Elem. – Prairie Days

MacLachlan, Patricia. Prairie Days. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020. 978-1-442-44191-0. $17.99. Grades K-3.

This beautifully illustrated picture book is an ode to carefree summer days on the prairie. Told in the voice of a young girl, this semi-autobiographical work is set in a farming community around the late 1940s. The author’s lyrical text describes how the girl and her friends spend their days playing kick the can, swimming in the farm pond, riding horses, and buying candy at the general store. MacLachlan’s verse is a delight for the senses, as she writes about the smell of “the cattle and bluegrass and hyssop,” the taste of cold drinks, the sight of prairie dogs, the feel of grain that “sneaked into our pockets,” and the sound of dogs barking as they herd sheep. The illustrations are colorful collages reminiscent of the work of Ezra Jack Keats. To make this artwork, Archer uses acrylics, ink, textured and homemade paper, stamps, origami and newsprint and even includes what appears to be real lace for  the curtains.  Children will enjoy poring over these imaginative drawings. The text and images work together to take the reader back to a happy-go-lucky time, when children played outside all day until their parents called them home at night.

THOUGHTS: This engaging book should be a contender for the Caldecott Award. The story will leave young listeners yearning for summer vacation and mature readers nostalgic for the summers of their childhood.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Season to Season (Series NF)

Gardeski, Christina Mia. Season to Season. Pebble Plus, 2020. $20.54 ea. $82.16 set of 4. 24 p. Grades PreK-2.

A Year in the City. 978-1-977112-87-3.
A Year on the Farm. 978-1-9771-1293-4.
A Year in the Forest. 978-1-977112-89-7.
A Year at the Pond. 978-1-977112-91-0.

Readers can explore the four seasons as seen on a farm or in a city, forest, or pond. Large color photographs compliment simple, factual text that covers the basics of changing seasons in each setting. Spring on the farm finds farmers plowing, planting, and welcoming newborn animals; in summer, “Crops grow in the warm sun. Tomatoes ripen. Cornstalks stretch from the earth.” Pebble Plus continues to produce high quality, high interest nonfiction for early readers. Each book includes a table of contents, glossary, index, and resources for students interested in learning more about the topic.

THOUGHTS: An attractive addition for collections looking to update their offerings on the four seasons or any reader who enjoys learning something new.

577 Nature of Life         Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

MG – Chirp

Messner, Kate. Chirp. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-547-60281-0. 227 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Mia and her family leave Boston to move back to Vermont in order to help Mia’s Gram sell her failing cricket farm. Strange things have been happening at Gram’s cricket farm, and Mia suspects sabotage by the man interested in buying the farm. Mia joins two summer camps, Launch Camp & Warrior Camp, at her mother’s request to keep her busy during the summer. At Launch Camp, Mia meets Clover who is instantly invested in helping Mia figure out what is going on at the cricket farm and in building a business plan to help the farm. Along with Anna, the girls create a robot to harvest crickets, a social media campaign (with the #ChirpChallenge), and a plan to pitch to several local businesses to hopefully gain investors. Clover decides to join Mia at Warrior Camp where Mia’s past gymnastic experience impacts her ability to perform. Each week Mia builds her confidence and strength up in order to confront an uncomfortable situation from her past. The girls form a strong friendship and work together to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill Gram’s cricket farm.

THOUGHTS: Messner does it again! This beautifully written, coming of age story is timely and offers readers a glimpse into the struggle kids face with speaking up. The story approaches the #metoo topic with grace and is appropriate to middle grade readers. Filled with plot twists, red herrings, and other elements of mystery, this book is a quick read and sure to delight fans of Messner’s work!

Mystery          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Mia’s family moves from Boston to Vermont to be near her grandmother, and Mia is glad for the change. Since she broke her arm at gymnastics, and despite her skill and enjoyment of the sport, she is relieved to give it up. She hasn’t told anyone about Coach Phil’s uncomfortable attention. If it wasn’t all right, wouldn’t an adult have stepped in? And besides, everyone likes Phil. Mia did, too, until hugs became too tight, his texts became personal, and finally, he gave her a friendly back rub she didn’t want. Mia felt “icky” around Phil, but nothing was wrong, was it? Now in Vermont, she finds an old photograph of herself and wonders if she can ever again be the brave girl who smiled as she jumped from the rocks into Lake Champlain with friends. In the meantime, she helps with her grandma’s cricket farm, caring for the crickets, working on advertising, and more. However, as more problems occur, her grandma is worried about sabotage and keeping the business afloat. Mia knows her mom wonders about her grandma’s memory and wishes her grandma would slow down.  But as Mia learns more, she and her friends begin to look into the problems. Could an outsider be trying to put her grandma out of business? Mia has spent time lately learning to be quiet, unnoticed, and unquestioned. But finding out the truth, and sticking up for another girl, helps her to find her voice. Mia learns that it’s not about finding her way back to the brave girl she once was, but finding her way forward, and she gets to decide for herself who she will be.

THOUGHTS: Messner expertly molds the serious issue of grooming and abuse into a coming of age mystery appropriate for upper elementary and middle school readers. Mia is a likeable personality, and readers will cheer for her as she stands up for herself and others and uses her voice once more.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Mia’s family is moving back to Vermont after living in Boston for a few years. Mia, a seventh grader, is happy about this move, as she gets to spend more time with her entomologist grandmother who owns a cricket farm. Mia is recovering from a gymnastics accident, but we learn that there was more damage than a broken arm from Tumblers Gymnastics in Boston.  With her parents making her choose two camps to participate in over the summer, Mia chooses Launch, an entrepreneurship camp that helps Mia save her Gram’s farm, and Warrior Camp, a parkour camp that helps Mia come to grips with her inner athlete. In her camps she makes lasting friendships that help her solve the mystery of who is sabotaging her Gram’s cricket farm and gives her the strength to face the secret she has been hiding from her parents.

THOUGHTS: This book is a must purchase for any middle grade library. Addressing all of the controversy surrounding gymnastics recently in a very appropriate way for middle schoolers (Mia’s male coach massages her shoulders and sends “friendly” texts and is generally just a bit too friendly in a creepy way), this novel focuses on female relationships and empowerment.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy