MG – Frankie & Bug

Forman, Gayle. Frankie & Bug. Aladdin, 2021. 978-1-534-48253-1. 288 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Tired of experiencing life in 2021? Jump back to the summer of 1987, before social media, cell phones, and when summer break meant kids had an opportunity to get bored. Bug was all ready to go to the beach every day with her brother, but he was too cool for that now. While she was moping about, her upstairs neighbor informed her that his nephew would be coming to stay for the summer. Though they don’t hit it off at first, Frankie and Bug cover a lot of ground as ten and eleven year olds in Venice Beach. From sleuthing to try uncover the midnight marauder to a lesson or two in self identity, Frankie and Bug discover the importance of being true to yourself and family is who you surround yourself with.

THOUGHTS: A fantastic addition to middle level libraries. It’s a relief to read a story without the burden of current times, but one that still hits a lot of major themes. The story includes LGBTQ+ and Hispanic representation in an age appropriate manner.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem./MG – Big Shot

Kinney, Jeff. Big Shot (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). Amulet Books, 2021. 978-1-419-74915-5. 217 p. $13.99. Grades 3-6. 

Greg Heffley’s never been much of a joiner or a kid who enjoys hard work and exercise, but his middle school field day earns the winning homeroom a day off school! Student trading, super pumped lunch ladies, and disastrous trips to the gym with his dad are all part of Greg’s field day, but his mom decides afterwards that Greg could use some experience as part of a real team and encourages him to choose a sport to try. Greg, sensing he’ll easily be cut from the team, chooses basketball. Greg’s worst nightmare happens when another team is formed from all the kids who were cut, and Greg is forced to live out the rest of the basketball season on a series of teams doomed for failure. Somehow, Jeff Kinney continues to make hilarious Greg Heffley adventures.

THOUGHTS: Venturing into the sports world with Greg will be sure to give your readers some good laughs. 

Humor          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem. – The Longest Storm

Yaccarino, Dan. The Longest Storm. Minedition, 2021. 978-1-662-65047-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-2.

When a storm rolls in, a family must stay at home and figure out how to live together without getting on one another’s nerves. At first, this proves difficult, and the family struggles to get along. However, when the power goes out one particularly scary night, they all apologize to one another and things gradually improve until the storm ultimately passes. 

THOUGHTS: This book clearly was written as a reflection on the recent disruption of familial routines during the COVID-19 pandemic. I love the hopeful message it offers readers: humans are resilient, and the love of family can carry one through any storm, whether it be a pandemic, an illness, the death of a loved one, or any other hardship. Hand this book to any young reader who is going through a rough patch and needs some reassurance.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem./MG – Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

Dobbs, Alda P. Barefoot Creams of Petra Luna. Sourcebooks Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-728-23465-6. $17.99. 288 p. Grades 4-7.

Set in 1913 during the time of the Mexican Revolution, twelve-year-old Petra’s father is captured by soldiers. She promises him that she will help take care of her grandmother and two younger siblings. When it is no longer safe for them to stay in their village, they decide to flee north through the Mexican desert to safety, and America. Petra’s dreams of finding a safe haven for her family and learning to read burn within her. Her dreams persist through her abuelita’s negative talk of Petra’s “barefoot dreams” of freedom and education. Petra’s persistence keeps her family going and leads them to safety and realized dreams in America. This is based on a true story and includes a timeline of the Mexican Revolution.

THOUGHTS: I read this story after reading the “grown up” book American Dirt. Even though that story is set in present day, Barefoot Dreams would be an excellent companion read for upper elementary students who are looking for a story about immigration and the reasons behind why people leave their war torn countries.  

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

MG -Down to Earth

Culley, Betty. Down to Earth. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-593-17573-6. 210 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

9-year-old Henry Bowers is worried about whether he will be a dowser. His family has worked the land, quarried for granite, and drilled for water in rural Maine for generations, and many of them have a unique talent for dowsing, or finding water through the use of a forked stick and instinct. While Henry worries about his upcoming 10th birthday, the birthday when dowsers find out if they have the knack for dowsing or not, he carries on with his quiet life, including taking care of his sister Birdie and recording his observations about rocks in his homeschooling journal. Then one night, Henry witnesses a very large meteorite fall into his backyard, and he feels an instant connection with the huge lump of space rock. The meteorite turns out to be both a problem and a blessing for Henry and his town, and ultimately, his connection to the meteorite helps him discover who he is and what he wants to do with his young life.

THOUGHTS: This is a heartwarming story about a thoughtful boy who finds himself and his unique gifts through acts of helping others. Henry and his family are loving people who endure hardships with grace, and the pace of the book matches the soothing pace with which they seem to live life. Vague allusions to the healing powers of water “called” by the meteorite are sprinkled throughout this book, but the emphasis on facts from encyclopedia and book entries, a visit from a scientist from the American Museum of Natural History, and Henry’s own journal of science questions keep the story believable and rooted in realism.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – Nina Soni: Master of the Garden

Sheth, Kashmira. Nina Soni: Master of the Garden.  Peachtree, 2021. 978-1-682-63226-0. $7.99. 179 p. Grades 2-4.

Fourth grader Nina is very excited to finally get a warm and sunny Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day in frigid Wisconsin.  This means she and her sister and friend will get to plant a garden with her Landscape Architect mom! Nina has dreams of starting her own business with all of the extra produce their garden will grow. But gardens take time to grow, and a lot of work as well.  Throughout this illustrated novel, challenging words are defined to help promote unfamiliar vocabulary words.

THOUGHTS: Kids who enjoy outdoor activities and gardening will enjoy this read.

Realistic Fiction           Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

MG/YA – Simone Breaks All the Rules

Rigaud, Debbie. Simone Breaks All the Rules. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-68172-1. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Simone Thibodeaux is tired of her overprotective Haitian parents, and when they arrange her prom date with a son of a suitable Haitian family, it is the last straw. She decides the end of her senior year at St. Clare Academy, a largely white, all-girls school, is the perfect time to start experiencing life. She enlists two classmates with similar parental issues, Indian-American Amite and Kira, the white daughter of a notorious lawyer. The trio dub themselves HomeGirls, and create a Senior Playlist of challenges and accomplishments, including going to a house party, cutting class, and changing up their style. And then there is prom. Simone works feverishly to keep her parents thinking she is going to prom with Ben, the polite Haitian boy, while lining up her own date with Gavin, a hot guy from the affiliated boys school. But why is it so hard to be herself around Gavin, and so comfortable to be with Ben? Readers will fall for Simone from the first pages. Her voice is fresh, humorous, and authentic. Anyone with parents will relate and sympathize with Simone and her girlfriends. However, along the way to ditching her parents, Simone comes to appreciate her Haitian heritage and culture, and realize how much she does love her mom, as trying as she may be. The book celebrates the value of good friends (and how not to lose them) and the families who love us. Haitian culture and Haitian Creole language are sprinkled throughout the book, deftly adding to the depiction of the New York area Haitian-American community.

THOUGHTS:  This delightful rom-com is perfect for middle school as well as high school, with nothing more dangerous than a few chaste kisses, and clubbing occurs as a teen venue serving “mocktails.”

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Ninja Kid: From Nerd to Ninja

Do, Anh. Ninja Kid: From Nerd to Ninja!  Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-58523-0. $6.99. 192 p. Grades 2-5.

This illustrated novel for younger readers tells the story of Nelson, a nerd from Duck Creek. Nelson wakes up on his tenth birthday and discovers that he’s a ninja! The last ninja on earth! With the help of his grandmother’s inventions, Nelson finds a way to save the day from giant hairy spiders invading his town. He even learns of family secrets about his father’s ninja past and disappearance. This is the first book in a new series.

THOUGHTS: This illustrated novel is action packed and will appeal to reluctant readers. The humor and common theme of not fitting in will resonate.

Early Chapter Book          Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

Elem. – Memory Jars

Brosgol, Vera. Memory Jars. Roaring Book Press, 2021. 978-1-250-31487-1 48 p. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Freda is disappointed when she cannot eat all the blueberries that she picked with her grandmother. Blueberry season is over, and she has to wait an entire year to eat them again! Gran reminds her that she saves blueberries in a jar by turning them into delicious jam. What a delightful idea! Freda begins to wonder- if she can preserve blueberries in jars, why not everything else in her life that are her favorite things? Things such as warm cookies, poppies (her favorite flower), her neighbor’s beautiful singing voice, her best friend that is moving away, or the full moon. Only after she bottles everything up in mason jars does Freda realize that saving everything also means she cannot enjoy those very same things. Memory Jars, a picture book written and illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Vera Brosgol, is the perfect story to remind readers that some things are best saved as beautiful memories.

THOUGHTS: Memory Jars is written as a fable, complete with a satisfying lesson and delicious blueberry jam recipe at the end. The story is clever and charming as Freda learns that enjoying the moment is the best way to make memories. This book would be a perfect way to walk down memory lane to remember fun memories from a summer break, remember a loved one, or remember memories from a fun school year.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

MG – Glitter Gets Everywhere

Clark, Yvette. Glitter Gets Everywhere. Harper, 2021. 978-0-063-03448-8. 308 p. $15.15. Grades 5-8.

Kitty has barely had time to process her mother’s illness and death from cancer. Her dad can’t possibly be serious about taking her and her older sister, Imogen, from their home in London to New York City for four months. Everything that reminds her of her mum is in London. If they leave, will she be leaving her mother’s memory also? And as if it isn’t already awkward being the new kid with the funny accent, how is she supposed to explain to the PTA moms that her own mum will not be joining them on the committee for the Halloween dance? New York City seems destined to be a disaster, but just because so much is new doesn’t mean Kitty has to say goodbye to the old. Maybe some distance is just what Kitty needs to start the healing process.

THOUGHTS: It can hit a school hard when a student loses a parent, and unfortunately, it happens all too often. Glitter Gets Everywhere is an excellent book to have on your shelves for that student who needs to read about grief in a way that does not tie it up in a neat bow, but rather shows that it is messy, ongoing, and devastating, and like glitter thrown into the air, reminders are everywhere. But like Kitty, they too can find a way to make their new reality the new normal.

Realistic Fiction                            Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD