MG – The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez

Cuevas, Adrianna. The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez. Farras, Straus and Giroux, 2020. 978-0-374-31360-9. 278. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

After nine “first-days” at nine different schools, Nestor Lopez knows the drill. Only unpack enough to get himself through a few months until his mother decides to move again, all while his father is deployed in Afghanistan. When Nestor moves for the tenth time, it is to his father’s hometown of New Haven, Texas to live with his Abuela. Not long after, Nestor is intrigued by rumors of a beast that roams the woods and has killed neighboring animals. Fortunately, his secret ability to talk to animals helps Nestor find out what, or who, is behind the killings. After the town starts to suspect his Abuela, Nestor longs to talk with his dad who could help him make sense of the strange town that is starting to feel like home. Can Nestor reveal his secret to his new friends in order to save the animals and his Abuela from whatever is lurking in the woods? And will his mom decide to move again, or will Nestor finally be able to put down roots in his father’s hometown?

THOUGHTS: Middle grade readers will enjoy this action packed fantasy novel about a brave, hispanic american boy who uses supernatural powers to save his family. Readers of Rick Riordan Presents books will appreciate the story as well as educators adding stories with diverse characters to their collections.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

MG – When You Trap a Tiger

Keller, Tae. When You Trap a Tiger. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-524-71570-0. 287 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Lily, known as Lily Bean to her mom, and Eggi in her Halmoni’s stories, and her family suddenly pack up and move to Washington one rain soaked evening. They are moving in with her Halmoni, a storyteller, and the story she shares with Lily from many years ago is about how she stole the stars from the sky and bottled up the bad stories which angered a tiger. Lily is intrigued by her story, and when a tiger suddenly appears in the middle of the road one rainy night, Lily is convinced everything is real. But time is of the essence, as Halmoni is showing signs of illness – could it be a consequence of her stealing the stars? With the help of Ricky, a boy Lily meets at the library across the street, the two devise a “hypothetical” tiger trap. Little did Lily know that the Tiger would make her an offer that can help her Halmoni, but with consequences. Lily wants answers and to find a way to help her Halmoni before it’s too late. But can a QAG, short for quiet Asian girl, really find the truth? Can she rescue her family before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will not be disappointed with the characters in this book – they are full of heart, determination, love, and curiosity, even if one of them is a tiger. This title is perfect to add to your collection of diverse books, as it shows the struggle of an Asian family and how their history and heritage affect their lives today. I truly enjoyed reading this story and believe it is the perfect story to capture how storytelling and reading books can truly be art.

Fantasy          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Change is happening in Lily’s life. With little notice, her mother has uprooted her daughters from their California home to their halmoni’s (grandmother’s) home in Sunbeam, Washington. Lily does her best to be the invisible, accommodating, “QAG” (quiet Asian girl) while her older sister, Sam, finds every reason to voice her displeasure to their mother and often rebukes Lily. Lily both chafes under and finds comfort in her invisibility. Lily’s many worries worsen when she (and only she) sees a tiger in the road as they approach their halmoni’s home. Her grandmother has shared countless Korean folktales with Lily and Sam, often with a dangerous tiger involved. When Lily discovers that her grandmother is ill and facing death, she’s determined to convince the tiger to use its magic to cure her grandmother, despite admonitions from her mother and sister that dissuade her from believing the “silly” stories have any power in their lives. The library across the street provides hope and friendship for Lily, who teams up with Ricky to build a tiger trap in her grandmother’s basement. Can she convince the tiger to help, and can she convince her family that the stories are real and useful?  Will the stories save her grandmother and her family?

THOUGHTS: This is a tale of a young girl growing up and deciding who she will be, while she comes to terms with death. The targeted age level seems to increase through the story as Lily matures, and this may not quite work for readers. The grief, anger at moving, and the sister difficulties between Lily and Sam smooth a bit too perfectly by the story’s end. I found myself wishing for more scenes with the interesting, enigmatic tiger.

Magical Realism          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Korean Folktales

MG – Maya and the Rising Dark

Barron, Rena. Maya and the Rising Dark. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-10622-7. 291 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

When Maya notices the colors around her fading away, it seems like something out of the stories her father tells her, stories of ancient gods, magic and scary creatures. When she and her friend Frankie encounter terrifying werehyenas, only to be saved by Frankie suddenly throwing bolts of lightning, Maya learns that her father’s job as a structural engineer is a bit more complex than he ever let on. He is an Orisha, a god, whose job it is to maintain the veil between this world and the Dark. Maya, along with Frankie and her other friend, Eli, are all godlings, or half-Orisha. When Maya’s father disappears during a trip to fix the veil, Maya is convinced that she must find a portal to the Dark and rescue her father. Her loyal friends accompany her on a journey undertaken with love, but maybe not a lot of thought and planning. Maya and Eli have not yet discovered if they possess powers, leaving the three vulnerable to attack by the darkbringers, as well as the Lord of Shadows, a sinister creature haunting Maya’s dreams. This captivating story offers a new entry in the demi-god genre, showcasing the less known mythology of the Yoruba religion, originating in western Africa. Unique among the genre, Maya, her family and friends live in an Orisha enclave; many of her neighbors are also Orisha, and she is surrounded by other godlings. The vibrancy of the community in which Maya resides adds a warmth to the narrative, as Maya never has to search out for other individuals like herself; she has a built-in support network. The tale is suspenseful, replete with deliciously creepy characters, and filled with love – family, friends and neighbors.

THOUGHTS: A noteworthy addition to the mythology based adventure collection. Hand to fans of Percy Jackson, Sal and Gabi (Carlos Hernandez) or Aru Shah (Roshani Chokshi).

Fantasy – Mythology          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Fable

Young, Adrienne. Fable. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-25437-5. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Four years ago, the day after a storm wrecked his ship and drowned his wife, Fable’s father, legendary sea-trader Saint, abandoned his 14-year-old daughter on the barbaric island of Jeval, leaving her to fend for herself on the brutal colony. Because she inherited her mother’s abilities as a gem sage, someone who can communicate with jewels, Fable survived as a dredger, mining gems from the sea, and making enough money to eventually purchase passage off the island, find Saint, and claim her place with his crew. But once she forces her way onto a trading ship, the Marigold, she wonders what secrets the small, young crew are keeping, even while being drawn in by their tight bond. When Saint refuses her appeal, sending her away with an unexpected inheritance, Fable has nowhere to turn but back to the Marigold and hope they will take her in. This lyrical novel, packed with adventure, quickly grabs the reader and doesn’t let go. Fable was raised on the sea, and she inherently loves being on board a ship. Young vividly conveys the routine of sailing a ship and the rhythm of the sea. Her world building is exquisite, and the port towns come alive, in their grandeur and squalor. Her characters are finely limned, and the hint of romance will satisfy. However, Fable has a flaw of always pushing the limit, and eventually she pays for a momentary slip, leaving readers hanging, awaiting the sequel.

THOUGHTS: This novel should find a wide audience, pleasing both action-adventure and romance fans.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Mañanaland; Nat Enough; Black Brother, Black Brother; On the Horizon

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Mañanaland. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-15786-4.  251 p. $16.53. Grades 3-6.

Maximiliano Córdoba has a lot. He has his hard-working, bridge builder father and his loving Buelo who cooks delicious dinners and tells fantastic stories. He has a best friend, Chuy, and a group of neighborhood boys with whom he plays soccer. He even has a playful dog named Lola. But it is what Max doesn’t have that occupies his thoughts. He doesn’t have the strength that Ortiz has when he throws the fútbol out of the goal, and he doesn’t have a pair of Volantes, which would ensure his success at tryouts. He doesn’t have the freedom to attend a summer clinic in Santa Inés with his friends. And most of all, he does not have a mother. He doesn’t know where she is or why she left, and his Papá will not tell Max anything about her. “When you’re older, I’ll explain more,” is what he hears from his Papá, but he wants answers now, and he may just get them sooner rather than later. The new soccer coach expects all players to have a birth certificate to try out for the team, and Max learns his mother took his documents with her when she left. With Papà out of town in search of Max’s documents, Max finds himself thrust into an adventure of a lifetime. Will the legend his Buelo has been telling him his whole life lead Max to the answers he seeks? And will Papà finally accept that he can be trusted?

THOUGHTS:  Middle school is a time for students to explore their strengths and weaknesses and also to test the boundaries of the freedoms that come with growing up. Many middle schoolers will see themselves in Max and their parents in his Papà. The folklore adds interest to this coming of age story. Pam Muñoz Ryan’s fantasy novel is a self-discovery tale for every upper elementary and middle school library.

Fantasy          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD


Scrivan, Maria. Nat Enough. Graphix, 2020. 978-1-338-53821-2. 235 p. $21.59. Grades 3-6.

Natalie Mariano is not enough. She is not cool enough, not athletic enough, not talented enough. Whatever you need to make you enough for middle school, Natalie doesn’t have it–at all. And to make matters worse, her best friend, Lily, seems to have changed her mind about wanting to be friends with Natalie, so now she is not enough for Lily either.  Add in a disastrous first day of gym class; bully Shawn Dreary, who barks at Natalie every chance he gets; and a Jell-o frog dissection debacle, and Natalie is sure that she will never have what it takes to make it in middle school. But maybe Natalie has it all wrong. Instead of focusing on what she isn’t, maybe Natalie should focus on what she is. With the help of some new friends and some old hobbies, a story contest and some new-found confidence, maybe Natalie will discover that who she is, in fact, is exactly enough.

THOUGHTS: Every middle school student has been in Natalie’s shoes at one point, whether it is a falling out with a friend, that awkward feeling when trying something new, or an embarrassing moment that everyone sees. Her epiphany is gradual, but the progression is logical, and even the bullies have evolved by the end. Maria Scrivan’s debut graphic novel is a perfect fit for upper elementary and middle school libraries.

Graphic Novel    Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD


Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Black Brother, Black Brother. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-49380-2. 239 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

Donte Ellison fit in in New York, in his multiracial neighborhood. He fit in at his old school. He does not fit in in his new white neighborhood, and he certainly does not fit in at his new school, Middlefield Prep. His brother, Trey, fits in, and everyone wants to know why Donte can’t be more like Trey. But Trey has light hair and blue eyes like their father, and Donte has dark hair and brown eyes like their mother, and this makes all the difference at Middlefield Prep, and makes Donte a target of bullies, especially Alan. When Alan throws a pencil at another student, Donte is immediately blamed. Frustration turns to anger, and Donte finds himself in handcuffs in the back of a police car. No one in his school sees him. They only see the color of his skin, and Alan has made sure that Middlefield Prep is a miserable place for Donte to be. A week of suspension gives Donte time to plan his revenge on Alan, but is revenge really what Donte needs? A mentor, some new friends, and an athletic outlet provide Donte with support, purpose, and a goal that goes far beyond Alan and revenge.

