Elem. – The Perfect Shelter

Welsh, Clare Helen. The Perfect Shelter. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-68464-050-8. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades K-3.

The Perfect Shelter follows two sisters who are trying to make the perfect shelter outside; however, something is wrong. One sister is sick, and the other sister has to deal with the consequences of her sister being sick and not being able to build the perfect shelter with her. As the story progresses, the sisters decide to build a shelter inside because “it’s the perfect place to build a shelter.” The illustrations show the progression of the older sister’s sickness, as well as how the family handles and deals with it. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful.

THOUGHTS: I loved how the ending of this book doesn’t promise a happy ending, merely that the family will just be together. This book could be a great conversation starter for a child who is dealing with someone in their family having an illness, or if they personally have an illness. The family is drawn as being interracial, which I also loved that representation.

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Elsie

Robert, Nadine. Elsie. Abrams, 2020. 978-1-419-74072-5. Unpaged. $16.99. Grades K-2. 

On nice and sunny Sundays, the seven siblings in the Filpot bunny family go fishing. Elsie doesn’t quite fit in with her older siblings–she would rather stay at home than go fishing. She’s a unique personality with her own way of doing things. This can cause conflict with her siblings, who try to convince her to do things the “right” way. Elsie would rather walk along the brook when the rest of the family wants to to walk through the woods. When Elsie wants to bait her hook with a buttercup, her siblings (who prefer traditional bait) exclaim that she shouldn’t do it and it won’t work! When the family eats their lunch, Elsie wants to feed her sandwiches to the ducklings. But when Elsie catches a large fish with her buttercup bait, her siblings realize that Elsie’s ideas, though different from their own, have merit and should be respected and valued. The text is enhanced by the detailed tempera and watercolor illustrations of Maja Kastelic. Each bunny has a unique appearance and the woodland setting is filled with flora and fauna to engage the attention of the reader.

THOUGHTS: This delightful bunny tale would make an ideal read aloud choice and could easily be integrated into lessons on respecting others opinions and viewpoints, acceptance, individuality, and more. Highly recommended.

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – The Sea in Winter

Day, Christine. The Sea in Winter. Heartdrum, 2021. 978-0-062-87204-3. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Seventh grader Maisie isn’t having a great day just before her school’s midwinter break. She’s tardy to homeroom, and she earned a 70 on her most recent math test. A break from school and a family trip back home will be good “heart medicine.” Maisie could use a distraction from eating lunch alone and getting text updates from her ballet friends who she no sees. Maisie isn’t sure how to respond, so she usually doesn’t. Things start to look up when her physical therapist suggests that Maisie’s recovery from a torn ACL and surgery might be moving faster than initially anticipated. This news gives Maisie hope; she’s missed ballet and her friends so much, and she might even be able to make a few spring auditions if she keeps progressing. With this news (and a green light for hiking) Maisie’s family heads to the Olympic Peninsula to explore some areas that are important to their Native family. Maisie’s stormy emotions seem to get the best of her at times, and she’s not sure why she says some of the things she does. When Maisie’s frustration reaches a peak, she’ll have to decide who she wants to be, even if that doesn’t include ballet.

THOUGHTS: Upper elementary and middle school students will adore Maisie and recognize the roller coaster of emotions she experiences. Maisie’s little brother provides comic relief to some of her emotional “funks,” and her parents are extremely supportive. #OwnVoices author Day addresses negative self talk and depression in an age appropriate way that will resonate with students. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Again Again

Lockhart, e. Again Again. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-385-74479-9. 286 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up.

After moving and family upheaval, Adelaide Buchwald is trying to find herself. It’s the summer between her junior and senior years, and she has taken a job as a dog walker (and watcher). As she deals with the dogs, her family dysfunction, lack of motivation and focus, a serious breakup, and a new crush, Adelaide reconciles herself with the “what is” but wishes for the “what could be.” When she meets Nick (or re-meets him), she begins to fantasize about how things should be or could be while trying to ignore what is. When Adelaide finally realizes that she must face who she is and what actually is, instead of “who she could be” or “what could be,” she begins the process of forgiveness: forgiveness of herself; forgiveness of her parents; forgiveness of her brother, and forgiveness of what will not be.

THOUGHTS: Again Again is a fun magical realism, romance. Adelaide plays through every situation in the hope of the best outcome (or possibly the worst outcomes). This trait may be very familiar to readers, especially teens, which adds to the connection to Adelaide; she is an easily understandable character. The text font changes as situations change from reality to Adelaide’s imagination. This is harder to follow when listening to the audio book, which is excellent, but easy to see when looking at the print novel. This is a sure-to-please lighthearted romance for all ages.

Romance          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD
Magical Realism

MG – Lux: The New Girl

Woodfolk, Ashley. Lux: The New Girl. Penguin Workshop. 2020. 978-0-593-09602-4. 139 pp. $15.99. Grades 6-9.

Lux Ruby Lawson has had a default setting – pissed – ever since her dad left. She was kicked out of her old school for fighting, and her mom has put her on notice: if she messes up again, she’ll have to go live with the father who walked out on her, the same father who just welcomed a new baby girl. Lux wants to stay out of trouble, but when a classmate pushes her too far the ensuing scuffle is captured on multiple cell phone cameras. Lux is expelled and relocated to her dad’s apartment. Through a connection and a strong interview, she’s accepted at Augusta Savage School of the Arts in Harlem, to pursue her interest in photography. She makes friends with the “Flyy Girls,” Noelle, Tobyn, and Micah (each of whom takes center stage in subsequent installments of the Flyy Girls series). But Lux worries about what will happen if the videos of the fight resurface and her new friends discover the past she’s kept hidden. Ashley Woodfolk packs a lot into just 141 pages: family dynamics, friend drama, mild romance, school pranks, and even a photography assignment for the school paper. Each character’s personality is vibrant and distinct, and Lux is believably flawed. Her evolution, from a girl who settles scores with a punch to a more mature friend and daughter, is the endearing core of the novel.

THOUGHTS: Lux: The New Girl is an excellent hi-lo series starter to add to school library collections, and more importantly to read and discuss with students. It would pair well with Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence by Joel Christian Gill for a professional book study.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – The Willoughbys Return

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

MG – Random Acts of Kittens

Mendez, Yamile Said. Random Acts of Kittens. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-57492-0. 258 p. $6.99. Grades 4-6. 

Natalia finds a young cat who has just given birth to kittens in her family’s storage shed. She knows she can’t leave the cats in the freezing cold storage shed, so she brings them in the house when her abuela, mother, and sister are out. After getting them checked out by a vet, Natalia convinces her mom to let her foster the cats until the kittens are old enough to adopt. Natalia has been struggling with several issues in her life–her father has been deployed overseas, she’s gotten into some trouble at school and she’s had a falling out with one of her best friends. Maybe working with the kittens will be the positive and purposeful experience she needs at this moment in her life. Working with her friend Reuben, she sets up a social media account for the kittens in the hopes that some of her classmates will apply to adopt a kitten and give them a fur-ever home. Natalia soon discovers, however, that serving as a kitten matchmaker is a little more complicated than she first thought.

THOUGHTS: Hand this title to middle grade fans of animal stories. Readers will appreciate the details about fostering and caring for young kittens. Natalia’s experiences with friend and school drama will also ring true with many readers.

Realistic Fiction           Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – The List of Things that Will Not Change

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

YA – A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

Jackson, Holly. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. Delacorte Press. 2020. 978-1-984-89636-0. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Pippa Fitz-Amobi is a good girl: high achiever, faithful friend, devoted daughter, and big sister. So it’s a bit out of character for her to solve a murder for her senior capstone project, especially because it’s one that’s already been solved. Five years ago, high school senior Andie Bell disappeared from their small town of Fairfield, Connecticut. Her body was never found, but the remains of her boyfriend, Salil “Sal” Singh, were discovered in the woods along with evidence that he had killed Andie and then committed suicide out of guilt. Pippa’s instincts, honed on true crime podcasts and documentaries, tell her that Sal is innocent. She aims to raise enough doubts about Sal’s guilt to convince the police to revisit the case. With the help of Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, Pippa susses out one lead after another, untangling clues and connections hidden within interview transcripts, journal entries, and text messages. Meanwhile someone with much to lose is watching their every move — and he (or she?) is unafraid to follow through on threats against what Pippa holds dearest when she refuses to stop digging. Holly Jackson skillfully weaves the elements of a solid mystery into her debut: suspense, red herrings, breathless amateur surveillance, and even a spooky dark alley. A huge twist, revealed just when the crimes have seemingly been solved, propels the pace right to the final page.

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans, take note: You’ll be hooked from the “Murder Map” that appears on page 29! This fast-paced whodunnit is perfect for fans of Karen M. McManus’ thrillers, especially Two Can Keep a Secret. Note that this novel’s potentially sensitive topics include suicide, sexual assault, and an animal in peril.

Mystery          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Pippa Fitz-Amobi has everything going for her: She’s a good student with good friends and a great family. Pip is a “good girl,” and she can’t help but notice how local missing (presumed murdered but never found) Andie Bell also seemed like a good girl. A fan of true crime podcasts and documentaries, Pip can’t ignore the feeling that the five year old murder/suicide of two local teens has some gaps in its investigation. She knew Sal when she was younger, and he couldn’t have possibly killed Andie then himself. Or did he? Though she sells it to her advisor as a look at how media sensationalizing can impact an investigation, Pip decides her senior capstone project will be to look into the Andie Bell case. As she uncovers one clue after the next, she begins to hope that she can prove Sal’s innocence. When Pip receives a threat telling her to stop digging, she knows she must be onto something. Then again, maybe someone is just playing a sick joke. Getting closer to Sal’s little brother Ravi during her investigation doesn’t help Pip keep her feelings separate from the case. When a threat hits close to home, Pip is ready to give up. She might be paranoid, but it seems like someone in Fairview doesn’t want her to keep looking. Told throughout Pip’s investigation, readers will be on the edge of their seats to learn what really happened to Andie Bell and if Pip will successfully complete her project.

THOUGHTS: Told in a variety of formats, readers will not want to put down this fast-paced mystery. The full cast audiobook is excellent. Fans of other YA Thrillers by authors like Karen M. McManus, April Henry, and Gretchen McNeil will be happy to have a new author to enjoy. Mature topics (drug use, drinking, and suicide) make this one best suited for high school readers.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – The Cousins

McManus, Karen M. The Cousins. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-525-70800-1. 336 p. $22.99. Grades 7-12.

It begins with a most unexpected letter. Teen cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah are invited to spend the summer on Gull Island, the resort home of their wealthy WASP grandmother, Mildred Story, the woman who, decades before, cut off all contact with her children, enigmatically telling them, “You know what you did.” Except the three brothers and their sister have always denied knowing what their mother meant. Now the adult siblings, encouraged by this gesture, bribe, threaten, and cajole the cousins to accept the offer, for a variety of personal reasons, including, but not necessarily limited to, possible access to the immense Story fortune. Sweet Aubrey, bearing a traditional Story family name; sophisticated Milly, named after her grandmother; and extremely disgruntled Jonah meet up on the ferry ride to the island, pondering what the summer will hold. None of them envisions the events that unfold. But when one of the first people they encounter on the island tells them “you shouldn’t have come back,” the cousins become reluctant allies, uncovering lost family history and learning exactly what happened all those years ago. McManus presents another tour de force with her fourth young adult mystery. This character driven plot has the feel of a classic Agatha Christie. Breathtaking suspense takes a back seat as Aubrey, Milly, and Jonah, burdened with parental legacies, expectations, and disappointments, cautiously open up to each other, shedding secrets and personas molded by family legacy. Plot twists keep the reader guessing until the tempestuous climax, but the journey is the true star in this book.

THOUGHTS: McManus just keeps getting better. A first purchase for all middle school and high school collections, and multiple copies will be needed. 

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Cousins Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story did not grow up enjoying extended family vacations on Gull Island or at the resort home of their wealthy grandmother. Instead each has had to deal with a parent who is still – years later – dealing with the fallout of being disinherited by their mother, matriarch Mildred Story. Cut off with only a message of “You know what you did.” the story children are left to fend for themselves which, given their upbringing, they were not prepared to do. When the cousins each receive a postcard from their grandmother inviting them to work on Gull Island’s resort for the summer, they have mixed reactions. Their parents, however, insist. It’s the opportunity to get back into their mother’s good graces, and they’ve been waiting decades. Forced together, the cousins arrive on Gull Island only to be told they “shouldn’t have come back.” They bond together to make the best of their circumstances and learn more about the family they never got to know.

THOUGHTS: This one will keep readers guessing, and fans of McManus’s other books will be happy with this new mystery. A must have for middle and high school libraries.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Twenty-four years ago the Story children were disowned by their mother, Mildred. The children, Adam, Asher, Allison, and Archer received a note with just five words: “You know what you did.” The problem was, and still is, that none of them know what the note means.  Now, 24 years later, the children of Adam, Asher, and Allison received letters inviting them to Gull Coast Island on behalf of their estranged grandmother to work in the resort’s Towhee program. The cousins have not seen each other in years, so when Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah meet up on the ferry to Gull Coast Island, it is as though they are meeting for the first time. As they are introduced to their new boss, Carson, their grandmother arrives and appears very surprised to see them. When Mildred immediately leaves for two weeks, Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah begin to question the entire situation. Who sent the letters inviting them to Gull Coast Island? Why is their grandmother so elusive? What happened over 20 years ago that has kept their grandmother away? But, it isn’t until they are finally introduced to Mildred and a night out that the cousins truly begin to delve deep into the history of the Story family. Told through alternating chapters from Milly, Aubrey, Jonah, and Allison in 1996, The Cousins looks at secrets kept to protect family and secrets hidden to expose mistakes.

THOUGHTS: Karen M. McManus once again weaves a thrilling tale of lies, secrets, and deceit.  Mystery and detective fiction lovers will devour this novel.

Mystery        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD