Lowry, Lois. The Willoughbys Return. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-42389-8. 182 p. $17.99. Grades 4-6.
The Willoughby family is back in this entertaining sequel. After being frozen in the snowy Swiss Alps for thirty years, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby have thawed, apparently none the worse for wear, except for being behind the times. The couple, who were not the most caring parents, decide to return home and reunite with their children, who are now technically older than them. During the time of their absence, all four children were adopted by Commander Melanoff, who married their nanny. The eldest son, Tim, succeeded the Commander as CEO of a successful candy company. At least, it was successful until the government banned all candy as unhealthy. Next door to the mansion lives the Poore family, who like their name, is in very reduced circumstances. They open a bed and breakfast and the first guests are Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, whose stay is cut short after eating a salad of poisonous leaves prepared by the unwitting Mrs. Poore. Eventually, the Willoughbys are reunited and the parents thaw out their relations with their children, as they adjust to the new world of Google, FaceTime and Skype. Even the hapless Mr. Poore, an unsuccessful traveling encyclopedia salesman, returns home penniless, but with some glittery rocks, which will change his family’s life forever. The author speaks to the reader in occasional footnotes, which provide additional plot details or explain a reference.
THOUGHTS: This satirical “rags to riches” and “riches to rags” story is sure to delight fans of Lemony Snicket’s books and those who can appreciate a parody of those classic orphan stories.
Humorous Fiction Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
Bowling, Dusti. The Canyon’s Edge. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-49469-4. 301 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.
Are you likely to die in this situation? is a question Nora asks herself often after surviving a shooting at a restaurant on her birthday which claimed her mother’s life. Nora and her dad trek into a canyon in the middle of the desert one day to get away from life for a few hours and spend time doing what their family loved to do – hike and explore. But when a flash flood suddenly strikes, Nora’s dad is swept away moments after saving her life. Nora is now left with absolutely nothing, not even her backpack, and must battle her inner demons and various canyon hazards to find her dad…. and a way out. Alone in the desert Nora must overcome her past in order to save her future.
THOUGHTS: A must have for your collection and for fans of Hatchet! Finally a story where a female protagonist overcomes the odds in a survival story. Bowling brings the emotion in this novel in verse and teaches us that we are more capable than we think. Bowling wrote this book to honor a family of nine that perished in a flash flood a day after she visited the same spot with her family.
Kinney, Jeff. The Deep End (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). Amulet Books, 2020. 978-1-419-74868-4. $14.99. 217 p. Grades 4-8.
I have to admit–I thought the last few “Wimpy Kid” books left something to be desired…but Jeff Kinney and Greg are back, and Greg is in rare form. After the Heffley home disaster in “Wrecking Ball,” the family decides to escape from their temporary digs in Gramma’s basement and take a family vacation in Uncle Gary’s RV. Sounds great! What could possibly go wrong? Accidental trespassing on farms and baseball fields, water tubing mishaps, and an epic few days at Campers’ Eden Luxury Campground all make The Deep End one of the best Wimpy Kid books in the past few years. Kinney’s signature illustrations are as funny as ever.
THOUGHTS: Your readers will love Greg’s new adventures.
Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Black Brother, Black Brother. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-49380-2. 239 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8.
Donte Ellison is a biracial 7th grader at the exclusive Middlefield Prep. Treated unjustly because of his skin color, he is suspended from school for something he did not do. His older brother Trey is beloved at the school, and many wish Donte could be more like his lighter skinned brother. Looking for a place to belong, Donte joins a local youth center where he meets a former Olympic fencer, Arden Jones, who runs the programs for the kids. Donte, who has never been an athlete, starts training with Jones, and soon finds his niche as a fencer. But when Donte and his team have to compete against his school’s team, and the racist captain of the team whose family is the school’s largest donor, Donte has to confront his emotions, his bully, and the racism that surrounds his sport.
THOUGHTS: This book addresses many tough issues in a way that is completely appropriate for middle grade readers. At times I felt the book did not delve into the topics as much as I would have liked, but I think middle grade readers would not feel the same. Parker Rhodes is becoming a must purchase middle grade author!
Realistic FictionKrista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy
Staed, Rebecca. The List of Things that Will Not Change. Wendy Lamb Books, 2020. 978-1-101-93810-2. 218 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.
Bea was eight when her parents divorced and gave her a green notebook with a list of “Things that will not change” written into it. The first two items on the list are that her mom and dad will always love her and each other. Bea has been adding to that list ever since getting her notebook. The thing is, lots of things in Bea’s life are changing, and being the worrier that she is, it’s not always easy to adjust. Seeing her therapist helps, as does having both parents love and support her. When her dad tells her that he and his boyfriend are getting married, Bea is filled with excitement, for her father and his boyfriend, and for herself as Jesse has a daughter that is her age. Bea has always wanted a sister, but things aren’t as easy as Bea wishes. As the wedding gets closer, Bea comes to terms with her past secrets and the fact that things don’t always have to be perfect to be perfect for her.
THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection.
Realistic Fiction Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy
Twelve year old Alma, a once curious girl, hasn’t felt like herself since moving to the town of Four Points. Shortly after moving, Alma began having panic attacks, and though she’s managed to convince her parents that they stopped, they really haven’t. Instead of going out to explore like she used to love doing, Alma spends afternoons after school in her parents’ new law office. When she meets the reclusive shopkeeper of the Fifth Point, a local junk store with a legendary lookout on its roof, he gives Alma a quintescope. It seems like a sign when – while running out of school – Alma spots an astronomy club flyer on the door. Her curiosity piqued, Alma decides to stop by to see what the club is like. There she meets Hugo, a brilliant young mind who lacks some awareness of himself socially; Shirin, a girl who seems to be part of the popular crowd but doesn’t feel like she fits there; and Dustin, a boy who has more to himself than the bully like he seems. With a shared interest of helping the Starling, this group of misfits learns about each other while learning about more themselves.
THOUGHTS: With a lovable cast of characters, each with his or her own insecurities, Quintessence captures what it means to find oneself at a time in life where many struggle. Give this book to fans of the inexplicable, those who recently moved or are looking for a new friend, or those who need a little magic in their lives. This book deserves a place in all middle school library collections.
Kephart, Beth. The Great Upending. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-4814-9156-3. 259 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.
Sara has what she needs: her younger brother, Hawk, her parents, the family farm with all its wonder. Hawk is her best friend, and together they navigate life. When a gentleman rents the converted silo on the farm, Sara and Hawk are expressly told to not bother Mister. But, being 12- and 11-years old, they wonder, they spy, they uncover secrets. Sara also has those things in her life she wishes she didn’t have: a drought that is pushing the farm into bankruptcy, a heart condition requiring surgery, and Marfan syndrome, which has caused her to grow taller than her mother already. Sara is tired of being gawked at and whispered about when she is in town, and is miserable about the anxiety and strain her condition puts on her parents. The bankers have turned down a loan application, telling her father that the farm has no value as collateral, leaving the family struggling to find funds for her surgery. This is a secret Sara keeps from Hawk, which begins to put a strain on their relationship. However, the secret the siblings uncover about Mister just may change many lives. This is a lyrically written book first about family, then about the rare condition of Marfan syndrome. Sara’s voice is wonderfully nuanced, as she rockets between being a child and a girl with too many burdens for her age. Her and Hawk’s spying on Mister definitely crosses boundaries, but galvanizes the pair into a wild scheme in which Sara finds purpose and a way to forget about her health issues. Readers will fall in love with Sara and root for a happy ending for everyone.
THOUGHTS: This lovely book addresses a medical condition with which most people will not be familiar. But while Sara’s illness is the nudge that drives the plot, it does not take over. Sara is a memorable character who has Marfan syndrome, not because she has Marfan syndrome. The theme that shines throughout is the closeness of family. This story will linger after the last pages.
After being trapped for years by the evil Lady Aisling, who held comet-blessed individuals captive to make use of their unique magical abilities, Simone is free. A mind-reader, Simone was particularly prized by Lady Aisling. But while all of her friends are eventually reclaimed by their families, Simone has no one. She is grateful that her best friend, Sebastian, has taken her in, but Simone restlessly pines for a family she cannot remember. When an opportunity arises for Simone to research her family, in hopes of locating them, Simone is ecstatic. However, she becomes concerned when she learns of the existence of a body walker, one who can take over another’s body and will. All too soon the body walker strikes close to home, and the young pair must unmask its identity before it controls them as well. This mildly creepy story is aimed at young readers ready for a slightly more complex story. The plot emphasizes the loyalty Simone and Sebastian have for each other, as well as their continued difficulties overcoming their horrific existence at the hands of Lady Aisling. Connolly brings an interestingly moral viewpoint to possessing magical abilities. While readers may think mind-reading would be a fascinating ability, Simone stresses how overwhelming it can be to hear so many thoughts, and she strives to not accidentally invade an individual’s mental privacy. But when she needs to locate her missing friends and save them from harm, she gladly uses all her abilities. Book one of a duology, readers will be looking for book two to see how Simone and Sebastian’s story ends.
THOUGHTS: Rather like a good bedtime story, Hollow Dolls is just creepy enough for young or more timid readers not ready to dive into Goosebumps-type horror. This is a delightful transition-level book for those readers who want the next step up from early chapter books.
Newman, Magdalena, and Nathaniel Newman. Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-1-328-63183-1. 327 p. $16.99. Grades 7-8.
Nathaniel has always felt normal despite living with Treacher Collins syndrome (TC), a condition diagnosed at birth which causes bones in his face to grow and others not to grow, causing breathing and hearing difficulties. Nathaniel and Magda, Nathaniel’s mother, recount the story of his life from infancy to his teenage years. Throughout his life, Nathaniel had over sixty procedures to correct craniofacial differences caused by TC. Despite the challenges, Magda and her family were determined to give Nathaniel a normal childhood, full of video games, pets, bike riding, and sibling rivalries. When he turned 11, Nathaniel chose to have his largest procedure yet which would eventually allow him to reach a lifetime goal, to swim submerged in water for the first time. Each chapter begins with a black and white cartoon which entices readers to finish the chapter. The story is told from two perspectives, as indicated by different font styles for each narrator, and includes flashbacks to Magda’s life growing up in Poland. Both Nathaniel and Magda teach all children to separate “who someone is from what he looks like.”
THOUGHTS: Readers of R.J Palacio’s Wonder will easily recognize this story and will enjoy learning how the book and movie positively affected the lives of “Wonder Kids” around the world. Middle Grade readers interested in digging deeper into Teachers Collins syndrome or those who enjoy reading books about diverse kids, will enjoy Nathaniel’s and Magda’s story.
617.5 Medicine and Health Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD
White, Dianne. Green on Green. Beach Lane Books, 2020. 978-1-481-46278-5. 48 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.
Dianne White’s beautifully designed book, illustrated by award-winning Felicita Sala, is an ode to seasons and the colors they bring to the world. The most prominent color, however, is green, which makes an appearance in every season. Sometimes the color green is bold like in spring when the flowers are blooming and the grass is sparkling from a recent rainstorm; other times it is subtle like the snow-covered pines in winter or the color of a sweater in fall. White’s book celebrates the beauty of a year in nature while also showing the beauty of a year in the life of a family. As the seasons change, the family in the book spends time together, enjoying the different events each season brings – flower picking in the spring, seaside bathing in the summer, pumpkin picking in the fall, and wood chopping in the winter. The changes brought on in life are also punctuated by the mother, whose pregnant belly grows with each season until a sibling is born, and the older brother sees the beauty of sharing those seasonal family moments with him.
THOUGHTS: Green on Green is an interesting addition to other children’s books about seasons as it shows how changes in human life can parallel the changing seasons of nature. Children will enjoy searching for the lighthouse, featured on many pages as a permanent symbol of stability while everything else changes around it. With rhyming, musical prose paired with vibrant, detailed illustrations, readers of all ages can find joy reading about the changes each year brings in nature, family, and life.