MG – Pony

Palacio, R.J. Pony. Alfred A Knopf, 2021. 978-0-553-50811-6. $17.99. 304 p. Grades 4-7.

This historical fiction selection tells the story of Silas, a 12 year old boy living with his father in rural Ohio. Awoken in the middle of night by three strange men, Silas’ father is asked to accompany these men for a nefarious seeming reason. After some back and forth, Silas’ father agrees to leave with the men, to return in one week’s time. Silas is told to stay put and wait. The next day, one of the horses returns to the farm. Silas takes this as a sign that he is to set out to find his father. Silas is joined by Mittenwool, a ghost boy who has been with Silas since he was a tiny boy. Along his journey, Silas runs into people who help him on his quest to find his father. He also realizes that he can see those who have passed on. In his quest to find his father, Silas confronts many fears and mysteries that connect his past and future.   

THOUGHTS: I had many questions of how Silas and his pony were able to sustain such a harrowing journey, but the scene where they find his father and his captures is a really exciting and a page turner! There is a lot of death in this story, so it’s definitely for the more mature reader. It’s kind of a cross between The Sixth Sense (I see dead people) and a western.

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Abington SD
Adventure

YA – We Can Be Heroes

McCauley, Kyrie. We Can Be Heroes. Katherine Tegen Books, 2021. 978-0-062-88505-0. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

The town of Bell is known for one thing – it’s firearms. When the heir to the company goes into his school and shoots his ex-girlfriend Cassie and then himself, the town moves on – just a bit too quickly. Beck, Cassie’s long time friend, is angered that people turned a blind eye to what happened. Beck decides to paint murals in and around the town to bring attention to the tragedy. After the first mural, Cassie (in ghost form) visits Beck in her VW van, determined to find closure. Along with Cassie’s other friend, Vivian, the trio set out to bring Cassie justice with just a touch of vengeance. Planning out the themes of their murals, gathering supplies, and finding the perfect location get harder as more attention is given to the art. Things get a bit complicated when a podcaster hears of the murals and starts investigating Cassie’s murder and the Bell family. But their time is running out as local law enforcement start closing in on who is responsible for the murals that depict Greek myths and the haunting connection to Cassie’s death. 

THOUGHTS: In McCauley’s second novel she chooses various writing styles to complement each character’s story. Cassie’s story is told in verse, Vivian and Beck in prose, and the podcaster in a script style. This was a heartbreaking story to read, but did a beautiful job of bringing attention to gun violence and domestic abuse. 

Realistic Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD
Fantasy (Paranormal)

MG – The Ghoul Next Door

Bunn, Cullen. The Ghoul Next Door. Harper Alley, 2021. 978-0-062-89610-0. 192 p. $21.99. Grades 4-8.

In Ander’s Landing, eleven year old Grey is excited to bring his scale model of the local cemetery to school for a project. Grey and his friend Marshall head off when Grey has the idea to take a shortcut through the cemetery. Marshall disagrees, and when Grey heads out by himself, he trips and his model drops into a giant hole where a creepy hand snatches it. Given a second chance by his teacher, Grey stays up to make a new model when a scratching at his window distracts him and causes him to stay up all night. The next day when Grey displays his model, his teacher finds real bones inside the coffins and mausoleums. Then night after night “gifts from the dead” appear in Grey’s room – a doll, a brush made out of bones, and more. When Grey takes the gifts back to the cemetery, he meets the gifter, a ghoul named Lavinia. Lavinia visits Grey and takes him on a tour of the haunted places of Ander’s Landing to teach him history and make him more aware of the dangers that lurk in the cemetery. However, when his friend Marshall is taken to the underworld as punishment for seeing Lavinia, the pair must work together to rescue him from the other ghouls, also known as the “eaters of the dead.’. 

THOUGHTS: The perfect amount of creepy and spooky for middle level readers. The panels are easy to follow and beautifully drawn – even for ghouls! The story flows from page to page and will leave readers on the edge of their seat.

Graphic Novel        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

MG -Dead Wednesday

Spinelli, Jerry. Dead Wednesday. Alfred A. Knopf, 2021. 978-0-593-30667-3. 227 p. $17.99. Grades 6-8.

