Elem. – The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

Hubbard, Rita Lorraine. The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read. Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020. 978-1-5247-6828-7. $17.99. 40 p. Grades K-3.

As a child born into slavery, Mary Walker admires the freedom of birds that pass over the plantation. She spends her days toiling in the fields picking cotton, which leaves no time for schooling of any kind. After the Emancipation Proclamation sets her free at the age of 15, Mary works as a nanny and a maid to keep her family afloat. One day, she meets a group of evangelists who gifts her a Bible. Mary vows that she will read it one day, but today is not that day. Work consumes the next six decades of her life until she moves to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Having outlived her entire family, her life changes when she moves to a retirement home, and, at 116 years old, takes a reading class. Caldecott Honor illustrator Oge Mora uses paper, including sheet music and pages from books, to create beautiful collages in shades of brown, green, yellow, and blue. Readers should take care to notice how Mary’s dress changes throughout the book, especially once she learns to read.

THOUGHTS: Even though The Oldest Student is geared towards K-3 students, ALL students can take away the very important message of the book: No one is ever too old to learn. This inspiring book is a gentle way to ease into difficult conversations about slavery, race, and education in our society. With the current emphasis on growth mindset in the classroom, this is the perfect book to show that learning and growing continue long after school is over.

Picture Book          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD
921 WAL Biography

Mary Walker’s inspirational story, beautifully illustrated in this picture book biography, proves you’re never too old to learn. Born a slave in 1848, Mary never gave up on her lifelong dream of learning how to read. And, at age 116, she finally accomplished it. This book follows Mary from her childhood spent picking cotton on an Alabama plantation, through her emancipation at age 15, to her life spent working low-paying jobs and raising her three children. Mary always dreamed of learning to read, but there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. Finally, at age 114, after outliving her entire family, Mary attended her first reading class. From memorizing the alphabet and each letter’s sound to copying her name over and over again, Mary spent more than a year studying and practicing. Her dedication paid off when, at age 116, she finally learned to read. Friends and neighbors gathered around to hear her read aloud from her cherished family Bible. Oge Mora’s mixed media illustrations, composed of acrylic paint, china marker, colored pencil, patterned paper, and book clippings, bring Mary’s memorable story to life. Beautiful full-page illustrations feature a palette of primarily blues and greens and yellows. Endpapers include black and white photographs of Mary Walker celebrating some of her milestones.

THOUGHTS: Teachers will want to share this inspirational story with older students during morning meetings. It will also work well with lessons or units focusing on perseverance or the importance of working towards a goal.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Biography

As a young slave girl, Mary Walker would look up at the birds while working in the fields and imagine what it would be like to be free as a bird. When she was 15 the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, and Mary’s dream of being free was realized. However, that didn’t mean the end of hard work and a lack of education. As a teen Mary was given a Bible, and she vowed to one day learn to read the words written in that book. But marriage, children, and work took up Mary’s time, and she never learned to read. Until…at 114 years old and alone (her three boys and husband since passed), Mary heard about a class in her retirement building that taught folks to read. Mary joined the class and never looked back. She was proclaimed the nation’s oldest student by the US Department of Education when she was 117! Mary lived to 121! The endpapers include photos of Mary later in her life.

THOUGHTS: This amazing story is one of resilience and determination. It is beautifully illustrated by Oge Mora. This must purchase will make a great read aloud for any age.

306 Social Sciences          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

MG – A Thousand Questions

Faruqi, Saadia. A Thousand Questions. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-062-94320-0. 225 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8. 

In this East meets West friendship story, A Thousand Questions shows the disparity in lifestyles between the United States and Pakistan told alternately by the two main characters. Eleven-year-old Mimi Scotts and her mother travel from Houston, Texas, for summer vacation to visit her wealthy grandparents, Begum Sahib and Sahiba Ji, in Karachi for the first time. She is awed by the wealth and luxury of her grandparents’ home compared with her tiny apartment and stretched budget back in the United States. While Mimi’s mother reconnects with her school chums, Mimi forms a friendship with the servant girl, Sakina Ejaz. Too poor to go to school, Sakina assists her diabetic father cooking in the Ji’s kitchen. The two girls become fast friends. With the backdrop of the campaign season for new elections, Sakina shows Mimi the sites of Karachi, and Mimi agrees to tutor to Sakina for her English examination so that she can win a school scholarship. Mimi’s narration includes secret letters she writes to Tom Scotts, the father she has never met. When Mimi discovers her freelance journalist father is living in Karachi, she is determined to meet him and Sakina is a willing accomplice. Author Saadia Faruqi captures the richness of the Asian city from the delicious dishes and its atmosphere to the inequity of the caste system as well as the authenticity of the fully-drawn main characters: Sakina, mature beyond her years, cognizant of her integral role in providing for the welfare of her family; Mimi, an ordinary American girl of modest means, getting to know her grandparents and also her own mother in her childhood home and longing to connect with father.

THOUGHTS: This book reminds the reader of When Heaven Fell  by Carolyn Marsden, a story that compares the life of  a struggling Vietnamese family with the life of an adult Vietnamese-American adoptee who visits her Vietnamese birth mother. There’s a part where Sakini asks Mimi if there are poor people in America and Mimi answers, “No,” at first until she remembers a homeless man and the kids at school who qualify for free lunch. Discussion of social justice issues, equity in education, and divorce can ensue.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

When Mimi and her mother arrive in Karachi, Pakistan for the summer, Mimi immediately misses air conditioning, soccer, and chicken nuggets, all staples of her American upbringing. Mimi is surprised to find that her grandparents live in luxury, employing servants and wearing fancy clothes, while Mimi and her mother can barely afford rent in their tiny Houston apartment. Mimi realizes there is so much she doesn’t know about her mother, her grandparents, and her father who left years ago without explanation. After learning that her father’s job brought him to Karachi, Mimi befriends a servant girl who agrees to help Mimi find him in exchange for English lessons. Sakina, a servant of Mimi’s grandparents, dreams of going to school like Mimi, but her servant status prohibits her from making her dreams a reality. After all, when would she find the time to go to school when she must keep her job to take care of her own family and ailing father? Going to school seems even more impossible when she takes a secret exam and fails the English portion, but when Sakina and Mimi strike up their deal, Sakina starts to hope for her future and a better life for her family. As their friendship blossoms, the inequities of the Pakistani class system are revealed, and the friends determine to make good in both of their worlds despite the challenges.

THOUGHTS: Instead of multiple perspectives from different time periods, this story highlights two contemporary perspectives in a country many readers will be unfamiliar with. Shining light on the class system that still exists today in Pakistan, readers may feel compelled to learn more about the living inequalities and hardships people face who live outside of the United States. This is a good #ownvoices addition to any library seeking to diversity their collection.

Realistic     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

MG – Saving Savannah

Bolden, Tonya. Saving Savannah. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-681-19804-0. $17.99. Grades 6-8.

A prolific writer of nonfiction, Tonya Bolden (Maritcha, Cause: Reconstruction America 1863-1877, Take-Off: American All-Girl Bands During World War II to name a few) integrates her skill for facts into an interesting, less explored, narrative in Saving Savannah. Set in post-World War I Washington, D.C., the book focuses on Savannah Riddle, a fourteen-year-old Black girl whose family is part of the elite Black society. The story opens frivolously at a gala opulent with fashion and food and gradually builds to important period events and issues. This eye-opening ascent mirrors Savannah’s maturation from a popular, pampered schoolgirl to a woke young woman of substance. At a pivotal time, Savannah is searching for a more meaningful life connected to the world outside her social strata. She learns about Nannie Helen Burroughs’s School for Girls, a training school; and while volunteering there meets Lloyd, a young Black immigrant with socialist leanings. Lloyd introduces Savannah to the poverty and inequality suffered by some in her own city. She eventually gains the support and respect of her parents after the revelation of a family secret. Throughout Bolden’s book, her intense research is evident. Many of the locales and persons Savannah encounters are real or have a counterpart in reality. Saving Savannah shows the Black perspective during a tumultuous time that underscores discrimination in politics and society and culminates in the brutal riots of the Red Summer of 1919. Besides being a valuable history lesson about a period that resonates with the present, the main character’s transformation from a position of comfort to one of an invested citizen of the world and member of her race is a desire many of us hold today.

THOUGHTS: Like Harlem, Walter Dean Myers’s period piece, Saving Savannah allows students to experience the sights and people of a different time through the eyes of a likeable character. In a sizable appendix, the author supplies background with some photos on the significant movements and personages of the early 20th century Washington, D. C. Bolden touches on multiple issues: Woodrow Wilson’s color lines; the returning Black World War I veterans; the New Negro Movement spearheaded by Dr. Carter Woodson, Hubert Henry Harrison, and Marcus Garvey; the controversy around the Anthony Bill and women’s suffrage; colorism; and even cosmetics. Ideal companion piece for grade 8 American History classes. Teachers may want to use this book to approach discussions on racism and compare the historical perspective with current incidents.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, SD of Philadelphia

YA – Dear Justyce

Stone, Nic. Dear Justyce. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-984829-67-2. 288 p. $21.99. Grade 8+.

In a sequel to the Morris Award winning Dear Martin, Vernell Laquan Banks Jr., is writing letters to Justyce McAllister from his cell in juvenile detention while he awaits his sentencing for the murder of a police officer. Quan and Justyce, two bright boys from the same rough Atlanta neighborhood and just two years apart in age, have had drastically different trajectories for their lives. Justyce had the life changing benefits of a supportive family that pushed him towards excellence, while Quan’s family was mired in the cycle of poverty, domestic abuse, and incarceration. Reading  through the scenes of Quan’s experiences,  it is clear how crucial a support system is, and lacking that, how Quan made the choices he did which landed him in his current position. Justyce and Quan, who met on a playground as children, reconnect when Justyce hears of Quan’s incarceration and decides to visit his friend in jail. Justyce, who is now a pre-law student at Yale, hears Quan’s story and marshals the help of a lawyer, his girlfriend’s mother, to re-examine the case in the hopes of setting Quan free. This novel looks at the unjust treatment that African Americans deal with daily, shedding light on the harsh realities of life for inner city children and families with no safety net, particularly the educational and legal systems that fail to support or serve the communities they are supposed to.

THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for libraries serving teens, an extremely relevant and topical read.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Vernell Laquan Banks Jr. (Quan) writes letters from a detention center to Justyce McAllister (Dear Martin) while awaiting his trial for a police officer’s murder. Quan and Justyce both held promise as young students in Atlanta, but Justyce now is off at a fancy college and Quan took quite a different path. While both were good young students, Justyce had support at home while Quan lacked a present male role model (one flashback depicts the arrest of his father while Quan watches). Quan’s path is presented to readers though a series of alternating chapters about his childhood and letters he sends to Justyce, the only person on the outside that he feels will listen to him. To his credit, Justyce reads those letters and is firmly by Quan’s side. On the outside, people will judge Quan for one bad decision after another. Many would say there is no hope for a kid like him. A closer look reveals that Quan’s decisions, however, are made in an effort to support his young siblings and a mother who is stuck in a violent relationship. Is the deck so stacked against Quan that he has no hope?

THOUGHTS: Stone’s novel carefully examines the inequities, especially for minorities, of the education and legal systems that are in place. A must have for secondary libraries and fans of Stone’s other books as well as books by Tiffany Jackson, Jason Reynolds, and Angie Thomas.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Upper Elem/MS NF – Malala; SportsZone; 1st in Fashion

Frier, Raphaële.  Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education.  Charlesbridge, 2017.  9781632895912. 45pp. $17.99.  Gr. 3-6.

This French import is the biography of Malala Yousafzai and recounts the story of the young education advocate beginning with her life as a child through young adulthood.  Frier tells the story in a factual way and includes the history of the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan in the text. The author’s voice is clear as she discusses how the Taliban used violence to silence the critics of its policies in Pakistan.   Frier focuses on the Taliban’s impact on women’s civil rights, such as access to education, early marriage, and clothing. Aurélia Fronty’s full-bleed illustrations are done in a colorful folk art style, but appear to be flat and static. The illustration of the assassination attempt shows two shadowy figures with guns, while Malala is the focal point circled with yellow rays of light.  The next drawing shows Malala rising above another gun carrying shadow as she is transported via plane to England for medical care. The final page of the story shows Malala holding a bouquet of flowers and books, as the author discusses her honors and accomplishments, including the Nobel Peace Prize. The back matter is quite extensive and includes photographs and a timeline of Malala’s life.  There is also information on the country, a map, and languages as well as more on the accomplishments of Malala, including actual inspiring quotes. As an activist for the education of girls, Malala is an inspiration to middle-grade readers and shows that one person can make a difference. Frier’s text is designed for older readers, unlike Malala’s Magic Pencil, a more literary narrative for younger readers. THOUGHTS:  This biography nicely details the life of this remarkable young women and is a useful resource to begin research for a report. This book is a long read aloud but is a great choice to highlight during Women’s History Month.  Elementary and middle school libraries will want to add this inspiring story to their collections.

92, Biography            Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

NFL’s Top 10. ABDO SportsZone, 2018. 978-1-5321-1137-2. 32 pp. $151.60 set of 8. Gr. 4-8.

NFL’s Top 10 Coaches begins with an introduction and countdowns from the 10th best coach to the first rated coach. Coaches ranked 10-2 have a one-page spread containing paragraphs of facts and at least one photograph. The top-ranked coach, Bill Belichick, has a two-page spread taking a closer look at his development and successes in the NFL. Next is a section for 6 honorable mention coaches. Additional information includes a glossary and further resources. Abdo manages a website that updates web pages to visit related to football. The book concludes with a concise index and an about the author paragraph. THOUGHTS: The book has the potential to spark a lot of conversation with readers. The fact that Chuck Noll, a beloved coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is listed as the fifth best coach will generate a lot of discussion in western PA and readers that identify with the Steeler fan base. The book is sure to find lots of readers!

Football      Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

1st in Fashion (series).  ABDO, 2018.  32 p.  $18.95 ea.  Gr. 3-6.

Felix, Rebecca.  Eddie Bauer:  Down Jacket Developer.  9781532110733

Felix, Rebecca.  Louis Reard:  Bikini Designer.  9781532110764

Felix, Rebecca.  Mary Quant:  Miniskirt Maker. 9781532110757

Felix, Rebecca. Sam Foster:  Sunglasses Success.  9781532110740

Felix, Rebecca.  Chuck Taylor:  Sneaker Sensation.  9781532110788

Olson, Elsie.  Levi Strauss:  Blue Jean Genius. 9781532110771

Eddie Bauer: Down Jacket Developer provides straightforward information about outdoor enthusiast and entrepreneur Bauer. The highlight is the story of the near-fatal experience Bauer had with hypothermia that led him to invent a warmer winter jacket. While the text is merely serviceable, the book’s design is engaging, with appealing graphics and abundant photographs throughout.  A timeline, glossary, and index add to the book’s usefulness. THOUGHTS:  Recommended for elementary and middle school libraries where biographies are in demand.  

Biography          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

YA Realistic Fiction – Coming Up for Air; Seven Days of You; After the Fall

Kenneally, Miranda. Coming Up for Air. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1492630111. 304 pp. $10.00. Gr. 10 and up.

Miranda Kenneally returns to the world of Tennessee’s Hundred Oaks High School with Coming Up for Air, a mature-YA sports romance centered on swimming. Maggie King has never had time for boys; she’s totally focused on securing a spot on a top-tier college team, and maybe even snagging an Olympic trial cut, too. While on a visit to Berkeley, she realizes that heading off to college with a total lack of romantic experience might be a mistake. Who better to teach her the lessons of “hooking up” than her best friend and fellow swimming star, Levi? Unsurprisingly, things get complicated when their electric chemistry threatens both their friendship and their focus on training and competing. Throw in bad-girl Roxy, Maggie’s rival in the pool who suddenly shows an interest in Levi, and sit back to watch the drama unfold on every page. THOUGHTS: This sweet-and-steamy romance is so much fun you will want to join Maggie, Levi, and the gang at Jiffy Burger for fries on Friday just to see what happens next! Another excellent novel that focuses on swimming and romance between friends is Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner.

Realistic Fiction, Sports Romance      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

High school senior Maggie is always poolside or working out to do better in the pool, trying to earn an Olympic cut. With three friends who understand the lifestyle of a competitive athlete (one a swimmer, one a gymnast turned cheerleader, and one a baseball player), Friday night dinners at Jiffy Burger have been the glue that holds them together. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with this group?   On her college visit to one of the best swimming schools in the country, Maggie is quickly distracted by swimming rival Roxy and the fact that Maggie hasn’t had time for boys and doesn’t know how to be more than just friends. Upon her return home, Maggie makes a plan and enlists the help of her best friend and swimming male counterpart Levi. Levi is an expert in keeping things casual, and he will show Maggie the ropes. She trusts him, they’ve been best friends since middle school, and they understand each other, so what could go wrong? Neither of them predicted what is in store in this hot and heavy romance.  THOUGHTS: This was my first Kenneally book, but I can see why the high school girls devour them. The friendships and banter between characters are compelling. Plus, readers will want to know what the outcome is. With descriptions of casual sex and drinking, it may be for more mature readers.

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Vinesse, Cecilia. Seven Days of You. Little, Brown Books, 2017. 978-0-316-39111-5. 336 p. Gr. 10 and up.

Sophia dreads leaving Tokyo, and she has only one week to come to terms with leaving her home –  the only place that’s ever felt like home, her friends, and her school behind. Just when things can’t seem to be any worse for Sophia, Jamie comes back to Tokyo. Having left on bad terms for boarding school in the states years ago, Sophia wants nothing more than to wish Jamie’s return away. The connection she feels immediately, however, is strong. Within the seven days, only a few of them actually involve Jaime, so the title may seem slightly misleading. Really, Sophia’s seven days are about her sadness over leaving Tokyo.  THOUGHTS: Assuming the descriptions are realistic, this book is a whirlwind, one week trip around Tokyo. The teenagers freely come and go, but maybe that is part of the international school lifestyle. Though there is some language, drinking, and non-explicit descriptions of sex, this book will be a hit where first love (with an international flair) is popular. For fans of Stephanie Perkins, Jennifer E. Smith, and many other YA romance writers!

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Hart, Kate. After the Fall. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017. 978-0-374-30269-6. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Raychel has a lot going on in her life; she has a promiscuous reputation around school; she and her mom struggle financially, and she is sort of part of her best friend Matt’s family. Unbeknownst to Raychel, though how I’m unsure since it’s obvious to everyone else, Matt is in love with her. The alternating chapters set a nice pace and allow readers to experience the emotions and events from both teen perspectives. The mess of Raychel’s life is built up throughout Part I, however, the backstory is necessary to emphasize the sheer loss experienced during Part II. Readers will appreciate the honest portrayal of small, college town teens and the desire to fit in with friends and family. Feeling left behind with friends off in college, animosity between parent and child, sexual assault, sibling rivalry, poverty, and grief are all topics covered. Ultimately, Raychel learns that secrets don’t help your situation, and facing one’s fears (even if it is a daily struggle) is the way to move forward.

Realistic Fiction     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District