MG – The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II

Rosen, Michael. The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II. Candlewick, 2020. 9781536212891. 128 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

The Missing tells one man’s quest to find more information on his family that has been spread across multiple countries and just as many assumptions on what happened to some of the family members after the war. The short chapter book is written in chronological order, and most chapters end with a poem or part of a poem written by the author. Although a lot of specific information regarding World War II, especially from an English perspective, will be novel to most readers, most of it is specific to the author and his family. The abridged poems fit nicely with the topic covered in the previous chapter and are moving. In fact, the poetry could probably stand along as a more moving piece of literature, instead of including the granular details of uncovering the history of the Rosen family. The language is simplistic and the content is covered in a way that is not traumatic for young readers. Most helpful is the list of further reading at the end of the book, as well as some photos, including some letters.

THOUGHTS: In an already rather overpopulated genre, this title is recommended strictly for upper elementary or middle school libraries who feel a need to expand on their World War II collection.

940 Holocaust          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – What I Like About You

Kanter, Marisa. What I Like About You. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-44577-2. $18.99. 409 p. Grades 7-12.

Halle Levitt and her brother Ollie have just moved in with their grandpa. She will spend her senior year in a new small town and new school while her parents jet off to another country to film their newest documentary. Halle struggles, along with her Gramps, to be in the house without her Grams who passed away just a few years ago. It was her Grams that inspired her love of reading and baking, and when Halle isn’t studying for her SATs or applying for college at NYU, she connects with her online best friend, Nash, and updates her online blog called One True Pastry. Online, Halle is known as Kels, and she’s famous for her YA book reviews and her cupcake book cover creations. When Halle meets Nash in real life and discovers he lives in the same town as her Gramps, she decides not to tell him that she’s also his online best friend, Kels. Halle and Nash grow closer, but Halle needs to find the courage to tell him who she really is and hopes that he’ll like real-life, awkward Halle as much as he likes online, confident Kels.

THOUGHTS: What I Like About You reminds me of a YA version of the movie You’ve Got Mail. Halle’s decision to keep her Kels identity from Nash is frustrating, especially when he feels guilty about liking Halle while also keeping his crush on Kels. This book not only focuses on romantic relationships, but on family relationships as well. I love how close Halle is to her brother Ollie, and together they help their Gramps overcome the loss of their beloved Grams, and although Halle and Ollie are Jewish, their busy parents never had much time for their family to be a part of a Jewish community, like they can be with Gramps. Anyone that loves books will connect with Halle, Nash, and their online friends, and after finishing this sweet, romantic story, you might be inspired to whip a batch of cupcakes for yourself. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – Can You See Me?

Scott, Libby, and Rebecca Westcott. Can You See Me? Scholastic.2020. 978-1-338-60891-5. 358 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Co-authored by Rebecca Westcott and Libby Scott, an eleven-year old neuro-diverse girl, Can You See Me? uniquely captures the inner feelings of Tally Adams, an autistic British sixth grader. Through Tally’s eyes, the reader learns of the frustrations and perceptions an autistic person experiences navigating teachers, friends, and family while transitioning to the more sophisticated world of middle school. Luke, a classmate suffering from his own trauma, bullies Tally because he unwittingly views her autism as weird. Tally receives the brunt of Luke’s anger and loses her few friends when she tells the teacher Luke stole the answers to an upcoming quiz. As Tally tries to fit in at school and adjust her behavior at home, she finds comfort and courage in wearing a tiger mask and companionship in the old, three-legged dog the family is taking care of for their elderly, sick neighbor. Tally is a treasured part of a loving and supportive family, but she sometimes tries the patience of her father and older sister, Nell. Westcott and Scott do a fine job creating a window into the world of autism as well as providing tips for how to cope best with the autistic personality (both Tally’s mother and a sympathetic drama teacher are pros). After selected chapters, Tally as narrator relates excerpts from her journal which gauge her anxiety level and note the pros and cons of autism. Though the ending is somewhat abruptly idealistic–Tally’s fair-weather, catty friends proclaim that they need her and one even confesses she told the entire class Tally is autistic. Tally’s response to both, though, is authentic. She tells the girl that the information was not hers to share and she refuses to offer the girls the cookies her mother suggests she share. Overall, this book gives a particular view of autism not seen in other novels that can lead to understanding and rich discussion.

THOUGHTS: Mockingjay, A Boy and a Bat, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Rain Reign. . . no shortage of books featuring a person with autism. In Can You See Me? however, the reader can relate not only to the behaviors associated with autism, but also with the times any of us have been called out for our quirks or feeling different or not fitting in. This book is ideal for character studies, even for comparing it with R. J. Palacio’s format of Wonder: How does Tally’s sister Nell feel always sacrificing her needs for Tally? Why is it difficult for Tally’s friend, Layla, to stay loyal to Tally?, etc. The title and cover refer to the tiger mask Tally sometimes dons when she needs to face hard situations. The cover art is so busy, the background obscures the title of the book; though that may be the goal, the artwork looks amateurish and the result makes the cover forgettable.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – The Magic Fish

Nguyen, Trung Le. The Magic Fish. Random House Graphic, 2020. 978-0-593-12529-8. 256 p. $23.99. Grades 7-9.

In The Magic Fish, author/illustrator Trung Le Nguyen braids together a family’s immigration story, a son’s desire to reveal a part of his identity to his parents, and retellings of classic fairy tales such as Cinderella and The Little Mermaid. Eighth-grader Tien reads these fairy tales to his mother, whose first language is Vietnamese, to help her improve her English. Mother and son (and father, when he isn’t at work) are close as can be, but still Tien struggles with how to share his secret with them: he is attracted to boys. The problem is part language barrier, part apprehension for how they will react. Tien’s mother, meanwhile, is struggling with the declining health of her own mother in Vietnam, and memories of fleeing her home country many years ago. Nguyen’s truly exquisite artwork is color-coded to orient the reader both in time and within the story; the present is ruby red, the past is mustard yellow, and the fairy tales are various jewel tones. It sounds complicated, but it works beautifully. The fairy tales foreground themes of new beginnings, identity, isolation, and connection, while also casting light on the experiences of our main characters. The gentle twist at the end satisfyingly reminds Tien (and readers!) that true happy endings are the ones we write for ourselves.

THOUGHTS: Readers of The Magic Fish will find themselves equally captivated by each storyline within this many-layered tale.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Brave Like That

Stoddard, Lindsey. Brave Like That. HarperCollins Publisher , 2020. 978-0-062-87811-3. 272 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Cyrus’ dad has always been a hero. As a kid he was a star football player, and as an adult he is a firefighter who is not afraid of running into burning buildings. Everyone thinks Cyrus is following in his father’s footsteps, but deep inside Cyrus loves music instead of football and longs to sneak away to the rescue to walk a dog that showed up at the fire station out of the blue, just like Cyrus did eleven years ago. Maybe worse than that, Cyrus wants to ditch his football star friends and befriend the new boy, Eduardo, who is bullied but doesn’t waiver from who he truly is inside. Can Cyrus be brave and find the courage to be his true self?  With the help of a stray dog, new friends, and his family, join Cyrus on his journey to be brave and become his authentic self.

THOUGHTS: This story is a must purchase for your middle grade collection. It deals with the topic of bullying in a gentle but firm way. Brave Like That also addresses the issue of ailing grandparents (Cyrus’ grandmother had a stroke and cannot speak as she used to) and acceptance.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

Tags: bullying, friendship, family, aging grandparents

MG – Lila and Hadley

Keplinger, Kody. Lila and Hadley. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-30609-5. 256. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Hadley has a right to be angry. Her mom is going to jail for stealing money from her boss, so Hadley has to live with the sister she hasn’t seen in three years. To make matters worse, her vision is failing due to retinitis pigmentosa, a condition meaning she will eventually become legally blind. Depressed and angry that her life is spinning out of control, Hadley reluctantly visits the animal rescue where her sister works. Despite not being a “dog-person,” she is surprised when Lila the pitbull takes a liking to her. Since she has no other plans during summer break, Hadley begrudgingly agrees to help foster and train the dog. While Hadley helps Lila, the dog also helps her with mobility training, lessons Hadley takes to learn how to use a cane, and meet a new friend. Together, the pair slowly become comfortable enough for Lila to find her forever home and Hadley to forgive her family for their faults and accept the help and love she needs.

THOUGHTS: A cute but predictable novel that young middle grade students will enjoy, especially animal lovers. The narrator’s casual language and the easy ending may be off putting to some readers, but the book will be a good addition to an upper elementary or middle grade collection needing diverse stories.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – Havenfall

Holland, Sara. Havenfall. Bloomsbury,  2020. 978-1-547-60379-4. $18.99. 305 p. Grades 7-12.

“To everyone who’s ever felt like they don’t have a place.” Maddie is an ordinary teenager who lives extraordinary summers at Havenfall, a Colorado inn that connects different realms: Earth (Haven), Bryn, Fiordenkill, and formerly, Solaria. The inn is run by her Uncle Marcus, and someday, Maddie hopes to take over as the innkeeper. Still traumatized by the unsolved death of her brother, which was blamed on her mother, Maddie is looking forward to her summer escape in Havenfall. However, after briefly reuniting with her uncle and beloved Fiordian soldier, Brekken, things start to go horribly wrong. Maddie awakens on her first morning to chaos: Marcus has been hurt, Brekken has disappeared, and someone has been murdered by a Solarian creature, although the door to that realm is supposed to be sealed. Suddenly, Maddie finds herself in the position she’s always wanted, but without the guidance of her uncle or best friend. On her own, Maddie must untangle the secrets and betrayals lurking around every corner and decide who she can really trust: a mysterious newcomer, or the powerful delegates of the realms she’s known for years?

THOUGHTS:  This was a refreshing, new fantasy read for me! Although it’s mainly described as a contemporary fantasy, it’s also a mystery which helps to draw the reader into the story. By the end of the novel, there are still many questions that have not been answered, which left me feeling like I needed to know more. Holland also gives her readers a glimpse into three fantastical worlds, and I’m hoping she expands upon these realms in her follow up novels to Havenfall. There is still so much of this magical story left to tell.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Midnight Sun

Meyer, Stephenie. Midnight Sun. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-316-70704-6. $27.99. 672 p. Grades 7-12.

Stephenie Meyer puts a twist on her bestselling novel, Twilight, by giving us Edward’s side of the story. Edward Cullen is a vampire living with his family in the rainy town of Forks, WA, trying to blend in with humans as much as he can. However, the arrival of the new girl, Isabella Swan, changes everything. Edward and his family do not hunt humans and exist instead on a diet of animal blood, but when Edward smells Bella, he has an overwhelming desire to kill her, fearing he will lose control for the first time in decades, causing his family to move to a new location yet again. When staying away from Forks doesn’t work, he returns to school and attempts to ignore her presence, but when Bella faces danger, he unintentionally becomes her protector. Against his better judgement, Edward decides to get to know this intriguing and closed off  human but struggles to control his conflicting feelings of falling in love and pushing her away to protect her from himself. With Edward’s immortal ability to read the minds of those around him, readers are able to examine the thoughts of the majority of the characters within the novel, opening up the world of Forks, WA, and the minds of the vampires that have chosen the town as their home.

THOUGHTS:  I love that Midnight Sun gave readers more information about Edward’s past, as well as the rest of the Cullens, and it was interesting to read about Edward’s struggles with Bella from his perspective. I don’t think readers realized just how dangerous he was to her by simply reading Twilight. Readers trust Bella’s perception that he would never really hurt her, but there were many close calls when reading each scenario and interaction from Edward’s side of things. The pomegranate on the front of the novel can be a great discussion topic since it  resembles a human heart, and the juicy pomegranate also looks as if it’s dripping blood. However, it also has a more symbolic presence throughout the story because Edward compares himself to Hades and Bella to Persephone. As she grows closer to him and accepts him for who he is, it’s as if she’s eating the seeds of the pomegranate, making it so much harder for her to go back to her world. Both old and new fans of Twilight will love this darker side of the story!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elementary Early Chpt. Books – Dyamonde Daniel; Noodleheads See the Future

Grimes, Nikki. Dyamonde Daniel (series). Puffin, 2017. $5.14 ea. (paperback). Gr. 1 – 3.

Almost Zero (Book 3). 978-0-425-28855-9.

Rich (Book 2). 978-0-425-28854-2.

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel (Book 1). Puffin, 2010. 978-0-14-241555-9. $5.14 (paperback)

Halfway to Perfect (Book 4). G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012. 978-0-399-25178-8. $9.49 (hardcover)

Dyamonde Daniel is a spunky, outgoing girl whose classmates go through a variety of difficulties. The topics that are brought feel genuine (being new in school, someone who lives in a homeless shelter, a classmate who loses everything in a house fire) to the story and are great discussion topics with students.  THOUGHTS:  Books 2 and 3 in this series are re-releases in paperback in 2017. Although not brand new to the publishing world, I still highly recommend these books. Finding early chapter books with such important topics and racially diverse characters are difficult. This series is a great addition to any library, no matter the publication date.

Easy Chapter Book, Realistic Fiction        Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

Arnold, Tedd et al. Noodleheads See the Future.  Holiday House, 2017. Unpaged. 9780823436736.  $15.95. Gr. 1-4.