Every year in Ambler Springs there comes a day, Dead Wednesday, when students are given the name of a high school teenager who lost their life due to something that was preventable. On this day 8th grade students are given a black t-shirt to wear and are ignored by everyone in the town for the day. While Robbie, also known as Worm, is anxious for this day, his friend Eddie can’t wait for the chaos that will ensue. Students are given a random card with a name and a brief bio of the deceased in the hopes that they understand that this could happen to them if they do not make smart choices. What Worm didn’t expect to happen was that Becca, his assigned dead 17 year old student, would actually come back and pester Worm to come out of his shell. As Worm learns of Becca’s story, he also discovers that sometimes you have to use your voice and be true to yourself. The two use the day to explore what it means to be a teenager in a warm, coming of age story. 

THOUGHTS: For a Spinelli book, it was not what I expected! Filled with teenage awkwardness and a ghost who flirts with a human, this book was different from his others. A perfect novel for those who hang in the shadows and would rather not be seen, but can learn that being who you are is more important. 

Fantasy (Paranormal)          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

MG – Almost There and Almost Not

Urban, Linda. Almost There and Almost Not. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-47880-0. 211 p. $17.99. Grades 5-7.

Eleven year old California Poppy doesn’t know if she is coming or going. Her widowed father is heading to Alaska for a salmon fishing job and takes her to Minnesota to stay with Aunt Isabelle, who should know more about taking care of a “bra needing” child than he does. It turns out that Aunt Isabelle is not really the nurturing type and is too busy working on a meatloaf recipe for the Great Meatloaf Bake Off. So California finds herself traveling to Michigan to live with Great Aunt Monica. Her great aunt, still grieving for her late husband, broke her hand and needs help with her research on Eleanor Fontaine, an author of etiquette books from the 1920s. Aunt Monica wants to complete her husband’s planned biography of his author-ancestor and asks California to read Fontaine’s Proper Letters for Ladies and to practice writing letters to become familiar with the author. Callie soon realizes that there are two ghosts in the house: a dog who enjoys playing with her and a refined lady named Eleanor, who dissolves into a pile of dust when she gets upset. Aunt Monica is not aware of these guests, so her niece takes care when talking to them. Eleanor begins to share her story with the young girl, who notices that the ghost seems to be getting younger each time she appears.  California soon learns the truth about her father’s whereabouts and Eleanor’s secret. Just as Callie feels she has come to terms with her father’s absence, her struggles in school and having periods, she overhears a conversation that changes her life forever.

THOUGHTS: Urban has written a very engaging story about loss, grief, and resilience. Although the text is not lengthy, a lot happens and one cannot help but root for the likeable main character who narrates the story. Readers will enjoy California’s letters to Aunt Isabelle, her father, and the Playtex Company. This sensitive but humorous tale is a solid choice for upper elementary and middle school collections.

Fantasy          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

When California Poppy is 11 years old, she is dropped off at her Aunt Monica’s house while her father claims to look for work in Alaska. During her stay, she plays with the ghostly dog and talks to the ghostly woman who haunts her aunt’s home, a woman who turns out to be California’s Great-Aunt Eleanor. Eleanor teaches California about all the etiquette she thinks a proper lady should know, and California begins to unearth details about Eleanor’s past, which is not as simple as the old woman wants it to seem. As a relationship between the girl and the ghost develops, California also grows closer to her Aunt Monica by helping with research for Eleanor’s biography. Eventually, these relationships help California to confront the reality of her father’s abandonment and allow her to begin to heal in her new, more stable life.

THOUGHTS: This story, told in the first person by California herself, is about the life of two young girls who are trying to figure out who they are in a grown-up world. Magical realism, historical fiction, and a love of family and friends weave together in this book to create the story of a girl who has a lot to learn, but also a lot to offer the world. The ghosts in this book are friendly rather than scary. Kids and teens who are wise beyond their years, and those that deal with family troubles and long for a better, more stable life, will find it easy to relate to California.

Fantasy          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

YA – Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel

Reynolds, Jason & Novgorodoff, Danica. Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-534-44495-9. 208 p. $19.99. Grades 10-12.

The seven floors that Will travels becomes even more of a punch in the gut with Novgorodoff’s eerie images. The story is the same; Will has to decide if he is going to follow the “rules” and kill the guy who killed his brother. During the sixty seconds it takes him to get to the ground floor, he meets someone who was connected to his brother in some way. Will gains access to more pieces of the puzzle with each encounter that is perfectly depicted with raw edged watercolor paintings. The graphic novel includes traditional panels as well as full page images that draw in readers, even those who know this story well.

THOUGHTS: For any library that is looking to expand their graphic novel collection with novel adaptations or more diversity, this book is a must. If Long Way Down is constantly checked out of your library, this could be a great segue for readers to appreciate the format of graphic novels with a terrifying story. Warning: There are images of guns and gore.

Graphic Novel          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem./MG – Guidebooks to the Unexplained (Series NF)

Abdo, Kenny. Guidebooks to the Unexplained. Abdo Zoom. 2020. $19.95 each. $119.70 for set of 6. Gr. 2-5

Area 51. 978-1-532-12933-9.
Cryptids.978-1-532-12934-6.
Ghosts. 978-1-532-12937-7
.
Lost Lands. 978-1-532-12935-3.
Men in Black. 978-1-532-12936-0.
Witches. 978-1-532-12938-4.

 

 

Have you ever wondered about the mysterious places and creatures that captivate our media and folklore? Have you ever wondered if these places are actually real or if there is a creature out in the forest or mountain, lurking about? If so, then this series is for you. Guidebooks to the Unexplained takes you on a brief adventure, looking at some of the most famous places and creatures you hear about in stories and movies, providing a information and even more wonderings and questions than you started with!

THOUGHTS: This is a beginner series to these questions that many readers have. This series would be a great way to begin research on a topic!

1.942-398.47 Folklore         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – Cemetery Boys

Thomas, Aiden. Cemetery Boys. Swoon Reads, 2020. 978-1-250-25046-9. 344 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

In the heart of LA lives a cemetery where the dead roam long after they’re gone. They’re welcome to stay as long as they stay themselves, but stay too long and a ghost risks turning maligno. Protected by the brujx, a line of guardians who roam the cemetery to keep the peace, the cemetery is home to the newly dead and those not quite ready to let go. Once they are ready, the brujos are there to release them into the afterlife. Yadriel comes from a long line of brujx and wants nothing more than to become one. However, even after coming out as trans, his family still tries to push him to be a bruja, a healer, and refuses to let him try to take the test meant for the men. When Yadriel takes matters into his own hands he ends up with a companion he didn’t expect, the ghost of a classmate who rarely attends school. If Yadriel can release him then he will prove himself as a real brujo. Julian, however, isn’t going to give up so easily.

THOUGHTS: A powerful story of Latinx heritage and the strength it takes to break with tradition and find your own place in the world. While not the same premise, readers of They Both Die At The End will love Cemetery Boys.

Fantasy (Paranormal)          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA Fiction – Wolf Hour; Unearthly Things; Book of Dust (Bk. 1); Hell & High Water

Holmes, Sarah Lewis. The Wolf Hour. New York: Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-10797-6. 320 p. $16.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Sarah Lewis Holmes has written an interesting, if overly long, take on classic fairy tales.  Using the familiar tropes of the wicked witch, the haunted wood, and the wayward child, Holmes spins the stories of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood on their heads.  The story is told from three perspectives: Magia, the daughter of a woodcutter; the Pigs – Biggest, Little, and Littlest; and Martin, a wolf. Magia’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps and chop the special wood from the trees in the Puszka, the dark forest that borders her home.  Magia’s mother has other plans for her though; she wants Magia to use her prodigious singing talents to make a name for herself in the city.  While Magia is happy that her singing soothes her mother’s pregnancy pains, she does not want to make a career out of it.  The Pigs’ dream is to get their mother back; they have been told by the witch that the only way to do so is to play out their story, over and over again: get chased by the wolf, take shelter in the house made of bricks, trick the wolf into climbing into the chimney where he falls to his death into a pot of boiling water. Martin’s dream is to stay safe in his tower of books and find the safety and love that he experienced before his mother was killed by a human.  Martin’s mother always warned him to stay away from stories, because they can suck you in, and you can lose yourself, and so Martin was raised on books of facts.  And then there’s the witch, the puppetmaster holding all of the strings.  Eventually, the characters all find themselves in the same story, and, for better or worse, need to figure out how to extract themselves in order to set things right.  THOUGHTS:  While the book definitely lags in the middle, and Holmes takes her time getting to the real meat of the story, her premise is clever, and the characters are well-drawn.  The love that each of these characters (other than the witch, perhaps) feels for their families is palpable and heartbreaking. Hand this book to lovers of fairy tales, and those who enjoy a slow-burning plot.

Fantasy        Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Gagnon, Michelle. Unearthly Things. Soho Teen, 2017. 978-1-61695-696-7 278p. $21.99.  Gr. 8 and up.

After Janie’s parents are killed in an accident, she is shipped off to a family in San Francisco, her dad’s best friend, supposedly. She is thrown into a world where buying an $800 dress seems to be the norm, while back home in Hawaii, that money could have paid a lot of bills. Janie is sent to a private school where everything seems foreign; she can’t even wear comfortable shoes to school. Things get pretty sinister and creepy as there seems to be a ghost in the house that is bothering Janie more than the other residents in the house. The motivations of her benefactors come into question.  Between that and the haunting, Janie does not feel safe anymore, but what can she do?   THOUGHTS: This is a fast-paced book that is more than a little sinister with plot twists galore. It is a retelling of Jane Eyre, that moves quickly. Students who have not read Jane Eyre would still enjoy this suspenseful tale.

Horror; Suspense      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Pullman, Philip. The Book of Dust. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-37581-530-0. 464 p. $22.99. Gr. 7-12.

Fans of Pullman’s classic His Dark Materials series will be delighted to re-enter the world of Lyra Belacqua. Set several years before The Golden Compass, Dust focuses on Malcolm, a twelve year old boy working at his parents’ inn on the River Thames. In his spare time, Malcolm helps the nuns with odd jobs around the local priory and takes care of his precious boat, La Belle Sauvage. The quiet of his little town is disrupted when the nuns take in orphaned baby Lyra, and Malcolm and his daemon Asta begin to pay special attention when curious visitors begin to frequent the inn. One of those visitors is Hannah, who befriends and exchanges information with Malcolm, and works to decipher the mysterious alethiometer device. Another guest is one less kindly; a strange man and his disfigured hyena daemon, who Malcolm believes is trying to kidnap Lyra. When a terrible storm begins to flood the town, Malcolm must set out on La Belle Sauvage to protect Lyra at any cost. THOUGHTS: A rich, absorbing fantasy set in the familiar, parallel world crafted by Pullman so many years ago. This exhilarating read is the beginning of another trilogy.

Fantasy     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Pullman, Philip. La Belle Sauvage. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 9780375815300. 449 pp. $22.99. Gr. 8 and up.  

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series has always been a favorite of mine and countless other fantasy fans. The long wait since the publication of The Amber Spyglass is rewarded with the first novel in Pullman’s new companion trilogy, The Book of Dust.  La Belle Sauvage is a welcome return to the fantastical, alternate world of England in the early 20th century.

This story follows 11-year old Malcolm Polstead, a charming and observant boy who works in his family’s inn near Oxford. By chance he finds a clue meant for a Resistance spy, who is working against the totalitarian Magisterium. The clue leads him to a friendship with Dr. Hannah Relf, a master of the alethiometer and the spy’s local contact in Oxford.  Intrigue builds as many characters come to town in search of information about a mysterious baby who has been left under the care and protection of nuns in the village. Malcolm and a local servant girl, Alice, become the protectors of baby Lyra as she comes under threat from agents of the Magesterium and a flood of biblical proportions. The three children and their daemons take refuge in Malcolm’s trusty boat, La Belle Sauvage, in search of Lyra’s father Lord Asriel.  THOUGHTS: Readers will be more than satisfied with this captivating adventure tale with terrific and complex new characters, an intriguing plot and the promise of more adventures to come. One of my favorite books of 2017.

Fantasy      Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Landman, Tanya. Hell and High Water. Candlewick Press, 2017. 978-07636-88752.  $17.99 312 pp. Gr. 7-12.

Caleb Chappell and his father make a living as traveling performers of Punch and Judy shows in 1752 England.  Caleb admires his father Joseph, who has creative, technical and moral understanding, so it is a blow when his father is wrongly imprisoned.  Rather than death, Joseph is sentenced to be sent to the colonies.  For Caleb, it feels like death.  But his father tells him to find his aunt (unknown to him) who will care for him, and he will find him again, “come hell or high water.”  His aunt and cousin Letty accept him, unlike the rest of the town who suspects him of everything due to his skin color.  Survival in their small town of Tawpuddle is dependent upon dangerous sailing trips and the wishes of nobleman Sir Robert Fairbrother.  Then Caleb is shocked to find his dead father’s body washed ashore, identifiable only by his ring.  But while Caleb summons help, the ring is stolen and the man buried, meant to be forgotten.  But much, much more is amiss, and Caleb’s determination to prove the man was his father leads him to unearth a landslide of secrets and power in this small seaside town.  THOUGHTS: A well-crafted and twisty tale with the right amount of suspense, atmosphere and characterization (even the puppets) to intrigue readers. With a focus on unmasking racism, sexism and the power of class structure to determine one’s fate, this is not to be overlooked.  

Historical, Mystery      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area School District

Picture Books – The Wolf, the Duck, & the Mouse; The Teacher’s Pet; Tool School; Scariest Book Ever

Barnett, Mac. The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse. Candlewick Press, 2017. 978-0-7636-7754-1. 40 pp. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

When a mouse is swallowed by a wolf, he thinks it’s the end of the line. But, it turns out, it’s just the beginning of his adventures. In the wolf’s belly, the mouse meets a duck. The duck explains that they might have been swallowed, but he has no intention of being eaten. Instead, from inside the wolf, the pair enjoy tasty home-cooked meals and dance parties, all without the ever-present fear of predators that nagged them before. Life is good until the wolf experiences a bellyache. His moans attract the attention of a hunter, and when all of their lives are in danger, the mouse and the duck decide they need to intervene.  Jon Klassen’s muted mixed-media illustrations are the perfect compliment to this subtly funny story, and readers will laugh at all the items mouse and duck find inside the wolf. Fans of this duo’s previous collaborations, including the Caldecott Honor winners Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and Extra Yarn, will eagerly devour this latest offering.  THOUGHTS:  This original pourquoi tale will be a wonderful addition to storytimes, and it will very likely fly off elementary shelves.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Rissi, Anica Mrose. The Teacher’s Pet. Disney Hyperion, 2017: ISBN 978-148474364-5. 32pp. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

Mr. Stricter has always dreamed of having a pet, so he’s very excited when the science projects hatch. Each student monitors the growth of one tadpole, and when they’re grown, they release all the projects into the wild: all except one. Bruno, the last one to hatch, had been the smallest, but as he devours everything in sight, he grows, and grows, and grows. The students quickly realize Bruno is a hippo, and his size is troubling, but Mr. Stricter is blinded by love and is oblivious to any problems. Even as Bruno smashes desks, chomps textbooks, and snores during silent reading, Mr. Stricter declares his love for the class pet. It isn’t until Bruno swallows Mr. Stricter whole that the class is forced into action to get their teacher back.  THOUGHTS:  This title will make a wonderful read-aloud thanks to the witty restraint the author uses. The word “hippo” never appears in the book, but students will immediately notice what Mr. Stricter does not: Bruno looks different from the other tadpoles. The bold acrylic and pencil illustrations shine, extending the text and allowing Bruno’s larger-than-life personality to take center-stage. This will be a good match for science units about watching animals hatch and grow.

Picture Book       Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Holub, Joan. Tool School. Scholastic, 2017.  978-0-545-68520-7. $16.99. Unpaged. PreK-2.

Five little tools, hammer, screwdriver, tape measure pliers and saw, head to school. Each is eager to display his or her skills but find working alone doesn’t produce very good results. Ms. Drill, their teacher, encourages them to cooperate, yielding better results. Bouncy rhyming text with bold illustrations by James Dean (Pete the Cat) make this a perfect workshop introduction for the tiny tool time set. Cool tool tips are included after the story.  THOUGHTS:  This would be a great introduction to a primary maker-space experience, promoting creativity and cooperation.  

Picture Book      Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Shea, Bob.  The Scariest Book Ever. Disney, 2017. 978-148473046-1. $16.99. Unpaged. Gr. Pre K – 2.

Boo! A tiny ghost tries everything to avoid going into the scary woods, from spilling orange juice on himself (drat, he has to take his sheet off) to a bellyache, to convincing the reader that he can be scary right at home. Meanwhile, the reader is apparently reporting back what horrors lurk in the woods – bunnies! Woodland creatures! Doughnuts! Eventually the little ghost is convinced to go into the woods, where he finds a costume party. Shea’s familiar-style illustrations (Ballet Cat, Buddie and the Bunnies) add to the humor of the little ghost trying to convince us he is brave and scary. THOUGHTS:  Youngsters will giggle wildly over the silly juxtaposition of thought and image, as the little ghost tries to be brave but is so obviously afraid of the unknown in the woods.

Picture Book      Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD