YA – Almost There and Almost Not

Urban, Linda. Almost There and Almost Not. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-47880-0. 211 p. $17.99. Grades 5-7.

Eleven year old California Poppy doesn’t know if she is coming or going. Her widowed father is heading to Alaska for a salmon fishing job and takes her to Minnesota to stay with Aunt Isabelle, who should know more about taking care of a “bra needing” child than he does. It turns out that Aunt Isabelle is not really the nurturing type and is too busy working on a meatloaf recipe for the Great Meatloaf Bake Off. So California finds herself traveling to Michigan to live with Great Aunt Monica. Her great aunt, still grieving for her late husband, broke her hand and needs help with her research on Eleanor Fontaine, an author of etiquette books from the 1920s. Aunt Monica wants to complete her husband’s planned biography of his author-ancestor and asks California to read Fontaine’s Proper Letters for Ladies and to practice writing letters to become familiar with the author. Callie soon realizes that there are two ghosts in the house: a dog who enjoys playing with her and a refined lady named Eleanor, who dissolves into a pile of dust when she gets upset. Aunt Monica is not aware of these guests, so her niece takes care when talking to them. Eleanor begins to share her story with the young girl, who notices that the ghost seems to be getting younger each time she appears.  California soon learns the truth about her father’s whereabouts and Eleanor’s secret. Just as Callie feels she has come to terms with her father’s absence, her struggles in school and having periods, she overhears a conversation that changes her life forever.

THOUGHTS: Urban has written a very engaging story about loss, grief, and resilience. Although the text is not lengthy, a lot happens and one cannot help but root for the likeable main character who narrates the story. Readers will enjoy California’s letters to Aunt Isabelle, her father, and the Playtex Company. This sensitive but humorous tale is a solid choice for upper elementary and middle school collections.

Fantasy          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Be a Pet Expert (Series NF)

Barder, Gemma. Be a Pet Expert (series of 6). Crabtree, 2021. 32 p. $20.75 each. $124.50 Set of 6. Grades 3-6.

Be a Cat Expert. 978-0-778-78015-1.
Be A Dog Expert. 978-0-778-78016-8.
Be a Hamster & Guinea Pig Expert. 978-0-778-78017-5.
Be a Horse & Pony Expert. 978-0-778-78018-2.
Be a Rabbit Expert. 978-0-778-78019-9.
Be a Reptile Expert. 978-0-778-78020-5.

These books provide helpful information, facts, and pet care tips for a variety of animals. Many photos, text boxes, and checklists help readers to learn more about the animals and consider them as pets. A flowchart guides readers through yes/no questions to determine what type best suits their personalities. Placing hamsters and guinea pigs in the same book will help readers to differentiate the two. Each book surprises readers with some interesting facts even on ‘well-known’ pets. For instance, no two dogs have the same noseprint; cats cannot taste sweet foods; horses and ponies have the largest eyes of any mammals on land; and rabbits can sleep with their eyes open.

THOUGHTS: These helpful books shed a positive yet truthful light on pets, which will appeal to pet-owners and animal lovers alike.

630s Domesticated Animals, Pets        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – A Soft Place to Land

Marks, Janae. A Soft Place to Land. Harper Collins, 2021. 978-0-062-87587-7. $16.99. 288 p. Grades 4-7.

The Taylor family is going through a rough patch. Twelve-year old Joy’s father was laid off, they had to sell their beloved house and move to a small apartment, cut out all non-essential expenses like Joy’s piano lessons, and change Joy’s middle school. Bad enough her dream to be a film composer has to be put on hold and her old friends are not reaching out to her, but her parents are arguing now, and Joy feels she has to keep her feelings hidden to shield her little sister, Malia. The silver lining is the friendliness and kindness of the residents of her apartment building, from next-door neighbor, elderly Mae Willoughby and her French bulldog, Ziggy, to aspiring film-maker Nora, Joy finds a warm welcome and a ready ear that softens the edge of her disappointment and anxiety over losing her house and fearing her parents will get a divorce. Other perks of apartment living are the secret hideout where Joy and her new-found friends can get away to draw, listen to music, read, or play board games, and the dog walking business Joy starts with Nora to earn money to purchase a piano. When Joy’s parents tell the girls that her father is moving in with Uncle Spencer for a bit, though, a distraught Joy runs away to the Hideout and falls asleep, leading to the breaking of the one Hideout rule: don’t tell the adults. Though the other kids are angry that their Hideout is now off limits, Nora remains a loyal friend until Joy’s curiosity about a poignant poem and messages on the Hideout’s walls leads to a rift between them. When Nora ditches the dog walking session, Joy finds out too late she cannot handle the task solo and loses Ziggy. Despite her loneliness and sense of failure, Joy works to come up with a way to find Ziggy, mend her friendship with Nora, and remedy the loss of the special Hideout. Janae Marks’s new novel abounds with positivity while recognizing life does not go perfectly. Joy and her family are African American; most of the other characters are people of color also.

THOUGHTS: A comforting, relatable middle school read. No high drama here, just an enjoyable story showing people bonding together and helping each other, and middle school students being kind and friendly to newcomers. Although there are some difficult issues at play here, all the adults are experts at problem solving and dealing with hard things respectfully. The children follow suit. Joy and Nora show a lot of responsibility and initiative, and the other characters display other positive traits.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem – Pawcasso

Lai, Remy. Pawcasso. Henry Holt & Co., 2021. 978-1-250-77448-4. 240 p. $21.99. Grades 3-6.

Joanna Lin is at loose ends over summer break, until an affectionate, spirited dog enters the picture. Every Saturday, “Pawcasso” journeys into town to do his unknown owner’s shopping with the help of a basket and a shopping list. Some of the neighborhood kids mistakenly get the idea that the dog belongs to Jo, and suddenly they are both the center of attention, especially during art class at the Dog Ears bookstore. She wants to clear up the confusion, but doesn’t want to risk losing her newfound friends. A division between pro-Pawcasso and pro-leash townspeople further raises the temperature, and the pressure on Jo to keep up the ruse. A diverse cast of characters and one exceptionally charismatic spaniel offer something for readers to connect with on just about every page.

THOUGHTS: Pawcasso is a heartfelt, sometimes wistful graphic novel complimented by sunny, charming artwork. As a special treat, the author includes a canine-friendly ice cream recipe at the end of the book!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem./MG – Allergic: A Graphic Novel

Lloyd, Megan Wagner. Allergic: A Graphic Novel. Illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter. Graphix, 2021. 978-1-338-56891-2. 240 p. $24.99. Grades 3-6.

With younger twin brothers and a new baby on the way, Maggie feels alone in her loving family. She’s convinced her parents, who are preoccupied with baby names and other preparations, to let her adopt a puppy that will be her own. Maggie has been looking forward to her tenth birthday for a long time, since this is the day she gets her perfect pet. At the animal shelter, however, Maggie breaks out into a severe rash, and she learns that she’s allergic to anything with fur. So much for her puppy. Devastated, but determined to find the perfect pet, Maggie begins research, as she works her way through allergy shots and makes a new friend. Told in colorful graphic panels, readers will enjoy Maggie’s attempts at finding a perfect pet and will appreciate her frustration when things go awry with her new friend.

THOUGHTS: Readers with any allergies, but especially those allergic to pets, will felt represented in this cute graphic novel. A great addition to elementary and middle grade collections.

Graphic Novel          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Maggie is feeling left out in her family. Her parents are focused on the new baby they are expecting, her twin brothers are always together and doing their own thing. She thinks a dog would be the perfect companion! But, when her family goes to pick out a dog for Maggie’s birthday, they discover that she is very allergic to anything with fur! Maggie is devastated, but her new friend that moved in next door is helping to ease the disappointment. That is until her friend talks her dad into getting her own dog. Now, Maggie feels betrayed by the one person she thought understood her. Can Maggie survive allergy shots and make things right with her best friend?

THOUGHTS: Fans of Raina Telgemeier will love Allergic! A great addition to your graphic novel section.

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick, PSLA Member

Elem. – This Old Dog

Brockenbrough, Martha. This Old Dog. Levine Querido, 2020. $17.99. Unpaged. Grades K-2. 

Old dog is happy to see another day though his old knees hurt and his old back aches. “The speed of life since the girl was born is fast fast fast, and old dog likes to take things slow.” While the story explains that he wants plenty of time to find a just-right rock or smell each blade of grass, the illustrations show that old dog just doesn’t get that time anymore because “…the rest of the world has lots to do.” Old dog wishes for a friend who wants to take their time on walks and savor the delights of nature. Much to his delight, his family’s daughter starts to walk and toddles directly to him! Suddenly, old dog and his girl are inseparable and enjoy plenty of time together smelling the grass, finding those just-right rocks, and walking together through the world.

THOUGHTS: As a parent with two old dogs and two small kids, this book really tugged at my heartstrings. A sweet story for any dog lover.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

YA – Again Again

Lockhart, e. Again Again. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-385-74479-9. 286 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up.

After moving and family upheaval, Adelaide Buchwald is trying to find herself. It’s the summer between her junior and senior years, and she has taken a job as a dog walker (and watcher). As she deals with the dogs, her family dysfunction, lack of motivation and focus, a serious breakup, and a new crush, Adelaide reconciles herself with the “what is” but wishes for the “what could be.” When she meets Nick (or re-meets him), she begins to fantasize about how things should be or could be while trying to ignore what is. When Adelaide finally realizes that she must face who she is and what actually is, instead of “who she could be” or “what could be,” she begins the process of forgiveness: forgiveness of herself; forgiveness of her parents; forgiveness of her brother, and forgiveness of what will not be.

THOUGHTS: Again Again is a fun magical realism, romance. Adelaide plays through every situation in the hope of the best outcome (or possibly the worst outcomes). This trait may be very familiar to readers, especially teens, which adds to the connection to Adelaide; she is an easily understandable character. The text font changes as situations change from reality to Adelaide’s imagination. This is harder to follow when listening to the audio book, which is excellent, but easy to see when looking at the print novel. This is a sure-to-please lighthearted romance for all ages.

Romance          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD
Magical Realism

Elem. – Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever

McNiff, Dawn. Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-684-64027-0. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades PreK-2.

Written as a series of letters between a deceased dog and its former owner (Izzy), this story details Alfie’s new life in dog heaven. Although Alfie misses Izzy, he describes heaven as a place where he can chase postmen, eat burgers and ice cream, chew on shoes, and more–all without any punishment. A tender and somewhat humorous look at the loss of a pet, this story will encourage readers to creatively express their thoughts and feelings about death.

THOUGHTS: I actually read this story to my five-year-old daughter shortly after we lost our cat, and the first thing she wanted to do after reading it was to write a letter to our cat in heaven. Therefore, I love how this book inspires children to acknowledge their grief and make sense of death through the therapeutic act of letter writing. Pair this with Brian Lies’s The Rough Patch (2018) to spark important discussions with young children who have recently experienced loss.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – The One and Only Bob

Applegate, Katherine. The One and Only Bob. Harper Collins, 2020. 978-0-062-99131-7. $18.99. 352 p. Grades 3-6.

Taking center stage to tell his story, Bob’s voice is honest, “I’m no saint, okay?” and readers will delight in his humorous antics, “If we could talk to people, they’d get an earful.” When Bob wakes to a familiar bark, something in his memory is jogged. But he shrugs it off and goes about his day, looking forward to a visit with Ivan and Ruby. The weather forecast showed another hurricane is on the way, though, so this day won’t be like all of the others. When Bob is separated from his friends, he reverts back to his puppy survival instincts and experiences an adventure of his own. Fans of Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan will delight in this new installment that updates readers on much beloved characters Bob, Ivan, Ruby, and Julia.

THOUGHTS: A must have for elementary libraries, copies of this title will be in high demand. 

Adventure          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Brave Like That

Stoddard, Lindsey. Brave Like That. HarperCollins Publisher , 2020. 978-0-062-87811-3. 272 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Cyrus’ dad has always been a hero. As a kid he was a star football player, and as an adult he is a firefighter who is not afraid of running into burning buildings. Everyone thinks Cyrus is following in his father’s footsteps, but deep inside Cyrus loves music instead of football and longs to sneak away to the rescue to walk a dog that showed up at the fire station out of the blue, just like Cyrus did eleven years ago. Maybe worse than that, Cyrus wants to ditch his football star friends and befriend the new boy, Eduardo, who is bullied but doesn’t waiver from who he truly is inside. Can Cyrus be brave and find the courage to be his true self?  With the help of a stray dog, new friends, and his family, join Cyrus on his journey to be brave and become his authentic self.

THOUGHTS: This story is a must purchase for your middle grade collection. It deals with the topic of bullying in a gentle but firm way. Brave Like That also addresses the issue of ailing grandparents (Cyrus’ grandmother had a stroke and cannot speak as she used to) and acceptance.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

Tags: bullying, friendship, family, aging grandparents