Tedd Arnold has teamed up with Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss to create what seems to be a silly early chapter book about noodles. Quickly one realizes that there is more here than first meets the eye.  In a series of three short chapters, the reader learns about the antics of the hapless Noodlehead brothers, who take what is said to them literally, which leads to some humorous situations.  Mac and Mac also have problems with logical thinking. In one incident, they are sawing off a branch that they are sitting on.  They are amazed that their friend Meatball can “predict the future” when he tells them they are going to fall on their bottoms, which of course does happen.  In the back matter, the authors explain that their stories are based on the traditional “tales of fools,” also known as noodle tales.  They discuss which folktales or motifs were the inspiration for the stories in this book. Arnold uses a graphic novel approach and his illustrations are over the top funny.  It is amazing how Arnold can make the faces of the noodle characters so expressive.  Children will laugh out loud at this pair and will eagerly await the next book. Thoughts:  This book would serve well in folktale units and is a good example of the noodlehead motif with a modern touch.  Children will enjoy reading this one on their own as well.

Early Chapter Book; Folktales      Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

Elementary/MS Graphic Novels – Margo Maloo; Ogres Awake; Snow White

Weing, Drew. The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo. New York: First Second, 2016. 978-1-62672-339-9. $15.99. Gr. 3-7.

Charles and his family just moved to Echo City. While his dad is busy fixing up their apartment building and his mom is writing grant applications, Charles begins to explore their run-down, drafty building. When he encounters a monster in his closet, he’s not sure what to do until his neighbor Kevin gives him a card for Margo Maloo, monster mediator.  Margo and Charles track down the troll in Charles’ closet, and it seems that Margo is very knowledgeable about all of the monsters in Echo City, trolls, ghosts, goblins, and ogres. As an aspiring blogger, Charles jumps at the opportunity to blog about these underground monsters, but Margo begs him to keep quiet; no one can know that monsters are real. As Charles and Margo work together, it turns out that they’re a really good team, and now they must work to rescue a boy from a ghost and find a missing ogre baby. Weing’s illustrations are excellent and readers of any age will fall in love with Charles and Margo. THOUGHTS: A wonderful addition to any library where comics and graphic novels fly off the shelves.

Graphic Novel; Fiction      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Sturm, James. Ogres Awake! New York: First Second, 2016. 978-1-59643-653-4. Unpaged. $14.99. Gr. K-2.

When Edward the horse and his knight spot some napping ogres outside the kingdom walls, they know they must alert the king. Luckily, the king isn’t worried; there’s a plan in place for ogres. The little knight is ready for battle, but the king’s plan doesn’t involve swords and armies; it involves using the king’s garden harvest to create a delicious sweet potato stew. The hungry ogres storm the castle after their naps and find a wonderful smell awaiting them. With satisfied bellies, the ogres leave the castle to head home and the little knight wishes to use super powers in his next adventure. Ogres Awake! is the newest creation from the authors of Adventures in Cartooning!, and it doesn’t disappoint.  The graphic novel styling is a great introduction to the genre and infuses subtle humor into the story through the plucky knight and hungry ogres. The endpapers include how-to guides on drawing the main characters. THOUGHTS: A delicious, fun graphic novel for young readers who want a good adventure and don’t mind a unique ending.

741.5 Graphic Novel      Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools

 

Phelan, Matt. Snow White. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016. 978-0-7636-7233-1. 235 pp. $19.99. Gr. 3-6.

Snow White has been transplanted to the Great Depression in Matt Phelan’s mesmerizing new graphic novel retelling of the classic fairy tale. Life is hard for Snow once her mother dies, and her wealthy father finds a ruthless diva of the stage who banishes the beautiful daughter. Once alone in the dark city, a group of street urchins come to Snow’s rescue, and they quickly bond. Tragedy, drama, action, and romance all play out around the cruel Queen of the Follies and her jealous rage. Phelan’s strength comes in the sparse text mixed with emotional illustrations that capture both the story elements (huntsman, apple) with the 20’s city life (ticker tape, Macy’s and Follies). While not everything runs parallel to the fairy tale origin, this unique new take will draw in a wide range of ages to appreciate the skill of Phelan’s graphic design and artistic interpretation.  THOUGHTS: The many references to Great Depression terms like Hooverville will be lost on younger readers, but the opportunity to connect any of Phelan’s graphic novels to history make them an educational incentive. As a collection, they would make for a great course on graphic storytelling and historical fiction alike.   

Graphic Novel; Fractured Fairytale      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District