Elem./MG – The Beatryce Prophecy

DiCamillo, Kate. The Beatryce Prophecy.Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-536-21361-4. $19.99. 247 p. Grades 3-8.

“There will one day come a girl child who will unseat a king and bring about a great change,” reads the fearsome prophecy which the reader soon discovers is The Beatryce Prophecy. This magical story involves a bald, brave girl in monk’s robes; a gentle monk named Brother Edik who hands out maple candies; a slip of a boy, Jack Dory, orphaned by thieves and nurtured by an old woman—now deceased—Granny Bibspeak; a laughing, runaway king, Cannoc; and a wayward, stubborn but loyal goat, Answelica. Brother Edik comes upon a sickly Beatryce with her goat companion and nurses the girl back to health. He well knows the prophecy and when he discovers Beatryce can read and write, thanks to the foresight of her parents, he protects her by shaving her locks and disguising her as a monk. Twelve-year-old Jack Dory gets dispensed to the Brothers of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing to fetch a monk who can record the last words of a dying soldier and returns with Beatryce and Answelica with the strong directive from the monastery’s abbot not to return. Beatryce, though, cannot stomach the soldier’s confession and abandons the task. She and Jack Dory find themselves in the dangerous dark forest where they meet the jovial Cannoc who eventually tells them he once walked away from the gruesome responsibility of being the king. They seek safety from the king who threatens Beatryce’s life in Cannoc’s cozy tree- trunk home and are soon joined by Brother Edik. When Beatryce is abducted, the remaining four (the goat is included) vow to rescue her. A proverb comes to mind, Pride goes before a fall. The foolish king and his sinister counselor choose murder and lies to soothe their fragile pride: They cannot accept that a girl can read and write at a time when, as Brother Edik tell her, “Only men of God can read, and the king. And tutors and counselors. The people do not know their letters” (140). At its root, The Beatryce Prophecy is a simple good vs. evil story. But simply written it is not. Can any other author repeat a phrase or line with more meaning than Kate DiCamillo? DiCamillo illuminates this unenlightened world with characters who radiate kindness, goodness, and joy. They also turn out to be the strong ones. Perhaps The Beatryce Prophecy is a feminist story, but it is also a story of courage and friendship. In the capable hands of this author, the reader is ever more convinced that what makes the difference in people’s lives is love. . .and stories.

THOUGHTS: As a vehicle for teaching language and imagery, an example of characterization and plot development, The Beatryce Prophecy is a key tool. The story sweeps you up and the words envelope you. A good read aloud.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  SD Philadelphia

YA – The Incredible Nellie Bly: Journalist, Investigator, Feminist, and Philanthropist

Cimino, Luciana, and Sergio Algozzino, illustrator. Laura Garofalo, translator. The Incredible Nellie Bly: Journalist, Investigator, Feminist, and Philanthropist. Abrams ComicArts, 2021. 978-1-419-75017-5. 137 p. $24.99. Gr. 8+.

The subtitle of this wonderful graphic biography of Nellie Bly lets readers know that they are about to learn the life story of a true trailblazer! Nellie Bly is maybe most famous for going undercover in 1887 at an asylum for mentally ill women, exposing the horrible treatment patients received there. Her 1889 trip around the world in just seventy-two days is also very well-documented. Within the frame of a series of conversations between a female student at Columbia University’s Journalism School and an elderly Bly, The Incredible Nellie Bly covers these and her many other impressive accomplishments. Such achievements include reporting “in disguise” from a factory and debunking stereotypes about the “immoral” women workers there, interviewing Belva Ann Lockwood (the United States’ first female presidential candidate), and reporting from Europe’s Eastern front during World War I. Her trendsetting celebrity, and the inevitable backlash, are also depicted. Sergio Algozzino’s digitally created artwork, in appealing shades of yellow and blue as represented on the cover, evokes the times in which Nellie Bly lived and worked.

THOUGHTS: This is a – yes – incredible introduction to the extraordinary life and legacy of a woman who never accepted society’s restrictions but was “forever the author of her own destiny” (from the Introduction).

Graphic Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Six Angry Girls

Kisner, Adrienne. Six Angry Girls. Feiwel and Friends. 2020. 978-1-250-25342-2. $17.99. 262 p. Grades 9-12.

Raina Petree got dumped by big crush boyfriend, Brandon. Emilia Goodwin got dumped by the pompous all-male Mock Trial Team. They join forces to salvage their senior year by forming an all-female Mock Trial Team in their Pittsburgh suburban high school of Steelton drawing on Raina’s drama skills and Millie’s knowledge of the law and research. Adapting the title of the 1950’s movie, Twelve Angry Men, these six angry girls (all but one Caucasian)–overcome heartbreak and self-esteem issues to create a strong challenge to their male counterparts and a serious threat to other Mock Trial Teams as they compete for Nationals. Told in alternating chapters narrated by either Raina or Millie, the book develops a girl power story with the message that people need to stand up for what is right and, especially, stand up for oneself. Author Adrienne Kisner also manages to weave in a subplot involving knitting. Raina searches for an outlet for her grief and joins the knitting group at The Dropped Stitch, a local yarn store. Not only does she learn to cast on and purl, she finds herself involved with activists trying to stop the election of a local magistrate because of his history letting off misogynists and blocking legislation for reproductive rights. Their rebellion manifests itself in yarn-bombing the courthouse with knitted female genitalia. In a twist, the targeted judge turns up volunteering in Mock Trial. At the knitting shop, Raina meets new student Grace who is happy to join an extracurricular activity. Millie falls for Grace and begins to value herself and her time, separating her needs from her helpless father who expects Millie to be chief cook and bottlewasher after her mother moves to Ohio. Though told in a light-hearted manner, the book addresses serious topics, contains a full-range of LBGTQ+ characters, and models the strengths and weaknesses of adults in young people’s lives. What begins as a revenge against the boys story builds with each club meeting, practice, and competition to a triumph of self-identity and self-worth.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: The cover illustration depicts a diverse group of girls, but the two main characters are white. Author Adrienne Kisner is emphasizing gender identity: Millie and Grace form a romantic relationship; Izzy, a minor character, is transgender; the Mock Trial court case for the win centers on gender discrimination. Some parts to be aware of: The Dropped Stitch crew are not shy about using anatomically correct terms, and a smattering of curses appear throughout the dialogue, making it more a high school choice than middle grade. This book has the same feminist fight tone of Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu; and if this suburban, western Pennsylvanian high school resembles yours, Six Angry Girls is an attractive purchase.

MG – Finish the Fight!

Chambers, Veronica and The Staff of the New York Times. Finish the Fight! Versify, 2020. 978-0-358-40830-7. 144 p. $18.99. Grades 3-8. 

Finish the Fight! is not your momma’s suffrage book! Preceding the introduction, eight playing card style portraits feature commonly known suffragists such as Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton neatly arranged into a two page spread. The page turn reveals a single sentence: “We wanted to tell more of the story” surrounded by numerous, overlapping diverse suffragette playing cards featuring previously unsung heroines and disrupting  the notion of suffrage as a stagnant piece of history. The playing cards speak volumes with bright colors, confident poses, and knowing smiles emphasizing each woman as a force to be reckoned with in her own right. Over 117 years of the Women’s Rights movement are covered beginning with the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, beyond ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, and through the Equal Rights Voting Act of 1965. Brief chapters filled with accessible text for an elementary to middle grade audience introduce young readers to marginalized aspects of the suffrage movement. Readers will learn about the influence of Native American women including leaders of Haudenosaunee, Omaha, and Dakota-Sioux cultures. Another chapter explains how Juno Frankie Pierce encouraged 2,500 Black women to register for the vote allowing suffragists the numbers they needed to secure ratification of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee. One chapter is dedicated to the nearly disastrous effects of bias within the movement while another focuses specifically on queer leaders and their fight for equality. Primary source documents including posters, photographs, historical documents, and memorabilia are digitally enhanced and positioned throughout the pages with captions. Everything about this book is visually stunning. Portraiture credit is given to eleven artists whose unique styles pay homage to each highlighted woman in preface to her chapter, stunningly capturing her style, time period, and personality. Jovita Idar,  Mexican American journalist/activist and League of Mexican woman founder, is surrounded with southwestern flora and the scales of justice. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, a sixteen year old Chinese immigrant known for leading one of the biggest suffrage parades in New York history is depicted wearing a sash seated atop a white horse against a backdrop reminiscent of mid-Manhattan’s “Chinatown” neighborhood. Women with a chapter featuring her contribution to the fight include: Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Elizabeth Piper Ensley, Mary Church Terrell, Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary Burrill, Ida Wells-Burnett, Susette La Flesche Tibbles, and Zitkala-Sa. Dozens of others are mentioned throughout the text. The trading cards appear again in the backmatter along with succinct biographies of each featured lady.

THOUGHTS: This book is a celebration of the unsung heroines of the suffrage movement, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Finish the Fight! is quite possibly the most comprehensive, approachable, inclusive look at the radical fight to secure votes for women. Women’s history is inextricably tangled up with equality and human rights on all fronts. Rarely are the stories of those who worked in parallel to obtain rights for BIPOC and LGBTQ folx woven into history books for children. This book is a much needed addition to any elementary or middle grade library collection. Primary source material mixed with modern art and plain text opens the door to use this book in a myriad of ways for research, history, and social studies lessons.

324.6 Voting Rights          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Rather than recap stories about the famous white women who fought for women’s rights, this book tells the stories of the African American, Native American, Asian American, and queer women who have made significant contributions but are not as well known as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The book explores the history of the women’s suffrage movement including the Declaration of Sentiments, the representative democracy practiced by some Native Americans which gave women power to make choices, and how women helped states ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to ensure it became part of the US. Constitution. The activists featured include Dr. Mary Walker who is the only woman in US history to be awarded the Medal of Honor and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin who started the first newspaper by and for black women in the US. Readers will be introduced to Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary Burrill, and other women who were part of the LGBTQ community and fought for women’s rights.

THOUGHTS: Readers will be pleasantly surprised by this book, especially those who have preconceived notions about the women’s suffrage movement or those who think it is boring. Give this book as a gift to a history teacher or encourage a history lover to read and learn about the revolutionary acts of women over one hundred years ago. Middle school and high school students will be inspired by many of the women featured in this book and will have a more comprehensive understanding of the women’s suffrage movement.

324.6 Women’s Suffrage     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

MG – The Prettiest

Young, Brigit. The Prettiest. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-626-72923-0. 301 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Eve Hoffman writes poetry, wears her high-school aged brother’s oversized shirts to distract from her curves, and buries her head in a book so as to not be noticed. She is the most surprised of all her eighth grade classmates to find herself in the top slot on the Prettiest List at Ford Middle School in suburban Michigan. As the principal and teachers try to root out the list’s instigator, both girls on the list and off suffer backlash. Prettiest by Brigit Young is told through the perspectives of the main characters: Eve, a well-developed, shy girl from a conservative Jewish family; Nessa Flores-Brady, her best friend, a theater junkie and a large, Latinx girl; and Sophie Kane, a determined blonde-haired girl whose bossiness and make-up mask the shame she feels about her family’s economic situation. When the ringleader of the mean girls, Sophie, gets knocked off her pedestal and relegated to number two on the list, she realizes the pretense of her groupies and reluctantly joins forces with Nessa and Eve to take down the person who they believe compiled the list. Aided by Winston Byrd, a lone renegade from the popular boys, their chief suspect is Brody Dalton, a wealthy, handsome, and entitled young man who has verbally abused or offended many of his classmates with no remorse. The trio enlist other wronged girls calling themselves Shieldmaidens. They bond in genuine friendship and sisterhood as they plot to expose Dalton’s crime in a public way at the finale of the school play. What starts off as a 21st Century equivalent to a simple slam book story becomes a feminist’s rallying cry for girls to be judged on their merits, not their looks, and for all middle school students to resist fitting into a mold to gain acceptance. It also uncovers the nuances of each person’s story. For example, the arrogant Dalton is the sole student whose parent never attends school events. Young’s talent for echoing the authenticity and humor of preadolescent dialogue enables her to tackle important issues with a light touch. This highly readable work reveals the insecurities embedded in a middle school student’s life: not being cool enough, popular enough, and the pain caused by too much attention and not enough.

THOUGHTS: Though there is some show of diversity here (an African-American girl, a girl in a wheelchair), the emphasis is on the pressure middle school students—especially girls—feel to look and behave a certain way. Lots of discussion points in this book: from the insults the girls receive and their collective show of power to the students’ bandwagon attitude and the sympathetic– but mostly ineffectual– response of the teachers and principal. Prettiest may present as a “girl” book because of its feminine cover and title, but it is definitely a book for all genders to read. For more tales of positive girl power: read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu in high school.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA NF: Our Stories, Our Voices; I Have the Right To; A Few Red Drops; Unsinkable; Very, Very, Very Dreadful

Reed, Amy, editor. Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real about Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America. Delacorte Press, 2018. 978-1-524-71587-8. 352 p. $10.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Twenty-one writers, including many major young adult authors, tackle what it means to grow up female in America. With pieces on gender, race, religion, and ethnicity, these authors share their stories without fear of discrimination to show a new generation of women how to stand up and be strong. Note: Many authors don’t hold back when discussing their views on the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump.

THOUGHTS: Speaking up and speaking out, these writers will inspire teen girls to stand up for themselves, regardless of identity. In the introduction, specific articles are listed as potential trigger warnings. Due to the nature of the content, this collection is most appropriate for high school readers.

305.42, Social Role and Status of Women          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Prout, Chessy. I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-534-41443-3. 416 p. $10.99. Gr. 9 and up.

A ripped from the headlines story of surviving sexual assault, Prout begins her story by taking readers through what initially brought her to Saint Paul’s boarding school in New Hampshire as a high school freshman. Chessy shares details about life prior to boarding school and during her first year where she sheds light on unique “traditions” at Saint Paul’s. One tradition, the senior salute, has forever changed Chessy’s life. In explicit detail, Chessy describes her assault, the immediate aftermath, the trial that eventually followed, and the years of pain and recovery she faces as she tries to put voice to this crime. While sharing her story, Chessy also discusses how national events like the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump and the women’s marches that followed impacted her on a very personal level and how they empowered her to speak up for women. Though she cautions that each survivor’s story is unique to him or her, Chessy’s narrative is all too real for many survivors. Young women and teen girls especially need to read this story of suffering, resilience, and ultimately hope. 

THOUGHTS: With national attention of the #MeToo movement, and individuals in power being held accountable for their actions, teens will appreciate the honesty of Chessy’s story. Regardless of background, many teens will relate to some experiences Chessy has as a high school student. Readers looking for a raw, emotional, and authentic read will appreciate Chessy’s voice and ability to stand up for what is right. Graphic details of sexual assault make this suitable for mature readers. Note: I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version of this book (which is read by the author)!

362.88, Victims of Assault          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Hartfield, Claire. A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919. Clarion Books, 2018. 198 p. 978-0544-78513-7 $18.99 Grades 7-12.

In the hot summer of 1919 in Chicago, temperatures were high and residents were urged to cool off at the city’s unofficially segregated beaches.  Five black teenagers rafted safely at the (black) Twenty-Sixth street beach, but when they drifted too close to the (white) Twenty-Ninth street beach, they attracted the ire of the white beach-goers angry at the “invasion.”  When a white man began throwing stones at the boys, he accidentally but fatefully caused 17-year-old Eugene Williams to drown. When the white officers failed to arrest the guilty man, word spread quickly. Rumors and hatred few through the city, and riot took hold, taking the lives of 38 people and injuring 537 (two-thirds were black; one-third were white) in the span of one week.  

Also in that hot summer of 1919, the world was emerging from World War I and Chicago was a northern city still highly racially segregated.  Workers in the growing meat-processing plants were fighting for work, fighting for unionization, and fighting between each other; immigrants from Ireland and Eastern Europe faced persecution, as did the black immigrants from the southern states (who were usually the last to be hired).  Though the number of blacks employed grew from a thousand in 1915 to more than ten thousand in 1918, they “particularly resented that they, who were native to American soil, were passed over…in favor of recently arrived immigrants” (104). Locating housing was also painfully limited, for, as a real estate dealer said, “you people are not admitted to our society” (109).  The efforts of journalists and union workers to improve equality helps to tell the full story. Many details are chilling for their reality today, such as, “Just catching a policeman’s attention might well cause a black person’s heart to skip a beat” (113).

THOUGHTS: This is a thorough and detailed presentation of race relations and a changing nation, with bearing on our present.  The first two and the last three chapters are devoted to the riot, but the bulk of the book focuses on the economic, political and social history of Chicago that allowed the riot to occur–and not solely in Chicago. Hartfield explains that in the U.S. that summer, twenty-five riots with racial causes led to the label “Red Summer” for 1919. Chicago leaders could have blamed the poor and turned away from the unrest, but they chose to examine the riot and seek justice for the victims–and since that day “progress has come in fits and starts” (167). A compelling look at the causes and costs of social change.        

305.8 Race Relations, United States          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Long, Jessica, with Hannah Long. Unsinkable: From Russian Orphan to Paralympic Swimming World Champion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 112 p. 978-1328-70725-3 $16.99 Grades 5-12.

Life-changing moments. Nineteen of them, to be exact. That’s what Jessica Long chose to highlight when asked for her story. And she has quite a story to tell, as a congenital double-amputee, born in Siberia, adopted by an American family from an orphanage, and after ten years as a competitive swimmer, the second-most decorated paralympian in world history (with twenty-three medals, thirteen of them gold). Her moments (shared nearly chronologically) include: the moment I discovered water; the moment I failed, the moment I became a professional athlete, the moment I met my Russian family, and so on. Structuring her story in this way (she gives credit and thanks to her sister Hannah Long) is a refreshing change from stock series biographies. The many colorful photographs and page spreads enhance the feeling of reality, joy, and challenge that Long has encountered. Her story–mostly about swimming–is honest about failure, struggle, and anxiety, but also encouraging about the past not holding her back, her Christian faith to guide her future, and enormous support from her family and friends.  

THOUGHTS: At just 112 photo- and color-filled pages, this will be picked up easily by middle and high schoolers seeking insight into competitive athletics and celebrity.

797 Paralympics–Swimming          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Marrin, Albert. Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.  198 p. 978-1-101-93146-2. $21.99.  Grades 5-12.

Marrin expertly, if slowly, leads readers through the horror- and death-laden story of the 1918 influenza pandemic.  “You can’t ignore the 1918 flu–it’s the great-granddaddy of them all,” a specialist notes (1). You can’t ignore it, but you can be sobered by it; be prepared for a truly depressing look at war’s impact on the spread of disease; the hazardous conditions set in place by World War I–for soldiers, health personnel, and civilians–paved an easy street for the 1918 flu to take the lives of an estimated 50-100 million worldwide, after infecting about 500 million. A 1994 World Health Organization report declared that the 1918 pandemic “killed more people in less time than any other disease before or since” (3). Marrin himself admits this is not “a happy story or a pretty one” but we owe it to those who lived and died to use what knowledge we can glean to prevent pandemics that pathologists state will surely happen. Marrin uses a multitude of primary sources, including statistics, soldiers’ and civilian survivors’ memories, songs, literature, advertisements, maps, and numerous black and white photos. Two factors led to the rapid spread of the three waves of influenza that struck over an 18-month period in 1918-19: the “Great War” in combination with the limited research and understanding of the disease (and medicine) of the time. Research since the 1930s has revealed insight into the virus, and Marrin explains attempts of numerous scientists–some attempts that have actually encouraged the disease. The first five chapters are heavy with real-life horror: trenches filled with water, rats and “trench-foot;” Germans so starved by the food shortages that they fought over the remains of dead horses in the streets; the ubiquitous face masks; bodies piled upon bodies as hospitals, then even the mortuaries, filled beyond capacity. A survivor later recalled that as a child, “we were afraid…to have contact of any kind…I remember I was actually afraid to breathe. People were afraid to talk to each other…because you might have the germs that will kill me” (106-7). The sixth and final chapter turns to look at the resulting research–cause, spread, ending, future. The answers have taken years, and the reality is stark: it will happen again. This final chapter is just as riveting and sobering as the earlier chapters.

THOUGHTS: Well-researched, well-written, and a must-have for middle and high school collections.  

614.5 Disease: Influenza          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


“Like a mass of intertwined plant roots, the roots of the 1918 outbreak lie deep in the natural world, the history of science, and the sweeping arc of human history” (8). In Very, Very, Very Dreadful, his latest work of nonfiction for teens, Albert Marrin untangles these roots to help readers understand both how the influenza pandemic occurred a century ago and how we can better prepare for a future outbreak. The medical profession made huge strides during the 1800s but in 1918, “war and influenza joined forces to ignite history’s worst-ever health disaster” (32). Millions suffered during the comparatively mild first wave in the spring of 1918, especially on the Western front. By August the virus had mutated into a “mass murderer of humans” and the second wave surged across the planet. During the third wave, the influenza virus would flare up, retreat, and then flare up again, and by mid-1920 the pandemic had ended. The book’s closing chapter, “A Detective Story,” explores the emerging menaces that guarantee job security for virologists … and keep them up at night.

THOUGHTS: It is a pleasure to discover nonfiction that is both rigorously researched and eminently readable. Plagues and pandemics are perennially page-turning topics, and Very, Very, Very Dreadful is highly recommended for readers of Gail Jarrow’s excellent medical nonfiction trilogy: Red Madness, Fatal Fever, and Bubonic Panic.

614.5 Influenza Epidemic, Diseases          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA FIC – Before I Let Go; Rules of Rain; Moxie; The Librarian of Auschwitz

Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-64228-2. 368 p. $17.15. Gr. 10 and up.

Returning to Lost Creek, Alaska, for her best friend’s funeral after moving away several months ago, Corey is devastated. She never found the words to tell Kyra that there was a great big world outside of Lost, and now she’ll never have the opportunity. Guilt-ridden over never responding to Kyra’s letters, Corey doesn’t know what to expect in Lost. Lost isn’t what she remembers, and neither are the people that live there. The town that she once loved and that loved her seems like it’s hiding something. Determined to uncover the truth about Kyra’s death, Corey sets out on her own. Desperate to find answers before her return to Winnipeg and terrified for her safety, Corey races against the clock before her flight departs. Told in present tense, letters sent and unsent, and flashback narratives written in play format, Corey’s and Kyra’s stories unfold as Lost fights to keep its secrets.  THOUGHTS: The remote Alaskan wilderness amps up the creepy factor in this mystery. Through the emphasis on Kyra’s storytelling, readers will be compelled to learn what actually happened to her, but they may not feel fully invested in the novel, as the characters lack depth. Though identity and mental health issues are addressed, they are not at the center of the story. Before I Let Go is a good read for mystery fans and those interested in exploring the ways mental illness affects one’s life and experiences.

Mystery; Realistic Fiction    Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Scheier, Leah. Rules of Rain. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1-492-65426-1. 384 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up.

The connection between twins can be unique. Add into the mix one twin has autism, and the dynamics are even more complicated. Rain’s entire life has revolved around her brother and helping him navigate the world. She has been Ethan’s voice and rock for so long that she knows no different.  Now teenagers, Rain and Ethan are beginning to grow into themselves and somewhat apart from each other. She is interested in cooking and blogging about obscure recipes, while he is fascinated by the inner workings of the human body. Rain and Ethan experience many firsts and learn a lot about each other and themselves. While Ethan seems to be thriving in his independence, it is Rain who begins to unravel. THOUGHTS: This is more than a coming of age story, and there are a lot of issues involved. At the heart of the novel twins are learning as much from each other as the world around them. Their twin/sibling relationship, autism, family dynamics/relationships, parent/child roles, divorce, bullying, underage drinking, as well as teen relationships (friendship and romantic). While other issues are present, to say more would spoil the surprise. Teens with complicated home lives and/or challenging sibling dynamics will like this character-driven novel. Some mature content makes this book more suited for high school readers.  

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Mathieu, Jennifer.  Moxie.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017.  978-1-62672-635-2. 330 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Unlike her mother, who was a rebellious teenager, Vivian Carter has always kept to herself and followed the rules.  However, after witnessing incident after incident of sexism in her conservative Texas high school, none of which are corrected by the administration, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines of the nineties, Vivian creates and distributes an anonymous zine around her school, calling for all girls to take action in protest.  The movement gradually grows, with more and more girls participating in each new protest and some girls even taking their own actions to improve the misogynistic environment.  Inspiring and empowering, readers will keep turning pages in order to find out what the Moxie girls are going to do next–and whether or not they will be successful in changing their school’s culture. THOUGHTS: Because of its strong emphasis on feminism, I would recommend this book to teenage girls and/or those who enjoy reading fiction with strong female protagonists.  The novel would also be an excellent supplement for a social studies unit on women’s history, women’s rights, and/or social activism.  It would be sure to spark discussion and may even inspire students to conduct further research on the Riot Grrrl movement of the nineties.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


Iturbe, Antonio. The Librarian of Auschwitz. Translated by Lilit Thwaites. Henry Holt and Company, 2017. 978-1627796187. 432 p. $19.99. Gr. 9-12.

Spanish author Antonia Iturbe tells a fictionalized story of the little-known “Librarian of Auschwitz,” a young girl whose task it was to protect the few books in the possession of Jews in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Dita Kraus arrives at Auschwitz after living in the Terezin Ghetto, and is “lucky” enough to be sent to the family camp instead of directly to the gas chambers. In this part of the camp, there is a school run by Freddy Hirsch, who sees in Dita a strong young woman willing to protect their beloved texts. The story moves back and forth between Dita’s life in the ghetto, the lives of other prisoners and Jews, and the backstory of the enigmatic Hirsch. The novel starts out slow and on occasion the language seems a bit stunted (which might be a result of reading it as a translation). However, the story and characters do shine through, and the reader becomes engrossed in this story of both the cultural and physical survival of a people. THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for high schools, especially to complement memoirs and other readings about the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

The F-Word…a look at Feminism for YA readers


Higgins, Nadia Abushanab. Feminism: Reinventing the F-Word. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2016. 978-1-4677-6147-5. 112 pp. $35.99. Gr. 7 and up.

The bold cover of Feminism by Nadia Abushanab Higgins first drew my attention to the book, and I’m so glad that it did! This highly readable nonfiction title opens with a chapter on the three waves of feminism: the 1848-1920 fight for suffrage and other basic rights for women, the mid-20th century second wave that roughly coincided with the Civil Rights movement, and the ongoing “Third Wave.” Beginning in the early 1990s, this Third Wave kicked off with a combination of the previous movements’ wisdom and a thoroughly modern perspective on individuality, power, privilege, and femininity. Higgins then moves on to how things stand in the realms of work, violence against women, sex and beauty, reproductive rights, and the future of the movement. Higgins does not shy away from regrettable chapters in feminist history, such as the failure of white feminists to vigorously protest forced sterilization procedures in the United States. She also has a clearly Pro-Choice position on abortion rights. Excerpts from the book would work well in curriculum areas such as American History and Sociology. The book also serves as a starting point for building a multimedia library of feminist documents, books, images, and video. THOUGHTS: Kudos to Nadia Abushanab Higgins for creating this nonfiction book for teens that has tremendous value for researchers and browsers alike.

COMMENTARY: I plan to include Feminism in the “Notable Nonfiction” read-alike list that is featured on the Ridley High School Library’s Web site (http://www.ridleysd.org/Page/5897) , as well as incorporating it into my booktalk repertoire. For an even more in-depth discussion of the terrible history of eugenics and forced sterilization, listen to the Fresh Air interview with Adam Cohen, author of the recently published Imbeciles.

Feminism (305.4)      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

These Shallow Graves


Donnelly, Jennifer. These Shallow Graves. New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0385-906791 487 p. $19.99 Grades 8-12.

Jo Monfort is rich, clever and trapped. In 1890s New York, upper crust young ladies seek and receive only early marriage proposals, the richer and more stable, the better. They do not seek to showcase their opinions, writing skills or investigative interests, as Jo wishes to do. Jo and her friends know that their parents will seek for them the best match based upon family history, source of wealth, stability of name, etc. For Jo, that means she and her good friend Abraham “Bram” Aldrich will likely marry. By all accounts, he is quite a catch: kind, intelligent, handsome, and rich. But as much as she likes him, she doesn’t love him and doesn’t even know what that means. In fact, heavy issues like business and delicate issues like the body, or, heaven forbid, sex, are not discussed and not understood (Jo’s friend Trudy honestly thinks that a stork brings a child and only after you’ve married.)

When her father is found dead in his study, the police rule it an accident (he was cleaning his gun), but Jo knows he was too smart to make that mistake. When investigating on her own, she meets Eddie Gallagher, a handsome reporter for the newspaper, The Standard, owned by her family. Through him, she learns that the evidence points to a suicide, and her trusted uncle likely paid for the “accident” ruling to save the family name and business. Shocked, Jo is driven to know what would lead her father to suicide. Excited, Eddie is driven to break a huge story that will make his career. Attracted, they both fall in love and unearth some astonishing answers and deep mysteries around the shipping business shared by her father, uncle, and several other men. Eddie is more able than Jo to believe ill of her family and its business. As naïve, but driven Jo sneaks out (night and day) to seek answers, she risks her reputation (girls don’t walk alone, let alone go to the morgue or a graveyard). Fortuitously for her, she’s understood and trusted by several new friends: Eddie, his mortician friend Oscar, and street criminals Tumbler and Fay. Fay teaches Jo some needed self-defense skills, and saves her life more than once before the story is done.

The story gives a realistic look at the disparity between classes and sexes in 1890s New York, but strains credulity on many occasions—as when Jo repeatedly succeeds in avoiding repercussions, and she finds just who or what she needs when she needs it. The denouement, when the evil man finally answers, at great length, the entire history, after being shot in the kneecap, is nearly unbelievable (the “ouch” he utters, and his clarity of mind, do not match the pain or shock of this injury). But by then readers just want all the details and a happy ending for Jo, too. And it’s a happy ending we do receive.

THOUGHTS: Given its length and focus, this is for advanced readers who love a deep mystery sprinkled with a little romance. Indeed, this could begin a series for Jo and Eddie working together. The complicated world of 1890s New York provides excellent fodder for numerous murder mysteries and a furthering of Jo and Eddie’s relationship. Oscar in particular, as mortician, adds an incredible amount of interesting information to the tale.

Historical Fiction; Mystery       Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

The Invention of Wings


Kidd, Sue Monk. The Invention of Wings. New York:  Viking Adult, 2014.  978- 0670024780. 384p. $27.95. Gr. 7-12.

Sue Monk Kidd takes a unique look at the real lives of feminist sisters, Sarah and Angelina Gremke, who grew up to become leading feminists and abolitionists from Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1800s. The true story starts out when Sarah, at age 11, is given, by her parents, her very own slave named Hettie, a 10 year old girl.  Sarah is appalled and wants to give her back thinking that she cannot own another human being even though it is all she has ever known in her wealthy family. Soon Sarah teaches Hettie to read which is forbidden by law. Both girls are punished, but in the true story Hettie dies after her beating.  Kidd reimagines Hettie’s life, through the character of Handful, if she had lived.

In this novel, Kidd continues the story of Handful and Sarah for the next 35 years and uses the alternating voices of Sarah and Handful to tell the story of two girls who see humanity at its worst and work towards a different and better world. This memorable book written for adults is perfect for young adults as it shows the brutal depiction of the time period and the strong personalities of both women who refuse to give into the social conventions of their time. This novel is a perfect choice for high school libraries.

 Historical Fiction              Marian Kohan, Erie School District