Elem. – Macca the Alpaca

Cosgrove, Matt. Macca the Alpaca. Scholastic Press, 2020. $14.99. Pre-K. 978-1-338-60282-1. 

Loveable Macca is a happy alpaca until he meets a bully llama named Harmer. When the two face-off in a series of challenges to see who is the strongest, Macca uses wit to win each match until even Harmer has to admit that bigger doesn’t always mean better. Macca gives an excellent lesson on how to be a friend with a hug at the end of the story. Brief rhyming text and bold colorful illustrations are perfect for repetitive reading to young listeners.

THOUGHTS: Friendship, bullying, and opposites are themes that run throughout, making this an excellent selection for preschool or kindergarten.

Board Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD 

Elem. – Raccoon’s Perfect Snowman

Wish, Katia. Raccoon’s Perfect Snowman. Sleeping Bear Press, 2020. 978-1-534-11067-0. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-3. 

Raccoon loves building snowmen, and he takes the job very seriously. He sketches his designs in the snow before building, and all winter long he practices. He uses only the cleanest, whitest snow, the roundest, most symmetrical snowballs, and the finest decorations. Raccoon becomes such an expert snowman builder that he knows his friends will want his help and advice. But, when they start building together, Raccoon’s friends have a challenging time because Raccoon uses all the best supplies himself. When the building is complete, Raccoon admires his most perfect snowman yet. Only after seeing his friends’ creations – a mish-mash of lumpy snowballs formed from pine needle-speckled snow – does he realize that while his snowman is perfect, he feels perfectly awful. Raccoon calls his friends together to build one final snowman. They let loose, working together and having fun while creating a gigantic perfectly imperfect snowman. Wish’s wintery watercolor illustrations perfectly complement the text, expanding this story of simple snowy day fun.

THOUGHTS: When Raccoon lets go of his perfectionistic ideals, he realizes how much fun it can be to work as part of a team. He demonstrates empathy and self-awareness when he realizes how his friends feel about their creations and how he made them feel when he used all the best supplies. This story will work well for wintery Morning Meetings or social-emotional lessons about friendship, feelings, and perfectionism.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MG – The Queen Bee and Me

McDunn, Gillian. The Queen Bee and Me. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-681-19751-7. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 5-7

Meg has always been joined at the hip of best friend Beatrix, except for the times when Beatrix freezes her out. Afraid of angering Beatrix and losing the benefits of being her friend, Meg decides to follow along while Beatrix plots to bully new student Hazel and her mom out of town. When Meg and Hazel get partnered up for a bee project in a science elective, Meg struggles between following her passion for science and doing whatever it takes to keep Beatrix from getting angry. It turns out Meg and Hazel have a lot in common, and they have fun together. Can Meg stand up to Beatrix even if it means risking years of friendship and the comfort of having a best friend? By the end of the story, Meg faces many of her fears, including a fear of bees, oral reports, and standing up to Beatrix which makes a sweet, but predictable, ending. 

THOUGHTS: As an adult reader, I had trouble finishing the book due to the predictable storyline. I anticipate young readers enjoying and relating to this story once they have the book in their hands and time to read.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

Elem. – The Heart of a Whale

Pignataro, Anna. The Heart of a Whale. Philomel Books, 2020. $17.99. 978-1-984-83627-4. 32 p. Grades K-3. 

Whale has a beautiful song that soothes, cheers and calms all of the animals in the ocean. Even though whale’s song brings joy and love to many he was lonesome, noticing “how there was no song big enough to fill his empty heart.” One day, the whale is so forlorn he lets out a sigh that is carried by the ocean to another whale who travels far and wide to accompany him. United, the whales sing in unison “of happiness and hope, magic and wonder.” Brief text accompanied by soothing watercolor illustrations of marine animals cover each spread. 

THOUGHTS: A good picture book to begin a conversation with students about loneliness, kindness and friendships. Detailed illustrations alongside a musical theme offer STEAM connections to music and marine life units. 

Picture Book         Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD 

YA – Late to the Party

Quindlen, Kelly. Late to the Party. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-250-20913-9. 297 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Codi is comfortable in her bubble, content to do her own thing with the same friends she’s had since elementary school, Maritza and JaKory. That is until her little brother almost has his first kiss before she does. Realizing that she is already seventeen and about to enter her senior year of high school, Codi fears her chance to be a ‘normal’ teenager is slipping away. Hesitant at first, she begins to break out of her comfort zone little by little, meeting new friends, going new places, and even experiencing her first party. All the while tensions with Maritza and JaKory continue to rise. Can Codi be the friend she once was while still discovering new things? Can she be two people, the quiet artistic girl and the social teenager, at once? Will there be room enough in her life for life?

THOUGHTS: Late to the Party is a satisfying exploration of what it means for interests and relationships to grow as you get older, a reflection of an utterly relatable internal conflict.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

MG – The Middler

Applebaum, Kirsty. The Middler. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-31733-9. 262 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Eleven year old Maggie is a middler, nothing special like an eldest, and is mainly ignored and invisible in her town of Fennis Wick. When Maggie meets a “wanderer” who lives outside the boundary, she decides she wants to step up and get noticed by trying to capture her. Once Maggie steps outside her town and into the boundary that has always kept her isolated, everything she has ever known and believed gets turned upside down. Join Maggie in this dystopian adventure that exposes the lies her town has told for years and changes the way of their world forever. Fans of The Giver will love this debut novel!

THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection.

Fantasy          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

YA – How to Speak Boy

Smith, Tiana. How to Speak Boy. Feiwel and Friends, 2020. 978-1-250-24221-1. $17.99. 245 p. Grades 7-12.

Quinn Edwards and Grayson Hawks have been rivals on their speech and debate team for years. As seniors, they have been chosen as co-captains, and have no choice but to spend time with each other. While Quinn tries to juggle debate practices and schoolwork, one of her AP Government assignments gets mixed up with another student. Her ID number is 15511, but she received 15211’s paper. When she returns the assignment to the cubby of 15211, explaining the mix up in a note, she receives her assignment back, along with a message, beginning a series of notes exchanged between Quinn and this mystery student. Meanwhile, her relationship with Grayson remains a mystery also. One moment, they’re arguing, and the next, he asks to take her to the formal. As Quinn tries to puzzle out her relationships, she begins to wonder about 15211’s identity. Could it be Grayson? Does she want it to be? Or, could it be Carter, one of her best friends? Quinn feels like she can talk to 15211 about anything, but when he asks to meet in person, she panics. If he finds out who she is, will it ruin the relationship and trust they’ve built through their letter writing, and will it ruin any chance of being in a relationship with Grayson?

THOUGHTS: If you read the summary of this book on the inside of the dust jacket, you know that Quinn is actually writing to Grayson. It’s one of those books where, as the reader, you know more than the characters in the story. Throughout the story, Quinn’s friends try to give her advice about her relationship with Grayson and 15211. Quinn learns that sometimes the people who you are closest with might not always have your best interests at heart, and others turn out to be completely different if you just take the chance to get to know them. I think readers will also connect with the theme of anonymity, especially in today’s world. Although Quinn and Grayson hide behind letters, only signing their communications with their ID numbers, many young people today hide behind social media accounts where they may not share their identity yet connect with people that have the same interests as themselves. This is a sweet, romantic novel perfect for any reader looking for a love story.

Romance          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – Keep It Together, Keiko Carter

Florence, Debbi Michiko. Keep It Together, Keiko Carter. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-60752-9. 293 p. $15.67. Grades 3-6.

Keiko Carter likes her friendships like she likes her chocolate—high quality, sweet, and smooth.  Unfortunately, as Keiko and her two best friends start seventh grade, their friendship is anything but. Audrey joins the Fall Ball committee and declares that they need to find boyfriends, so they can all go to the dance together. The problem is, the boy Audrey has set her sights on is the boy Jenna has been texting all summer. Plus, Jenna is not sure she wants to continue letting Audrey always get her way, and now they aren’t talking to each other. Keiko finds herself caught in the middle between her feuding friends, and she has no idea how to keep the peace. Tensions at home add to her problems, not to mention her feelings for a boy that Audrey will never approve of and a new boy who gets between Keiko and Audrey. Should Keiko compromise her needs to bring her friends back together, or will Keiko find that standing up for herself is the sweetest treat of all?

THOUGHTS: Middle school girls will recognize Keiko’s friendship struggles, but there are lessons about relationships and knowing yourself that are appropriate for boys as well. This is a good story about finding your voice.

Realistic Fiction        Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Elem. – The One and Only Bob

Applegate, Katherine. The One and Only Bob. Harper Collins, 2020. 978-0-062-99131-7. $18.99. 352 p. Grades 3-6.

Taking center stage to tell his story, Bob’s voice is honest, “I’m no saint, okay?” and readers will delight in his humorous antics, “If we could talk to people, they’d get an earful.” When Bob wakes to a familiar bark, something in his memory is jogged. But he shrugs it off and goes about his day, looking forward to a visit with Ivan and Ruby. The weather forecast showed another hurricane is on the way, though, so this day won’t be like all of the others. When Bob is separated from his friends, he reverts back to his puppy survival instincts and experiences an adventure of his own. Fans of Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan will delight in this new installment that updates readers on much beloved characters Bob, Ivan, Ruby, and Julia.

THOUGHTS: A must have for elementary libraries, copies of this title will be in high demand. 

Adventure          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Just Our Luck

Walton, Julia. Just Our Luck. Random House. 2020,  978-0-399-55092-8. $17.99. 272 p. Grades 9-12.

Leonidas –Leo- quirky knitter and sensitive photographer, has been successful staying under the radar for most of his high school years. Then Drake Gibbons a wise-cracking, hyperactive jock punches him, and their consequences are enduring each others’ company in the counselor’s office until they become amicable. Leo’s mother died years ago and now with his Greek grandmother Yia Yia’s death, the silence in their Greek household is deafening and the relationship between him and his father even more distant. When his father insists his gentle son take a martial arts course to improve his pugilistic skills, Leo gets scared off and signs up for a yoga master certification course. Turns out, the person taking his registration is Evey Paros, from another Greek family who just happened to have cursed Leo’s many generations ago. Though she seems aloof, Evey has her own agenda. She’s been wronged by the biggest, richest, most popular dude at school, Jordan Swansea. After their breakup, Jordan sent out nude pictures of Evey over social media. She enlists Leo as her assistant in wreaking revenge. What ensues is a light romance with a touch of humor. Leo unexpectedly finds love, friends, and self confidence. A bonus is that Evey, too, finds a powerful alternative to thwarting Jordan besides sophomoric pranks.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: Librarians should be aware this quick read has a lot of curses and little diversity (Drake’s girlfriend Jenn seems to be Latinx). However, the characters are humorous, and the plot discusses generalized anxiety, a condition today’s teens may recognize. Both Leo and Evey also have an interest in writing, and Leo delivers his first-person narrative in journal format. Pull for reluctant readers.