Elem. – Alma and How She Got Her Name; Hello Lighthouse; Goat’s Coat

Martinez-Neal, Juana. Alma and How She Got Her Name. Candlewick, 2018. 978-0-763-69355-8. Unpaged. $15.99. PreK-Gr. 3.

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela thinks her name is way too long. One day, when she complains about the length of her name to her father, he sits her down and tells her all about the different family members after whom she was named–their likes, interests, hobbies, dreams, and beliefs. She soon discovers that she has much in common with her ancestors, and perhaps she likes her long, meaningful name after all. This is a sweet story that depicts a young girl’s connection to her father and to her ancestors, and it is one that is sure to elicit questions from young readers about their own names.

THOUGHTS: Reading this title aloud would be the perfect way to introduce a unit on ancestors. After reading it, students could talk to parents and/or other relatives about their own names, and they could even try to complete their own family trees. A 2019 Caldecott Honor book, this is a must-have for elementary library shelves.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

Blackall, Sophie. Hello Lighthouse. Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 978-0-316-36238-2. Unpaged. $18.99. PreK-Gr. 3.

This book documents the daily routine of a lighthouse keeper from the time he begins his job until technology renders his job obsolete. Readers will be fascinated by all of the lightkeeper’s tasks, including polishing the lens, refilling the oil, trimming the wick, winding the clockwork, painting the rooms, writing letters to his wife, making dinner, writing in his logbook, ringing a warning bell when it becomes foggy, and even rescuing shipwrecked sailors. An intriguing look into the history of lighthouses, complete with an extensive author’s note that further explains many of the lightkeeper’s tasks, this is a must-have for all libraries who serve young readers.  

THOUGHTS: This book has so much potential for use in the classroom. Teachers and students could explore the obvious: the history of lighthouses. Teachers could have their students pretend to be lighthouse keepers and write their own letters to loved ones about daily life as a keeper. Depending on where they are located, they could possibly even take a field trip to tour a lighthouse. This book offers so much more, however, in addition to all of that. It is the perfect segue into a discussion about the impacts of technology on jobs and the economy. After reading this book and discussing technological advancements, students could research a specific invention and how it has impacted the world, or they could explore the pros and cons of technology. A fascinating read with plenty of learning potential, elementary school teachers and librarians alike will all want a copy of this title to add to their collections.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

Percival, Tom. Goat’s Coat. Bloomsbury, 2018. 978-1-681-19901-6. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. K-2.

Alfonzo the goat is very excited when he receives a new (and fashionable) coat. As he is out walking in the coat, he encounters other animals facing various troubles. Being a caring goat, Alfonzo wants to help out. As it turns out, the best way to help often involves Alfonzo using bits and pieces of his coat. For example, he uses fabric from his coat to bandage the injured tail of a cat and uses an additional piece of fabric to create a tent to provide shelter to a family of hedgehogs. As the weather turns colder, Alfonzo’s good deeds have resulted in him no longer having a coat. When a blizzard arrives, a freezing Alfonzo is surprised by all the animals he had helped. They gift him with a sweater to take the place of his coat and keep him warm.

THOUGHTS: This heartwarming tale about the importance of kindness and caring for others is sure to be a hit. The story is told rhyme, making it an ideal choice for a read aloud. The text is enhanced by Christine Pym’s illustrations, created with watercolor, pencil, crayon, and potatoes, which bring Alfonzo and his friends to life and feature great details and expression.

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Upper Elem/MS – Swing it, Sunny; Empty Grave; Frogkisser

Holm, Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm. Swing it, Sunny. Scholastic, 2017.  978-0-545-74172-9. 218p. $12.99.  Gr. 4-7.

Set in the 1970’s with many pop culture references, this graphic novel will pull on the heartstrings of many readers who grew up when Sunny did.  Sunny is facing life without her older brother, who has been sent to boarding school because of behavioral issues. This focuses on Sunny’s home life, her next-door-neighbors, and special occasions. Any reader who has an issue at home that is out of their control will relate to Sunny’s conflicting thoughts about her brother. THOUGHTS: Many of the cultural references will go unnoticed by its intended audience, though parents and teachers will enjoy the references to television and fads of 1976-77.  Fans of Sunny Side Up will want this additional title.

Graphic Novel        Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Stroud, Jonathan. The Empty Grave. Disney Hyperion, 2017.  978-48477872-2. 436 p. $16.99.  Gr. 4-8.

In this fifth installment in the Lockwood & Co. series, Lucy and her friends at Lockwood and company are close to solving the mystery of what started “The Problem.” For sixty years, London has been plagued with ghosts and paranormal activity.  Only some children can see the ghosts, though people of all ages can be killed by their touch.  It is up to agencies of children to rid London of its ghosts.   This book is filled with daring adventure and some really smart strategies. The characters have grown and changed over the series, and even the minor characters prove to have more depth than expected.  The ending is satisfying, but still leaves the reader with hope and a little intrigue.  THOUGHTS: If you have not read or purchased any books from this series, do so! This is not a simple children’s story and has a lot of sophisticated vocabulary that will entice and delight the quirky readers that this series enthralls.

Fantasy, Action/Adventure     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School


Nix, Garth.  Frogkisser!.  Scholastic, 2017.  978-1-338-05208-4. 372 p.  $18.99.  Gr. 4-8.

Princess Anya lives with her evil stepfather, Duke Rikard,  who is also an accomplished sorcerer.  She is sure he has a plan for keeping the crown from her sister, Morven, who is about to become queen.   Duke Rikard turns Morven’s boyfriend into a frog.  Anya becomes involved in a long adventure transforming animals into humans and vice versa.  She is assisted by a loyal dog and a librarian who turns into an owl when frightened.  Anya is a smart, strong princess who can save not only herself, but her whole kingdom.  Nix’s sense of humor shines through this tale full twists and turns.   THOUGHTS: A great purchase for middle grade girls who like princess stories as well as any fantasy fan.

Fantasy, Action/Adventure     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School



YA Realistic Fiction – Mr. 60%; Saints & Misfits; We Come Apart; Grit

Barrett Smith, Clete. Mr. 60%. Crown Books, 2017. 978-0-5535-3466-5. 192 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Meet Matt, aka “Mr. 60%”, a nickname earned thanks to just-passing grades and Matt’s habit of doing the bare minimum both academically and socially to graduate high school. The only time he engages in conversation is when he’s completing a “transaction” with a classmate. Instead, he spends his time looking for more creative places to stash his “merchandise” at school so when his nemesis, the vice principal, and the on-campus cop conduct random drug searches, they turn up nada.  Everyone thinks Matt is destined to be a high school dropout, yet what they don’t know is that Matt feels like he has no other choice; he’s only selling drugs to pay for medicine to help ease his uncle’s pain in the wake of a fatal cancer diagnosis. With his mother in jail, his dad never having been in the picture, and living in trailer #6 at the local trailer park with his dying uncle, Matt has limited options and no one to turn to.  When the school board develops a new policy requiring seniors to participate in at least one student activity club in order to graduate, Matt is forced to see he’s not as alone as he thought.  There just might be a friend he can lean on when times get unbearable.  THOUGHTS:  Mr. 60% reminds adult readers, educators especially, that our children are more than what we see on the surface, and reminds teen readers that they’re not alone, that a classmate passing them in the hallway might have it worse than they do.  Despite its somber tone and overwhelming sense of helplessness readers may feel for Matt; there is still a note of hope throughout the story: the fellow classmate whose offer of friendship helps her just as much as it helps Matt and his uncle, the guidance counselor willing to try over and over again to offer Matt options to help him graduate even though he doesn’t seem to appreciate it, the police officer who keeps trying to warn Matt of his impending future should he not change his drug-dealing ways, among others. My only complaint is the abrupt ending; the conclusion needed at least one more chapter to feel complete. Teens and adults alike will appreciate the realistic characters and the how real Matt’s life is portrayed, and the short length is perfect for reluctant readers. 

Realistic Fiction            Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley SD


Ali, S.K. Saints and Misfits.  Salaam Reads, 2017. 978-1-4814-9924-8. 328 p.  $18.99  Gr. 7-12.

Janna sees people as fitting into three different categories:  saints, misfits, and monsters.  She herself is a misfit:  a Muslim girl who chooses to wear the Hajib, struggling to fit in to a variety of different places and with different people, including two families, since her parents are divorced (and have very different views on religion). Janna has a crush on Jeremy, who isn’t Muslim; he’s a misfit, too, if only because he’s willing to consider dating her.  Then there are saints: people so perfect and good, like her brother’s girlfriend, they make Janna feel like she’s lacking.  Finally, there’s the monsters.  Janna tries not to think about the monster in her life; a monster who pretends to be a saint.  He’s the brother of one of Janna’s friends, and she’s afraid to tell anyone the truth, that he tried to sexually assault her once, and she’s afraid he might do it again.  THOUGHTS:  The sensitive subject matter is handled frankly and yet not too graphically, so that this book is accessible to middle as well as high school readers.  This well written book is an important addition to school library collections both because it features a Muslim heroine, and because it empower girls who have been assaulted.

Realistic Fiction               Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Crossan, Sarah and Conaghan, Brian. We Come Apart. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978-1-68119-275-8. $17.99. 320p. Gr. 9+.

Sarah Crossan teamed up with Brian Conaghan to write in verse from two points of view. Both Jess and Nicu lead desperate lives. Jess lives in a dysfunctional home with a despicable stepfather who beats Jess’ mom and forces her to be an accomplice. Jess lives in fear of her stepfather, but it doesn’t stop her from acting out by stealing things. On her third arrest, she is forced to do community service which is where she meets Nicu, who is also performing community service. Nicu and his family have recently emigrated from Romania to England into the time of Brexit and open racism. We see through his broken-English what it is like for a teenager of color to endure racism from not just his classmates, but his teachers and society in general. Nicu also has the weight of an arranged marriage in his near future to contend with. The story begins with a hesitant friendship between Jess and Nicu and slowly transforms into love. Jess fights the relationship from the beginning, hiding it from her friends, and not step to Nicu’s defense when people attack him because of his Romanian heritage. This book reminded me of Crossan’s, The Weight of Water and the publisher likens it to Una LaMarche’s Like No Other.  THOUGHTS: I read this book quickly due to its being written in verse, but also because I wanted to find out what would happen between Jess and Nicu. It’s rated 9th grade and above due to the domestic violence and a brutal racist attack on the street, although I would consider letting 8th graders read this book. I enjoyed reading about Nicu’s perspective of moving to a country in the throes of Brexit and overt racism all the while living with old-fashioned parents that insist on an arranged marriage. I enjoyed the ending, but I can already hear my students complaining that it lacked the happy ending they seem to enjoy.

Realistic Fiction, Verse            Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


French, Gillian.  Grit.  HarperTeen, 2017.  978-0-06-264255-4. 294 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Seventeen-year-old Darcy Prentiss has a wild reputation that precedes her. Most of her classmates believe she is promiscuous, and she is often found drinking and taking dares at parties. The police think she knows more than she is letting on about the disappearance last summer of her former best friend, Rhiannon, and it soon comes to light that she is also hiding another secret for her cousin, Nell. As the story unfolds, mysteries that seemed totally unrelated are woven together, and the truth behind Darcy’s actions is unveiled. Teen readers will easily be able to relate to and empathize with Darcy, making this a great choice for high school libraries.  THOUGHTS: My only criticism of this title is the fact that I had a hard time figuring out what the main story line was. Did I want to know what happened to Rhiannon last summer, or did I want to discover Nell’s secret? Was I more interested in the love connection between Darcy and a boy named Jesse than I was in either of these mysteries? However, regardless of the complex plot (which all ended up weaving together in the end), Darcy proved to be an extremely relatable and likable character.  I felt for her, and I admired her courage; therefore, I needed to keep reading to find out what happened to her and everyone else. A beautifully written title, perhaps more suited towards older adolescents due to its evocative language and sexual references.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


New Upper Elem/MS – Knife’s Edge; Quicksand Pond; Hello Universe; The Ethan I Was Before

Larson, Hope. Knife’s Edge (Four Points series). Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017. 978-0-374-30044-9. 224 p. $19.99. Gr. 4-8.

My students and I have been eagerly awaiting the second installment in the Four Points series, and it’s finally here! The first book in the series, Compass South, finds twins Cleo and Alex Dodge searching for their lost father as they try to survive as street orphans in 1860. At the end of the first adventure, they’re reunited with their father and realize that their family heirlooms, a knife and compass, create a treasure map. In Knife’s Edge, Cleo and Alex learn that their birth parents were both pirates and the treasure they seek is a pirate’s bounty. They reluctantly agree to help old friend/nemesis Luther escape pirate Felix Worley who is hunting the twins and their treasure. Cleo and Alex both work to find their place aboard the Almira with wise captain Tarboro as they sail to find the treasure and meet many dangers along the way. Like the first book, Knife’s Edge takes readers on a trip to many distant shores, including Honolulu, HI, and the Marshall Islands. The twins and Tarboro’s crew eventually meet up with Worley and his gang in a tropical jungle where they battle it out for treasure rights. The second book in the series ends with a surprise appearance on the last page, foreshadowing the twins’ next adventure. Rebecca Mock’s illustrations and graphic style are easy to follow, brilliantly colored, and full of drama. THOUGHTS: Larson and Mock’s collaborations combine edge-of-your-seat action, family love and history, and lots of adventure. A winner.

Graphic novel, Action/Adventure               Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District


Lisle, Janet Taylor. Quicksand Pond.  Atheneum, 2017.  978-1-4814-7222-7.  240 p.  $16.99  Gr. 4-8.

Jessie Kettel is spending the summer with her family in Rhode Island, where their promised waterfront beach house turns out to be a ramshackle cottage on an overgrown pond. Jessie doesn’t mind, especially when she finds a raft, and even better, a friend, Terri, who helps her fix it up. Terri’s father is an alcoholic and abusive, and she often spends nights alone in the woods to avoid his temper, but she wants Jessie’s friendship not her pity. Terri entertains Jessie with local tales about children swallowed up by the quicksand and a long-ago double murder that led to the wrongful conviction of her own grandfather. The girls develop a close bond, but the relationship starts deteriorating when Jessie hears rumors that Terri may be involved in something illegal. At first, Jessie stands up for her friend, but eventually, frightened she is getting in over her head, she pulls away. Jessie struggles to hold on to what she feels to be right, even as those around her make judgments based on false assumptions that stem from class and social prejudices. Woven into the girls’ stories is the story of an old woman who is the only witness of the long-forgotten murders. THOUGHTS: This is a gripping novel, with a sensitive, nuanced portrayal of issues relating to classism, as well as the flaws in our criminal justice system. The characters, including many of the secondary characters, are well-developed and memorably distinct.  Not to be missed.

Realistic Fiction           Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Kelly, Erin Entrada. Hello, Universe.  Greenwillow, 2017. 978-0-06-241415-1. 313 p.  $16.99  Gr. 4-7.

Hello, Universe is written from the point-of-view of four middle school students whose stories converge after one of them is trapped at the bottom of the well.  Painfully shy Virgil Salinas feels like an outsider even in his own family.  However, he has a special relationship with his Filipino grandmother, who shares hilariously macabre folk stories that later give him strength while he hopes and waits for rescue. Kaori Tanaka is a third-generation Japanese-American with plenty of bravado who has started a business as a psychic for kids (so far, Virgil is her only customer).  Virgil has a secret crush on a deaf girl, Valencia Somerset, who is outgoing and well-adjusted, but lonely after being abandoned by her best friend.  Chet Bullens, the school bully, has a father who belittles him and teaches him that winning at any cost is what is important; it is Chet’s cruelty that indirectly sends Virgil plummeting down the well.  Kaori insists that Virgil’s rescue and meet-up with Valencia have been engineered by the universe, and ultimately, it is hard for either Virgil or Valencia to argue with her.  THOUGHTS:  This is a beautifully written book with unique, diverse characters. Whether or not readers agree with Kaori about the role of fate, they will enjoy seeing how separate threads eventually weave together to make a single story.

Realistic Fiction            Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Standish, Ali. The Ethan I Was Before.  HarperCollins, 2017. 978-0-06-243338-1. 352 p.  $16.99  Gr. 4-8.

Ethan is devastated after the loss of his best friend to a horrific accident he blames himself for.  To give Ethan a fresh start, his parents move the family from Boston to the tiny Florida town where Ethan’s grandfather lives. Ethan soon makes a new friend, the fiesty Coralee, who is battling demons of her own.  Still, the crushing guilt Ethan carries threatens his relationships with everyone and everything he loves.  On top of that, his grandfather and mother are barely speaking, and his brother, who loved their old life, is seething with anger.  Another crisis helps Ethan and his family and friends learn to trust and support each other rather than continue shutting each other out. THOUGHTS:  Despite the serious themes, there is humor and lightness here too, and the writing is first-rate.  Highly recommended for middle school libraries.

Realistic Fiction              Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


MS/Upper Elem. Fiction – Finding Mighty; Great Treehouse War; Me and Marvin Gardens

Chari, Sheela. Finding Mighty.  Amulet Books, 2017. 978-1-4197-2296-7. $16.95. 312 pp. Gr. 5-8.

Secrets and lies. Friends and enemies. Losing and finding. Finding and keeping. Peter, his brother Randall, and Myla are all looking for something. Peter is looking for his older brother, Randall, who left home one night, leaving a note that reads “Don’t find me.” Randall is a graffiti artist who sets off a chain of unanticipated events the night he tags OM on a train station wall. Randall found the tag in a journal belonging to his father after his father died in a fall at a construction site. Myla, trying to find an identity for herself as she enters middle school, purchases a necklace with the OM symbol on it, a necklace someone very much wants back. Coincidentally, or maybe not, Peter and his mother move into the house next door to Myla, and the two join forces to solve an old mystery, one that is becoming dangerous for all involved. THOUGHTS: This well-crafted mystery is a can’t-put-down book. The story is told alternately by Myla and Peter, and Randall as well later in the story. The clues are all there if you are sharp enough to catch them. All the characters are well developed. Myla and her family are Indian, and Peter and Randall are mixed-race.  

Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Graff, Lisa. The Great Treehouse War. Philomel Books, 2017. 978-0-525-51460-3. $13.99. 272 pp. Gr. 4-7.

Winnie’s life changes drastically with her parents divorce. Supremely competitive, her parents work out a custody arrangement where Winnie alternates days with her parents, spending Wednesdays living in a fabulous treehouse erected between the two properties.  However, her parents continue to try to outdo each other, planning increasingly more elaborate activities for Winnie, until she is exhausted and failing fifth grade, having no time to do homework. When she is unable to get either parent to listen to her, she takes drastic measures; she retires to her treehouse (which, it turns out, is not part of the United States. Maybe.) and refuses to come down until her parents are willing to talk to her together. However, she is not alone for long. Soon, her friends begin to show up with sleeping bags and snacks, defecting to her treehouse nation with their own demands. The Treehouse Ten soon capture national attention. But, will the stress of their holdout be the end of their friendship? THOUGHTS:  A delightful romp that all students will enjoy. Each of the characters is well defined, and their demands are thoughtfully crafted. While they initially seem shallow, Winnie realizes each friend has a deeper need that led him or her to the treehouse. The book design is also lovely, with lots of drawings and attached notes from the various friends.  

Realistic Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Graff, Lisa. The Great Treehouse War. Philomel Books, 2017. 978-0-399-17500-8. 272 p. $17.99. Gr. 3-6.

Winnie’s parents are getting divorced, so Winnie splits her time between her mom and dad, and they insist that the time be equal. The solution? Three days a week with each parent…and on Wednesdays, Winnie spends her evenings in her custom-built treehouse that splits her parents’ neighboring properties. Winnie loves her solitary Wednesdays (spent with her beloved cat) because they are free of her parents’ over-the-top competition. In a bizarre tradition that got very out of hand, each parent now finds daily “holidays” to celebrate in huge fashion. National UFO Day, anyone? These celebrations leave Winnie exhausted, frustrated, and without any time to spend with her friends or even do her homework! Winnie reaches her breaking point when her fifth grade teacher tells her that she’s in danger of failing fifth grade and her parents are more interested in one-upping each other than supporting her academics…so Winnie does something extreme. She takes her cat, her homework, and a few necessities, and heads to her treehouse, which she refuses to leave. Within a short time, nine of her friends join her, and the Tulip Street Ten become famous.  Winnie writes about her experiences in her final fifth grade project, completed in the treehouse to ensure that she passes fifth grade. Her friends add notes throughout the story, helping readers get to know all the kids a little bit better. The storyline is certainly full of comedic exaggerations and zany characters, but Winnie’s frustration over the divorce is real and Graff does a great job of showcasing it. THOUGHTS: A really enjoyable story for kids who can handle a dose of comedic exaggeration with their realistic fiction.

Realistic Fiction             Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District


King, Amy Sarig. Me and Marvin Gardens. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 978-0-545-87074-0. $16.99. 243 p. Gr. 4-7.

Obe’s world is being reduced one house at a time. His family’s land is being sold off and turned into a housing development. His best friend, Tommy, has defected to hanging out with the new, wealthier kids moving into the development. A nervous boy, either ignored or derided by his parents, and prone to nosebleeds, Obe haunts the banks of the creek behind his house and the nearby Schuylkill River picking up trash the construction workers leave behind. That’s where he comes across the pig-like, slime-covered creature he names Marvin Gardens. Marvin, Obe discovers, loves to eat plastic. He attempts to keep Marvin a secret from family, friends and construction workers, and feed his continuous appetite. But the upside of Marvin has a disastrous downside; he defecates toxic, fluorescent poop that causes damage at the construction site. The race is on to save Marvin before the adults find and destroy him.  THOUGHTS: A wonderful story dealing with environmental issues, friendship, trust, and interspersed with historical vignettes, connecting Obe’s story to family history 100 years ago.  Obe’s awful parents are offset by Ms. G., his adored teacher who instills his love of science and environmental concern, and who aides Obe with Marvin. Highly recommended.

Realistic Sci-Fi     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

King, Amy Saurig. Me and Marvin Gardens. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017.  978-0-545-87074-0. 243 pp. $16.99. Gr. 3-7.

This book is award-winning YA novelist A.S. King’s first novel for middle-grades. Obe Devlin is a budding environmentalist living on the outskirts of land that used to belong to his ancestors but is now being taken over by developers. A loner whose one-time friend has deserted him for the in-crowd, Obe finds a strange but loveable creature in the woods near the builders. It’s something like a pig, and something like a dog, and smells terrible. It’s most distinguishing feature, however, is that it feeds only on plastic. Obe names the creature Marvin Gardens, after the Monopoly property, and at first keeps his amazing discovery to himself.  He doesn’t want Marvin exploited, or, worse, destroyed. But he knows he can’t keep the secret forever, and also wonders if Marvin might be a partial solution to the world’s environmental woes.  At the same time, Obe must contend with turf wars, bullying, and a budding new friendship with a girl whose parents who are afraid to let her out of her own backyard. THOUGHTS:  Obe is as fascinating and unique as Marvin Gardens himself. Additionally, unlike many young protagonists, he has the self-confidence and insight to deal with challenges without allowing them to diminish his sense of self.  An appealing and satisfying read.

Science  Fiction               Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD




YA Fiction – Mask of Shadows; What to Say Next; My Favorite Things is Monsters; Strange the Dreamer

Miller, Linsey. Mask of Shadows. Sourcebooks, 2017.  9781492647492. 352 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Orphaned street thief, Sallot Leon, is permitted to enter the audition to become the next member of the Left Hand of the Queen, a group of four assassins who serve as advisers and protectors of the throne. These four are named for the gems of the rings worn by the Queen: Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, and Opal. When the last Opal is killed, Sal and 22 others compete to gain the position which will elevate the winner to enjoy the riches, security, and honor that will come with a new noble status. Borrowing heavily from titles such as Hunger Games and Throne of Glass, the plot follows the Auditioners, who must fight to the death to earn the coveted spot at court. The 22 contestants are virtually indistinguishable from one another with no real character development for any of them; each are masked for the competition and known only by their assigned numbers.  Sal, now known as Twenty Three, wishes to leave a life of thievery behind but also has a hidden agenda to avenge the destruction of her homeland and people. In one of the more original and interesting aspects of this tale, Sal‘s character is gender fluid and prefers to be addressed by the pronouns of “they” and “them”. Unfortunately, the gender identity for Sal seems to revolve around what clothing they are wearing that day. A romance with a noblewoman who serves as a tutor for the Auditioners unfolds and the sexuality between the two is presented matter of factly.  The only obstacle to such a romance in this world is Sal’s lower-class status, which would change if they win the contest. Mask of Shadows details the growing violence and intrigue between the Auditioners, as the competition advances and many of these scenes are gripping, violent, and gory.  But overall, the story lacks strong character development and the world building is not fully realized. Sal’s backstory is only briefly visited and there is no real explanation or insight into the magic and shadows which caused the destruction of the old-world order, or the war between the kingdoms that led to the current shaky political reality.  THOUGHTS: This YA fantasy with a strong gender-fluid character has an interesting premise and action-packed competition sequences. A secondary purchase for fans of violent fantasy.

Fantasy          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Buxbaum, Julie. What to Say Next. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-0-553-53568-6. 292 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Julie Buxbaum, author of the very enjoyable Tell Me Three Things, returns with the even better What to Say Next! David Drucker is a little unusual. He’s brilliant but awkward in social situations; he’s a diligent fan of order and routine, and he was once diagnosed with Asperger’s (but that’s just a label). He also keeps a notebook full of lists, rules, and notable encounters with his classmates at Mapleview High School. He’s got a particularly detailed entry on Kit Lowell, who attended his childhood birthday parties and smiled at him when their names were announced as Mapleview’s only National Merit semifinalists. Now, after 622 days of eating lunch alone, David is joined by Kit, whose father died in a car crash just one month ago. None of Kit’s popular friends know what to say or how to act around her, and David’s bluntness is a welcome change of pace. When David’s notebook is stolen and posted online, followed by the reveal of two huge Lowell family secrets, the opposites-attract couple needs each other more than ever.  THOUGHTS: This winning, dual perspective novel focuses on the “friend” in girlfriend and boyfriend relationships. It’s a perfect choice for fans of realistic romance with a serious side, such as Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and When We Collided by Emery Lord.

Realistic Fiction     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District


Ferris, Emil. My Favorite Things is Monsters. Fantagraphics Books, 2017. 978-1-60699-696-2. unpaged. $39.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Emil Ferris’ mind-bogglingly good graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, hinges on the murder of Anka Silverberg, who is shot and killed in her apartment. Her downstairs neighbor, 10-year old Karen Reyes (an unusual girl who identifies with comic book monsters) decides to put on her detective hat and crack the case. In late 1960s Chicago, suspects abound. Anka’s personal history, depicted through tape-recorded interviews and an extended story within the story, reveal a damaged woman with a haunted past. Karen, meanwhile, longs to be changed into a werewolf so that she can “turn” and somehow save her own dying mother. One serious drawback: even after finishing this doorstop of a debut (which introduces a new mystery in the final pages), readers will have to wait until 2018 for Volume 2 and a resolution to the mysteries. THOUGHTS: This is a unique reading experience that raises more questions about monsters than it answers, and does so with beautiful style. Mature themes such as prostitution and violence are depicted visually, so this is recommended for older teens.

Graphic Novel     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District


Taylor, Laini. Strange the Dreamer. Little Brown, 2017. 978-0-316-34168-4. 544 pp. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

A city with no name. A boy with no past.  A girl with no future.  Though it sounds bleak, Laini Taylor’s newest novel, Strange the Dreamer, is a magical, imaginative, heartbreaking story that will leave readers on the edge of their seats.  Lazlo Strange is an orphan, and a dreamer, with little memory of his childhood, save for the day that the name of the city was taken from him, and replaced with the name “Weep.” Consumed with a desire to know more, Lazlo, through an accident of fate, becomes a librarian, and garners all he can about the enigmatic city, including its language. When an entourage from Weep arrives, looking for people to come help solve a mysterious problem, Lazlo jumps at the chance. Meanwhile, in Weep, Sarai, a blue-skinned demi-goddess, is stuck; she and her three companions are trying to navigate an increasingly grim future by using their gifts, bestowed upon them by their god and goddess parents. Sarai is a dream walker, but uses her abilities to bestow nightmares on the people of Weep, punishing them nightly for their treachery.  When Sarai enters Lazlo’s dream, it unleashes an unexpected and intense series of events that will forever change the lives of the dreamers, and all of those around them. THOUGHTS:  I absolutely loved this book.  Laini Taylor has really come into her own as an author, and this is a much more nuanced, sophisticated novel than her previous efforts.  While the romance between Sarai and Lazlo feels a little rushed, the world-building, the characters, the setting, and the tension between characters makes up for it ten-fold.  Highly recommended to all fantasy lovers.

Fantasy     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Laini Taylor, author of the fantastic Daughter of Smoke & Bone series, is back with another incredible fantasy novel. Orphan Lazlo Strange works as a junior librarian and spends his days researching and dreaming. Since childhood, he has been obsessed with the lost city of Weep, a city which most of his peers claim is simply a legend. One day, a mythical Godslayer visits the library, and Lazlo finds an opportunity to go searching for his beloved lost city. In Weep, Lazlo finds his dreams haunted by a beautiful blue-skinned girl. Who is she, and why can they see and speak to one another? The mysteries of Weep deepen, and Lazlo finds himself embroiled in a centuries-old war between gods and mortals. This is truly a spectacular, lyrical story that will appeal to all fantasy readers. THOUGHTS: Taylor is an incredibly talented writer, creating a vast world with true to life characters and words that jump off the page. Fantasy fans will adore this and clamor for the next book in the series.

Fantasy     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

YA Realistic FIC – She, Myself, & I; Love, Hate, & Other Filters; American Street; Alex Approximately

Young, Emma. She, Myself, and I. Amulet Books, 2017. 978-1-4197-2570-8. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Paralyzed and slowly dying from a degenerative disease, 18-year-old Rosa longs for a normal life.  Brain-dead after an accident while trying to help a friend, 18-year-old Sylvia’s family is left with no hope of her ever regaining consciousness.  Their young lives are about to intertwine in ways never thought scientifically possible.  A brain transplant will give Rosa a new body and Sylvia the legacy of a lifetime.  The physical recovery will be long and difficult for both Rosa and her family as well as Sylvia’s parents and friends.  As Rosa learns how to live in her new body, she becomes deeply preoccupied with the person whose tragedy that gave her the ability to walk again.  She needs to know who Sylvia was before the accident, whether a part of Sylvia still lives on in her, and if she will ever feel like “herself” again when she looks in a mirror and sees someone else’s face.  THOUGHTS:  A dying quadriplegic teenage girl is given the chance of a lifetime — to wake up in a new body with a new future.  How does she compromise who she used to be with who she is now?  What does she, and everyone around her, see when her face is no longer her own?  While the situation itself might seem unrealistic, medical technology is rapidly advancing and brain transplantation might not be far from the horizon.  Technology aside, the existentialism of Rosa’s situation and the ripple effect on Rosa’s and Sylvia’s families and friends are not often seen in YA literature and will resonate with teens as they embark on their own journey of discovery.

Realistic Fiction      Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley School District


Ahmed, Samira. Love, Hate & Other Filters. Soho Teen, 2018. 978-1-6169-5847-3. 288 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Maya Aziz is torn between being the typical American high school senior and being the traditional Indian girl her parents wish for her to be. Maya’s parents emigrated to the U.S. with dreams; dreams that included for their daughter to have a future as a successful lawyer with a Muslim husband.  But Maya’s dreams are not her parents dreams.  She loves to make movies and has a crush on the star football player.  She is beyond excited yet also scared that she’s been accepted to NYU with a note saying they think her films “show promise”, and the star football player just might be interested in her, too.  As Maya frets over decisions that will shape her future, a terrorist attack at the state capital threatens to take it all away from her.  In the aftermath, Maya and her family must learn how to compromise their dreams with our nation’s reality.  THOUGHTS:  In sharing the story of 18-year-old Maya, born in America to parents that emigrated from India to a small Illinois town, Samira Ahmed has captured what it means to be anyone who is of Middle Eastern descent in the United States.  Ignorance and false information continues to feed racism in our country.  There are far too many Americans who conveniently forget that, unless they are American Indian, we ALL come from a long line of immigrants who were given a chance to build their own version of the American dream.  Ahmed also turns the spotlight on the issue of fear and anger stemming from the refusal to accept others as they are, particularly when the actions of one cast a suspicious net on others, and especially when religion is involved.  Oftentimes, people act out of ignorance and anger, not considering the lasting effects on all those around them.  The addition of an anonymous secondary narrator will make readers question their own preconceptions as the story weaves to its conclusion.  I would rank Love, Hate, & Other Filters right up there with Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give and should be on every high school reading list.

Realistic Fiction     Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley School District


Zoboi, Ibi. American Street. Balzer+Bray, 2017. 978-0062473042. 326 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

American Street is a powerful debut novel, and one that should find its way to every library that serves young adults. Told from the point of view of a recent Haitian immigrant to the United States, the story highlights and expands on many current issues in our world regarding immigration and poverty in urban areas. Fabiola Toussaint travels from Haiti with her mother to live with her mother’s sister and her daughters in Detroit, Michigan. Yet, when they arrive in the States, Fabiola’s mother is detained by immigration officials and Fabiola is forced to travel on to Detroit alone. When she arrives, she is quick to realize that American life might not be like what she imagined. Her three female cousins are loud and brazen, and her aunt never seems to work or leave the house, situated on American Street in inner-city Detroit. Fabiola is despondent over the loss of her mother and unsure of how to act in this new American life, maintaining her faith in her voodoo practices to seek understanding. A new relationship lightens the story, but Fabiola must soon decide what is more important to her: the chaotic family who brought her to the United States, or a mother whose love has sustained her. This book realistically and honestly describes the immigrant plight, from one poverty-stricken area to another.  THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for high school students as well as adults. This author is one to watch.

Realistic Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy


Bennett, Jenn. Alex Approximately. Simon Pulse, 2017. 978-1481478779. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Bailey Rydell has decided to join her divorced father in California, the other side of the country from her mother and her stepfather, who cannot seem to stop fighting. Not only will Bailey be able to spend time with her father, but she will also be in the same town as “Alex”, a boy whom she has been talking with on an online movie-lovers chat room for a long time. Bailey thinks that she and Alex might be perfect together, but she decides not to tell him that she is moving until she can do some detective work and find a little bit more about Alex in the flesh. Bailey is obsessed with old movies and movie stars and is excited when her father gets her a job at a local museum. The first day on the job she butts heads with Porter Roth, the son of a local surf legend and security guard at the museum. Soon, they realize that they each have experienced troubles in their pasts and try to move forward together. Will Alex get in the way of their budding relationship? This sweet story starts out slow, and Bailey can be a bit annoying at times. But, as she grows as a character she evolves into a strong young woman in her own right. The adult characters are numerous and realistic, and add a nice counterpoint to the teen viewpoint. THOUGHTS: Teens will find this novel fun yet introspective, a new-age take on the classic Shop Around the Corner (Bailey would know what this movie is, but I rather doubt most teens would!).

Realistic Fiction     Lindsey Myers, Shady Side



Upper Elem/MS Fiction – Effie Starr Zook…; Bubble; When My Sister Started Kissing; Click’d

Freeman, Martha. Effie Starr Zook Has One More Question. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2017. 978-1-4814-7264-7. $16.99. 218 pp. Gr. 3-6.

Effie is a curious child who is not afraid to inquire and investigate. While staying at her aunt and uncle’s farm in rural Pennsylvania one summer, she doesn’t mean to dig into her family’s history, but before long that is just what she ends up doing. Along the way, questions arise about their wealthy inheritance, a longstanding feud with another family, and how to handle the angry goat in the yard. But problems with her parents’ expedition around the world and feeling unsure of her own place in the world leave Effie ready to ask some deeper questions and face the consequences of the answers.  THOUGHTS: Martha has explored a great variety of styles and genres over her career, and this work is among her best. I recently held a short interview with her and Amy (aka A.S.) King about connections between this book and Marvin Gardens and Me. Please feel free to read and share, and maybe build some new bridges of understanding!

Realistic Fiction      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Foster, Stewart. Bubble. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781481487429. $16.99. 346 pp. Gr. 4-8.

What if your life was held within the confines of one room? It’s not because you are held hostage, but because of potential germs that your body can’t fight off. It’s not because you aren’t loved, because your sister, best friend, nurses and millions on tv all care for you, even though your parents are dead. Life in that one room becomes a whole lot more interesting when the idea of breaking out of the bubble seems possible, but there are huge risks and consequences. Come into Joe’s world through his narrative fiction and learn that what defines him is much bigger than four walls. This British novel will create empathy and curiosity in young readers as they meet Joe and those who surround him.  THOUGHTS: Looking for a novel to compete with Wonder for empathy and character and heartache? Look no further! I found the story to be fascinating, funny, and well-written, even though we are left out of some of the scientific details of his condition.  

Realistic Fiction     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Frost, Helen.  When My Sister Started Kissing.  Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017.  978-0374303037. 208 pp. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Claire and Abi are headed to the lake with their father to stay at their family’s cabin for the summer. Claire wants everything to be the same as it always has been, but she knows her world is about to change. Her new stepmother is coming with them, and a baby will be joining the family before the summer is over.  What’s worse, Abi seems more excited about boys than about swimming or canoeing.  Frost writes in verse, mostly from Claire’s point of view, but some of the poems feature Abi’s voice, and a few are written from the unusual perspective of the lake.  The styles of the poems are appropriate for each narrator. Claire’s are rhymed quatrains, reflecting her desire for tradition; the lake’s poems are written in a concrete style that mirrors its shape, while the lines in Abi’s poems continually stretch further forward, reflecting Abi’s eagerness to grow up.  Some of the poems also include hidden messages that students may enjoy finding.  THOUGHTS:  Both Claire and Abi are believable, likeable heroines. Their relationships with each other and with their father and new stepmother are sensitively portrayed. This is a beautiful and beautifully written story about the gap between childhood and adolescence, perfect for tween readers who are either not quite ready to make the leap, or have just recently crossed over it.

Realistic Fiction           Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Stone, Tamara Ireland. Click’d. Disney Hyperion, 2017. 978-1-4847-84976. $19.99. 304p. Gr. 4-7.

Allie Navarro is a 12-yr old coding genius. Instead of spending the summer playing travel soccer with her best friends she went to CodeGirls summer camp at Fuller University. It was there that she developed an app called Click’d that was so well-received that she was entered into the G4G competition. If she wins the contest her game will be given financial backing to become a reality, and she has one week to make sure her coding is solid. Click’d is an app that matches you up with the top ten people who have common interests. Through the use of a leaderboard and scavenger hunt you get introduced to people you might not already know, but who you might “click” with. She decides to share her app with her closest friends to show them how she spent the summer, and her friends love it. Allie decides to open it up to her school just so she has real world data for the judges at this week’s competition. The app goes viral and her coding holds up except for one tiny thing, and it might not be so tiny. Allie has to race against the clock to try and find the problem, and the only person that can help her is her longtime nemesis. THOUGHTS: This book was a fun, fast read and I think I will be successful book-talking it to my 7th graders. Some of the story is predictable, like Allie’s app matching her up with her longtime rival, but that doesn’t detract from the story. The story takes place over the course of a week with some flashbacks to Allie’s summer at the coding camp. The timely subject matter of social media apps and the damage they can do and the wholesomeness of the characters make it a good book for the middle aged set.

Realistic Fiction      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Alli’s had an amazing summer at CodeGirls camp, and though she’s excited to get back to her friends, she’s also sad to be away from her new friends that get her coding excitement. While at camp, she built her own app, CLICK’D, to help people meet each other and make new friends. She knows her app will be successful in this year’s youth coding contest, where she hopes to edge her competition and classmate Nathan. Allie’s school friends are so excited to try CLICK’D they convince her to release it before the contest.  At first CLICK’D is great, and it’s working exactly as Allie hoped, then the app seems to glitch. Allie has to decide if it’s worth the risk of keeping the app live while trying to fix the glitch or shut it down and risk losing her new found popularity.  THOUGHTS: Click’d takes a look inside the mind of a girl who is trying to navigate friendship while figuring out what really matters to her. Readers will be subtly cautioned about content on their phones and what they post for all to see. This was a lighthearted and fun read that shows girls it’s okay to like coding and be competitive.

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District



YA – Dead Inside; Midnight at the Electric; The Hate U Give; Wildman

Etler, Cyndy. Dead Inside. Sourcebooks, 2017 . 9781492635734. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

A grim and shocking memoir of a young girl’s harrowing experiences in a juvenile rehabilitation facility. Ignored by her mother and abused by her stepfather, fourteen-year-old Cyndy Etler finds a degree of acceptance with a wild crowd on the rough streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut. When she runs away from her dysfunctional home, she is forced by her family into an addiction treatment center called Straight Inc., which operated dozens of centers up and down the East Coast. For sixteen months, Cyndy endures a complete loss of freedom and grueling discipline at the cult-like institution. The abusive mental and physical tactics employed at the center are truly frightening. Cyndy details the bizarre and cruel routines and punishments of the staff and older inmates who had the goal of forcing obedience and compliance from all new recruits. Under the relentless pressure, Cyndy turns from rebellious and disbelieving newbie to brainwashed graduate.  It is incredible how an institution like Straight Inc. managed to exist for years, escaping the scrutiny of child welfare officials. The program was finally shut down in the 1990s. However, similar places still exist for troubled youth today. It was only after years of commitment to AA and her time at University of Massachusetts that Cyndy was finally able to escape the shadow of her experience at Straight, Inc. She currently works as an educator and advocate for troubled teens.  Thoughts: For older teens who enjoy gritty, real life stories such as A Child Called It. Too graphic for younger readers.

362.29, Rehabilitation                       Nancy Summers,  Abington SD


Anderson, Jodi Lynn. Midnight at the Electric. HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-06-239354-8. $17.99. 174 p.  Gr. 7 and up.

Adri Ortiz is on her way to Mars. Selected as a colonist in the year 2065, Adri arrives in Kansas, the home of space program, for final training before launch. She has been housed with a here-to-fore unknown relative, an elderly cousin. When Lily, 107, attempts to befriend Adri, she is told by Adri, “I’m not really a friendly kind of a person. I’m not charming or anything. I’m, like, the opposite of that.” During the downtime waiting for training sessions, Adri explores the old house and comes across a postcard from Lenore to Beth, dated 1920. Curious, Adri questions Lily, who vaguely remembers some letters her mother used to read. Adri tears the house apart to find the letters and unravel the mystery. However, finding the letters only leads to more questions; questions Adri desperately needs answered before she is launched into space. The story is narrated from multiple viewpoints throughout time, corresponding to the documents Adri is reading. The reader, along with Adri, becomes emotionally involved with these strangers from the past, as the various threads eventually come together in a lovely, heartbreaking story. THOUGHTS:  This novel deservedly received multiple starred reviews. The evocation of the Dust Bowl during one storyline is stunning, and the themes of bravery, acceptance, and love are beautifully conveyed. Plus, there is a Galapagos tortoise who maintains continuity through the generations of the story. A must purchase for secondary collections.  

Fantasy, Science Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Jodi Lynn Anderson latest work, Midnight at the Electric is a wonderful rabbit hole of a novel. We begin with Adri Diaz, in the year 2065.  Things are looking bad for the Earth, and Adri is part of an elite group chosen to colonize Mars. When she is sent to live with an elderly cousin she didn’t know existed while she completes her training, she stumbles across a mystery, of sorts, about the former owners of the farmhouse. When Adri finds a diary written by Catherine Godspeed, the perspective switches. We learn about Catherine’s life during the 1930s dust bowl; she, her mother, Beth, and her little sister, Beezie, are struggling to survive, and when her mother almost dies in a dust storm, she decides it’s time for Catherine to learn the truth about a few things she’s been keeping secret. Catherine is given a bundle of letters written to her mother from her best friend, Lenore, in 1919. Lenore lives in England, and she is reeling from the death of her beloved brother, Teddy, killed in a battles during World War I; writing to Beth, and spending time in an abandoned cottage on the outskirts of her family’s property are her only outlets. Both Catherine and Lenore’s stories end abruptly, and with no resolution, which infuriates Adri. Determined to discover what happened to these women, she searches the house, visits the town library, and the archives. Will Adri discover the secrets of the past before she leaves Earth forever?  This is a fascinating blend of science fiction and historical fiction. Anderson has painted a convincing picture of a crumbling and doomed Earth, but with a hyper-laser focus on Adri, she avoids tumbling too far into doom and gloom; we can put all of our attention on Adri’s search, her hilarious and heart-warming relationship with her cousin, Lily, and on the intersection of Adri’s, Catherine’s, and Lenore’s stories. The novel ends on a bittersweet note that may wrench a tear or two, especially if you have a thing for tortoises.

Science Fiction; Historical Fiction      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. New York: Balzer & Bray, 2017. 978-0-06-249853-3. 464 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Starr Carter is leading a double-life.  There’s the Starr Carter who attends an exclusive private school with mostly white students, has a long-term boyfriend, who is also white, and who faces daily microaggressions.  Then there’s the Starr Carter who lives in a poor neighborhood overrun by gang violence, who has a father who used to be a gang member, and who is best friends (or is she?) with Khalil.  Starr thinks she has a handle on navigating these two worlds until the night she witnesses Khalil’s murder at the hands of a police officers.  Angie Thomas has written a provocative, moving, and often times enraging book that feels incredibly current, given the multiple deaths of unarmed black men in the last few years, and the resultant simmering anger across the nation.  Starr is a heroine of our time; her indecision, her fear, and her rage, are realistic; never do we, the reader, forget that she is just a sixteen year-old girl who has a monumental weight on her shoulders. Her support network, her family, her boyfriend, her friends, are extremely well-drawn; there are no caricatures here.  From feeling like an outsider wherever she is, to embracing, and melding, both selves into a confident young woman who finds her voice, Starr’s evolution is glorious to behold.  Get this book into as many hands as possible.  THOUGHTS: This is one of my top 10 books of the year so far.  Not only is it incredibly timely, it is also beautifully written.  Starr is a character that everyone can see themselves in – the impulse to hide parts of yourself in order to just get through the day is universal. While this is not an easy book to read, it will hopefully inspire empathy in those who do read it; an extremely worthwhile book for allies and advocates alike.

Realistic Fiction     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Angie Thomas’s highly anticipated debut inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement more than lives up to the hype. Sixteen year old Starr lives in a poor neighborhood but attends an exclusive prep school. She finds that she is two people; one at home and one at school. One night after a party, Starr witnesses the unprovoked murder of her black friend Khalil at the hands of a white police officer. The murder makes national headlines, and Khalil is soon pegged as a thug and drug dealer. As protests ring out across her neighborhood, Starr is unwillingly thrown into the front lines, and finds her home and school lives colliding. As the media continues to paint Khalil as a gangbanger and make excuses for the shooting officer, Starr knows that only her voice can speak for Khalil – even if she’s afraid to use it. THOUGHTS A timely and intimate portrait of racial injustices from the eyes of a black teenage, this incredibly important story sheds light on police brutality, judicial racial bias, and white privilege, among other things. Starr is a relatable, believable, and fierce protagonist. If you buy one book this year, make it this.

Contemporary Fiction    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Balzer & Bray/HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-062-49853-3. 444 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Starr Carter leads two separate lives. Though she lives in a poor neighborhood, Starr attends a fancy suburban prep school. She is conscious of how she talks differently, and at times the struggle between her two worlds weighs on Starr. After reconnecting with her childhood best friend Khalil, Starr witnesses his death at the hands of a police officer. Unarmed, the news of Khalil’s death goes viral, and Starr is thrust in the middle of a national headline she isn’t sure she wants to be part of. In order for Starr to reconcile her feelings about Khalil’s death, she needs to figure out which world she wants to live in and for what she stands. Fortunately, Starr has a strong family that will help her through this tragic situation.  THOUGHTS: This book is necessary, and teens will feel at home with Thomas’s honesty over Starr’s struggle. While the language may make some adults uncomfortable (strong language and themes), this novel could have been ripped right from today’s headlines. Teens need real stories that are relevant to their own lives to help them process their feelings and fears. Thomas’s The Hate U Give should be required reading for anyone interested in social justice, social issues, or today’s world.

Realistic Fiction        Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District


Geiger, J. C.  Wildman. Disney-Hyperion, 2017. 9781484749579. $17.99. 336 pp. Gr. 9-12.

