Yoo, Taeeun. Love Makes a Garden Grow. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-534-44286-3. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.
Among a garden full of beautiful blooms and lush greens, a young girl grows. With a watchful, loving eye, her grandfather cares for her and his plentiful plants. The two favor different flowers – she peonies, he orchids – but they care for the garden together, humming to the plants. Surrounded by plants, the little girl feels her grandfather’s love. As she grows and experiences life’s changes – like moving away and eventually having a family of her own – plants make her feel like she is loved and home.
THOUGHTS: This sweet intergenerational story would be perfect to celebrate grandparent’s day. Stunning pencil illustrations are brought to life with digital coloring. Highly recommended.
Divine Rivals introduces us to Iris whose brother has just left to fight in a war that is being waged between gods. Iris is trying her best at home, but with their mother addicted to alcohol and her job as a writer for a newspaper not going as well as she thought it would, things look bleak. In order to make things seem a little better, she writes letters to her brother that she slips under her wardrobe. However, the person who writes her back isn’t her brother… and she isn’t exactly sure who this mysterious person is. When Iris ends up at the front lines, with her rival from the newspaper Roman, she is forced to confront lots of things she has been ignoring.
THOUGHTS: This is a great young adult fantasy that has an extremely unique plot line, with wonderfully written characters. This will appeal to lots of readers, especially fans of Sarah J. Maas or Cassandra Clare.
Polacco, Patricia. Palace of Books. A Paula Wiseman Book, 2023. 978-1-5344-5131-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.
Palace of Books follows Patricia Polacco’s journey moving from Indiana to Battle Creek, Michigan and how she discovered her local public library. It is also the story of how she discovered John James Audubon and how her love of drawing birds really flourished and grew into a bird club that started at the school she attended and continued for over 60 years. The illustrations are very classic Patricia Polacco and encourage the reader to go back through the book multiple times. There is an author note at the end of the book, which really brings the whole story into perspective and gives the reader more insight.
THOUGHTS: Patricia Polacco books should automatically be added to every elementary collection, and this one is no different. I highly recommend adding this book to your collection.
Sprangler, Brie. Fox Point’s Own Gemma Hopper. Alfred A. Knopf, 2023. 978-0-593-42849-8. 248 p. $21.99. Grades 4-8.
Gemma Hopper is trying to keep her life running smoothly, but that is not easy since her mother left. Gemma is in charge of all the household chores as well as looking out for her younger twin brothers while her father works several jobs to make ends meet. Her older brother, Teddy, is a baseball sensation and will be leaving soon to join a baseball league in Florida. It seems as though everyone has forgotten that Gemma also has a love for the sport, and in fact, she is quite talented. She feels overshadowed by her brother. Will baseball be the thing that saves her and her family, or will it destroy everything?
THOUGHTS: This is such a great graphic novel with a focus on family, friendship, and hope. Middle grade students will be drawn to this book.
Shrum, Brianna R., and Sara Waxelbaum. Margo Zimmerman Gets the Girl. Inkyard Press, 2023. 978-1-335-45365-5 . 304 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.
During a party game of spin the bottle – with her boyfriend Chad in the circle – Margo Zimmerman realizes something: She really likes kissing Viv Carter. Margo is gay. After doing research on how to be part of the gay culture and lifestyle, really a few months of failed internet searches, Margo goes to a local club’s teen night dressed in her gayest attire. Pushing her autism brain aside, Margo gives it her best shot and fails epically. All she manages to do is amuse fellow swimmer Abbie Sokoloff, a queer classmate with quite a reputation. Determined to learn from the best, Margo asks Abbie to teach Margo her how to be gay. It isn’t until Abbie needs something from Margo – help improving her grade in AP US History class to prevent the revoking of her admission to Florida International University – that the two strike a deal. Gay tutoring for AP US tutoring, and Margo is more than ready to learn and to school Abbie. As the two (from very different groups at school) get to know each other, they also become friends, possibly more. But do opposites attract and can these two very different teens open up to each other, or will this friendship implode?
THOUGHTS: Readers will root for both of these characters and their quirks as they get to know each other and themselves. With graduation only a few months away and mature relationships, this romance is best suited for high school readers.
Hassani, Mojdeh, and Samira Iravani. Mama Shamsi at the Bazaar. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-0-593-11061-4. $18.99. 40 pages. Grades PK-2.
Samira is a sweet young girl who is heading out to the bazaar in Tehran for the very first time, accompanied by her beloved grandmother. Samir is nervous. What will the bazaar be like? Will it be crowded? Loud? Samira begs to wrap up in her grandmother’s chador, where she will be safe and comfortable. Grandmother gently amuses Samira by explaining that wrapped in the chador with the girl, the two would look like a turtle, a kangaroo, even a giraffe. Grandmother recommends instead that the two hold hands and stick close together to get the shopping done. Samira is no longer afraid.
THOUGHTS: This mother-daughter author team wanted to write a children’s book demystifying the veil. In the author notes each describes their own memories of playing within the loving warmth and comfort of their grandmother’s chador as children. The book depicts a beautiful grandparent relationship full of love and wisdom. While amusing her young charge, the grandmother distracts Samir with comical descriptions to ease her fears. Gentle, delightful illustrations by Maya Fidawi.
Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Sunshine. Scholastic, 2023. 978-1-338-35631-1. 240 p. $14.99. Grades 9-12
Sunshine, a graphic novel by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, follows Jarrett during his senior year in high school as he volunteers at a camp for kids who are seriously ill with their families. He was worried that the camp would be sad and depressing; however, Jarrett finds Camp Sunshine to be the opposite. He finds joy and happiness in the camp, and he meets some amazing families, which he keeps in touch with throughout his life. There is an author note at the end of the book with more information about the camp as well as the families that Jarrett met while he was there. The illustrations are gray at times, but with these spots of yellow that brighten the illustrations as well as the reader’s mood as they go through the story.
THOUGHTS: The reader will be hard pressed not to have tears in their eyes by the end of this touching graphic memoir. A must read for every high school student, as well as for anyone who loved Hey, Kiddo.
McNeil, Gretchen. Dig Two Graves. Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-07284-7. 352 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.
Neve’s life seemed to derail from the moment her dad had a mental health breakdown and couldn’t return to his IT job, forcing their family to move into Grandma K’s old house in Carlsbad, CA where Neve’s mom grew up. Things were looking up for a while when Neve and Yasmin, a recent Chicago transplant, became friends. That turned out to be disastrous, and now Neve is even more of a social pariah at school. Before Yasmin, Neve already was considered an outcast due to her love of classic black-and-white film noir and its fashion which earned Neve the nickname “I Love Lucy.” With no friends and an offer of one year’s college tuition plus room and board from Grandma K, Neve accepts a spot at GLAM Camp (Girls Leadership and Mentorship). While her mom (a former GLAMster) and Grandma K think GLAM will be a great reset before senior year, all Neve sees upon arrival are the types of girls she’d love to avoid. But no one at GLAM knows Yasmin, so even among a sea of fancy luggage and peppy girls, maybe it won’t be all that bad. Neve seems to luck out with her roommate Inara, a returning GLAMster who wears an impressive amount of plaid, but it’s Diane who captures Neve’s attention. Though polar opposites, the two bond over the ways they’ve been wronged by others, and by the end of GLAM they’re the best of friends. When a late night confessional on the last night of camp ends in a bargain – “if I took care of Yasmin and you got rid of Javier” – Neve suddenly feels uncomfortable, but of course it’s just exaggerated, exhausted conversation among friends. No one actually would get rid of anyone, right? But when Neve returns to school and everyone suspects her of foul play, a text from an unrecognizable number, “Your turn, BFF.” chills Neve to the bone. Was Diane serious, and will Neve have to keep her end of the bargain or is there another explanation for this mess she’s gotten herself in?
THOUGHTS: Hand this character driven thriller to classic film fans and those who like books by April Henry (Two Truths and a Lie)or Karen McManus (Nothing More to Tell). Recommended for high school collections where stand alone mysteries are in demand.
In the knobs of rural Kentucky, life always has been just Miri and her dad Poe. Despite Miri’s mom’s death, they’ve lived a good life, off the grid and not glamorous by any means, away from everything. Known locally as the Wizard for his skills with fixing things, especially bikes, Miri understands there are other reasons that Poe is called the Wizard, but she doesn’t ask for any details. Miri’s only friend is Clay. Poe has looked out for Clay and given him odd jobs, since Clay’s mom was sent upstate for cooking crystal meth. Fen, whose mom wanted him away from bad influences in Detroit, just arrived in Paradise, Kentucky to live with his dad. When Miri runs into Fen – almost literally – she decides he may be her ticket out of Paradise. Clay, like Poe, doesn’t trust strangers and doesn’t appreciate Miri’s new interest in Fen. As the two spend more and more time together, Clay becomes more agitated. With an Appalachian town overrun by the opioid epidemic and teens trying to navigate their surroundings and futures, it seems like there may not be a happy ending for anyone.
THOUGHTS: The alternating perspectives with each chapter will draw readers into a story of teenage insecurities. With an underlying mystery, readers will be hooked as they race towards an explosive ending. Recommended for high school collections, especially for reluctant readers.
Realistic Fiction Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Raman, Akshaya. The Ivory Key. Clarion Books, 2022. 978-0-358-46833-2. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 7-12.
Magic in Ashoka is running out. Vira, the young maharani, is desperate to keep this secret from the rest of the country. Her only hope is to find the Ivory Key and live up to her mother’s legacy. Legend says the key will lead to a new source of magic. However, Vira cannot find the key on her own, and she isn’t the only one who is after it. Vira’s siblings, Ronak, Kaleb, and Riya, embark on this adventure with her, but the siblings have their own plans for the key. For Kalab, his knowledge of the key freed him from his prison cell, and his involvement isn’t so much as a choice as it is a path to freedom. For Ronak, he sees it as his escape from his royal duties and knows others who would pay handsomely for it, and although Riya has returned to her siblings, she believes that all of the people of Ashoka deserve this magic and longs to return to her new family of thieves fighting against the royal family. Four siblings, and one key. If they find it, will this new magic be enough to save both their country and their family?
THOUGHTS: In this Indian inspired fantasy, readers will enjoy the adventure that the four conflicting siblings embark on together as well as the mystery, traps, and puzzles surrounding the ivory key. The surprise ending should leave readers impatiently waiting for the final book in this duology.