THOUGHTS:  Middle grade students, regardless of race, will understand Donte’s anger and frustration with not being seen or heard, but his story will resonate most with BIPOC students. White students will benefit from reading this novel as a window into the experiences of their BIPOC classmates.  A must-read for students and teachers alike.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD


Lowry, Lois. On the Horizon: World War II Reflections. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-12940-0. 75 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Inspired by her own personal memories, Lowry has created a wonderful contemplative work about two major events that occurred during World War II. The text, told mostly in verse, contains a single reflection per page concerning specific incidents or individuals during the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the bombing of Hiroshima. These short remembrances are about some who perished and some who survived. In Hawaii, one of the Anderson twins survives the attack on the Arizona, and his ashes are buried with his brother years later. Frank Cabiness saves his watch that is stopped at 8:15, the time of the attack. The author deftly contrasts this story with Hiroshima. Four year old Shinichi Tetsutani is riding his red tricycle when the bomb falls and is buried with his bicycle. Shinji Mikamo survives the bombing, while his father does not. All he can find in the ruins is his father’s watch that is stopped at 8:15.  It is details like this that make these stories come alive for the reader. The illustrations by Kenard Pak are done in pencil and add to the thoughtful tone. Part of the story is autobiographical. Lowry was born in Honolulu in 1937 and remembers playing on the beach with her grandmother while a giant ship passed by on the horizon. As an adult, she later realized this was the Arizona. As a child, she returned to Japan after the war and while riding her bicycle, sees a young boy that will become a famous author.

THOUGHTS: Lowry’s work is a masterpiece made powerful by the stories of real people who were impacted by these historical events. These poignant tales will linger in the reader’s mind for a long time. This is an essential purchase for all elementary and middle school libraries.

940.54 World War II          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD

YA – Infinity Son; All Your Twisted Secrets; The Kingdom of Back; The Between; The Upside of Falling; This is My Brain in Love

Silvera, Adam. Infinity Son. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-98378-7. 353 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Twin brothers Emil and Brighton grew up idolizing Spell Walkers, the Celestials who use their powers to maintain order. But now that they’re turning 18, Emil thinks his brother needs to put the hero-worship aside and face the future realistically. But Brighton thrives on subscribers and likes on his Celestials of New York YouTube channel, and he wants fame so bad he can taste it. When the pair are attacked by a Spector, one who drank Celestial blood to acquire powers, mild mannered Emil erupts in rare Phoenix Fire, to his amazement and Brighton’s cold envy. The family is brought to a Spell Walker compound for protection, and Emil is convinced to join the unit, even though he is an introverted pacifist who isn’t sure the Spell Walkers always use their powers for good. As Emil reluctantly assists in missions, Brighton becomes the team’s public relations director, while his jealousy of his brother, and his disgust with Emil’s pacifism, continue to degrade the one invincible bond between them. Silvera adds another dimension to the superhero genre with his action-packed book. Emil’s reluctance to be a hero contrasts sharply with Brighton’s driven need for fame and power. The Celestials are morally ambiguous, even though they believe their actions are done for the greater good. There are no clear heroes and villains here, and Emil illustrates the danger of having powers others desire. Several big reveals later in the book set the stage for an eagerly awaited sequel.

THOUGHTS: Well developed characters paired with action and suspense make this book a winner. Hand this to fans of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades series or other superhero readers.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Urban, Diana. All Your Twisted Secrets. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-90821-6. 390 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

The beginning of the book starts off so tritely: six stereotypical high school students are notified they have won a prestigious scholarship. The music nerd, the jock, the alpha cheerleader, the stoner, the valedictorian, and the genius loner all show up at the restaurant for the dinner/scholarship presentation, only to find out something is horribly wrong. Then the addictive wild ride begins. Narrated by Amber, the music nerd, the six find themselves locked in a basement dining room, with a ticking bomb, a loaded hypodermic needle, and a note that warns the students that within an hour, one of them must be killed with the poison loaded hypodermic, or the bomb will explode and they all will die. Flashbacks fill in the back story, as the minutes tick down and the frantic teens turn on each other in order to survive. As the plot unfolds, the relationships between the six are uncovered, and true feelings ruthlessly rise to the surface. Subtly woven throughout is the backstory of Amber’s brilliant older sister who committed suicide due to cyberbulling.The suspense is top notch, and you cannot put the book down until its shocking, gut wrenching conclusion.

THOUGHTS: This cross between Karen McManus’ One of Us is Lying and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is sure to fly off the shelf. The ending scarred me for weeks.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lu, Marie. The Kingdom of Back. Putnam, 2020. 978-1-524-73901-0. 313 p. $18.99. Grade. 7-12.

Once upon a time there was an extraordinarily talented pianist who was also a gifted composer, by the name of Mozart. Nannerl Mozart. The older sister of the Mozart still adored the world over, Nannerl knows from a young age that, as a woman, her moment in the spotlight will be fleeting. Her father constantly tells her so. He values her musical ability as a means to earn money and recognition for the family, but once she reaches marriageable age, her public performances will end. As for her compositions, well, don’t be ridiculous. Women don’t compose. Lu takes the bare bones of what is known about Mozart’s sister, and weaves an enchanting historical fantasy that pulses with the frustrations Nannerl must have felt being a gifted woman in a society who had no need of such a person. As the siblings toured Europe, performing for royalty and earning the fame and fortune their father desired, they amused themselves by inventing the kingdom of Back. It is this magical realm that drives Lu’s story. In the kingdom, Nannerl is offered the opportunity of lasting fame, to have her name and her music remembered through the ages, but it may be a bargain too costly to make. Lu skillfully crafts the loving relationship between the siblings, and how Nannerl chafes under her father’s restrictions. She tantalizingly creates a scenario where young Mozart is influenced by Nannerl’s compositions, seeks her help with his own compositions, and even has her compositions published under his own name, all the more intriguing  because the world will never know how much Nannerl truly did influence her brother. This unique blend of fact and fantasy creates a world the reader will remember, as well as brings to light a talented woman too long lost to history.

THOUGHTS: This gorgeously written, uniquely plotted book may take some booktalking, but readers will be enthralled once they read a few pages.

Fantasy (Historical)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Hofmeyr, David. The Between. Delacorte, 2020. 978-0-385-74475-1. 376 p. $17.99. Grades 7+.

One moment Ana Moon is a normal high school girl, sneaking out to meet her best friend, Bea. The next, the train they’re riding on freezes in place and time, and a monstrous creature snatches Bea and takes off. When a shocked Ana makes it back to her dad’s flat, everything has changed. Dad is different; the flat is slightly different; and, most disturbingly, when Ana calls Bea, she is told that Bea died a year ago. By the time Malik, a cute guy Ana had been flirting with on the train, shows up at her bedroom window in the middle of the night, it barely registers as odd. Malik explains to Ana that she is no longer in the world she knows. She is a Pathfinder who can fall between the seven worlds. Bea has been taken by a reaper, and Ana must trust Malik, a fellow Pathfinder, if she hopes to find Bea. Ana enters a society she can barely comprehend, joining Malik’s clan and working with him and his team. As Ana is indoctrinated into her new reality, it becomes evident that she is not just a new Pathfinder, but perhaps the one Pathfinder who is the key to the mystical Seventh Gate. She may be the one to stop the war between the Pathfinders and the brutal Order. Hofmeyr compacts what might have been a seven volume series into one energetic, action packed story. Ana is a dynamic heroine, who plausibly grows into her new role while traversing continuously shifting ground. Her single minded goal of rescuing Bea, is never forgotten, and is a rare display of a literary friendship that is not overshadowed by romance. While there is an attraction between Malik and Ana, Bea remains her focus.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: action, friendship, romance, betrayal. It should find a home with Sci Fi readers as well as action/adventure fans who appreciate a few battle scenes in their books.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Light, Alex. The Upside of Falling. Harperteen, 2020. 978-0-062-91805-5. 279 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

Reclusive, bookish Becca flat out does not believe in true love. Not after her parents’ messy, painful divorce. But, aggravated by her former best friend’s taunting about Becca’s lack of a lovelife, Becca spontaneously declares she is in a relationship. This might have fallen flat seconds after it came out of her mouth had not high school hunk Brett Wells come over, thrown his arm around her and confirmed that they are secretly dating. It turns out he is in need of a girlfriend to satisfy his good-old-boy father. So begins a relationship born of mutual convenience, that turns into a needed friendship for both of them. And could it even end up in love? This Wattpad romance doesn’t cover any new territory, but it is light, sweet, fun, and just the sort of addictive story that will be devoured by dedicated romance readers. Sadly, 10 pages from the end, the book loses continuity. While young readers most likely will not notice or care, it reveals the need for an editor’s hand.

THOUGHTS:  I adored this book for 269 pages. Then the characters acknowledge their love by immediately having (off page) sex, despite the fact that Brett’s mother had him when she was 17, and his father repeatedly discusses how he had to give up on his college plans and football future to stay home and help raise Brett. (And despite the fact that a few weeks ago Becca had never even kissed a boy.) This likely will not bother most readers, who will thoroughly enjoy the dreamy romance.  

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gregorio, I. W. This is My Brain in Love. Little, Brown, 2020. 978-0-316-42382-3. 367 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

Jocelyn is stunned when her father announces that the family’s restaurant, A-Plus Chinese Garden, is floundering and he may move the family back to New York City from Utica, NY. Will is crushed when he fails to garner a plum editorial position on the school newspaper. Jocelyn convinces her father to hire a social media consultant to improve the restaurant’s visibility. Will finds himself needing a summer job. Jocelyn hires Will. The pair bring a boatload of baggage to the table from the start. Will, of mixed Nigerian and American heritage, filters the world through the lens of an African American male teenager, and suffers with anxiety. Jocelyn is almost crippled by her family’s emotionally reticent Asian culture. The pair click and begin dragging the restaurant into the digital era. Not unexpectedly, sparks fly, only to meet the disapproval of Jocelyn’s strict, racially prejudiced parents. But what seems like a trope-fulfilling romance veers off into a thoughtful exploration of mental health when Jocelyn’s erratic mood swings begin to trigger Will’s anxiety. Will, who has been in therapy for years, notices that Jocelyn may have some undiagnosed issues herself, but knows broaching the topic could cause a rift in their nascent relationship. As Jocelyn struggles to confront her depression, she finds an unexpected ally in her mother, who reveals she has been taking depression medication for years. Told from the alternating perspectives of Will and Jocelyn, the story maintains its relationship-cute vibe while honestly exploring mental health issues in teens, including the pros and cons of taking medication. A subplot involving Will tutoring Jocelyn’s younger brother, who clearly suffers from ADHD, as well as a reference to a friend with autism, may feel like a few issues too many  but does not detract from the story and might pique recognition in a reader.

THOUGHTS:  This book is a winner. An adorable romance exploring racial issues as well as mental health topics, it should fly off the shelf. Purchase multiple copies.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Dragon Hoops; When Stars Are Scattered; Gold Rush Girl; Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor

Yang, Gene Luen. Dragon Hoops. First Second, 2020. 978-1-626-72079-4. 446 p. $19.99. Grades 7+.

Gene Luen Yang has always hated sports, but he loves stories, especially writing and drawing graphic novels. He’s in need of a new idea for his next book when he overhears students at Bishop O’Dowd (the Oakland, CA, high school where he teaches) talking about the biggest story on campus: the basketball team! Yang ventures across campus and gets to know Coach Lou, who graduated from Bishop O’Dowd in 1989 and played ball with the Dragons. He’s been to the state championship game once as a player and five times as a coach but has never brought home the trophy. There are two reasons this year might finally be the Dragons’ year: Ivan Rabb and Paris Austin. As Yang gets to know their stories, he realizes that they are every bit as thrilling as the comics he loves. But unlike a superhero story, in basketball there is no guarantee that the heroes will always win. Yang skillfully weaves high-energy, game-changing moments from the history of basketball with Coach Lou’s equally high-stakes 2015 season. This very successfully paces the drama and also helps readers better understand the action on the court during game scenes. Throughout Dragon Hoops, themes of breaking barriers, challenging one’s own limits, and literally changing the game (even at the risk of making a big mistake) are depicted with the motif of feet stepping and the word “STEP,” cueing the reader that a pivotal moment is at hand.

THOUGHTS: Gene Luen Yang was the 2016-2017 Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (a position currently held by Jason Reynolds). His skill as both an artist and a storyteller is fabulously showcased in Dragon Hoops. Throughout the book, Yang debates whether or not to include Mike Phelps, retired O’Dowd teacher and Dragons coach, in the story. At the risk of a spoiler, Phelps resigned following a molestation charge that was never prosecuted. The charge is not described in detail but Yang includes it in the narrative.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Jamieson, Victoria, and Omar Mohamed. When Stars are Scattered. Dial, 2020. 978-0-525-55391-5. 257 p. + notes. $20.99. Grades 3-8.

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have been living in a Kenyan refugee camp since fleeing Somalia at the age of 4. Omar’s life consists of taking care of Hassan, with the assistance of Fatuma, an elderly woman who has been appointed the boys’ guardian. UN supplied food rations are meager and entertainment is what can be manufactured, such as playing soccer with a ball created from plastic bags. Omar has not gone to school, feeling responsible for Hassan. But a camp community leader encourages Omar to begin attending school, and a new world  opens to Omar. But it can be a painful world, of crushed dreams and disappointments. Brilliant student Maryam who dreams of going to university in Canada, is forced to quit school and get married. The system of choosing people for possible relocation to the United States seems random, and when Omar and Hassan are finally chosen for an emigration interview, nothing comes of it. But Omar continues to study and dream. When Omar is 18 the brothers are finally selected for resettlement. This stunning autobiography portrays, in beautiful color palettes, the reality of life in a refugee camp. Living conditions are horrific, but there are also close bonds of people who care for and support each other. Omar’s horrific backstory is revealed during his first resettlement interview, explaining how he and Hassan came to be in the  camp alone at such a young age. Author notes at the end of the story update the reader on the brothers’ story after reaching the United States, including the delightful surprise that Omar is currently living in Lancaster, PA.

THOUGHTS: This important story is a must purchase for most libraries. It carries the gravitas of Jarrett Krosocka’s Hey Kiddo, but appropriate for a younger audience.

Autobiography          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

As Omar so succinctly states in the word bubble on the back cover: “Refugee Camps are supposed to be a temporary place to stay until it’s safe to go back home. I guess no one expected the war to last so long, though, because Hassan and I have been here for 7 years.” With gorgeous colors and interesting characters, Jamieson and Mohamed take us through childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya. The monotony of daily essential routines for survival are mixed with increasing odds against finding their mother or going back home to Somalia. What remains is the effort to take care of one another, the opportunity to get schooling and seek a future, and the slightest chance to immigrate to another country for a new beginning. All of these seem unlikely for Omar, who faces tragic memories, current realities, and future possibilities with truth and sincerity that will bring young readers into his world and into their hearts. When the Stars Are Scattered is a remarkable light in the night sky which guides hope home.

THOUGHTS: Both Pennsylvania residents do an excellent job bringing the refugee experience to children. The sibling relationship with Hassan, who is nonverbal except for one word, is truly touching and real. The afterword and authors’ notes bring the story up to date, and help realize the many other refugee stories that need to be heard. Highly recommended.

Graphic Novel          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Avi. Gold Rush Girl. Candlewick, 2020. 978-1-536-20679-1. 306 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Victoria Blaisdell finds life as a thirteen-year-old young lady in Providence, Rhode Island quite boring. She desires action, independence, and adventure. This is not how young ladies act in 1848. Her sole escape is sneaking off to the library and checking out stacks of books to read in private. She adores her younger brother, Jacob, but realizes her parents are under the control of her domineering aunt. All this changes when her father loses his job in an economic panic. While her parents dither, Tory obtains a job. Then the news comes of a gold strike in California. Tory’s father sees this as the answer to his woes and determines he and Jacob will sail for California. Tory is just as determined to go along, eventually stowing away on the ship. Life in San Francisco is not at all what the Blaisdells expected to find. Eventually Tory and Jacob are left behind in their tent home in the muddy, crude city, while their father heads to the gold fields. Resourceful Tory finds construction work and other odd jobs to support herself and Jacob, but Jacob becomes bored and dissatisfied. Is Tory too enthralled with her freedom and new friends to notice Jacob’s unhappiness? When Jacob goes missing, she knows she must find him before her father returns and their mother arrives. Tory, a memorable female character, strong, intelligent, and independent, guides the reader through gold rush in San Francisco. The sprawling, brawling town is no place for a lady, but Tory makes it her own. Avi brings the era to life, from the muddy, miserable tent cities to the brutish practice of crimping – kidnapping men to work on ships whose crews have deserted to search for gold. While some readers may find the exposition in the first half of the book a bit slow, once Tory is on the hunt for Jacob the suspense keeps you reading until the very end.

THOUGHTS:  Another meticulous book from a master. Tory is a memorable young lady, and the images of gold rush San Francisco will remain long after the book is complete.

Historical Fiction           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD
(1849 California Gold Rush)


Carter, Ally. Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-39370-2. 322 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Carter brings the delightfully snappy writing, humor, and plot of her Gallagher Girls series to the middle grade set. April is used to moving from home to home, as she is temporarily without a parent (DON’T call her an orphan. Her mom is coming back for her. Someday. Soon.). She has experienced foster care, good and bad, as well as group homes. While on a field trip to the opening of the Winterborne Gallery, April is shocked to see the Winterborne family crest is identical to that on the one item she has from her mother, a key she wears on a chain around her neck. Everyone knows the tragic story of the wealthy Winterbornes. The perfect family was killed when their boat exploded, all except young Gabriel Winterborne. He, however, disappeared from sight on his 21st birthday, leaving the family fortune in limbo. Now the ancestral manor houses a select group of orphans, and after a small incident involving setting the museum on fire, April is invited to move to the home, joining Sadie, Violet, Tim, and Colin. April isn’t there long before she realizes someone is sneaking around the house at night. Utilizing spy skills that will surely earn her a scholarship to the Gallagher Academy, April, with the very able assistance of her new friends, begins to unravel the long buried secrets of the Winterborne family. And, along the way she discovers there are different kinds of family and home.

THOUGHTS: Young mystery fans will love this first book in a new series. Plucky characters, boo-worthy, villains and a fast moving plot will be sure to captivate readers.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – The Midnight Lie; Yes No Maybe So; Tweet Cute; The Inheritance Games

Rutkowski, Marie. The Midnight Lie. Farrar, Strous and Giroux, 2020. 978-0-374-30638-0. 358 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Nirrim lives in the Ward, and life there is not fun or easy. You must follow the rules or you will be forced to face the ramifications of your actions. For Nirrim who is half-caste, her life is even harder as everything she does is policed and she is forced to live very simply. Early in her life, Nirrim was taken in by Raven who she looks up to as a mother figure, even though it’s clear to the reader that Raven isn’t a good person. Enter Sid, who causes Nirrim to think about things a different way. However, Nirrim has a secret, one that she keeps very closely guarded for if it were to get out, it would be disastrous.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing fantasy story with lush, lyrical language and a fantastic set of characters. There is a female/female romance which is wonderful to read and doesn’t take away from the rest of the story. This book is set in the world of Marie Rutkowski’s Winner’s trilogy, but you don’t need to read that series to find your way through this book. Overall, I’d highly recommend this book.

Fantasy          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy Charter


Albertalli, Becky, and Aisha Saeed. Yes No Maybe So. Balzer + Bray, 2020. 978-0-062-93704-9. 436 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehman were friends as 6-year olds but haven’t seen each other in a decade. Suddenly they find themselves tossed into canvassing for a local state senate candidate in suburban Atlanta. Neither teen is a natural fit for canvassing. Jamie, whose mom works for another state senator, is tongue-tied and awkward (see: topping a Target display of tangelos in the book’s opening pages). Maya, who is fasting for Ramadan and whose parents are going through a painful trial separation, is motivated by the promise of a car. A bumpy start to their civic engagement (complete with plenty of foot-in-mouth moments and some outright racism directed at Maya) transitions into a true partnership between friends with shared values … and huge crushes on each other. Plenty of absorbing subplots keep the pace hopping: Jamie’s grandmother and her viral “InstaGramm” account, Maya’s falling out with her college-bound BFF, and the specter of public speaking at the upcoming bat mitzvah for Jamie’s little sister. A proposed bill that would ban religious garments (like the hijab that Maya’s mother wears) raises their personal stakes in the election.

THOUGHTS: Yes No Maybe So is both woke and thoroughly adorable, and Jamie’s and Maya’s voices are equally strong and compelling. Readers will sigh swooningly at Jamie’s and Maya’s ultra-tentative romance, giggle at the supporting characters’ antics, perhaps be inspired to find their political voices, as the co-authors did following the 2016 election.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Lord, Emma. Tweet Cute. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-61867-2. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

Debut author Emma Lord puts a fresh, Gen-Z spin on You’ve Got Mail in this ultra-cute contemporary romance! Four years ago, Pepper’s mom divorced her dad and moved them to New York City to focus on growing the family’s fast food chain, Big League Burger. A classic overachiever, Pepper has done her best to fit in at her fancy private school, but she still feels like a small-town fish out of water. Her mom coaxes Pepper to oversee the company’s social media presence, which Pepper reluctantly adds to her full itinerary of swim team, baking blog with sister Paige, mostly straight A’s, and not getting lost on the subway. Jack is a NYC native, less popular twin, and heir apparent to his family’s deli, Girl Cheesing. He’s also an ace app developer who has the whole school hooked on his anonymous chat platform, Weazel. As Wolf, he enjoys refreshingly candid exchanges with Bluebird (guess who?), but would she like him IRL? Speaking of IRL, Big League Burger has a new menu item that’s suspiciously identical to Girl Cheesing’s own Grandma’s Special, and a Twitter war between them goes viral. It sounds complicated, but Lord keeps all the plates spinning with aplomb.

THOUGHTS: A strong cast of supporting characters and well-timed plot turns prevent predictability in a read that’s both savory and sweet! Emma Lord, formerly a lifestyle editor at Bustle, clearly knows NYC’s foodie-verse inside and out. With so many mouthwatering sandwiches and sweet confections, Tweet Cute is just begging to be incorporated into a potluck book club meeting!

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. The Inheritance Games. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-1-368-05240-5. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Holy cannoli!  Jennifer Lynn Barnes is amazing! Avery Kylie Grambs lost her mother at the age of 15. Two years later she is whisked off to Texas to Tobias Hawthorne’s estate where she learns that this stranger has left her a multi-billion dollar inheritance. Leaving minimal inheritance to his children and grandchildren, Avery must live at Hawthorne House with the family for a year in order to inherit the estate. Soon Avery realizes that her inheritance is a game she must play with the Hawthorne grandsons: Nash, Grayson, Jameson, and Alexander. As clues are discovered by Avery, Grayson, and Jameson, mysteries of the past are also uncovered. Avery is determined to figure out why she was chosen by Tobias Hawthorne to inherit his estate instead of his family. Soon, Avery realizes that everything is a game and in order to stay alive, she must play and win. When the answer is revealed, Avery learns there is much more to the Hawthorne family and its past than meets the eye.

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing mystery. Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a genius mystery writer. The story keeps readers mesmerized by the characters and then PUNCH right to the gut with a change this reader didn’t see coming. Words cannot express the awesomeness of The Inheritance Games and Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s ability to weave a story together flawlessly. The ending makes me need book two NOW!

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – City of Beasts; The Queen of Nothing

Wang, Corrie. City of Beasts. Freeform Books, 2019. 978-1-368-02662-8. $17.99. 374 p. Grades 9 and up.

Glori and her multi-generational group of co-habitant fees (females) are content living their lives on Grand Island outside what used to be the city of Buffalo. Nearly 17 years ago, a nuclear war killed most of civilization and left most of the planet uninhabitable. After years of natural disasters and unrest culminated with the world-wide nuclear attacks, males and females in the area around Buffalo decided to live separately. The nuclear bombings (referred to as The Night) left females unable to procreate anyway…or so they thought. Then five years ago, Glori’s mother, Majesty, gave birth to a beast (a male) they named Two Five. Mystery surrounding his birth aside, the “family” raises the male in secret… until Two Five is kidnapped and taken by beasts to Buffalo. Of course, Glori decides she must rescue her brother, against the wishes of her grandmother, the leader of the fees on Grand Island. She and Su, her best friend and co-habitant, sneak over the bridge to the city to try and rescue Two Five where they meet Sway, a beast who is nothing like the terrifying stereotype of males they were taught. Glori and Su discover there is much more to their rescue mission when they learn about the politics of this society that has been kept from them their entire lives. Not only are they trying to rescue Two Five, but they also end up fighting in a war between beasts and fees that has been 17 years in the making.

THOUGHTS: Complex world-building and relationships coupled with timely themes of politics, science, and gender stereotypes make this an intriguing read for fans of dystopia.

Dystopian          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Black, Holly. The Queen of Nothing (Folk of Air Book 3). Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 978-0-316-31042-0. 320 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Following her exile to the mortal world by King Carden, Jude, Queen of Elfhame, is forced to return, in defiance of her exile, to Elfhame as her twin sister, Taryn, following the death of Taryn’s husband Lock.  Although only meant to be there a few hours, Jude ends up back with her father, Madoc, in his military camp. As Jude learns of Madoc’s plan to take the Blood Crown from Carden and rule Elfhame, her guise of being Taryn is also revealed.  Ending up at the court, Jude is accepted back as Queen of Elfhame by King Carden, and they begin their rule together. When Madoc challenges Carden for the crown, Carden’s actions release the spell placed upon the crown on himself. Will Jude be able to save Elfhame, Carden, and herself, or will the magic destroy all of Elfhame and all Jude has known and loved?

THOUGHTS: Black’s end of the Folk of Air trilogy develops well, but falls a bit flat with the resolution.  Conflicts are a bit too tidy with the end, although all of the rising action, climax, and falling action are excellent.  Students who enjoy fantasy and/or romance will enjoy this trilogy. The final book includes much more romance than the previous texts which was a bit awkward and led to the flat resolution.

Fantasy, Romance          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – Anthem; The Skylarks’ War; The Jumbie God’s Revenge; Owling

Wiles, Deborah. Anthem (The Sixties Trilogy #3). Scholastic Press, 2019. 978-0-545-10609-2. 480 p. $19.99. Grades 4 and up.

It’s the summer of 1969. The summer of Woodstock, hippies, the Vietnam Conflict, and the Draft. After heated disagreements over Vietnam, Molly’s brother, Barry, left their home in Charleston, SC, one year ago. Now, Barry’s draft notice has arrived, and it’s up to Molly and their cousin, Norman, to find Barry and get back to Charleston in 21-days. As their adventure unwinds, Molly and Norman meet people at every stop that introduce them to life beyond their experiences. They experience music beyond their wildest dreams in Atlanta, Memphis, and LA. They help people along the way in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico that introduce them to love, heartbreak, pain, suffering, and hope. They see the changing United States through the land, the people, the music, and others’ experiences. But when they reach San Francisco, will Barry be willing to return and face life in the Army, or will their adventure lend more for Molly and Norman than either thought possible?

THOUGHTS: I have enjoyed Wiles’s Sixties Trilogy thoroughly. Wiles’s inclusion of primary source documents throughout help readers better understand this decade of change in the United States, especially in this novel. The primary sources included do not directly correlate with Molly’s and Norman’s story, but instead provide insight into the Vietnam War both in the US and in Vietnam. Wiles uses song titles with original production information at the beginning of each chapter which many students will use as a launch point into the music and figuring out the correlations between the titles and the chapters. Although written for middle grade students, this title, and trilogy, are insightful for all ages and recommended for upper elementary, middle school, and high school collections.

Historical Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Book is too small a word to describe Wiles’ third entry in her 60’s trilogy. It is a gift wrapped seminar on the 1960s, particularly the year 1969. But seminar sounds dry, and Anthem is anything but dry. It is bursting at the seams with color, texture, sound and emotion. Molly’s brother, Barry, ran away from home after an argument with his father, and the family has not heard from him in a year, when his induction notice arrives. Molly’s mother decides 14-year-old Molly and her 17-year-old cousin, Norman, must go find Barry and bring him home before his army physical date. Barry has secretly been writing to Norman, and the last letter came from San Francisco. Despite the misgivings of both teens, they pack up Norman’s school bus (a parting gift from Barry) and leave Charleston South Carolina. Norman, a drummer, stipulates that the trip must include music, and therein lies the cohesive thread of their journey, as they travel the country ingesting the culture and music of the era, meeting people vastly outside their conventional upbringings, and growing up so fast it can be heartbreaking to read. But aside from the novel, Anthem, like Wiles’ other books, is a cultural scrapbook of photos, news clipping and quotations which add richness to the story and understanding of the era. And, this may be the first book you’ve read with it’s own playlist, (the only thing that could make the book better is if there was a comprehensive list of all the songs mentioned in the story) the glorious soundtrack of the 1960s. The individuals Molly and Norman encounter along the way are richly nuanced, even if their appearances are brief. When Molly and Norman arrive in San Francisco, the conclusion of their quest is bittersweet, but a perfect ending to the book and the decade.

THOUGHTS: A literary tour de force, Anthem stunningly captures the upheaval of the era, as “nice” teens like Molly and Norman are introduced to a wider world which often contradicts what they thought they knew. A first purchase for libraries serving intermediate grades and higher.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


McKay, Hilary. The Skylarks’ War. Margaret McElderry Books, 2019. 978-1-534-46004-1. 324 p. Grades 6-8. $17.99.

Previously published under the title Love to Everyone, this work of historical fiction is set in London and is the story of Clarry Penrose, a young girl who lives with her brother and father. Ever since the death of the children’s mother in 1902, Mr. Penrose has been emotionally distant from his children. For the most part, Clarry and Peter must fend for themselves, although they get some guidance from a friendly neighbor and housekeeper. The high point of their year is summer, which they spend with their grandparents and cousin in Cornwall. Clarry wants to have the same opportunities as her brother and cousin Rupert, like going to school and learning how to swim. Peter is sent off to boarding school with his cousin and with the encouragement of her brother and some friends, Clarry happily begins school also. Life has taken a turn for the better for the children and their friends, but then World War I breaks out. After Rupert joins the army and is presumed killed in action, life for the Penrose family changes forever. McKay has written an engaging novel and takes us on a journey of Clarry’s life from infancy through young adulthood. There is a bit of a surprise ending, and readers will wish for a sequel.

THOUGHTS: Purchase for readers who enjoy books about family life with well-developed characters or for those who appreciate historical fiction.

Historical Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD


Baptiste, Tracey. The Jumbie God’s Revenge. Algonquin Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-616-20891-2. 263 p. $16.95. Grades 3-7.

Corrine has had enough dealings with the jumbies, the magical creatures that stir and stalk on her Caribbean island home, thank you very much. But when a storm, a monster hurricane unlike anything ever seen, strikes the island, she knows it must be the work of a powerful jumbie, but why? She and her friends first work to move their friends and family to safety, then turn their attention to things mystical and magical. Corrine talks with jumbie Mama D’Leau and realizes her own past actions may lie at fault, upsetting the great god Hurican, who now seems determined to destroy the island in revenge. Can Corrine appease the god and set things right before it is too late? This third entry in Baptiste’s Jumbies series again highlights Corrine’s love of family and friends, and loyalty to her community. She and her friends may act recklessly at times (certainly in the view of their families), but they are wise in the ways of the jumbies, trust each other implicitly, and are willing to put themselves at risk to save those they love. Baptiste lovingly depicts life on their Caribbean  island and weaves in its folklore to craft a warm story in the eye of the storm. Corrine’s firm faith in family saves the day and the island.

THOUGHTS: While the story can hold up as an independent read, having read the prior two books will vastly improve the experience. Introduce the series as a whole to lovers of Rick Riordan Presents books and other folklore and mythology fans. Corinne is a feisty, loyal girl readers will enjoy. 

Fantasy (mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Wilson, Mark. Owling: Enter the World of the Mysterious Birds of the Night. Storey Publishing, 2019. 978-1-612-12962-4. 120 p. $18.95. Grades 3-8. 

Owling introduces readers to the 19 species of owls native to North America. An introductory chapter informs readers about general owl characteristics, including physical characteristics, hunting habits, mating, nesting, and the owl life cycle. Two to four page profiles of each of the 19 species of North American owls comprise the majority of the volume. Each profile includes unique identifying characteristics, geographic range, description of the owl’s hoot/vocalizations, nesting behaviors, and hunting habits and prey. Numerous photos show the owls in the wild, in flight, hunting, and nesting. Close up photos are used to show unique physical characteristics of each species. Additional chapters discuss finding owls in the wild and creating an owl friendly environment, as well as working with owls (scientists, educators, rehabilitators, etc).

THOUGHTS: This is one of the best non-fiction books I have had the opportunity to read in the past year. The author is an owl educator and photographer, and his passion and knowledge about the subject matter is readily apparent. This title is sure to be popular with students interested in animals or wildlife who will enjoy the fantastic photos and comprehensive information.

598.9 Birds          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD