YA – Together We Burn

Ibanez, Isabel. Together We Burn. Wednesday Books, 2022. 978-1-250-87031-5. 354 p. $18.99. Grades 12+.

Together We Burn follows 18-year-old Zarela whose family is famous for their flamenco dancing and Dragonador in Hispalia. When the story opens, the reader learns how Zarela’s mother died in an unfortunate accident and how she and her father have coped with that loss. During the 500th anniversary performance, though, disaster strikes again and Zarela has to try to pick up the pieces of this life that her family has built by becoming the next Dragonador. However, Zarela has no clue what she is doing, so she needs to find someone to train her. Enter Arturo who wants nothing to do with helping her, but Zarela refuses to take no for an answer. Will she be able to recover her family’s rightful place in the Dragon Guild or will everything just go up in flames?

THOUGHTS: This is a more unique young adult fantasy novel with the dragon and Dragonador element. There are some more graphic scenes throughout, so this book is not for a sensitive reader. There also are some spicy romantic scenes, so this book would fit best for upper high school.  

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – The Lost Ryu

Cohen, Emi Watanabe. The Lost Ryu. Levine Querido, 2022. 978-1-646-14132-6. 200 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

This book explores an alternate history full of magical realism where dragons or “ryu” are real; some big ryu even helped Japan fight in WWII, but now most big dragons have disappeared. Even though they both care for small family dragons as pets and companions, Kohei and his new friend Isolde want to try to find a “big” dragon and bring back the majestic creatures who were lost after the war. Kohei is also trying to discover more about the father who passed away when he was three and reconnect with his mother and grandfather, who both seem stuck in the past. Will Kohei and Isodle ever discover where the big ryu have gone, and will that discovery help to heal all the terrible scars the war has left on the world?

THOUGHTS: Students who like historical fiction and fantasy will like this imaginative take on friendship, family, and Japanese dragon mythology. Kohei is Japanese, Isolde is Japanese-Jewish, and the story uses their mutual love of dragons to help them deal with the complicated history of Japan, World War II, and the Holocaust. The relationships in this book also show the struggles of children who cope with the trauma suffered by their parents and contain hopeful messages about learning how to move forward after tragedies have happened within a family.

Historical Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – The Ogress and the Orphans

Barnhill, Kelly. The Ogress and the Orphans. Algonquin Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-64375-074-3. $19.99. 392 pages. Grades 4-8.

Once there was an Ogress. In her long life she had many adventures, and lived in many places, always searching for a community in which to belong. The Ogress hears of a town called Stone-in-the-Glen that used to be quite lovely and that has fallen on hard times. The Ogress has experienced grief and disconnection and believes she can help the people of the town. She creates a home for herself on the outskirts of Stone-in-the-Glen, and anonymously sets out to perform random acts of kindness for the people of the town. Stone-in-the Glen was once regarded as a friendly and kind place where people took good care of each other. The citizens adored their dragon-slaying Mayor who was charming and protective. When the town library burns to the ground, the town itself begins to unravel. More community institutions are destroyed, crops fail, and slowly the people of Stone-in-the-Glen stop taking care of their neighbors. In fact, hard times make the citizens distrustful of each other. An orphanage on the edge of Stone-in-the-Glen houses 15 orphans, cared for by an elderly couple. The 15 young children are plucky and smart, and love each other dearly. They enjoy helping and learning, but most of all they care for each other and consider each other family. When one of the children goes missing, the Mayor gleefully prods the citizens of Stone-in-the-Glen to turn on the Ogress. It is up to the orphans to save each other, their home, the Ogress, and ultimately their community.

THOUGHTS: A stunning allegory with many themes to explore. What is a neighbor? What makes a community a community? How do we live with people and ideas that are different from our own experiences and beliefs? Kindness ultimately wins the day. Strong themes of the power of libraries and reading throughout this beautiful and well-told story.

Fantasy          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Return of the Underwear Dragon

Rothman, Scott. Return of the Underwear Dragon. Random House Studio, 2021. 978-0-593-11992-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

In this sequel to Attack of the Underwear Dragon (2020), Sir Cole has determined that the Underwear Dragon only tried to destroy the kingdom because he was unable to read the signs instructing him not to. Therefore, Sir Cole makes it his mission to teach the Underwear Dragon how to read. It is a difficult process, and both parties get so frustrated they want to give up. However, that’s when Claire comes along with her fire extinguisher, which she uses to put out the dragon’s flames of frustration. Sir Cole selects another book that the Underwear Dragon finds more interesting, and together, the trio continues to work towards its goal. Portraying the value of both literacy and perseverance, this humorous book definitely will resonate with young kids who are just learning to read.

THOUGHTS: Although this was not necessarily my favorite book this year, I did appreciate the humor and subtle messages portrayed by the story. Give this book to fans of Attack of the Underwear Dragon (2020) and/or students just learning to read. 

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

YA – Fire with Fire

Soria, Destiny. Fire with Fire. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-0-358-32973-2. $17.99. 432 p. Grades 7-12.

Dani and Eden are sisters, and they have a secret: they come from a long line of dragon hunters and have trained to become slayers since they were young girls. Dani doesn’t take her duties as a slayer as seriously as Eden, but when she comes across a dragon and they become soul bonded, everything Dani thought she knew about her family’s legacy changes in an instant. Although Dani has a change of heart, Eden does not, and instead becomes mixed up with the sorcerers who use magic from dragons to fuel their own powers. Suddenly, the sisters are enemies, and each is trying to save the other from what they believe is a deadly situation, not realizing there is a more dangerous enemy threatening to destroy them both.

THOUGHTS: This is one of the first contemporary dragon fantasies that I’ve read, and I love that the book’s setting is rural Tennessee rather than a fictional land or kingdom. It’s a nice change from the many high fantasy dragon series, and I think readers will enjoy the relationship and sibling rivalry between Dani and Eden. Although they are dragon slayers, they are still sisters, and looking out for one another comes before all else. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – Princess Adventures: This Way or That Way?

Misslin, Sylvie. Princess Adventures: This Way or That Way? Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-04186-2. 32 p. Grades K-2. 

When Princesses Rose and Josephine set out for adventure, they cannot agree on which path to take, thus it is up to the reader to decide. A two sentence introduction to the plot is followed by a choice of two icons, one for each girl. These coordinate with tabs running vertically along the right edge of the page. At top is a castle which serves as a home tab followed by a picture of each princess then moving down to common items: flowers, a sword, a spiderweb, a window. Each item leads readers to a spread featuring a brief plot point in the tale. After selecting one of the girls to follow, readers use these tabs to turn to the next installment of the story until a happy ending or the return to castle prompt begins the story all over again. Depending on the reader’s interests, the princesses may stop for berries or a nap in the forest, encounter a fearsome dragon, or sample sweets baked by the royal chefs. While some choices are linear, parts of the story may require readers to return to earlier pages in the book or to skip ahead. Plots are brief but endearing and likely to be enjoyed by early readers while the interactive tabs will empower reluctant readers to take control of the story. Whimsical illustrations enhance the humorous fairytale theme. Princess Rose appears to be slightly older with brunette hair and glasses while Josephine’s hair is a reddish blonde. Both Princesses and all secondary human characters present as white with variations of blonde, brown and black hair.

THOUGHTS: This interactive picture book is sure to be a hit with the fairytale lovers and offers pre-readers a chance to practice storytelling and may incentivize reluctant readers to keep trying until one of two possible paths to a happy ending is revealed. Tabs are integral to the page, making it easy for readers to select their story path with minimal wear and tear. The story mechanic of selecting a plot line is intuitive but not explicitly explained to readers.

Picture Book/Moveable          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

MS FIC – My Brigadista Year; Dragon Tea Society; Patina; Anne of Green Gables GN

Paterson, Katherine. My Brigadista Year. Candlewick Press, 2017. 978-0-7636-9508-8. 198 p. $15.99. Gr. 5 and up.

There’s no stopping the inimitable Katherine Paterson, who is back with a succinct novel about Fidel Castro’s plan to make the entire country of Cuba literate in one year. My Brigadista Year follows thirteen-year-old Lora as she volunteers to be a teacher – a Contrado Benítez Brigadista – in the Varadero region of Cuba. Most Americans probably have no idea that Fidel Castro not only set out to make his country literate, but he succeeded.  The literacy rate went from around 65% to 98% in one year, thanks to his volunteer army. Lora’s enthusiasm for her task, her deep caring for her students – ranging from six to sixty – and her determination to see them all pass their tests (there are three), is moving. While the safety of Lora and her students is constantly in jeopardy by the bandidos who support Batista, it’s not at the forefront, and is fairly subdued. This is a quiet book about the power of words, and how the ability to read can literally change a person’s life. It also makes no bones about the US involvement with the Bay of Pigs, a forgotten slice of history, and how unfavorably the people of Cuba viewed America. A well-researched, fascinating window into the lives of the Cuban people in the 1960s. THOUGHTS: This is a very accessible historical fiction novel, with an appealing and relatable protagonist, and would be a great addition to any upper elementary or middle school library.  Highly recommended!

Historical Fiction     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

O’Neill, Katie. The Tea Dragon Society. Oni Press, 2017. 978-16-2010-4415. 72pp. $17.99. Gr. 4-8.

This lovely, full color, graphic novel will win the hearts of middle grade readers. Set in a fantastical world where most characters have at least one animal feature (horns, tails, etc.) Greta is learning blacksmithing from her mother. The art is dying out, but Greta is excited to learn. One day in the market she finds a lost little dragon. When she returns it to its owner, Greta learns that it is a tea dragon and that the art of raising, bonding, and drinking tea harvested from tea dragons is also in danger of being forgotten. Greta begins learning how to care for these creatures and in turn is accepted by three new friends. THOUGHTS: Based on a webcomic, this short and sweet graphic novel is wonderful. It treasures patience, inclusive relationships, and in this world it does not matter what you look like. A definite addition to any graphic novel collection!

Graphic Novel, Fantasy           Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

Reynolds, Jason. Patina. New York: Atheneum Books, 2017. 978-1-4814-5018-8. 240 p. $17.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Jason Reynolds wins for most prolific author of the year, and his ability to transition from upper YA to middle grades is astounding. In his newest addition to his Track series, Reynolds gives us the story of the titular character. Patina lives in three worlds: her homeworld, her track world, and her school world. Patina’s home life is complicated; she lives with her aunt (“Momley”), who is white, and her uncle because her mother, who is a double-amputee due to diabetes, is too sick to care for her and her sister. School is a struggle for Patina; she attends a private school, and feels like a “raisin in a bowl of milk”. She can’t relate to her classmates, who she calls the “hair flippers” at all. Her track life is what she looks forward to the most.  She is a rising star, but needs to learn to control her emotions and connect with her teammates. This is a perfect book for middle grade readers; Patina is funny, honest, awkward, and emotional, and her story, full of emotional ups and downs, strong adult characters, and nuanced supporting characters, will resonate with every reader. Thoughts: Hand this book to any middle school student who is struggling to find their own voice and their own path. No need to have read Ghost, the first book in the series, in order to follow Patina’s story.

Contemporary Fiction; Sports      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Marsden, Mariah. Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel. Andrews McMeel, 2017. 978-1-4494-7960-2. 230p. $10.99.  Gr. 5 and up.

This graphic adaptation of the entire Anne of Green Gables series touches on many of the stories of the original books and retains much of the feeling that I remember. Anne is an orphan who is mistakenly placed in a house that was looking for a boy.  She makes a place in the hearts of Marilla and Matthew and has many escapades while growing up.  Anne’s character shines through, as well as the brother and sister who take her in. THOUGHTS: This could be a jumping off point for young readers to indulge in reading the books, or for older generations to take a quick trip down memory lane. Either set of readers will enjoy reading about Anne’s exploits in a more simple time.

Graphic novel     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

MS Fiction – Metropolitans; Erth Dragons; Warden’s Daughter; Payback

Goodman, Carol. The Metropolitans. Viking. 2017. 978-1-101-99766-6. $16.99. 355 p. Gr. 4-8.

Madge wanders into the Metropolitan Museum of Art one morning after she is kicked out of her apartment by her aunt. Joe, a Mohawk boy, follows her into the museum after she shares her sandwich with him. In the museum, Madge and Joe meet Walt, a Jewish refugee from France, and Kiko, a Japanese-American girl whose father works at the museum. After the teens witness the theft of a rare Arthurian manuscript, they discover they have had the same foreboding dream, and the manuscript theft is just a catalyst for far larger evil. At first glance, The Metropolitans looks like a classic tween mystery. But the plot covers a lot of territory: Arthurian legend, treatment of Native American children (Joe is forced from his home into a brutal Indian school), and prejudice against Japanese Americans at the start of WWII. Laced with code breaking and channeling characters from Arthurian Legend, this story never slows down, as the four children rush to avoid the bombing of Manhattan.  THOUGHTS:  Of course this book brings to mind The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  This time, however, the venerable museum is at the center of a Nazi plot to bomb Manhattan. The four youths gain a firsthand understanding of war and prejudice as they desperately try to decipher what is happening around them.

Historical Fantasy     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

D’Lacey, Chris. The Erth Dragons: The Wearle. Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-90018-8. $16.99. 284 p. Gr. 4-8.

Hurray! Chris D’Lacey has a new series about dragons. Dragons inhabiting the planet Kimera sent an exploratory group to Earth but lost contact with them. A second group has been sent to determine the fate of the first dragons. This group has established a tenuous cohabitation with the humans in the area they have settled, but after a human who violates the boundary between human and dragon land is killed by the dragons, the humans goad the dragons into war. Ren, a young human boy is fascinated by the dragons and discovers a way to infiltrate dragon territory without being detected by the dragons. Caught in dragon territory when the war begins, Ren befriends Gabriel, a young dragon in disgrace with the colony. Ren discovers he understands the dragon, and the pair set out to discover the source of erratic dragon behavior which is fueling the dragon/homm (human) conflict. THOUGHTS: Fans of the Wings of Fire series will love this complex dragon world.  

Fantasy     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Spinelli, Jerry. The Warden’s Daughter. Alfred A Knopf, 2017. 978-0-375-83199-7. $22.99. 341 p. Gr. 4-8.

Cammie is the warden’s daughter. Her father is the benevolent warden at a women’s prison outside Philadelphia, and she lives with him in an apartment overlooking the exercise yard. Cammie’s mother was killed when she was a baby and living with her father has always been enough. Until the summer of 1959, when Cammie is turning thirteen, and the impact of not having a mother hits home. Cammie decides to make Eloda Pupko, the prison trustee inmate who watches over Cammie and takes care of the apartment, her surrogate mother. The harder Cammie pushes and acts out, desperate to hear words a mother would say, the more Eloda seems determined to keep her distance, until Cammie explodes, and Eloda finally forces the girl to face her mother’s death. Set against a background of rock and roll, American Bandstand, and the finely limned inmates, this story quietly sneaks up on you until the tears are rolling down your cheek. THOUGHTS:  Another masterful book from Spinelli. It may require a thoughtful reader to appreciate the nuances of character, but it is a beautiful story.  Historical Fiction       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Korman, Gordon. Payback (Masterminds series). Balzer & Bray, 2017.  978-0-06-230005-8. 311 p. $17.99. Gr. 3-6.

In the third and final book of the Masterminds trilogy, Eli, Tori, Amber, and Malik are still on the run from the evil Dr. Hammerstrom and their former “parents” of Project Osiris. This project, a science experiment with dubious moral value, intended to answer the nature vs. nurture debate once and for all by cloning child versions of criminal masterminds of all kinds–thieves, terrorists, killers, computer hackers, and more–and raising them in a seemingly perfect community free of influence from the outside world to see if the child clones would turn into productive, honest adults or if they would follow in the footsteps of the people who provided their DNA. It sounds very dark, but Korman does a good job of writing the series at child-appropriate level. The four kids who escaped Project Osiris want to free the rest of the kids who don’t know the truth about their origins, so they travel around the country looking for help and answers from different adults while doing what they need to in order to survive, including living in a GIrl Scout cookie warehouse and stealing a few cars along the way. The series ends with Eli, Tori, Amber, and Malik at a tropical beach resort in a showdown with Dr. Hammerstrom and a satisfying ending. THOUGHTS: A great action adventure series for upper elementary students who can handle and understand the nature vs. nurture concept.

Action/Adventure             Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

New additions to favorite picture book series – Little Elliott, Big Family; Red; Dragon Moves in Again

littleelliott

Curato, Mike. Little Elliot, Big Family. New York: Henry Holt, 2015. 978-0-8050-9826-6. 32 p. $17.99. Gr. K-2.

Little Elliot’s friend Mouse leaves to attend his family reunion with his huge family of relatives. Elliot decides to go for a walk while Mouse is away, on which he observes families of all shapes and sizes doing all kinds of things. Through Curato’s softly illustrated 2-page spreads, readers feel Elliot’s longing for a family. Just as sadness descends on him, Mouse reappears and has Elliot join in the family reunion. A framed photo at the end includes Elliot in Mouse’s extended family, subtly reminding readers that not all families are the same.  THOUGHTS: Read it for the adorable polka dot elephant readers fell in love with first in Little Elliot Big City, or read it for the deeper message of friendship and family – and how friends are often family too.

Picture Book      Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School

 

red

Hall, Michael. Red: A Crayon’s Story. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2015. 978-0062252074. 40 p. $17.99. Gr. K-2.

Red is actually a blue crayon, but his bright red label says otherwise. He desperately tries to “be” red, attempting to draw red things, but, naturally, they just don’t look “right.” His parents and others try to help him be more red, even having him combine with other colors (but unlike red and yellow, he can’t make orange). By the end, with the help of a friend asking him to draw an ocean, he discovers his true self is indeed blue!  THOUGHTS: A unique spin on being unique, with its clever double meaning on how society assigns “labels”, younger readers will love the story at face value, while older students will appreciate the message of being true to yourself! Pair this with Frankencrayon, the newest by Michael Hall (imagine a Horrible Harry “stub people” type) and The Day the Crayons (Quit and/or Came Home). It could make for some great discussion among the K-2 set!

Picture Book     Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School

 

dragonagain

Moore, Jodi. When A Dragon Moves In Again. New York: Flashlight Press, 2015. 978-1-936261-35-2. unpaged. $17.95. Gr K-2.

The “imaginary” dragon who wreaked havoc on a beach with a confused boy in Jodi Moore’s first book is back in the next great discussable book. Now the family is home, and a change is coming as a baby is on the way. The boy and dragon navigate a sea of emotions before and after the birth, often with energetic and chaotic results. The eruption finally happens when the dragon seems to side with the baby, and the boy demands that he get sent back. Moore captures a difficult stage for a child with honesty and curiosity; meanwhile, the playful illustrations by Howard McWilliam show more than words often can, including the dragon that may just exist in the house after all.  THOUGHTS: Jodi is a Central PA writer and does a fantastic job creating and sharing her work. Her energy is easy for the children to notice, and there is plenty of discussion questions and activities that can go with her books.

Picture book; Family      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

YA Fiction…SRSLY Hamlet; Shadow Scale

hamlet

Carbone, Courtney (adapted from Shakespeare, William).  SRSLY Hamlet.  New York: Random House, 2015.  978-0-553-53538-9. 101 pages. $9.99.  Gr.  8 and up.

Imagine if Hamlet and Ophelia had smartphones.  This story, SRSLY Hamlet, tells Shakespeare’s famous play through text messages and emojis.  Although this is a very enjoyable read, I would not recommend reading this book in place of Shakespeare’s original Hamlet, but it could be used to accompany the original.  THOUGHTS:  Students will find this to be a quick and humorous read and will most likely find themselves relating to the characters.

Classic Re-telling        Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School

 

 

shadowscale

Hartman, Rachel. Shadow Scale (Seraphina Book 2). New York: Random House, 2015. 978-0375866579. 608p. $18.99. Grade 7 and up.

In this much awaited sequel to Seraphina, Queen Grisselda sends the halfling (half dragon-half human) to round up others like herself to aide in the war with the dragons, before mind-reading Jannoula can enlist them in taking over the kingdom of Goredd herself.  THOUGHTS: The book is not a stand-alone. The majority of the first chapters are spent getting up to speed on characters and background from the first book. While some readers may find parts slow, dragon lore fans will enjoy the continued tale of the heroine and the epic battle between humans and dragons.

Fantasy     Robin Bartley, William Tennent High School