Sometimes it may look like you have it, the perfect life, until you get thrown off course and need to recalibrate. So it goes for Lance, a graduating teen who has life mapped out for him until his father’s Buick decides to break down in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. Suddenly he finds himself saving passengers, getting in fights, jumping trains, and unleashing the “Wildman” inside him. More important than those adventures, though, is his confrontation with identity and love and his future choices. Lance is in for one wild ride!  THOUGHTS: Definitely geared to the older high school crowd, this novel is lacking in a few areas, but is overall a satisfying read. The author’s debut novel has plenty of his personal knowledge mixed with some interesting, complex characters. What the story misses from leaps of logic and lacks in diversity are balanced by some creative plot points and well written settings.

Realistic Fiction, Action/Adventure     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD






Upper Elem/MS Fiction – Beyond the Bright Sea; Crooked Sixpence; Amina’s Voice; Thick as Thieves

Wolk, Lauren. Beyond the Bright Sea.Dutton: 2017. 978-1-101-99485-6. 304pp. $16.99. Gr 4-7.

Twelve-year-old Crow is an islander through and through. She knows how to harvest mussels and lobsters, how to navigate a skiff through choppy water, and how to coax garden vegetables from rocky, sandy soil. But Crow is also full of questions, and none of them have simple answers. Why was she abandoned as a newborn and sent to sea alone in a small boat? Where did she come from, and why did she wash up on the shores of Massachusetts’ Cuttyhunk Island? Who were her parents, and where are they today? When curiosity gets the best of her and Crow investigates a fire burning on a nearby deserted island, she sets into motion a chain of events that takes her on an incredible, and at times dangerous, journey as she begins uncovering answers to her heart’s deepest questions. At her side are her adoptive father, Osh, and their kind-hearted neighbor, Miss Maggie, both of whom offer wisdom and advice as Crow pieces together her personal history.   THOUGHTS:  This title will satisfy fans of Wolk’s Newbery Honor-winning Wolf Hollow. It is also beautifully written, and it’s elegantly crafted sentences, perfectly sprinkled foreshadowing, and well-placed clues make it a good choice for a read-aloud.

Historical Fiction    Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD



Twelve-year-old Crow is happy living on an isolated island off the coast of Massachusetts with her wise and loving foster father, Osh, who has taught her everything she needs to know: how to fish, how to set a lobster trap, how to garden, how to cook, how to row.  But, she still yearns to learn the story of her own life. Crow knows she washed up on the island on a skiff as a newborn babe, but no one knows for sure where she came from.  Like Osh, and unlike their close friend and neighbor, Miss Maggie, she isn’t white. People think she might have come from the deserted nearby island of Penikese which used to harbor a leper colony. As a result, most of the other islanders, fearing Crow may be contagious, won’t get close to her. Crow struggles to reconcile their hurtful behavior with the many good qualities she sees in them. Despite Osh’s misgivings, Crow is determined to visit Penikese and learn the truth about her past. Crow’s search for her heritage leads her little family straight into danger, and she, Osh, and Maggie all must wrestle with the problem of whether some questions are better left unanswered.  Hidden treasure, coded messages, and a terrifying villain all play a role in the story, and the stakes grow higher and higher as the pages are turned. THOUGHTS: Wolk’s writing is unbelievably gorgeous; the book is worth reading simply for the pleasure of enjoying her finely crafted sentences. The story starts out slowly, but soon the pace picks up. By the middle it becomes a page-turner, and the ending is truly heart-pounding. A must-buy for middle school libraries, and a more-than-worthy follow-up to Wolk’s Newbery-honor book Wolf Hollow.  

Historical Fiction     Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Bell, Jennifer. The Crooked Sixpence. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-553-49844-8. 309pp. $14.59. Gr 4-7.

After their grandmother takes a tumble and ends up in the emergency room, eleven-year-old Ivy and her fourteen-year-old brother Seb’s world is turned upside down. They are whisked into a secret underground city called Lundinor that is hidden beneath the streets of London. Lundinor is filled with enchanted “uncommon” objects that have special powers. Colanders filter the air, bike bells chime navigational directions, and carrying a candle makes a person invisible. Lundinor is filled with traders, both living and dead,  who barter with each other, trying to acquire the most useful objects. When Ivy and Seb are arrested and their parents are abducted, they learn some important family history involving their grandmother’s unexplained disappearance from Lundinor more than forty years earlier. They also learn about the most valuable uncommon object of them all, something called The Great Uncommon Good. Ivy and Seb are in a race against the clock, trying to locate this mysterious, powerful object before time runs out and their parents are lost forever. Readers will immediately be drawn into this adventure-filled fantasy, and they will root for Ivy and Seb as they try to clear their family name and hunt for one of the most powerful uncommon objects of them all. This is the first in a planned trilogy, and readers will be excited to hear how this fast-paced adventure continues in the story’s next installment.   THOUGHTS: This title will be popular with both girls and boys who enjoy fast-paced action fantasy that is a little on the scary side.

Fantasy      Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Khan, Hena. Amina’s Voice. Salaam Reads, 2017. 978-1-48149-206-5  197pp. $16.99  Gr. 3-7.

Twelve-year-old Pakistanti-American Amina Khokar has a beautiful voice, but stage fright keeps her from sharing her gift. When her uncle insists she take part in a Quran recitation competition, Amina is petrified. Meanwhile, Amina’s best friend, Korean-American Soojin, tells Amina she is thinking of “Americanizing” her name to “Susan,” which leads Amina feeling threatened and unsure of her own cultural identity. Soojin’s new friendship with a girl Amina dislikes doesn’t help matters between them, especially when Amina makes a serious, though unintentional, mistake that further threatens their bond. However, when the local Islamic center is vandalized, Amina finds support where she least expects it, and discovers wells of courage within her she hadn’t known existed.  THOUGHTS:  Amina is a charming, empathetic heroine dealing with growing pains that will be familiar to many middle schoolers–all told through the lens of a Pakistani-American/Islamic experience.  A delightful, not-to-be-missed read from a much-needed viewpoint.

Realistic Fiction           Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Turner, Megan Whalen. Thick as Thieves. Greenwillow Books, 2017. 978-0-06-256824-3. $17.99. 337 p. Gr. 6 and up.

Turner returns to Attolia and the world of the thief Eugenides with this stand-alone novel. Kamet is an ambitious slave in the court of Mede. He has position and power and enjoys both. The beatings by his master are an unfortunate price to be paid, and when a shadowy stranger offers him the opportunity to escape, Kamet indignantly turns him down. However when Kamet learns his master is dead, poisoned, he knows suspicion will fall on him and he flees. He accepts passage with the stranger , the Attolian, planning on parting company at the first opportunity. However, Kamet has never experienced life outside the palace and is poorly equipped to survive on the run.  He realizes he must depend on the Attolian to stay alive.  At the end of their journey, Kamet not only learns why the King of Attolia, Eugenides, desires his presence, but also discovers that the Attolian has become a friend.   THOUGHTS:  The joy of this book is the journey, both for Kamet and the reader. Turner’s world-building is exquisite (and the thoughtful map on the endpapers is delightfully useful) and writing lovely. The reader knows no more than Kamet as to why the King of Attolia wishes to steal Kamet away from Mede, and what awaits him when he arrives in Attolia.

Fantasy    Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD