Elem. – A Person Can Be…

Kokias, Kerri. A Person Can Be... Kids Can Press, 2022. 978-1-525-30487-3. $18.99. 32 p. Grades PK-3.

Human beings are complicated. It is entirely possible to be more than one thing – in fact, it is possible for one person to embody opposite attributes. The opening pages of this sweet picture book show a neighborhood street. Simply drawn houses and yards are full of children and adults. As we look closer and peek into each home or backyard, we see that each person depicted is full of contradictions. A mother might think that feeding the family dog under the table is naught, but the dog thinks this act is kind. A young girl feeding a pet cat is careful while filling the bowl, but clumsy when she knocks over the entire bag of cat food. A boy with a huge bunch of balloons is lucky, and yet unlucky when one balloon escapes. It is possible to be loved and yet feel lonely; trying something new is exciting, yet can make you feel nervous. Delightful illustrations by Carey Sookocheff clearly focus on facial expressions to indicate each character’s feelings, despite what the bigger picture portrays.

THOUGHTS: A Person Can Be… cleverly shows young readers that no one is solely one thing or another. We all are complex and even contradictory at times. Young children often grapple with understanding this concept. This book provides concrete examples of how simple, everyday activities, behaviors, and emotions can be at times contradictory. A great read aloud with plenty to discuss.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

MG – When Winter Robeson Came

Woods, Brenda. When Winter Robeson Came. Scholastic, 2022. 978-1-524-74158-7. $16.99. 176 p. Grades 4-7.

The Coal family from 103rd Street, just west of Figueroa, not too far from Watts, is expecting a special visitor, Winter Robeson from their old hometown, Sunflower, Mississippi. The most excited person is aspiring composer, Eden Louise Coal, who hasn’t seen her country cousin since the move to the great metropolis of Los Angeles two years ago. An affable Winter has come with an agenda and a plan: on his list is visiting the happiest place on earth, Disneyland; but his priority is finding his long-lost father, J.T. who has been gone for ten years. Eden joins him in his search, and together they spend two weeks of the summer of 1965 getting closer together and closer to the truth of Winter’s father’s disappearance. As they try to trace J.T.’s whereabouts, they dance to the vinyl records with the neighborhood kids; win the hearts of the gracious friend, Winona; and meet Miss Betty West, owner of a Steinway baby grand piano. Told in verse and narrated by Eden, When Winter Robeson Came is an uplifting story of a family reunited and a close knit community surviving on the edges of the violent Watts riots and police brutality. Eden and Winter bond in genuine friendship and concern to make each others’ lives a bit brighter. That magnanimity extends to their neighbors and even virtual strangers when the need arises. The pair offer aid to the elderly, respect their parents, and kindly tolerate even friends with irritating habits. This brief, positive book offers a comforting tale against the backdrop of a tragic historical event.

THOUGHTS: This easy to read book fits lower middle grades best with its emphasis on family and its optimistic outcomes, despite the setting of the Watts riots. Perceptive students will pick up on the discrimination and racism toward people in neighborhoods in and around Watts. However, the children in this novel are nurtured and joyful. They make connections with older people and keep focused on an important task even if it puts them in danger. Pair this book with Karen English’s It All Comes Down to This to compare and contrast the same historical event.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – We Own the Sky

Philbrick, Rodman.We Own the Sky. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-73629-8 190 p. $18.99. Grades 5-8.

The year is 1924, 12 year-old Davy and his older sister, Jo, have found themselves orphaned in the great state of Maine. Their mother’s cousin, Ruthie Reynard, takes them in to be a part of her famous flying circus for the summer. The siblings are about to have the experience of a lifetime…exciting yet frightening things are about to occur. The Ku Klux Klan has invaded the state and has been recruiting members, and they have targeted the flying circus and the diversity within. Davy and Jo are determined to help keep everyone safe even if their own lives are in danger.

THOUGHTS: This is a quick historical read, one that many fans of history will devour. Characters are well-written and engaging.

Historical Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

Elem. – Nana, Nenek & Nina

Ferneyhough, Liza. Nana, Nenek & Nina. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-35394-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Nina loves visiting her grandmothers, one who lives in Malaysia and one who lives in England. Nina goes back and forth between each grandmother explaining the different and similar things that she does with them. Each grandmother has a garden, each visits the market, and each one cooks dinner but each one is slightly different based on where they live. Nina has a little dinosaur that she brings with her, so the reader can have fun finding the dinosaur hidden in each illustration. The text can be complicated to follow at times, but the journey of watching Nina visit each grandmother is wonderful to follow along with.

THOUGHTS: This would be a great book to share for a grandparents day event; however, it might not be the best read-aloud with extremely young children as it can be complicated the way the text is set up. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – The Katha Chest

Chowdhury, Radhiah. The Katha Chest. Salaam Reads, 2022. 978-1-665-90390-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

The Katha Chest follows a young girl named Asiya who loves to visit her Nanu’s house because she gets a chance to go through the katha chest. Each quilt tells a story, and Asiya loves learning about her family in this way. The illustrations are beautifully done, and when Asiya is looking at each quilt there is a spread of pages that just show the woman from the family who is attached to each quilt. On those pages, the illustrations demonstrate and show more about each woman from the family without having any words to describe them. At the end of the book, there are both author and illustrator notes delving more into the katha chest and what that means to each of them. 

THOUGHTS: This book is a beautifully done story about the katha chest, as well as what each woman in Asiya’s family means to her. A great story for a read aloud that will cause readers to want to know more about this skill of making the katha quilts.

Picture Book           Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Tags: Quilts, family, grandmothers, mothers, authors, Bangladesh, saris. 

MG – The Daredevils

Buyea, Rob. The Daredevils. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37614-0 231 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Author of the popular series, Because of Mr. Terupt, has written a tale of one summer for twins- Waylon and Loretta. The two are strongly bonded, and Loretta is her brother’s keeper. Waylon was born smaller and has had his fair share of bullies. This is the summer before they enter middle school, and their parents are determined to send them on separate paths in order to prepare them for the coming year. Waylon is sent to robotics day camp while Loretta attends a sports day camp. However, the two are determined to spend their nights together after they discover an old cigar box with a quest inside. Along the way, they meet up with a mysterious boy named Louie, and the three of them will embark on a summer to remember. 

THOUGHTS: Rob Buyea has a way to tell a beautiful and poignant story through the eyes of the rocky middle school years. This is another perfect example.

Realistic Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

YA – The Ivory Key

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. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – The Ghosts of Rose Hill

Romaro, R.M. The Ghosts of Rose Hill. Peachtree Teen, 2022. 978-1-682-63338-0. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 9-12.

“Maybe sixteen is a curse, a time when everyone is stuck between being a child and being something else.” Ilana is 16, and more than anything else, she wants to be a musician. Her parents, both refugees, want Ilana to pick a different career path, one that offers her more stability in her future. When she travels from her hometown of Miami to Prague to spend the summer with her aunt, she discovers an overgrown Jewish cemetery. As a member of the Jewish faith, she feels the need to uncover the forgotten headstones, and while she spends time clearing the cemetery, she meets a ghost named Benjamin and a mysterious man named Rudolph Wasserman. As she befriends Benjamin, Wasserman encourages her to play her music and follow her heart. As Ilana discovers the truth about Benjamin and his connection to the city, Wasserman offers her a place within his house where she can play music and live forever. Although the offer sounds like a dream, Benjamin reveals it’s really a nightmare, and Ilana must find a way to save him and the other children bound to Wasserman and his magic, even if it means risking everything.

THOUGHTS: The Ghosts of Rose Hill is written in prose and incorporates both Jewish and Prague history into this unique ghost story. In many ways, this story reminded me of Coraline. Rudolph Wasserman lures children into his home with promises of a perfect life away from their families before stealing and hiding their souls.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – This Wicked Fate

Bayron, Kaylnn. This Wicked Fate. Bloomsbury, 2022. 978-1-5476-0920-8. 307 pg. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

This Wicked Fate starts right where the first book (This Poison Heart) ends, with Briseis trying to find a way to rescue her mother. However, that means that Briseis needs to put together the pieces of the Absyrtus Heart plant, which is deadly. Throughout this book, Briseis gets to know her relatives that she has never really met while there are others who want the heart. What will Briseis do in order to save her mother, as well as those she loves? Will she be able to rescue her mother, or is this a mission that is doomed to fail no matter what?

THOUGHTS: This was a great ending to this duology!! The way the author delves into the family dynamic as well as the interpersonal relationships between these characters is done spectacularly. The character arcs are very well done, and everything feels very natural. This duology would be great for fans of mythology or fans of a fantasy series. 

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy 

MG – The Road to After

Lowell, Rebekah. The Road to After. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022. 978-0-593-10961-8. 180 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

This middle grade novel is a powerful story of a young mother and her two daughters who have been kept hostages in their own home unaware of the reality outside their walls. Their father has monitored their activities, interests, and movements their entire lives so that the girls know nothing else. Their mother gains the courage to leave the home and everything behind to start a better life for the three of them. The oldest daughter, Lacey, discovers her love for nature, animals, and freedom. The story is about hope and survival.

THOUGHTS: This debut novel is beautifully written. It flows so smoothly that students will keep reading to find out what happens to Lacey and her sister. It is written appropriately for a middle grade audience and is filled with hope.

Realistic Fiction  Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse