Elem. – A Fun Day at the Fun Park

Schaefer, Lola M. A Fun Day at the Fun Park. Simon Spotlight, 2021. 978-1-6659-0329-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1. 

A Fun Day at the Fun Park is the first book in the Sprinkles and Swirls graphic novel series designed for early readers. The protagonists of the series, Sprinkles and Swirls, are two adventure loving cupcakes. In this first volume, they escape the bakery to enjoy a day at the amusement park! At the park they enjoy activities such as riding the bumper cars, a flight simulator, a zip line, and go-karts. At the conclusion of their excursion, they touch up their wind-blown hair (aka frosting/toppings) with some spare frosting and sprinkles that Sprinkles carries in her handy fanny pack, and they return to the bakery just prior to closing. They fall asleep with dreams of their next adventure swirling through their heads. 

THOUGHTS: This enjoyable read is a great way to introduce young readers to the concept of graphic novels. In fact, the book starts with a few panels in which Sprinkles and Swirls explain to readers how to read the graphic novel format. The panels and text are large and use simple text, ideal for young readers. A worthwhile purchase for schools serving younger elementary students. 

Graphic Novel            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Captain Cat and the Pirate Lunch

Virjan, Emma J. Captain Cat and the Pirate Lunch. Simon Spotlight, 2021. 978-1-534-49571-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1. 

When three yellow birds land on a ship, they soon learn that it is a pirate ship captained by a cat in this short story told in rhyming verse. Two of the birds fly into the cabin with the cat. When the third bird looks in through a window, he sees the cat getting ready to cook lunch while the two birds sit and watch. Could his friends be on the menu? Worried, the third bird recruits a whale to help him rescue his friends. An end of story twist reveals that the bird has made some incorrect assumptions and misunderstood the cat’s intentions. Ultimately, a new friendship is formed between all the animals. 

THOUGHTS: This delightful story is an excellent choice for beginning readers and would also be a good selection for shared reading or read alouds. Though the story is short and the text simple, the author is able to incorporate a lesson about friendship that readers (and educators) will appreciate.

Picture Book                 Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA – The Queen Will Betray You

Henning, Sarah. The Queen Will Betray You. Tor Teen, 2021. 978-1-250-23746-0. $17.99. 368 p. Grades 8-12.

Princess Amarande and her true love, Luca, have finally been reunited. However, in order to save the Kingdoms, they must part. Luca, no mere stable boy anymore, must fulfill his role and lead a rebellion against the tyrant war lord. Meanwhile, Amarande returns to her kingdom to find that her mother, the runaway queen, has taken control through her brother, the newly crowned King Ferdinand. Desperate, Amarande unwillingly accepts the help of her enemy, Prince Tallifer, in order to escape her mother and defy the queen’s plotting for control over the kingdoms. Her love for Luca and for her people motivate her to keep going, even when all seems lost and betrayal lurks around every corner.

THOUGHTS: The Queen will betray you, but which queen? This was an immensely enjoyable and action packed follow up to The Princess Will Save You, loosely based upon The Princess Bride, and the story does not end here! The cliff hanger will leave readers impatiently waiting for the release of The King Will Kill You to find out the fate of the Kingdoms of Sand and Sky and if true love really does prevail.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem./MG – Living with Viola

Fung, Rosena. Living with Viola. Annick Press, 2021. 978-1-773-21548-8. 267 p. $22.95. Grades 3-7.

Many people have experienced an occasional internal voice saying: You are weird, bad things happen because of you, no one likes you … for Canadian 6th grader Olivia, this anxiety manifests as a shadowy “twin” named Viola who hovers nearby, pulling Livy out of the moment with reminders that validate her deep self-doubts. Livy worries that her lunch smells strange, that she’s “too Chinese” or not Chinese enough, and that she is a disappointment to her family (her parents are immigrants). As Viola gains strength and volume, the negative dialogue seriously affects Livy’s confidence and friendships. It also undermines her enjoyment of her hobbies, including drawing, reading, and making dumplings with her mom. Fortunately, with a solid support system, Livy learns that “sometimes, the very strongest and bravest thing you can do is to ask for help.” Debut author Rosena Fung depicts Livy’s anxiety, depression, and panic attacks through dusky, bruise-purple panels and flowing rivers of negative thoughts. Happier, lighthearted moments and school scenes occur in a warm, autumnal color scheme.

THOUGHTS: This excellent middle grade graphic novel creatively delivers the most important message of all for young readers: You are not alone! Livy always may have anxiety, but she also can thrive. Fans of Guts by Raina Telgemeier will love it!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

TA – Perfectly Parvin

Abtahi, Olivia. Perfectly Parvin. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-0-593-10942-7. 310 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

On the cusp of starting ninth grade, Iranian-American Parvin Mohammadi has a lot going for her: her BFFs Ruth and Fabián, an aunt (Ameh Sara) in Iran who helps her apply make-up via video chat, and a cute boy who has just asked her to be his girlfriend. But days later, Wesley unceremoniously dumps her at their high school orientation. His reason? She’s just “too much.” After (literally) peeling herself off the linoleum to binge-watch her favorite romantic comedies, Parvin hatches a plan to secure a date to Homecoming. By modeling her behavior after the demure leading ladies of The Princess Bride, The Little Mermaid, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Parvin is sure she can get a new boy to like her. No more outlandish outfits, pranks, Hot Cheetos, or being too loud. In other words, none of the things that make her (yes) perfectly Parvin. But can she lock down a real relationship with a fake personality? A compelling subplot about Ameh Sara securing a visa to visit the States (and deliver make-up tutorials in person) adds timeliness and tension.

THOUGHTS: This effervescent, laugh-out-loud debut perfectly captures Parvin’s humor, hijinks, and occasional humiliations. It matches the tone and depth of Netflix’s Never Have I Ever and Sandhya Menon’s Dimple and Rishi series. 

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Jeanie & Genie: The First Wish

Granted, Trish. Jeanie & Genie: The First Wish. Little Simon. 2021. 978-1-5344-7466-6. $17.99. Grades K-4.

Jeanie Bell likes things to be simple, logical, and easy to understand. It makes life, after all, simple, logical, and easy to understand! All is well until there is a new girl at school, Willow Davis, who is the exact opposite of those things! Willow, while nice, is more free-spirited and creative while Jeanie likes to follow the rules. The girls become unlikely friends, which only becomes more amazing when Jeanie finds out that Willow is a genie and can grant wishes! Willow hopes to become an amazing genie and does not wish to lose her powers, so she is training to be the best genie she can be! Can these girls have a magical friendship or is this secret too big to hold onto?

THOUGHTS: A delightful beginning to a fun reading series. For readers who may want to start a fantasy novel, but may not be sure how to, this is a nice beginner book with fantasy-elements!

Fantasy          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – Out of the Fire

Contos, Andrea. Out of the Fire. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-72616-9. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

With her earbuds in, Cass Adams was out for a run on her usual path through the woods when she was grabbed and thrown into the trunk of a car. Though narrowly escaping an abduction, the police question Cass’s story. Does she have a description of the man or car or any letters or numbers from the license plate? No, she was running for her life! Frustrated with herself for being so routine oriented, Cass tries to go back to her old life. Then the pink envelopes start arriving. Methodically placed where Cass will see them and in places no one else should have access to, the letters warn Cass that she’s always being watched. The police wonder if Cass wrote them herself, but she knows they’re from him. When an old friend reconnects with Cass over the shared experience of being wronged, Cass doesn’t feel so alone. It’s not long before they realize there are other girls who have been wronged too. And they want revenge. After not being believed by the police and not wanting to burden her overworked father, Cass decides to track down her kidnapper herself. But she can’t do it alone, and to have help she has to open herself up to others and share things she may not be ready to face.

THOUGHTS: Mystery fans will devour this fast-paced thriller which is set during a two week time frame. Hand this one to readers who enjoy April Henry and Karen McManus titles.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – It Fell from the Sky

Fan, Terry and Eric Fan. It Fell from the Sky. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-534-45762-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

“It fell from the sky on Thursday.” And so begins this imaginative tale of a group of genteel insects who witness something fall into their garden. With its round shape and beautiful colors, the insects agree that they had never seen anything so amazing. The Dung beetle finds it too heavy to roll, and the ethereal Luna Moth believes it is a chrysalis waiting to hatch. The wise Grasshopper, with magnifying glass in hand, declares that it is “not of earthly origins.” Spider artfully builds a display for this “Wonder from the Sky” and charges admission. As the attraction grows more popular, Spider increases his rates, only to lose customers. Then the worst happens when a “five-legged creature” snatches the object. Spider realizes he has been selfish and makes amends to all when more opportunities fall into place. This creative story is truly enhanced by the illustrations. The scenery and the creatures are drawn in graphite, while only the “Wonder” is in color, thus directing the reader’s focus right to it. The author-illustrators add a whimsical touch in the insects’ attire with many wearing hats or other accessories.

THOUGHTS: The Fan Brothers have crafted a remarkable and humorous picture book that is sure to delight young readers. This text can be used to illustrate the concept of point of view and to launch a discussion about sharing. It is a must-have for all elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired PSLA Member

Elem. – Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle

Ballou Mealey, Cathy. Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-5253-0238-1 p. 32. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Teamwork. Perseverance. Flexibility. Problem Solving. Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle, a children’s book written by Cathy Ballou Mealey, shines a spotlight on all the qualities mentioned and models a growth mindset with character development. Sloth and Squirrel are loyal friends who work together to achieve a common goal; purchase a new shiny bike that they can enjoy together. However, they find a job in a pickle factory to buy the bike to earn some money. Although loyal within their friendship to each other, Sloth and Squirrel find themselves in a pickle at work when they realize they have different strengths and weaknesses, different styles of learning, and different abilities. Will they be able to work together, complete the job, and earn their wages? Or will everything fall apart, even their friendship? In this heartwarming story, two friends stumble together and remain kind to each other as they learn a few lessons along the way. Who would have thought that a squirrel and a sloth could be such a resourceful team! 

THOUGHTS: This picture book would be a great addition to character education. There are hilarious moments, darling illustrations by Kelly Collier, and many opportunities within the story for educators or parents to discuss growth mindset. Perfect for a read-aloud within a classroom or school library (or even a snuggle at bedtime), young readers will love the silly duo- Sloth and Squirrel! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

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