Elem. – I’m Not Scared, YOU’RE Scared

Meyers, Seth. I’m Not Scared, YOU’RE Scared! Illustrated by Rob Sayegh, Jr. Flamingo Books, 2022. Unpaged. 978-0-593-35237-3. Grades K-3. $18.99.

Despite his size, Bear is scared of just about everything, including his own reflection. Rabbit, on the other hand, likes to read scary stories. Though they have their differences, Bear and Rabbit are friends, and when Rabbit announces that they’re going on an adventure Bear suggests a book instead because “if anything goes wrong, we can just close the book.” Bear prepares for their adventure with a bike helmet, oven mitts, and bear repellent spray, but Rabbit assures him he’ll need none of those things. As Bear and Rabbit approach a small stream, the edge of the woods, a mountain, and a long rope bridge, Bear looks for ways to avoid his fears. At each obstacle, Rabbit asks, “Bear, are you scared?” and Bear replies “I’m not scared, you’re scared!” At the long, old, rickety bridge, Bear finally acknowledges his fears and heads home. Rabbit remains, determined to prove that Bear ‘s fears are over nothing. But when Rabbit gets into trouble, he’ll need his scared friend to come to his rescue. Will Bear be able to face his fears to help save his friend, or will Bear’s fears prevent him from helping Rabbit? Sayegh’s illustrations, made with digital brushes and scanned textures and photographs, bring the characters to life and highlight the emotions they’re feeling in the various settings.

THOUGHTS: This sweet story by comedian Seth Meyers will resonate with young readers who may have “irrational” fears. Use this title to talk about fear, courage, and being a supportive friend. Recommended for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – The Great Zapfino

Barnett, Mac. The Great Zapfino. Beach Lane Books, 2022. Unpaged. 978-1-534-41154-8. Grades 1-3. $17.99.

In this nearly wordless picture book, Barnett has created a likable character named Zapfino who works as a high diving artist in the circus. As the story begins, the ringmaster announces that Zapfino will dive from a height of ten stories into a trampoline. The performer, wearing a cape monogrammed with a Z, climbs up a very tall ladder, but then seems tentative about jumping and simply disappears. Zapfino is next seen purchasing an airplane ticket to a coastal destination. He finds a job as an elevator operator in an apartment building located on a beach with palm trees. As a perk, he is given a room on the 10 ½ floor. Up and down in the elevator goes Zapfino, who finds himself very tired at the end of the day. While waiting for his toast to pop up, he falls asleep and wakes up to heavy black smoke. Fire engines arrive, and his only way out is to jump from the tenth floor into the fire rescue trampoline. Can he overcome his fear of heights and take the plunge? Marla Frazee’s charming drawings were created with black pencil. The illustrator depicts Zapfino as a small unassuming man, whose smile does not appear until the end of the story. The apartment building is drawn in the Art Moderne style, and the elevator passengers are shown in small multi-panel displays. A drawing on the back cover puts a finishing touch on the story.

THOUGHTS: This is a simple and engaging text about overcoming fears. Children will be fascinated by the tiny panels which reveal the personalities and interests of the residents. The trim size (31 cm. x 18 cm.) is a great vehicle for creating the illusion of height. Highly recommended for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

MG – The List of Unspeakable Fears

Kramer, J. Kasper. The List of Unspeakable Fears. Atheneum, 2021. 978-1-534-48074-2. 273 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Essie O’Neill has experienced a lot in her ten years. Life in New York City in 1910 can be hazardous. After the death of her beloved Da, Essie becomes more and more fearful of things both ordinary and extraordinary, to the point where her life is severely curtailed. When her mother suddenly announces that she has remarried and she and Essie will be moving, with her new husband, to North Brother Island, Essie’s fears go into overdrive. North Brother Island is an isolation ward for individuals with incurable diseases, such as smallpox. Once installed on the island, Essie’s night terrors grow worse and she becomes convinced there is a ghostly presence in the house. She fears her new stepfather, a doctor at the quarantine hospital, certain he is responsible for the disappearance of many nurses who work on the island. But maybe Essie has reason to be afraid. Why does her stepfather roam the island in the middle of the night? Who is opening her locked bedroom door? And then there is the island’s most famous resident: Typhoid Mary. This pint-sized gothic tale contains plenty of moments to give young readers delightful shivers, but also weaves in a fascinating historical foundation, including life on North Brother Island, Typhoid Mary’s fight to leave her forced quarantine on the island, and the horrific fire aboard the steamboat General Slocum. Themes of the story touch on dealing with grief and the death of a parent, overcoming traumatic experiences, and the universal childhood frustration of not being taken seriously by adults. Essie’s patient stepfather proves endearingly adept at treating Essie with respect and providing the guidance she needs to find a path to recovery.

THOUGHTS: This just-spooky-enough story, with twists and turns, should captivate readers, who will sympathize with Essie’s fears and frustrations.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Your Heart, My Sky

Engle, Margarita. Your Heart, My Sky. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 208 pp. 978-1-5344-64964 $18.99 Grades 9-12.

Engle focuses on a difficult time in Cuba’s history lived through by her own relatives. Euphemistically named by the government as “the special period in times of peace,” the 1990s are in reality a time of starvation. Strict rules keep Cubans from growing their own food; U.S. embargo limits trade; and most recently, Russia has dropped its promised support of the Communist nation, leaving commoners struggling for daily food and afraid to speak out, knowing that retribution comes in the form of limited opportunities, fewer rations, prison or death. Two young people, Liana and Amado, find their hunger gives them strength to defy the government-required summer volunteer work, even as they dread the consequences. Amado’s older brother is in prison for speaking out against the government. Liana is befriended by a ‘singing dog’ Paz who becomes her daily companion in search of food, and the dog brings her and Amado together. The two fall in love and consider their limited future options. Leave the island for the dangerous attempt to reach Miami? Or remain in their homeland to share and fight the deprivation with loved ones? Engle’s beautiful verse, and switching between Liana, Amado, and Paz’s voices, gives this novel depth and richness. 

THOUGHTS: Moving words bring to life this time of desperation.       

Historical Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Playing with Fire

Henry, April. Playing with Fire. Henry Holt & Co., 2021. 978-1-250-23406-3. 225 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

A gorgeous day in Portland. An idyllic waterfall. A boy who is interested in you – what could possibly go wrong? Natalia and coworker Wyatt are just wrapping up an afternoon hike at Basin Falls when a loud pop shatters the peace. Shortly after a man goes running by, and the smell of smoke drifts in the air. In the blink of an eye Natalia’s worst fear is coming true, again. A fire is raging in the forest and now Natalia, Wyatt, and a dozen other people are trapped. Using Wyatt’s map and skills and Natalia’s medical training, the pair help navigate the motley crew through the forest as the fire chases them. As the night progresses, Natalia will face her fears while helping a burn victim, someone having a panic attack, and someone with a dislocated knee. But when a bridge prevents the troop from escape, will Natalia have the courage to overcome her demons and make up for past mistakes?

THOUGHTS: A fast paced read, Henry does not disappoint with this novel! The characters are well developed and the story follows a clear timeline. Readers get a glimpse into Natalia’s past and how her fear of fire plays such a critical role in helping others. Students who enjoy adventure stories like Hatchet will love Playing with Fire!

Adventure Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Grades 6-12.

Seventeen year old Natalia lives in Portland near beautiful hiking trails, but she’s never been hiking. She was sick – sedated in a hospital – the week of Outdoor School, where most fifth graders stay in cabins in the woods. Her Dairy Barn co-worker Wyatt is determined to right this wrong, and he takes Natalia on a hike up to see a beautiful waterfall overlook. At 6:24 pm they’re on the way down when they hear a loud pop, probably someone firing a rifle in the Gorge, Wyatt explains. Natalia notices the smell of smoke which Wyatt connects to the local Cougar Creek fire as he explains the dangers of the tinder dry woods. Thirty minutes later they approach the bottom of the trail where to their horror the very woods they need to pass through are engulfed in flames. Natalia has avoided even the smallest birthday candle for the past six years. With no cell service and few other options, Natalia and Wyatt begin to hike back up the trail to find a new exit. Warning people to return to the falls on their way back up, Natalia is reminded of her little brother. When a helicopter drops a rock with a note that says, “Fire spreading….Extreme danger.” the group needs to come together to survive. With a variety of personalities and skills and few supplies, will they make it to Sky Bridge before they’re rescued, or will the fire reach them first?

THOUGHTS: Taking a slightly different approach to her typical “missing girl” stories, Henry strikes gold with this fast-paced thriller. A must purchase for middle and high school libraries, especially where Henry books are popular, adventure/thriller fans will zip through and request another.

Adventure Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Raj’s Rule (For the Bathroom at School)

Button, Lana. Raj’s Rule (For the Bathroom at School). Owlkid, 2020. 978-1-771-47340-8. Unpaged. $17.95. Grades PreK-1. 

Young Raj has a rule: He does not use the bathroom at school. Of course, this is a gigantic challenge, and requires a lot of strategy. But he’s happy to share his knowledge: avoid any intake of liquids; avoid the sound of running water; avoid laughing (because you KNOW what might happen then!). But one day, when Raj is desperately holding it, he is undone by an unavoidable sneeze and flees to the bathroom. To his surprise, he successfully completes his mission, and his phobia is gone. Now, his school day is so much fuller, and he gleefully partakes in all the activities he had assiduously avoided, including belly laughing at classmate Kyle’s goofy antics. The story, told via speech bubbles filled with rhyming text, is amplified by Hatem Aly’s vivid cartoon-like illustrations. Raj’s classroom is lively, and his classmates diverse, all drawn with satisfying attention to detail. The topic may address a fear felt by first time school students, but will also be sure to elicit giggles from older students who can sympathize with having to “hold it,” for whatever reason.

THOUGHTS: While not a first purchase, the book will undoubtedly be read by young students who enjoy bathroom humor.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – The Shark Report (Benny McGee and the Shark Book 1)

Anderson, Derek. The Shark Report (Benny McGee and the Shark Book 1). Penguin Workshop, 2020. 978-0-593-09338-2. 64 p. $15.99. Grades 1-3.

Benny McGee is scared of swimming in the ocean because of sharks. He knows a lot about sharks because he is learning about them for a school report. When a shark appears at his house, Benny doesn’t know what to do. His father suggests Benny invite the shark in, so he does, thus beginning his friendship with the shark. When Benny’s shark report is due and he realizes he never wrote it, he decides to take Mr. Chompers with him to school as his report. But, Benny forgot today is also the day the deep-sea fisherman is scheduled to visit his class.  When the deep-sea fisherman sees Mr. Chompers, Benny must decide which is more important: his report or his new friend.

THOUGHTS: This early chapter book is a fun, fact-filled read.  Anderson includes lots of accurate information about sharks while keeping the narrative light-hearted. Emerging readers will enjoy Mr. Chomper’s shenanigans while also connecting with Benny’s fears and how he overcomes them. Book 2 of Benny McGee and the Shark, We are Famous, is also available now.

Early Chapter Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Tiny T. Rex and the Very Dark Dark

Stutzman, Jonathan. Tiny T. Rex and the Very Dark Dark. Ill. Jay Fleck. Chronicle Books, 2020. 978-1-4521-7034-3. Unpaged. $15.99. Gr. PreK-1.

Tiny T. Rex and his best friend, Pointy, are ready for their first campout.  There’s just one problem; both are afraid of the dark. Inside the dark isn’t quite so dark, but outside the dark is DARK! Together, Rex and Pointy devise a plan to keep them safe from the Grumbles, Nom-bies, and Crawly-creeps that lurk in the dark. But, when their plan doesn’t go quite right, Rex and Pointy learn to open their eyes and see the light in their fear of the dark.

THOUGHTS: This second installment in the Tiny T. Rex series shares a common fear amongst children: fear of the dark. Through make-believe creatures, Rex and Pointy confront their fear and learn to be brave in the face of fear. The illustrations represent the dark well through dark backgrounds and bright characters, pjs (Pointy’s are specially made to cover his spikes), and various items when the friends are outside, and bright, light images when they are indoors devising their plan. The theme of working together to confront fear is prominent but not overshadowing of the actual fear children face in the dark. This is a great story to help children face their fears.

*Jonathan Stutzman is a PA author who lives in Palymra.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Poisoned

Donnelly, Jennifer. Poisoned. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-26849-2. 307 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

All of her life Sophie, Princess Charlotta-Sidonia Wilhelmina Sophia, has been told that kindness will be her downfall, her heart is to soft to be a good leader. And Sophie believes every word. Fearing her stepmother’s strict ways, Sophie tucks her kind heart away, trying to hide her true self. She agrees to give her heart to a prince who is better suited to lead her kingdom. Sophie “locks away” her heart as she prepares to become Queen, but she doesn’t have the chance to fulfill this destiny. Her stepmother has other plans in mind. When Sophie awakens, following a violent event, she is greeted by seven brothers and their helpers, who have taken in Sophie and nursed her back to health in seemingly impossible ways. Not feeling completely herself, Sophie tentatively accepts her life in The Hollow. But Sophie feels like there’s more to the story, and she won’t have all of the answers until she embarks on a dangerous journey. Sophie’s character and her kind heart are tested repeatedly, as Sophie learns what it takes to be a true leader. But is her faulty heart up to the challenge, and will she survive all the evil that wishes her dead? Sophie’s story is not a romantic fairytale but instead is about one’s journey towards self discovery.

THOUGHTS: Young adult readers need Sophie in their lives. I loved this reimagined Snow White story and appreciate Donnelly’s incorporation of other themes – like how women are told what they are and are not capable of doing or being. Poisoned deserves a place in every middle or high school collection.

Fantasy          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA Realistic FIC – When I Am Through with You; Thing with Feathers; St. Death; Sunshine is Forever

Kuehn, Stephanie. When I Am Through with You. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-101-99473-3. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Unreliable from the start, Ben tells the story of what happened on the mountain in his own way, on his own terms, and apparently from his prison cell. So begins Ben’s story and how he got to be on the mountain to begin with.  Suffering from migraines and depression and being the only caregiver for his unwell mother, Ben feels trapped by his life in Teyber. He reconnects with former teacher Mr. Howe to help with the school’s orienteering (exploring) club.  Rose, Tomas, Avery, Duncan, Clay, and Archie join Ben on the first hike into the wilderness. Tense from the start, this group seems to be on a doomed trip. It’s not until the end that readers see just how doomed these adventure seekers are. THOUGHTS: Drinking, drug use, descriptions of casual sex, and violence make this a book for more mature teens.

Realistic Fiction, Adventure       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Hoyle, McCall. The Thing with Feathers. Blink, 2017. 978-0-310-75851-8. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emilie is perfectly fine staying in the safety of her home with her mom and best friend (her seizure dog). She disagrees with her mom and her therapist: attending public school is not a good idea. She doesn’t want to be known as “that girl that has seizures.” When Emilie starts school, she makes a decision not to tell anyone about her epilepsy. As she gets closer to her friends and a boy she’s paired with her decision not to reveal her medical condition becomes more and more critical. But it’s been months since Emilie seized, so she’ll be okay, right?  THOUGHTS: Readers will fly through this light-hearted and realistic sweet novel about what it means to be different and what lengths we will go to hide our differences. With a compelling storyline – Will she or won’t she tell? Will she or won’t she seize? – readers will fall in love with Emilie as she experiences public school, friendship, and first love.

Realistic Fiction     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Sedgwick, Marcus.  Saint Death.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017 (1st American ed.).  978-1-62672-549-2. 227 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Arturo lives in a shack on the outskirts of Juarez, a Mexican city that butts up against the American border. One day, his childhood friend, Faustino, shows up begging for Arturo’s help. It seems that Faustino has joined a gang and has stolen $1,000 from his boss to send his girlfriend and her baby to America. He must replace this money by the next day or he will be killed. Arturo, a skillful card player, agrees to try to win the money back, but soon finds himself in even more debt. Now, Arturo’s life is also on the line. He scrambles to replace the money both he and Faustino owe before they are both killed by gangsters. Fast-paced and devastatingly honest, this title by Printz award winner Sedgwick is an excellent addition to high school libraries. THOUGHTS: Focusing on taboo topics like religion, illegal immigration, human and drug trafficking, and the exploitation of foreign workers by large corporations, this title is sure to spark a great deal of discussion and debate. Because violence is addressed in such an uncomfortable and unflinching manner, this title might be better suited for older, more mature readers. Pair this title with Linda Barrett Osborne’s This Land is Our Land for a unit on immigration or with Patricia McCormick’s Sold for a unit on human trafficking.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

 

Cowan, Kyle T.  Sunshine is Forever. Inkshares, 2017. 978-1-942645-62-7. $11.99. 282 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Hunter S. Thompson spends his days smoking pot with his only friend until a tragic “incident” changes everything. Desperate for acceptance and connection and wracked with guilt, he blames anyone else for the events in his past.  When he makes a couple of suicide attempts, he is sent to Camp Sunshine for depressed teens.  After being in therapy for months and on several medications, Hunter is not optimistic about the Camp Sunshine Program.  A few of the counselors and guards on staff are cruel and clueless,  though one or two seem genuinely interested and concerned for the kids.  But Hunter finds a real friend in his bunkmate Quint and a potential girlfriend in the charismatic but manipulative Corin. These connections and the questions of his therapist are helping Hunter make progress with his mental state, but when Corin convinces Hunter and a few others to join her in an escape plan, all of their chances for recovery are threatened.  THOUGHTS:  Sunshine is Forever is a raw and darkly humorous tale that tackles adolescent depression, suicide and mental health treatment in a believable way. A fast-paced read – a good choice for reluctant readers and for those who appreciate darker realistic fiction titles.   The mature themes and make it more appropriate for older teens.
Realistic Fiction            Nancy Summers, Abington School District