Elem. – Jack at Bat; Jack Goes West

Barnett, Mac, and Greg Pizzoli. Jack at Bat. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11382-0. Unpaged. $9.99. Grades K-2.
—. Jack Goes West. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11388-2. Unpaged. $9.99. Grades K-2.

Jack is a bunny with mixed behavior! Sometimes he is bad and selfish, and sometimes he is the hero. One thing is for sure: A Jack Book will be an unpredictable and fun beginning reader story! With clever words by Mac Barnett and emotive illustrations from Greg Pizzoli, readers will delight to visit and revisit this new series. In Jack Goes West, he and “The Lady” ride a train to a dude ranch… next to a bank. Some bandits, lassos, and mistaken identities ensue! Meanwhile, in Jack at Bat, The Ladies take on The Brats in a ballgame that sees Jack get yelled at, nap away the game, and chase down a snack. But can he hit the ball? With a readable layout, short sentences, and surprising plot twists, young readers are bound to become fans of Jack.

THOUGHTS: These are longer than some beginning readers, which provides a nice extended read aloud opportunity or encouragement for budding readers. Introducing this series will naturally draw students to discover the other fun and fascinating work of Barnett and Pizzoli. Recommended for K-2.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

MS Fantasy – Lilliput; Broken Ground


Gayton, Sam. Alice Ratterree, Ill. Lilliput. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree, 2015. 978-1-56145-806-6. 251p. $16.95. Gr. 4-8.

Lily has tried many times to escape from Lemuel Gulliver and has failed in over 30 plans. Gulliver is working to finish his book about his travels called Book of Travels, and Lily is his proof of the tiny inhabitants of Lilliput. As they are staying in a room about Plinker’s Timepieces, it is Finn who discovers Lily. Since Finn was an orphan, Plinker purchased Finn and makes him his apprentice and in charge of winding his devious clocks that can move quickly when wanted or even explode.  Finn must wear a waste-not-watch which tightens if he does not use timely wisely. Lily is able to disengage the watch. Lily now sees the sights of London. In their travels they meet a kind chocolatier named Mr. Ozinda, who helps them plan an escape for Lily to find her home. Part of the plan is to rescue the Swift bird from the clock and obtain Gulliver’s Book of Travels. While well planned out, not all goes according to plan. Violence takes place, and while Gulliver makes his apology, his life is lost, and Plinker is put in jail. Lily makes it back home safely, and Finn starts an adventure on board with Mrs. Ozinda. The book is constructed with a prologue, three parts, an epilogue, and an afterword. Detailed black and white illustrations are throughout the novel.  THOUGHTS: The adventure and intrigue allow the reader to devote time to this book. Lilliput has the potential to spark an interest in learning more about the original Gulliver’s Travels.

Fantasy; Action/Adventure; Classic Retelling     Beth McGuire, Wendover MS



Schwab, Victoria. Broken Ground. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-87695-7. 186p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

Broken Ground continues the adventures of Meilin, Rollan, Abeke, and Conor in book two of  Fall of Beasts, a strand of the best selling Spirit Animals series. The Greencloaks face huge difficulty in trying to heal Conor from the Wyrm. They also observe another concern as the bonds with Spirit Animals are getting looser everywhere. The heroes are divided into two groups. Conor fights, becoming snake-like, and Meilin hears voices as they travel in the cave. Rollan needs to be less aggressive and not challenge the sea while he and Abeke work together.  Through their missions it is evident that enemies come in all shapes and sizes. There is a new group to the heroes called  “The Red Cloaks.” Members of this group wear an animal mask and oppose Zerik, but much is still a mystery regarding the group. At the castle in Stetriol, Tasha summons one of the Great Spirit Animals, Ninani, the swan. If Tasha accepts, she will be the first Greeencloak from Stetriol. Rollan relates to the magnitude of her decision, as he thought often about his choice and mentorship from his friend the late Tarik. While they wish to keep Tasha’s calling a secret, it is not kept long whatsoever and the city rejoice with the news and launches fireworks. THOUGHTS: Add this book to your collection! Allow students to read the books in whatever order they wish (though you may want to assist some students with the order). Since the series is written by familiar authors to your students, you may want to consider shelving the books by series or creating a special sign or bookmark helping the students locate the novels as they move through the series.

Fantasy; Action/Adventure    Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

2016 Titles are Officially Here

As per our usual, Literature Review focuses on reviewing and recommending one publishing year at a time.  With PSLA’s Annual Conference in full swing, our 2015 list is out, so it’s time for 2016 (Officially…several titles have already been added to the blog).  Happy Reading!



Rutkowski, Marie. The Winner’s Kiss. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2016. 978-0-3743847-39. 496 p. $17.99. Gr 7-12.

Marie Rutkowski’s excellent Winner’s Curse trilogy ends with this epic, immensely satisfying conclusion! Arin is at war, both physically and emotionally; in his attempts to find allies and fight the Valorian army, he can’t seem to forget about Kestel, even if his memories are tinged with hatred. Kestrel’s father has betrayed her to the Emperor, and she’s now working in a brutal work camp in the North, her daily food and water tainted with drugs to keep her docile. With each day and each batch of drugs, Kestrel finds herself losing her memories, along with her sense of self. An encounter with a soldier and a maker moth begins to unravel Arin’s distrust; he begins to question both he and Kestrel’s previous actions and moves to rescue her, setting in motion a series of exciting events that will have readers on the edge of their seats. While much of the story focuses on the relationship between Arin and Kestrel, fans of action, adventure, and epic war battles will not be disappointed. THOUGHTS: A beautifully written, brilliant end to one of the best YA series in recent memory.

Fantasy    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Series Additions – Lion Heart; The Boy Who Knew Everything


Gaughen, A.C. Lion Heart. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-0-8027-3616-1. 346 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

The third and concluding novel in Gaughen’s Scarlet series, Lion Heart follows Scarlet (aka Marian, aka Lady Huntingdon, aka Scar per Robin Hood) from narrowly escaping her execution as ordered by Prince John, through a variety of close calls in which she displays her leadership and fighting skills. Rather than flee the country to ensure not only her own safety but also Robin Hood’s, Scarlet returns to Robin, defies Prince John, and makes the world safe for the peasants over whom she now reigns. The plot is predictable, the characters formulaic, and the romance melodramatic. THOUGHTS: Perhaps I am not the best person to review this novel as I found it tedious, a teenage romance novel with seemingly repetitive sequences. (What exactly does it mean when the author describes several characters at different points in the story as having their “throats working”? Does this imply anger, frustration, sorrow, lust, what? And why use the exact same undefinable description, so much so that the reader anticipates its usage whenever a male character is upset? Just one of the many objections I have with regard to this novel’s composition.) Although this series received positive reviews, I would not recommend it as an essential purchase.

Action/Adventure       Annette Sirio, Pittsburgh Obama Academy of International Studies




Forester, Victoria. The Boy Who Knew Everything. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2015. 404p. 978-0312 626006 $16.99 Grades 5-9.

In this sequel to Forester’s The Girl Who Could Fly, young Piper McCloud (the girl who could fly) is back home with her wonderful parents, this time with a friend: Conrad Harrington, the boy who knew everything. Soon they are joined by others with special abilities, and they hone their gifts to work together to provide “miracles” of sorts, locally and worldwide. Conrad believes he’s seeing a pattern in the mayhem of natural disasters, and he’s curious to find out. Conrad has been deeply hurt by his father’s rages and dismissal of him, and still more by his mother’s blind eye to it all. Conrad’s identity—as the son of the President of the United States—is revealed by the First Lady herself, when she arrives to request Conrad’s help in locating the four-year-old sister he’s never known, but who has disappeared. Despite his mother’s untrustworthiness, Conrad agrees. But, the cohesive gifted group they’ve built is split by design, and Conrad and Piper find themselves in a secret, nearly parallel world, Xanthia, while two of their friends have disappeared. Conrad relentlessly pursues his father, and both Piper and Conrad relentlessly encourage and save each other. Recommended for the description of Xanthia alone, and the strong friendship between Piper and Conrad, sans romance.  THOUGHTS: While it’s Piper holding this novel together, it always comes back to Conrad and his father and the longing of a son for his father’s blessing, and what a son will do in return. The story arc sags when the team (and the novel) splits. Readers do not need to have read The Girl Who Could Fly, though, meeting Piper for the first time would make a reader curious about “her” story in that book. The ending leaves substantial base for still a third book in the series.

Fantasy    Melissa Scott, Shenango High School