YA – The Ballad of Never After

Garber, Stephanie. The Ballad of Never After. Hodder and Stoughton, 2022. 978-1-250-87543-3. 403 pg. $19.99. Grades 10-12.

The Ballad of Never After starts right after the events of the first book, bringing the reader along with Evangeline after she was betrayed by the Prince of Hearts. Evangeline still has the issue of her true love, Apollo, being cursed and now it seems that the curse is affecting her as well. In order to break this curse, Evangeline finds herself working with Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, against her better judgment. Will she be able to break the curse before it kills her? Evangeline always has been able to follow her heart, but this time it might lead her into the wrong arms.

THOUGHTS: This series is super easy to follow and isn’t extremely fantasy heavy, which makes it a great series for readers who aren’t into heavier fantasy reads. There is a lot of romance found within both books. There also are some spicy scenes, so this would be more appropriate for higher high school grades.  

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings!

Snyder, Laurel. Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings! Chronicle Books, 2022. 978-1-452-14482-5. $18.99. 27 p. Grades K-3.

Illustrated by Dan Santat, this picture book is a choose-your-own adventure take on common fairy tale tropes. The whimsical and winding path of the multiple possible story combinations includes familiar characters like Red Riding Hood; Hansel and Gretel; Sleeping Beauty; Snow White; and a whole host of stock fairy tale creatures, settings, and conundrums. As the story progresses, the reader is presented with choices leading to different pages containing alternate plot turns and story twists which result in different story-line outcomes. Some choices result in a scary ending, some in a victorious ending, and some in a comical ending. Ultimately, the message is that we each make choices every day, and our choices determine the outcome of our stories. 

THOUGHTS: Witty and clever, this is an absolute must-have for elementary libraries. Will pair well with lessons on fairy tales, discussions about choices and consequences, and helping students to understand story structure. Santat’s illustrations are humorous, and the story-telling delightful – no matter which path is chosen.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

YA – A Vow So Bold and Deadly

Kemmerer, Brigid. A Vow So Bold and Deadly. Bloomsbury YA, 2021. 978-1-547-60258-2. 408 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly picks up right where the previous book left off, with Emberfall in chaos and Prince Rhen pushing everyone away. In Syhl Shallow, Lia Mara is trying to hold onto her kingdom using kindness and compassion, when her subjects are used to fear and intimidation. As the two sides race towards the deadline Grey has set for Prince Rhen, a deadly enemy has reappeared and no one is safe.

THOUGHTS: This was a thrilling conclusion to a great young adult fantasy series (Cursebreakers)! I adored the first two books in this series, and was so excited for the conclusion. I loved how Harper has been portrayed throughout this whole series, and she definitely ended up being my favorite character from the series.

Fantasy          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – This is the Path the Wolf Took

Farina, Laura. This is the Path the Wolf Took. Kids Can Press, 2020. 978-1-525-30153-7. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Big brother loves reading to his little sister, but the stories he imagines are never quite like the ones mom or dad tell their daughter. Rather than wolves terrorizing little girls, grandmas, and pigs, all the characters make friends and have ice cream. It seems big brother does not do scary. Happy stories are his comfort zone. But his little sister sees BORING where he sees safe. Faced with losing his audience, can he confront his fears and create a story that will entertain his sister? This rollicking tale, complemented by Elina Ellis’s comic illustrations, addresses every young reader who wriggles through suspenseful fairy tales, while sharing a sly wink with older, braver readers. They will recognize the stock staple elements of fairy tales, and giggle over how big brother reimagines each story to his peaceful satisfaction. When big brother finally ups his storytelling game, readers will be surprised at who is left with the feeling that something bad is about to happen.

THOUGHTS: A delightful look at fairy tale story elements, as well as addressing the fears of timid readers. Imaginative text pairs with delightfully humorous illustrations for a winner of a book, recommended for all collections serving young readers.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – The Magic Fish

Nguyen, Trung Le. The Magic Fish. Random House Graphic, 2020. 978-0-593-12529-8. 256 p. $23.99. Grades 7-9.

In The Magic Fish, author/illustrator Trung Le Nguyen braids together a family’s immigration story, a son’s desire to reveal a part of his identity to his parents, and retellings of classic fairy tales such as Cinderella and The Little Mermaid. Eighth-grader Tien reads these fairy tales to his mother, whose first language is Vietnamese, to help her improve her English. Mother and son (and father, when he isn’t at work) are close as can be, but still Tien struggles with how to share his secret with them: he is attracted to boys. The problem is part language barrier, part apprehension for how they will react. Tien’s mother, meanwhile, is struggling with the declining health of her own mother in Vietnam, and memories of fleeing her home country many years ago. Nguyen’s truly exquisite artwork is color-coded to orient the reader both in time and within the story; the present is ruby red, the past is mustard yellow, and the fairy tales are various jewel tones. It sounds complicated, but it works beautifully. The fairy tales foreground themes of new beginnings, identity, isolation, and connection, while also casting light on the experiences of our main characters. The gentle twist at the end satisfyingly reminds Tien (and readers!) that true happy endings are the ones we write for ourselves.

THOUGHTS: Readers of The Magic Fish will find themselves equally captivated by each storyline within this many-layered tale.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

The Magic Fish introduces readers to Tien who enjoys reading his favorite books from the library, specifically fairy tales.  Tien has a hard time communicating with his parents for multiple reasons, one of which is a language barrier, however he also is finding it hard to put into words what he’s feeling and thinking. Tien finds it especially difficult because he is grappling with his sexual identity and whether or not he might be gay. Trung uses fairy tales in such a beautiful way to deal with hard things for kids, and parents, to talk about, that the book never feels too heavy or weighed down by these big topics. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and add so much to the story.

THOUGHTS: I’d highly recommend this book for any high school library graphic novel collection. The story feels so relatable, even if you have never had to deal with any of the topics that are woven throughout the book.

Graphic Novel          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy Charter School

Elem. – We Are All Dots; Fairy Spell; Max Explains Everything; Bear Country; Lena’s Shoes are Nervous; Awesome; The Sinking of the Vasa; The Rough Patch

Macri, Giancarlo, and Carolina Zanotti. We Are All Dots: A Big Plan for a Better World. Universe Publishing. 2018. 978-0-789-33429-9. $17.95. Unpaged. Grades K-3.

When a dot shows up on the page to tell one side of the story, all seems well. Indeed, they can create homes, entertainment, and food with their many friends. But then we see the empty dots on the other side who need a hand. What transpires next is a simplified discussion starter about immigration, borders, and cooperation. With a little compassion and ingenuity, both sides can find inspiration and a better world. The art work is so simply thoughtful, and the text is approachable for all ages. If we are all Dots, I hope we can find the same harmony.

THOUGHTS: This book was originally published in Italy in 2015, but the US English version was just released in 2018. I have used this to make connections with multiple elementary grades, and they are drawn into discussion. It is also part of a One Book celebration in Bellefonte, PA.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Nobelman, Marc Tyler. Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real. Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Clarion Books, 2018. $17.99 978-0-544-69948-9. Grades K-3.

During the ending days of World War I, Elsie Griffith and her cousin Frances Wright would spend their days exploring the wooded grounds of the family home. Each day upon returning, the girls would insist they saw fairies and begged to use the family camera to prove it. After Mr. Wright finally relented, the girls captured a photo and managed to convince their parents and some well known people, including Edward Gardner, a lecturer and Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, that the images were real. The story became a sensation in England, with the newspaper printing the photos selling out in record time and the girls becoming the focus of a great deal of attention. It was not until much later the truth came out.

THOUGHTS: A good nonfiction choice for early grades, this sweet story of two children’s imagination that caught the attention of an entire country should hold the attention of young readers today. Lovely watercolor illustrations capture the beautiful landscape of the English countryside and integrates the original illustrations of fairies from the 1914 book that inspired the girls.

398.2 Fairy Tales          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

McAnulty, Stacy. Max Explains Everything: Grocery Store Expert. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018.  Unpaged. 978-1-101-99644-7. $16.99. Grades K-2.

Max is a young boy whose mother asks him to accompany her to the grocery store. This is not his favorite activity, so when they run out of milk or bread, he will say that he can substitute water and crackers. But when the family runs out of toilet paper, the boy and his mother head off to the store. Max makes the most of his time there as he visits the various sections of the store. He tries to talk his mom into buying cookies, baked goods, and dog food (in the hope of getting a puppy). At home, after sharing a candy bar, Max and his mother suddenly remember that they forgot to get the toilet paper. The illustrations by Deborah Hocking are done in gouache and colored pencil and are both whimsical and appealing. The blurb on the jacket states that this is the first in a series called Max-Kid Expert.

THOUGHTS: This book makes for a good read aloud, and young readers will enjoy the humorous bits of the story. Children will be able to identify with Max’s antics and will likely admit to acting like Max on their grocery store visits. A nice addition to elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Cronin, Doreen. Bear Country: Bearly a Misadventure. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018.  978-1-534-40574-5. 101 pages. $12.99. Grades K-3.

This humorous story of four zany chicks and their animal friends is the latest in “The Chicken Squad” series. The story is introduced by J.J. Tully, the dog detective from an earlier series by Cronin. The four chickens are in search of the owner of a neighboring hamster after he reports her missing. The group looks in various places and learns from other animals, such as a cat and a little bird, that there are reports of a headless bear and some mysterious sounds in the area. Eventually, the animals find that there is a Homecoming Parade in town for the local sports team called the Grizzlies, whose mascot is featured in the parade along with a marching band.

THOUGHTS: Cronin has penned a short chapter book that is a good choice for newly independent readers. The text contains just enough silliness to hold their interest.

Fiction          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Calabrese, Keith. Lena’s Shoes are Nervous: A First Day of School Dilemma. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-534-40894-4. Unpaged. $17.99. PreK-1.

Lena’s first day of kindergarten is here, and she is excited. She gets dressed and tells her father that while her dress and headband are ready to go to school, her shoes are nervous about the event. Lena’s father suggests that she talk to her shoes, but Lena does not think that will work. She decides that her headband can have that discussion and learns that her shoes are concerned that school will be “loud and different.” The headband reminds Lena of similar events that she made her anxious, like going to the doctor, watching a scary movie, or meeting a large dog. Lena realizes that things worked out then and that sometimes “the best things happen when we’re nervous.” Off she goes to kindergarten with her shoes joining in on all the fun. By transferring Lena’s anxious feelings to the shoes, Calabrese has cleverly portrayed the worry that young children might feel on the first day of school. Medina’s digital illustrations are done in both full color and simple black and white. For instance, on the page depicting Lena’s bedroom, only the dress, socks, and socks are in color, while the bed, bookshelves and other items are seen as line drawings.

THOUGHTS: This book is a great addition to the “first day of school” canon. Young students will identify with the concerns of Lena when beginning school or facing anything that causes anxiety. Elementary and preschool libraries should consider adding this one to their collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Shuttlewood, Craig.  Awesome! Capstone, 2018. 978-1-684-46013-7. Unpaged.  $15.95. Grades K-2.

A moose named Marvin and a beaver named Woody are best friends. One day Marvin rescues a squirrel from a pond and is hailed as a hero. The two friends work together to enhance the moose’s superhero persona. Woody sews a costume complete with cape and helps Marvin with physical training. As Marvin and his feats become more popular, Woody feels left out and begins a sabotage campaign in the forest. The beaver steals a wooden statue of Marvin with the idea that he will be known as a hero when he “finds it.” Unfortunately, the wagon carrying the statue careens down the hill into the path of the forest animals. Both Marvin and Woody must act quickly and work together to save their friends. The pair have a discussion, and Woody explains his actions. They decide to make a new statue, and this one features them both. Shuttlewood’s illustrations are whimsical and appealing. In this book, the author has created a story that explores the emotions of jealousy and feeling left out.

THOUGHTS:  Children will be drawn to this story of two friends. A great read aloud, this book will lead to a discussion about how to deal with such feelings in a more positive way.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Freedman, Russell. The Sinking of the Vasa: A Shipwreck of Titanic Proportions. Henry Holt and Company, 2018. 978-1-627-79866-2. Unpaged. Grades 3-6. $18.99.

In one of his last published works, the late Russell Freedman has once again created another work of narrative nonfiction that is sure to interest the reader. The author explores the sinking of the Swedish warship called the Vasa, which sunk in 1628 in Stockholm Harbor after sailing only 1300 meters. Its construction was ordered by King Gustav II Adolf, and it took two years to build. He wanted the ship to be so mighty and “fearsome” that the country’s enemies would be frightened at its very sight. Not only was the ship large, it was also a work of art with its many sculptures and carvings. A key element of the ship’s design were the 64 bronze cannons located on the gun decks. Shortly after setting sail, the ship capsized, most likely due to the weight of the cannons. Freedman discusses the investigation of the catastrophe, as well as the salvage operations, the raising of the ship in 1961 and the preservation efforts. The Vasa is now housed in a museum in Stockholm. William Low’s digital full bleed illustrations show a lot of detail. The endpapers show sketches of the vessel, but there are no photographs of the ship in its current condition or author note.

THOUGHTS:  Another great work by a master storyteller of history, hand this one to those who seek out books about the Titanic and other shipwrecks.

910.9485 Ocean Voyages          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

Lies, Brian. The Rough Patch. Greenwillow, 2018. 978-0-062-67127-1. Unpaged. $17.99. K-3.

Evan and his dog are best friends who do everything together. One of their favorite activities is working in Evan’s garden. When his best friend suddenly passes away, Evan becomes angry and depressed. He takes his frustration out on his garden, cutting everything to bits. He soon learns, however, that nothing stays empty forever–neither his garden, nor the void he feels inside. When his garden produces a magnificent pumpkin, he carts it off to the fair and ultimately ends up finding hope and healing through a new friendship. A touching story of love, loss, and hope, this is a must-have for elementary collections.

THOUGHTS: Lies has eloquently handled a delicate subject for young readers. Hand this book to students who have experienced a loss or are going through their own rough patches; it will give them hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It also shows young readers that it is totally normal to feel a wide array of emotions when something devastating happens. If they want to further explore emotions after tragedy, pair this title with Cori Doerrfeld’s The Rabbit Listened. This is a beautiful guide to grief for young readers.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD



Arnold, Elana. Infandous. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda LAB, 2015. 978-1-4677-3849-1. p. 189 $17.99 Gr 11+.

In Infandous, author Elana Arnold beautifully weaves Grimm’s original fairy tales with the story of Sephora Golding.  Sephora knows better than to believe that there is a happily ever after, especially since her grandparents abandoned her beautiful supermodel mother at the age of sixteen when they found out she was pregnant.  Sephora and her mother, Rebecca, scrape by in a one bedroom apartment in rundown Venice Beach, California.  Her art is finally getting noticed, and she gets a crap-paying job at Riley Michael’s Surf Shop.  This is where her latest sculpture turned photo becomes the next big thing in Venice Beach.  There is no happy ending, but readers are left with the feeling that life gets better for Sephora.

The book is definitely for the mature reader.  Sephora describes her sexual encounters in detail and isn’t shy about the abuse she’s suffered.  The author points out time and again that Disney changed the fairy tales to make the story easier to stomach than Grimm’s original tales.

Realistic Fiction/Fairy Tales   Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School