. Emma is Deaf. She uses a Cochlear Implant and American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. Friendship Goals is the latest story in this 12 book Early Reader Chapter Book series. In this story Emma helps her friend Izzie practice soccer and ASL. Emma is good at soccer and is happy to help her friend work on her skills and build her confidence on the field. Each book includes a finger-spelling chart. Select words are spelled out in ASL letters (rebus style) throughout the books, and each book in the series includes a glossary of ASL signs pertaining to the story. Illustrated by Elena Aiello. 

THOUGHTS: This series of books is adorable. Emma encounters everyday childhood experiences and  situations. Sometimes Emma is able to participate alongside her peers without any assistance or accommodations. In some experiences Emma (along with her family, friends, and teachers), needs to problem solve in order to participate. A wonderfully diverse introduction to Deafness, Cochlear Implants, and American Sign Language for hearing students – and an everyday life mirror for students who are Deaf. 

Early Reader Chapter Book – Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

MG – Song for a Whale; Infinite Hope; Malamander; Becoming RBG; White Bird

Kelly, Lynne. Song for a Whale. Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-1-524-77023-5. 303 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

When 12-year-old Iris learns about Blue 55, she feels a special kinship with him. Blue cannot communicate with other whales because he “sings” at a different decibel level than other whales. Iris, who is Deaf, can relate. Her parents want her to attend a mainstream school, but Iris longs for the companionship of other Deaf people with whom she can communicate using sign language. Iris is good with technology, and she comes up with a plan to create a special song for Blue so that he will not feel so alone. But making the song turns out to be one thing, while finding Blue is something else altogether. Iris’s journey to help Blue will require her to collaborate, communicate, and to speak up not only for Blue, but for herself.

THOUGHTS  An original and gripping story centering a complex, nuanced Deaf protagonist. Highly recommended for middle school libraries. 

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Twelve year old Iris is different from most kids. Born deaf and named after a whale who may have also been deaf, Iris longs for understanding. Both of Iris’ grandparents are deaf, and with the recent passing of her grandfather life has changed – a lot. Her grandmother has become distant, her father couldn’t be bothered with learning sign language, and school causes more struggles for Iris than it should. One day during science class Iris learns about Blue 55, a whale that does not belong to a pod because it cannot sing at the same hertz level as other whales like him. Determined to help the whale, Iris works with her music teacher to create a unique song for Blue in order to help the scientists trying to tag the whale. But when writing the song doesn’t seem like she’s helped enough, Iris sells her most prized possession and teams up with her grandmother to take a trip of a lifetime. Together the two will journey to Alaska in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Blue 55, but along the way end up discovering more about themselves than either thought possible. 

THOUGHTS: A perfect book to include in your collection that perfectly demonstrates the windows and mirrors philosophy of literature. Iris is a relatable character with a disability and her need to “do good” to help a creature of the Earth is heartwarming. The story unfolds beautifully and pulls at your heartstrings at just the right moments. This book has many themes that could be related to various aspects of life. 

Realistic Fiction         Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Bryan, Ashley. Infinite Hope: A Black Artists’ Journey from World War II to Peace. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-40490-8. 107 p. $21.99. Grades 5-8.

Infinite Hope, a 2020 Caldecott Illustrator Honor book, features the sketches, letters, and paintings of author and illustrator Ashley Bryan’s experience of being in the Army during World War II. Bryan writes about being drafted for World War II while attending The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the hard labor of being a stevedore, and the segregation issues during the war itself. Beautifully illustrated with Bryan’s pencil sketches and photographs from the time period, this title does a wonderful job of telling the story of WWII without the graphic details. Bryan uses his art to recount the storming of Normandy beach and to show the struggle to get home after the war ended. Letters written to Eva show Bryan’s struggles, victories, and worries throughout the three years he was deployed. Upon arriving back in America, Bryan locked away the art he created during the war and instead went to Columbia University to study philosophy while still creating art. 

THOUGHTS: This beautifully illustrated book allows readers to visualize the difficulties of serving and segregation in the army and how one man used his art to get through challenging times. The mix of drawings, handwritten letters, and photographs provide deeper connection to Bryan’s story. This title did not overwhelm the reader with dates, figures, or historical facts, but instead painted a picture of what life was like for a Black soldier during World War II.

92          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Taylor, Thomas. Malamander. Walker Books, 2019. 978-1-536-20722-4. 289 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Eerie-on-the-Sea definitely lives up to its name. Winter, especially, is a time of dire darkness, storms, and tremendous tides. In the harbor lies the wreck of the battleship HMS Leviathan ominous and looming. It is the source of the local legend of the dangerous part fish, part –human Malamander, a beast who appears once a year looking for a mate (tremble at the idea). At that time it lays an egg which has powers to grant wishes, but at a cost. Herbert Lemon is a small boy who happens to be the Lost-and-Founder at the Grande Nautilus Hotel. His job is to find owners of the lost items, but how can he find the owner of a girl, Violet Parma? Somehow her parents mysteriously disappeared when she was a baby, and she has come for help. As Herbert and Violet search for answers, others are doing the same. With characters like Mr. Mollusc, Lady Kraken, the Boat Hook Man, and Sebastian Eels the reader will suspect everything is not as it seems. There will be great fantastical adventure filled with mystery and a monster. Taylor keeps the action going in this series opener. The unanswered questions will ensure that students will want to continue the series (What did really happen to Violet’s parents?). The next adventure in the Eerie-on-the-Sea series will involve the ancient Gargantis looking for her missing treasure.   

THOUGHTS: Malamander lends itself to discussion of literary devices such as the author’s use of setting, tone, and characters to create interest. Even with all the twists and turns, this would be a good book for students to make predictions. Taylor uses very clever descriptive names for his characters. This might be a challenge for students to come up their own names for characters in this book or other books.

Fantasy          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired

Levy, Debbie. Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice. Simon and Schuster Books, 2019. 978-1-534-42456-2. 207 p. $19.99. Grades 5-8.

One of the most iconic Supreme Court justice members has her life chronicled in a biographical graphic novel. In Becoming RBG readers experience Ruth’s life during the Nazi occupation, her college studies, then her early career aspirations while working toward becoming a revered judge. In each chapter readers learn more about Ruth’s passion for equal treatment of all individuals. When Ruth’s mother passes away, she is determined to go to Cornell University (her mother’s dream) and finds inspiration in the professors she studied under. After noticing segregation occurring beyond the dorm walls, Ruth went on to study law and advocate for those struggling with being mistreated by society. With each chapter we discover Ruth’s passion for the law and her successes in the political world. Readers will also experience Ruth’s marriage, watch her daughter Jane grow, and experience the highs and lows of her career. Gardner’s illustrations use red highlights to showcase important moments and bold text to focus readers on key takeaways. 

THOUGHTS: As far as graphic novels go, this is a well done title that allows readers to know girls can do anything they want to in life! The life story of Ginsburg unfolds with each chapter and shows the passion and fire that Ruth had for equal rights in the workplace. The illustrated panels provide a format that allows readers to connect with the heart and brain of Ginsburg and are not overwhelmingly distracting. A great nonfiction graphic novel!

347.73 Civil Procedures & Courts/Graphic Novel          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Palacio, R.J. White Bird: A Wonder Story. Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 978-0-525-64553-5. 220 p. $21.00. Grades 5-8.

In a powerful lesson touching on the themes of Wonder and Choose Kind, R. J. Palacio has created a graphic novel tale of life as a Jew during WWII. Julian, a former classmate of Auggie during Wonder, has an assignment to interview someone about their story. He chooses his grandmother, Sara, who was in Nazi occupied France during the war, and she reluctantly agrees to recount her travails. Through a graphic format, Palacio moves between the beauty and kindness of Sara’s youth and the horror, fear, and cruelty that surrounded her light. Only from the grace and goodness of a polio-stricken boy named Julien does she live to tell the tale. The gorgeous coloring and layout pull readers quickly through a tough and touching narrative, which will make sure that young readers Never Forget.

