MG – How to Be a Girl in the World

Carter, Caela. How to Be a Girl in the World. Harper Collins Childrens, 2020. 294 p. $16.99 978-0-062-67270-4 Grades 5-8.

Lydia has spent the entire summer in pants, long sleeves, and turtlenecks, despite the heat, despite her single mom’s concerned comments, and despite friends’ odd looks. Lydia knows she’s not normal, and she doesn’t want to talk about it. Lydia, her biracial cousin Emma, and Lydia’s mom are proudly moving from an apartment to a dilapidated house of their own. Living in the house will require a huge amount of work (it’s chock full of dusty furniture left behind), but Lydia sees in it a chance to be safe. She would love to escape the nicknames, looks and comments of the boys at her private school. She shivers at men’s glances on the subway, or sitting too close. She feels extremely uncomfortable with her mom’s boyfriend Jeremy, whose hugs are just a little too long or too tight, and who assumes a greater friendliness with Lydia and Emma than Lydia would like. But no one else seems to notice any problem, so Lydia knows it’s her. She’s not normal, and if she can’t fix it, at least she can hide herself. Then maybe she’ll feel protected. In the new house, she finds a room full of herbs in jars and a book of spells. It’s exactly what she needs and even allows her to re-forge a connection with the best friend she’s ignored for the summer. They both try the spells, but the boys’ behavior and Jeremy’s behavior only becomes more troublesome, and an outburst from Lydia results in her being suspended from school. Lydia finally confides in her mother about the boys’ treatment of her, and her mother swiftly comes to her aid. When Lydia next explains Jeremy’s actions, her mother is devastated but resolute that Jeremy will never set foot in their house again. To Lydia, the revelatory message that she alone makes “the rules” concerning her body is freeing, and the new understanding and openness with those around her helps her to learn to own those rules.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful, “ordinary” story that every middle school girl would benefit from reading. It’s for every girl who’s ever been told, “it’s no big deal,” “you’re such a baby,” “that’s part of being a girl,” etc. And it’s for every boy who’s ever been told, “she likes it,” “you’re just being a boy,” or “looking doesn’t hurt.”  Pair with Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot

Key, Watt. Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020. 215 p. $16.99 978-0-374-31369-2 Grades 5-8. 

Adam survives the car crash that apparently killed his parents–at least, they have disappeared. When questioned by police, he speaks bewilderedly but honestly of what he saw in the wooded road near the Suwanee River: not a person or a bear, but something bigger than a bear, covered in hair, with a human face and huge black eyes. When the local paper runs a story about the accident including a “Sasquatch-like creature,” Adam regrets saying anything. The questions and the disbelief become overwhelming, especially from his Uncle John, who takes him in while the search for his parents continues. Adam can’t forget the creature, and due to disrupted sleep and nightmares, he begins searching online for information. He learns of a local Sasquatch appearance nearly 30 years ago, and sets out to question the man who reported it. He finds the near-hermit “Stanley” who reluctantly, then completely, tells Adam all he knows about the creatures, with a strong warning that the search for answers destroys your life. Adam decides he needs answers, and sets off on his own with some basic supplies.  What follows is a hard-core survival story wherein Adam becomes so attuned to the forest and animals that he lives as one of them, soon close to starving. Then he sees one of the creatures, then more. The scenes with the creatures shift from past tense to present tense, adding to the sense of unreality. Adam has found what he came for, but can he survive, can he find his parents, and can he get proof of the creatures’ existence?

THOUGHTS: With a likeable narrator, reasonable length (215 pages), and an attractive cover (see the creature in the trees?), Key has written a suspenseful survival story that will attract middle school readers curious about Bigfoot. Key includes helpful explanatory information about Sasquatch sightings.

Fantasy, Paranormal Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – You Choose: Can You Escape?

You Choose: Can You Escape? Capstone Press, 2020. $24.49 ea. $97.96. set of 4. 112 p. Grades 3-7. 

Braun, Eric. Could You Escape Alcatraz? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57392-3.
Doeden, Matt. Could You Escape the Paris Catacombs? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57394-7.
Hoena, Blake. Could You Escape a Deserted Island? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57395-4.
—. Could You Escape the Tower of London? An Interactive Survival Adventure. 978-1-543-57393-0.

Reminiscent of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series from the early 80s, this series takes you on a survivalist journey to various locations. Each book in the series offers 3 paths with 41 different choices and 18 possible endings. This reviewer had the opportunity to choose a path through the Paris Catacombs, 100 feet below the cities of Paris. The path started with a choice to explore the catacombs as a young worker in the 1700s, a modern-day tourist, or as a rescuer of a group of teens lost in the labyrinth. Written for younger adventurers, this is an enjoyable book for grades 3-7 as you get to choose your own destiny during your journey. Filled with photographs of the actual catacombs and artists renderings of Paris, this adventure series is sure to delight students.

THOUGHTS: This is a great modernized version of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that many of us grew up with that will delight this generation of readers. A great read for reluctant readers since the text is not overwhelming and the chance to read the book several times to create new endings will entice them to read more.

Action/Adventure                Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA FIC – Beartown; The Closest I’ve Come; Perfect Mexican Daughter; Dark Breaks the Dawn

Backman, Fredrick. Beartown. Atria Books, 2017. 978-1501160769. 432 p. $26.99. Gr. 10 and up.

I am not an avid sports fan, but Fredrick Backman’s latest novel is about so much more than just a little hockey town in Sweden and the goal of having their club win the junior championship. Though not marketed necessarily to teens, it would be an engrossing read for young men and women alike as it touches on many different issues that they face as young adults. The main plot centers on the relationships between the players, the coaches, the general manager and his family, various sponsors and other community members. The town’s devotion to the local hockey club borders on the fanatical, and some begin to question their allegiance once a violent act takes place and becomes known to the town. Thus, there are multiple characters, but each is so unique that the reader does not have trouble navigating through their various lives.  Backman is a masterful storyteller.  The novel surprises the reader constantly, especially after starting out a bit predictable. The themes are strung together and fall perfectly throughout the plot, as the characters and their actions keep you engrossed until the end. THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this title to mature teens who will take time to contemplate the various actions of the characters. There is drinking, sex, and some violence, so make certain that you are sharing it with the appropriate audience.

Sports      Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

 

Aceves, Fred.  The Closest I’ve Come. Harper Teen, 2017.  978-0-06-248853-4. 310 p. $15.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Marcus Rivera is growing up in a dysfunctional home in Tampa with his distant mother and her abusive boyfriend.  The family is barely getting by, and Marcos is not getting most of his basic needs met at home.  Though he has his crew of friends who have his back at school and in the rough neighborhood where they live, he still feels lonely and disconnected.  When Marcos is selected to join a support group for troubled kids with potential, he meets some new friends who open up new perspectives to him. The Closet I’ve Come is a thoughtful and moving story about resilience, friendship and the search for belonging.  It touches on the some dark topics including abuse, poverty and the appeal of drugs that trouble the rough neighborhood of Maesta.  Marcus’ ruminations about these realities are enlightening , but also humorous at times and readers will be rooting for Marcos to realize his potential.  THOUGHTS: A positive novel about overcoming difficult circumstances that would appeal to fans of Walter Dean Myers,  Jason Reynolds and Matt DeLa Pena.

Realistic Fiction         Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Sanchez, Erika L. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 978-1-52-470048-5. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Julia is outspoken, impulsive, and confrontational. More than anything, she wants to move out of her parents house, go to college in New York City, and become a famous writer. Her parents, who immigrated from Mexico, do not understand why Julia isn’t more like her older sister Olga. Olga attends a local community college, lives at home, and comes home every night to help her mother and father around the house. Julia can’t help who she is, and can’t do anything to show her parents that she will never be a perfect daughter like Olga. When Olga is hit and killed by a bus, the thin string holding the family together is completely broken. Julia’s mother spends days in bed, her father refuses to speak, and Julia is left picking up the pieces of her broken family. But Julia is deeply affected by her sister’s death too, and sadness spirals into deep depression. When Julia can’t sleep, she sneaks into Olga’s room and discovers a few items that reveal Olga might have been hiding a secret before her death, and Julia focuses her limited energy on discovering who her sister was – and why she was hiding it from her family. THOUGHTS: This book expertly explores many tough issues like abuse, immigration, suicide, and gang violence in an authentic teen voice. Julia’s story, while difficult, is one that belongs on your YA shelves.

Contemporary     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Larson, Sara B.. Dark Breaks the Dawn. Scholastic, 2017. 978-1-3380-6869-6. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Sara B. Larson’s Dark Breaks the Dawn is a fast-paced, dark YA romance based on the story of Swan Lake. In order to save Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom from King Bain, the nefarious and ruthless ruler of Dorjhalon, the Dark Kingdom, newly crowned Queen Evelayn must do what her parents could not – end the war between the kingdoms. In both kingdoms, children come into their full magical abilities at age eighteen – those in Eadrolan can harness the power of light, and are at full strength at the summer solstice; those in Darjhalon can harness the dark, and are at their full strength during the winter solstice. Evelayn is not only new to her powers, but also new to ruling a kingdom. With the help of her advisors, and her too-good-to-be-true love interest, Lord Tanvir, she concocts a plan to trap King Bain and kill him. Meanwhile, over in Dorjhalon, Bain’s son, Lorcan, raised in the shadows of his father’s wrath and cruelty, seems to have plans of his own. THOUGHTS: There is very little character development here (the good guys are really good, the bad guys are really bad), and there are some gaping plot holes (for example, if Bain is truly 300 years old, why wait until now to make war against Eadrolan?), but readers probably won’t care, because this action-packed, slim novel will suck them in, and the ending will leave them begging for the next installment. Hand this to fans of Sarah J. Mass and Leigh Bardugo.

Fantasy      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

Upper Elem/MS – Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race; Wishtree; Fish Tree

Grabenstein, Chris. Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race. Random House, 2017. 978-0-553-53606-5. $16.99. 279 p. Gr 3-6.

Kyle, Akimi and the other library lovers from Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemonchello’s Library and  Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics are back for a new game. Mr. Lemoncello, the P.T. Barnum of libraries, has created the Fact-Finding Frenzy to debut his new Nonfictionator technology, interactive holographic displays. Pairs of the young library trustees compete against each other for the chance to travel around the country promoting Mr. Lemoncello’s newest game. Grabenstein does a nice job keeping the series current by introducing Abia, a Muslim girl. In addition, the competitors find themselves abandoning the game to save Mr. Lemoncello’s reputation when rival game-makers accuse him of plagiarizing the idea for his very first game. The four finalists dig into researching Mr. Lemoncello’s background, learning to check facts and verify fake news to save their hero from shame.  THOUGHTS:  With the excitement generated by the Nickelodeon movie, this will be a welcome addition to the series. It is at least as good as the first book in the, if not better. The emphasis on research and verifying what we read on the internet is a timely, important message for students.  

Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Applegate, Katherine, and Charles Santoso. Wishtree. Feiwel and Friends, 2017. 978-1-250-04322-1. $16.99. 216 pp. Gr. 3-6.

Red has been growing, living, watching, and even speaking for 116 years. Most people don’t stop to listen, but they do come to leave wishes on branches every year as a neighborhood tradition. In that time, things have changed, yet some things remain the same for the old oak tree. Wishes have come and gone, and the residents of the tree continue to share with Red and learn from its wisdom. When the word LEAVE is carved in its trunk, Red wonders if it’s the end of the family living next door, perhaps even the end of the wishtree’s life. Can Red make one more wish come true, and can tolerance and friendship save the day?  Katherine Applegate continues her trend from The One and Only Ivan and Crenshaw to shed light on unique points of view and stories that matter and move. The amazing illustrations from Charles Santoso fill the pages with wonder and whimsy. Stop and pause and listen as Red shares a tale you won’t soon forget.  THOUGHTS: I must say that I loved the message, but was equally delighted by the humor and imagination that Applegate shows in bringing this tree’s world to life. The relationship between the animals, and their naming traditions, and the friendship of Red and a crow named Bongo are inventive, natural, and remarkable at the same time. Students could easily relate and play along with naming their neighborhood creatures. Hopefully, they would also hold discussions about acceptance and wish for a better world.

Realistic Fiction; Magical Realism     Dustin BrackbillState College Area SD

Napoli, Donna Jo, and David Wiesner. Fish Girl. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 978-1-537-90518-1. $25.00. 186 pp. Gr. 3-6.

Come see the mysterious Fish Girl! She lives inside the Ocean Wonders aquarium and is protected by Neptune himself, her keeper and caretaker. Fish Girl is indeed a mermaid, but she is told that she must stay hidden from humans and can’t talk or walk. She is still curious and lonely, though the aquatic animals and her devoted octopus friend care for her. When Neptune isn’t watching, she makes a friend, explores beyond her boundaries, and may just unravel some truths about her life and world. David Wiesner uses his amazing artistic vision from work like Flotsam to fill the panels of this graphic novel passion project. Donna Jo Napoli brings voice to the Fish Girl as she navigates her adolescence and questions whether she is a protected treasure or a captive. There are unresolved questions and wonders galore at the ending, but young readers will be captivated by the “mysterious Fish Girl.”  THOUGHTS: This is a great debut graphic novel for Wiesner, though many will recognize that he uses panels effectively in his other picture books. This would be great for a book club discussion and brings in bits of mythology and mystery that deserve further analysis. Another worthy project idea would be for students to study the traits of the other ocean creatures who dwell in the Ocean Wonders. Fun book to explore!

Graphic Novel; Fantasy      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

Easy Readers – Princess Cora; Good for Nothing Button

Schlitz, Laura Amy. Princess Cora and the Crocodile. Candlewick Press, 2017. 978-0-7636-4822-0. $16.99. 74 p. Gr. 1-3.

Immediately upon her birth, Princess Cora’s parents, the King and Queen, began educating their daughter to one day assume the crown. Cora is subjected to thrice-daily baths, a tedious exercise regime and hours reading boring books on how to run a kingdom.  Neither her nanny nor her parents will listen to any of Cora’s objections to her daily routine. Even her request for a dog is soundly denied (dogs are dirty and time-consuming). Frustrated and at her wit’s end, Cora writes a letter to her fairy godmother asking for a pet. Due to her lack of specificity, and apparently the godmother’s wicked sense of humor, Cora is shocked to find she has been sent a crocodile. The crocodile smiles and tries to assure Cora he can eat everyone who annoys her. Cora tries to convince the crocodile that she does not wish him to eat her parents; she just wants a day off. So the crocodile dresses as Cora and takes her place, with predictably hilarious results. Beautiful illustrations throughout by Brian Floca add to the charm of the book. THOUGHTS:  A delightful story sure to charm beginning readers, and one no doubt appreciated by any child who feels over-scheduled.   

Easy Reader; Fiction       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Harper, Charise Mericle.  The Good for Nothing Button! Hyperion Books for Children, 2017. 9781484726464. Unpaged. $9.99. Gr. K-2.

In this latest book in the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading! series, we meet three birds who are examining a red button that appears to have no function.  Yellow Bird declares that this button does nothing when pressed, but Blue Bird and Red Bird want to test it out for themselves.  Blue Bird feels a sense of surprise when he presses it, so states that the button does indeed do something.  Yellow Bird does not have the same experience and says that she actually feels sad.  The experimentation continues with Yellow Bird, who begins to feel angry, but the trio comes to realize that the button makes them seem funny.  This is a silly story, but one that will hold the interest of children and make them laugh out loud.  Yellow Bird shares some characteristics of Mo Willems’ Pigeon, such as his tendency to become upset easily.  Elephant and Piggie are seen reading this book on the endpapers and title page. They introduce the story and encourage us to read it as they are doing. Pigeon is harder to find, but appears on the back cover.  Harper’s illustrations of the birds are whimsical and are done in the cartoon style of Willems’ drawings.   Thoughts:  This is a must-have for all elementary collections.  Emerging readers will enjoy the story as they develop their fluency skills.  Librarians will need to decide if they will place these with Willems’ other books or classify them by the author’s name.  The other two books in this series, The Cookie Fiasco and We are Growing!, are by different authors.

Early Chapter        Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

 

 

YA Fiction – Spliced; One Memory of Flora Banks; Crown’s Fate; Liberty

McGoran, Jon.  Spliced.  Holiday House, 2017.  978-0-8234-3855-6. 368 p.  $18.95.  Gr. 8 and up.

Jimi lives in Philadelphia, sometime in the future when the “zurbs” no longer have power and and much of North America has flooded.  Her next-door neighbor and best friend, Del, makes her miss the bus to school one day, so they walk to school.  On the way they witness a police officer becoming overly violent while he is apprehending some chimeras.  (Chimeras are humans who have voluntarily spliced their genes with animal genes.)  Jimi and her friend get involved in the melee which leads them on a path filled with danger and adventure.   Woven into the story are parallels to our political climate and current events, such as police brutality, hate groups, environmental warnings, as well as some cautionary tales about technological advances. McGoran stretches the dystopian genre and makes this well-worn genre seem fresh again with this book.  THOUGHTS:  Students who enjoy action-packed dystopian stories will enjoy this, but you could also hand this to someone concerned about the environment or hate groups.

Dystopian, Action/Adventure     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Barr, Emily. The One Memory of Flora Banks. Philomel, 2017. 978-0-399-54701-0. 290 p. $15.99. Gr. 9-12.

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks suffers from anterograde amnesia. While she can remember events from her early childhood, she has been unable to create new memories since she was ten years old. This all changes, however, when she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend. She remembers everything about their kiss. Thinking that perhaps Drake is the key to curing her condition, she sets off to find him in Svalbard, Norway, where he has gone to study abroad. Throughout her journey, Flora makes discoveries about herself, about her past, and about Drake that lead her to question everything she thought was real.  A touching story of bravery, self-discovery and independence, this book will speak to any teen who desires the freedom to make his/her own decisions which is pretty much every teen. THOUGHTS: At the heart of this book is a great amount of repetition: Flora must constantly read her notes to herself about who she is and what she has done in order to figure out why she is doing what she is doing. Her thoughts are often jumbled and bounce back and forth between memories of her childhood and reminders about who she is now.  Obviously, the purpose of this is for the reader to be able to relate to her condition, although this could potentially bore and/or confuse some readers.  In Flora’s conversations with Drake, there are some sexual references which makes this book more appropriate for high school audiences. While there are not many young adult books on the market that deal with this particular type of amnesia, the 2004 movie 50 First Dates, starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, focuses on anterograde amnesia.  Therefore, this movie and Barr’s book could possibly be paired for a unit on amnesia in a psychology course.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Barr, Melissa. The One Memory of Flora Banks. Philomel Books, 2017.  978-039954710. 304p. $15.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

Flora Banks has been unable to form a new memory since she was ten years old.  Every day when she wakes up, and sometimes in the middle of the day, she doesn’t know who or where she is.  Flora’s coping mechanisms for this are impressive; notes to herself, writing on her arms, a notebook that re-explains her condition to herself.  It is fascinating to imagine what that would feel like, but this book is so much more that that.  The story becomes very complex, and the reader does not know what the truth is.  Which of the characters in the book are reliable?  THOUGHTS: This is a compelling read that fans who have outgrown Wonder and Out of My Mind will enjoy. Fans of e. Lockhart’s We Were Liars will also enjoy this.

Realistic Fiction     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Skye, Evelyn. The Crown’s Fate. Balzar + Bray, 2017. 978-0-06-242261-3. $17.99. 417 p. Gr. 8 and up.

In this sequel to The Crown’s Game, Imperial Russia is teetering on the brink of chaos. Pasha must convince his countrymen he is the legitimate heir to the throne. Vika, the Imperial Enchanter after Nikolai sacrificed himself for her, pines for her former companion, resents Pasha for causing his death, and chafes under the authority of Yuliana, Pasha’s sister. But Vika becomes aware that Nikolai is not fully dead but living in a land of shadows. As he becomes stronger and more corporeal, Nikolai also becomes more evil, exposing magic to the unsuspecting populace and challenging Pasha for the throne.  Can Vika save herself, let alone her dearest friends and the empire? THOUGHTS : A thoroughly satisfying sequel filled with magic, well-developed characters and a fascinating alternate history of Imperial Russia.  The ending leaves the possibility of further books.

Fantasy, Romance     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Portes, Andrea. Liberty. HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-06-242199-9. $17.99. 388p. Gr. 9 and up.

Paige’s parents have been missing for two years, and no one is telling Paige if they are dead or alive. Journalists, the pair was grabbed on their way to Damascus. Now Paige is in college, attempting to live in a state of suspended animation. But Paige, who speaks five languages and is an expert in several forms of martial arts, captures the attention of a super-secret government agency (after taking out two guys with AK-47s at the Altoona Applebee’s restaurant), and they have a deal for her. If she helps them learn what information a government hacker currently stranded in Russia possesses, they will reopen her parents’ case. Hard for a girl to say no, so off to Russia she goes, where she meets the mysterious Katerina and is befriended (a new experience for Paige) by the son of a Russian mob boss. THOUGHTS: The funniest book I have read in years, Liberty covers many headline issues – ISIS, Putin, Edward Snowden – with a scathing, snarky voice. Paige continuously addresses the reader, frequently advising her to google a particular topic, then come back to the book. Some readers may need to do that, to comprehend every nuance of the plot, but it is worth the time it takes. A totally delightful book, with implied sequels to come.

Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

MS/Upper Elem. Fiction – Finding Mighty; Great Treehouse War; Me and Marvin Gardens

Chari, Sheela. Finding Mighty.  Amulet Books, 2017. 978-1-4197-2296-7. $16.95. 312 pp. Gr. 5-8.

Secrets and lies. Friends and enemies. Losing and finding. Finding and keeping. Peter, his brother Randall, and Myla are all looking for something. Peter is looking for his older brother, Randall, who left home one night, leaving a note that reads “Don’t find me.” Randall is a graffiti artist who sets off a chain of unanticipated events the night he tags OM on a train station wall. Randall found the tag in a journal belonging to his father after his father died in a fall at a construction site. Myla, trying to find an identity for herself as she enters middle school, purchases a necklace with the OM symbol on it, a necklace someone very much wants back. Coincidentally, or maybe not, Peter and his mother move into the house next door to Myla, and the two join forces to solve an old mystery, one that is becoming dangerous for all involved. THOUGHTS: This well-crafted mystery is a can’t-put-down book. The story is told alternately by Myla and Peter, and Randall as well later in the story. The clues are all there if you are sharp enough to catch them. All the characters are well developed. Myla and her family are Indian, and Peter and Randall are mixed-race.  

Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Graff, Lisa. The Great Treehouse War. Philomel Books, 2017. 978-0-525-51460-3. $13.99. 272 pp. Gr. 4-7.

Winnie’s life changes drastically with her parents divorce. Supremely competitive, her parents work out a custody arrangement where Winnie alternates days with her parents, spending Wednesdays living in a fabulous treehouse erected between the two properties.  However, her parents continue to try to outdo each other, planning increasingly more elaborate activities for Winnie, until she is exhausted and failing fifth grade, having no time to do homework. When she is unable to get either parent to listen to her, she takes drastic measures; she retires to her treehouse (which, it turns out, is not part of the United States. Maybe.) and refuses to come down until her parents are willing to talk to her together. However, she is not alone for long. Soon, her friends begin to show up with sleeping bags and snacks, defecting to her treehouse nation with their own demands. The Treehouse Ten soon capture national attention. But, will the stress of their holdout be the end of their friendship? THOUGHTS:  A delightful romp that all students will enjoy. Each of the characters is well defined, and their demands are thoughtfully crafted. While they initially seem shallow, Winnie realizes each friend has a deeper need that led him or her to the treehouse. The book design is also lovely, with lots of drawings and attached notes from the various friends.  

Realistic Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Graff, Lisa. The Great Treehouse War. Philomel Books, 2017. 978-0-399-17500-8. 272 p. $17.99. Gr. 3-6.

Winnie’s parents are getting divorced, so Winnie splits her time between her mom and dad, and they insist that the time be equal. The solution? Three days a week with each parent…and on Wednesdays, Winnie spends her evenings in her custom-built treehouse that splits her parents’ neighboring properties. Winnie loves her solitary Wednesdays (spent with her beloved cat) because they are free of her parents’ over-the-top competition. In a bizarre tradition that got very out of hand, each parent now finds daily “holidays” to celebrate in huge fashion. National UFO Day, anyone? These celebrations leave Winnie exhausted, frustrated, and without any time to spend with her friends or even do her homework! Winnie reaches her breaking point when her fifth grade teacher tells her that she’s in danger of failing fifth grade and her parents are more interested in one-upping each other than supporting her academics…so Winnie does something extreme. She takes her cat, her homework, and a few necessities, and heads to her treehouse, which she refuses to leave. Within a short time, nine of her friends join her, and the Tulip Street Ten become famous.  Winnie writes about her experiences in her final fifth grade project, completed in the treehouse to ensure that she passes fifth grade. Her friends add notes throughout the story, helping readers get to know all the kids a little bit better. The storyline is certainly full of comedic exaggerations and zany characters, but Winnie’s frustration over the divorce is real and Graff does a great job of showcasing it. THOUGHTS: A really enjoyable story for kids who can handle a dose of comedic exaggeration with their realistic fiction.

Realistic Fiction             Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District

 

King, Amy Sarig. Me and Marvin Gardens. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 978-0-545-87074-0. $16.99. 243 p. Gr. 4-7.

Obe’s world is being reduced one house at a time. His family’s land is being sold off and turned into a housing development. His best friend, Tommy, has defected to hanging out with the new, wealthier kids moving into the development. A nervous boy, either ignored or derided by his parents, and prone to nosebleeds, Obe haunts the banks of the creek behind his house and the nearby Schuylkill River picking up trash the construction workers leave behind. That’s where he comes across the pig-like, slime-covered creature he names Marvin Gardens. Marvin, Obe discovers, loves to eat plastic. He attempts to keep Marvin a secret from family, friends and construction workers, and feed his continuous appetite. But the upside of Marvin has a disastrous downside; he defecates toxic, fluorescent poop that causes damage at the construction site. The race is on to save Marvin before the adults find and destroy him.  THOUGHTS: A wonderful story dealing with environmental issues, friendship, trust, and interspersed with historical vignettes, connecting Obe’s story to family history 100 years ago.  Obe’s awful parents are offset by Ms. G., his adored teacher who instills his love of science and environmental concern, and who aides Obe with Marvin. Highly recommended.

Realistic Sci-Fi     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

King, Amy Saurig. Me and Marvin Gardens. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017.  978-0-545-87074-0. 243 pp. $16.99. Gr. 3-7.

This book is award-winning YA novelist A.S. King’s first novel for middle-grades. Obe Devlin is a budding environmentalist living on the outskirts of land that used to belong to his ancestors but is now being taken over by developers. A loner whose one-time friend has deserted him for the in-crowd, Obe finds a strange but loveable creature in the woods near the builders. It’s something like a pig, and something like a dog, and smells terrible. It’s most distinguishing feature, however, is that it feeds only on plastic. Obe names the creature Marvin Gardens, after the Monopoly property, and at first keeps his amazing discovery to himself.  He doesn’t want Marvin exploited, or, worse, destroyed. But he knows he can’t keep the secret forever, and also wonders if Marvin might be a partial solution to the world’s environmental woes.  At the same time, Obe must contend with turf wars, bullying, and a budding new friendship with a girl whose parents who are afraid to let her out of her own backyard. THOUGHTS:  Obe is as fascinating and unique as Marvin Gardens himself. Additionally, unlike many young protagonists, he has the self-confidence and insight to deal with challenges without allowing them to diminish his sense of self.  An appealing and satisfying read.

Science  Fiction               Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

 

 

MS Fiction – The Gauntlet; Making Bombs for Hitler; Stef Soto, Taco Queen; You May Already be a Winner

Raizi, Karuna. The Gauntlet. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-4814-8696-5. $16.99.  Gr. 5-8.

Twelve year old Farah Mirza recently moved from Queens to the Upper East Side in New York City. Though she never had any problems in her last school, the kids here don’t understand her hijaab or her younger brother Ahmad’s issues. At her birthday party, Farah is excited to see her two closest friends from Queens, Essie and Alex. They decide to open a mysterious gift from Farah’s aunt and are elated to see it’s a board game called The Gauntlet. What they don’t know is that Farah’s aunt did not mean to gift this game – and that the game is alive! Soon they are sucked into the world of The Gauntlet, and must work against a game that doesn’t play fair. When Farah sees that Ahmad is in the game, too, she is determined to find him and free herself and her friends. THOUGHTS:  It’s refreshing to see a strong Muslim lead character in a middle grade novel! Farah is a clever and fierce protagonist whose faith in her friends and family never waivers. While the book is an adventure, Riazi also adds in some subtle social commentary that reflects the world outside the book.

Fantasy    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuck. Making Bombs for Hitler. Scholastic, 2017. 9781338170757. 232 pp.  $6.99. Gr. 6-8.

In this absorbing novel, Skrypuch makes the reader aware of a lesser known aspect of World War II – that of the enslavement of Ukrainian and other Eastern Europeans by Nazi Germany.  Lida is a 10 year old Ukrainian girl who has known tragedy in her short life.  First, her mother is killed by German soldiers, and then Lida and her younger sister Larissa are captured by the Nazis.  Separated from her sister, Lida is sent on a train to an abysmal work camp in Germany.  The author does not shy away for describing the horrors of the train ride and life in the camp.  While not discussed in detail, the author leaves no doubt about the fate of the younger children in the camp, who are taken to the “hospital” for medical experimentation   At first, she works with the laundress and has a relatively clean and safe job.  This changes as the Allies continue to push forward into Germany. Lida is taken to factory to fit together bombs, a place where one wrong move or a tiny piece of metal will cause the factory to explode. Facing meager rations and lice-ridden condition, Lida and her friends know what they need to do in order to survive.   THOUGHTS: This text provides another perspective of the war and is a valuable addition to World War II juvenile literature.

Historical Fiction            Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

 

Torres, Jennifer. Stef Soto, Taco Queen. Little, Brown, 2017. 978-0-316-30686-7 166 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Mexican-American Stef Soto is the daughter of immigrants, and while she loves her parents and is proud of their success, she wishes they would leave her alone sometimes. She’s horrified when her father comes to pick her up at school in his taco food truck, especially when she overhears popular girl Julia refer to her as the “Taco Queen.”  Stef decides to show her parents how responsible she is so they give her more freedom, a plan that doesn’t work out the way she hopes it will. Meanwhile, she gets involved in a school fundraiser, finds herself paired up with Julia, and winds up alienating her two best friends.  Spanish words are skillfully woven throughout the book, either defined or easily understood in context. THOUGHTS:  This debut novel is a light-hearted, fun read, and Stef is a likeable, relatable heroine.  Highly recommended for elementary and middle school libraries.

Realistic Fiction        Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Stef Soto is embarrassed. She just wants to be an average seventh grader. But it’s hard to be anonymous when your dad picks you up after school every day driving the family’s taco food truck, Tia Perla. Her immigrant parents are working hard to make a good life for the Soto family, and they’re a little too protective of their only child (at least that’s how Stef feels). When Stef wins concert tickets, she tries to convince her parents to let her attend, but she knows it will ultimately prove unsuccessful. A talented artist, Stef is also working with her classmates to try and raise funds for art supplies for their school. When proposed changes to city regulations threaten the future of her family’s food truck business, Stef must reevaluate her feelings for Tia Perla. Maybe the food truck is worth standing up and fighting for, after all. THOUGHTS: This family-centric story is a solid addition to upper elementary/middle school shelves. Readers will find themselves rooting for the Stef and her friends as well as the Soto family. Spanish words and phrases are integrated within the storyline; non-Spanish speakers will have no trouble understanding their meaning.
Realistic Fiction    Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

 

Ellis, Ann Dee. You May Already Be a Winner. Dial Books, 2017. 978-1-101-99385-9. 352 p. $19.99. Gr. 5-8.

Twelve year old Olivia has the responsibility of someone much older. With her mom working overtime to make ends meet and her dad “away” in Bryce Canyon, Liv tries to keep her little sister, Berkeley, entertained. Since Berk can’t go to daycare anymore, Liv stays home from school and looks after her, making sure they take time to practice various subjects in their workbooks.  Life in Sunny Pines Trailer Park isn’t always sunny and happy. Olivia’s former best friend has moved on, and Olivia begins to wonder about feelings she might have for a boy. Trying to distract Berk from their misfortune further, Olivia comes up with a circus spectacular, so they have something to plan and look forward to. As her mother’s resolve begins to crack, Liv has to take on even more responsibility. Determined to change their luck, Olivia follows a very strict routine of entering online contests, that is until their computer dies and the librarian asks questions about why the girls aren’t in school.  THOUGHTS: This is a heartbreaking look at family dynamics and being honest with oneself and each other. With Olivia’s wild imagination, there are parts of her story that are fabricated, and those may confuse young readers, but it is a beautiful story of sisterhood, hope, and not giving up on those you love.

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

Upper Elementary/MS Fiction – Varmints; Dear Dumb Diary; Royal Wedding Disaster; Sealed with a Secret

Hirsch, Andy. Varmints. New York: First Second, 2016. 978-1-62672-279-8. $16.99. 213 p. Gr. 3-7.

Varmints, set in the Wild Old West, details the journey of a brother and sister on a quest to find their Pa.  Opie and Ned are in for more adventures and skirmishes than they planned in the seven chapters. They come across horse thieves, work at the Silverfish Lodge, escape a fire, survive an eventful train ride, purchase a new donkey, and participate in a downright dangerous derby. The siblings don’t always get along, but their emotional connection and love is clear through the danger and humor. THOUGHTS: This book provides an excellent combination of dialogue, plot, and full color artwork to hook readers. Readers will want more of the adventures of Opie and Ned!

Graphic Novel      Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

 

Benton, Jim.  Dear Dumb Diary, Deluxe: Dumbness is a Dish Best Served Cold. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-93228-8. 197 pp. $12.99. Gr. 3-6.

While the narrator, Jamie Kelly, warns the reader to stop reading her diary, they will continue to enjoy the tale filled with humor and full color artwork. In this diary, Jamie is trying to help make her friend feel better. Jamie’s mother secretly tells Jamie that Angeline’s father recently lost his job. This explains why Angeline has been so focused on personal finance and money. To make Angeline feel better, Jamie makes up a story that their handmade plates might make them some money. But, when Angeline learns the truth, she feels betrayed. The book allows reads to value honesty in friendship.  Unexpectedly, Jamie has an invention that will help add to both of their savings accounts. The end concludes with recipe suggestions to make your own “salad glamorizer” and “health-o-plate” allowing readers to continue the fun when the chapters end.

THOUGHTS: This is an ideal choice for fans of the Dork Diaries series.

Realistic Fiction     Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

 

Cabot, Meg. Royal Wedding Disaster (From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess Bk. 2). New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2016.  978-1-250-06604-6. 283 p. $16.99  Gr. 4-7.

Helping with the her half-sister Mia’s wedding is consuming for middle schooler Olivia. Finding time to go to school is exhausting. Will she be able to make friends at her new royal school and withstand the teasing of not being a true royal since she is from a mixed family? Grandmother is still a task master and training Olivia to be the best royal possible. Olivia’s best friend will fly in for the wedding from New Jersey, and she misses seeing her since Genovia is far away. A problem on the royal ground is an influx of iguana. PK, passionate about Genovian Herpetology Rescue Society, is able to help with the iguana situation. The wedding turns out to be successful and the purple dresses are a surprise for Mia.  THOUGHTS: This book demonstrates that you don’t have to be locked into a stereotype. You can be royal and have other hobbies like swimming, art, fashion, or reptiles! Mia and Michael’s wedding introduces Lilly, Lana, Boris, and hair dresser, Paolo, into the story.  If readers are new to Meg Cabot, they can read this series and then continue to The Princess Diaries novels.

Realistic Fiction     Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

 

Schroeder, Lisa. Sealed with a Secret. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-90734-7. 217 p. Gr. 3-6.

Phoebe keeps the Cartier makeup compact that she purchased at the flea market a secret even though it could be worth a lot of money that her family could use to help with expenses.  The compact has a unique photograph and a letter behind. The letter helps her learn history from 1941 and the ARP (air raid precautions.)  Ned agrees to help her find places in the letter if she helps find a gift for his mum’s 40th birthday. Their travels take them to locations including the Peter Pan Statue, Kensington Gardens, London Music Hall, Trafalgar Square, and a historic crypt! With all of the adventures, will she help find the best gift for Ned’s mum, and what happens when her family learns about the compact? THOUGHTS: This book could be tied to Kate Messner’s The Fourteenth Goldfish (Bloomsbury, 2016) as both books feature a younger sister drifting from their older sister.  Adventure and historical elements make this book come alive.

Realistic Fiction     Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School