THOUGHTS: There are similarities enough between this book and Anne Frank’s tale and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry to give middle grade readers a lesson in comparing texts and living in a world of fear and hope. Those who already know Auggie and Julian’s relationship may also be able to discuss the behaviors and choices involved in both stories.

Graphic Novel          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

YA Realistic FIC – Rocks Fall…; Run; Female of Species


Ribar, Lindsay. Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies. New York: Kathy Dawson Books, 2016. 978-0-525-42868-8. 323 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Aspen Quick can reach inside of people and steal almost anything: thoughts, feelings, memories, or physical attributes. It’s a family trait the Quicks of Three Peaks, New York, have always used to perform the “triad ritual” that repairs dangerous fault lines in the cliff looming over their town. And sure, maybe Aspen occasionally uses his ability to make his life a little better (e.g., manipulating his crush into breaking up with her boyfriend and falling for Aspen instead). Following his cousin Heather’s death, Aspen becomes a regular member of the ritual. But he notices something strange afoot in seemingly idyllic Three Peaks; local teens still talk about Heather in the present tense, and one of them seems immune to Aspen’s abilities. The novel’s interesting structure, with scenes from “Before” closing each chapter, adds context even as the holes in Aspen’s memory are revealed. THOUGHTS: With Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, Lindsay Ribar has stirred up a singular brew of summer love, magical realism, and family secrets. It’s a satisfying stand-alone that readers of Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap will enjoy.

Magical Realism      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library



Keplinger, Kody. Run. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.  978-0-545-83113-0. 295 pp.  $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

Bo Dickinson and Agnes Atwood could not be more different.  Bo comes from a family of drunkards, drug addicts, and criminals and has a reputation for being wild.  Agnes, on the other hand, goes to church with her parents every week and always follows the rules.  Because she was born legally blind, Agnes has lived a very sheltered life.  When Bo suddenly enters her life, Agnes is curious about the world outside her small circle, and the two become best friends.  That’s why Agnes doesn’t hesitate when Bo asks her to run away from their small, rural town with her.  Told in alternating perspectives, Agnes explains how their friendship formed while Bo relays the events of their road trip.  Throughout the course of the book, the two will share secrets and new experiences, break rules, and form an indestructible bond.  A solid story of friendship, this book has some edgy topics that will be relatable to many teens: bisexuality, sexual experiences, disabilities, dysfunctional family dynamics, underage drinking and more.  THOUGHTS: This book really opened my eyes to what life can be like for those who are blind and how refreshing it can be for others to treat them like normal people (as Bo does for Agnes) rather than treating like they are handicapped.  For that reason, I could see this book pairing well with Blind by Rachel DeWoskin or with books about other disabilities or abnormalities, such as R.J. Palacio’s Wonder or Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind.  I would warn purchasers, however, that the book contains some graphic language and edgy content, so it may be more suited for older readers.

Realistic Fiction       Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School



McGinnis, Mindy. The Female of the Species. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016. 978-0-06232-089-6. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Three years ago, Alex Craft’s sister Anna was found in pieces in the snowy woods. Without enough evidence to convict the killer, Alex watched her sister’s murderer walk free. Now she watches and waits, and becomes what she thinks and feels; violence and vengeance. With her own crime unpunished, Alex retreats from her family and peers, afraid to unleash the violence buried deep inside her. While volunteering at an animal shelter for her senior project, Alex meets Peekay, the local preacher’s daughter, and an unlikely friendship blossoms. Now venturing into the high school social world, Alex also meets Jack, who begins to chip away at her hard exterior and see the person underneath- but with that person also comes darkness and anger. Told through Alex, Peekay, and Jack’s alternating perspectives. McGinnis expertly taps into the often uncomfortable yet realistic world of teenage drinking, drugs, and sex, as well as the social pressure that accompanies it. THOUGHTS: While the ending seemed a bit rushed and dramatic, McGinnis is an excellent storyteller who expertly unravels Alex and Anna’s story over the course of the book. Jack, Peekay and Alex are far from the perfect teen, which makes them all the more relatable to teen readers.

Realistic Fiction     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School