Upper Elem/MS FIC – Lost in a Book; Great Hibernation; This is Just a Test; The Handbook

Donnelly, Jennifer. Lost in a Book. Disney, 2017. 978-148478098. 16.99. 341 p. Gr. 3-6.

If any child has ever wished for a more in-depth telling of Beauty and the Beast, Disney and Jennifer Donnelly have provided such a story. This awkward book offers readers not so much as a backstory, or a continuation of the familiar tale, but a fleshed-out moment of Belle’s adventure. The spectral beings as Love and Death wager over Belle’s life and the resulting drama is the basis of Lost in a Book. Belle, trapped in the Beast’s castle, stumbles upon an enchanted book which allows her to escape into the story, into a more exciting world where she thinks she is free, but in actuality is being lured into Death’s trap. The book is a frustrating waste of Donnelly’s talents and seems to have no discernable target audience. The storyline of Love and Death requires a more sophisticated reader than the young princess-loving base of Disney’s audience, but does anyone old enough to appreciate the horror of Belle’s life being toyed with for a wager still care about Disney princesses?  THOUGHTS: Not a quality fairytale rewrite such as those by Alex Flinn, this book screams commercial tie-in. Purchase if there is a demand for fairytale books.

Fantasy     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

 

Dairman, Tara. The Great Hibernation. Wendy Lamb, 2017. 978-1-5247-8. $16.99. 256 p. Gr. 3-7.

The town of St. Polonius-by-the-Fjord has many traditions that bind the inhabitants together, but none more important than the annual Tasting of the Sacred Bear Liver which recalls the year of the Great Hibernation, when the town’s founders fell into a deep sleep. Now that Jean has passed the magical age of 12 years, four months and six days, she must partake in the ceremonial tasting. She is terrified and does not manage to keep it down long. Shortly thereafter, all the adults, those who partook of the liver, are fast asleep and not waking up. Is this Jean’s fault because she did not eat the liver? Led by the dictatorial son of the town’s mayor, the children marshal resources to keep the town running, each child tasked with assuming her parent’s career with predictably hilarious results. However, Jean is determined to discover why the adults are asleep, and soon starts to unearth rather unsettling facts about the children in the town. Teamwork among an unlikely group of friends saves the day. THOUGHTS: A delightful mix of faux-myth, mystery, and giggles. Jean is an intrepid heroine, assisted by new friend Isara, whose family recently emigrated to St. Polonius. The topical issue of welcoming immigrants is deftly handled without bogging down the plot with moralizing.  

Fantasy    Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

 

Rosenberg, Madelyn and Wendy Wan-Long Shang. This is Just a Test. Scholastic, 2017. 978-1-338-03772-2. $17.99. 243 p. Gr. 4-7.

If middle school weren’t difficult enough for David Da-Wei Horowitz , mixing two cultures is not going well. His Chinese and Jewish grandmothers are turning his upcoming Bar Mitzvah into an ethnic battleground. But fame strikes when geeky David and his friend Hector are invited by cool guy Scott to form a team for the school trivia tournament and pull off the upset win. David and Scott form a friendship while building a 1980s bomb shelter in case the Soviets attack.  But tensions arise when the pair discuss who to invite into the shelter. Can David get Scott to allow Hector and crush Kelli Ann in? As the two work, David learns that there are all kinds of families, and perhaps his over-loving ethnic-goulash is far better than a perfect “American” family. THOUGHTS:  A wonderful period piece along the lines of Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars or Jack Gantos’ Dead End in Norvelt. The book conveys the political tensions of the cold war as well as exploring the definition of family.

Historical Fiction       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

 

Benton, Jim. The Handbook. Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-94240-9. $12.99. 222 p. Gr. 4-6.

Jack only proved what every kid knows: there really is a parent’s handbook. It all started when Jack, who loves picking through the neighbors’ trash in search of treasure, scored an interesting looking box of junk from a neighbor who was moving to Florida. He forgot about the box until neighborhood adults start acting suspiciously. Upon closer examination, Jack discovers, hidden in an innocuous book on turnips, the Secret Parent’s Handbook. Jack, with his friends Mike and Maggie, unlocks the secrets of parenthood and the three gleefully manipulate their own parents with techniques lifted from the book. But their behavior does not go unnoticed, both by the authorities and the tiny tot resistance, and the trio frantically works to engineer a solution that will please everyone. THOUGHTS:  Traditional dumb-parent trope with the unique twist of the protagonists eventually working with their parents to restore order.  Students may enjoy the thought that there is a source for all the tried and true parenting lines like “because I said so”.

Humor     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

 

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

MS – Girls Who Code; The Silver Mask

Saujani, Reshma.  Girls Who Code. Viking, 2017. 9780425287538. $17.99. 168 p. Gr. 5-8.

Written by the founder of the Girls Who Code foundation and website, an organization created to bridge the gender gap in technology, Reshma  Saujani encourages girls to take up code writing as a key for their own personal needs and entertainment but most especially as a path for their future careers.  Conversational in tone  and interspersed with original artwork, this informational guide explains in clear and simple language the vocabulary and elements  of coding, provides a brief history of computer developments, presents a Q and A with girls who participate in Girls Who Code activities and profiles the work and achievements of real women working in today’s tech fields. Includes glossary and index. Thoughts: Though aimed at a middle-grade audience, it is recommended for elementary, middle and high schools, a perfect title to encourage girls of all ages to explore tech as a hobby or an academic pursuit.  More resources available at GirlsWhoCode.com for librarians or teachers who may be interested in starting a girls’ coding club at their schools.

005.1 Computer Science           Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Black, Holly and Cassandra Clare. The Silver Mask (Magisterium Bk. 4). Scholastic Press, 2017.  978-0-545-52236-6 232p. $17.99.  Gr. 5 and up.

Another solid book in the fast-moving Magisterium series, this books starts after Call has spent six months in prison, framed for a crime he did not commit. Even in prison, there are choices that Call has to make. Call is constantly asking himself, “Am I evil?” “If I do this, is it good or bad?”  There is a quick, suspenseful prison break that moves the story forward.  The action never stops, except for a few moments of possible romance.  THOUGHTS:   This series is great for middle-grade readers of fantasy.  It may satisfy Percy Jackson fans as well as Harry Potter fans.  Readers will come away pondering the demarcation between good and evil and wondering if there is a grey area.  

Fantasy     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

Red Queen

redqueen

Aveyard, Victoria. Red Queen. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. 978-0-605-85200-6. $17.99. 383p. Gr. 9 and up.

Mare Barrow is a Red, the lowest class of citizen in Norta.  Silvers, who rule Norta, do not bleed red blood like the reds.  Instead, they bleed silver and have powers that allow them to control elements of nature, the mind, and others.  Living in the Stilts, Mare has learned to thieve her way through life to provide for her family.  As she nears her eighteenth birthday and conscription (a life in the army due to lack of skill), she has accepted her future until her best friend, Kilorn, loses his apprenticeship and must enter conscription, a fate that caused him to lose his father and family at a young age.  Mare has always felt the need to protect Kilorn, so she sets out to steal enough to buy their freedom.  An attack by the Scarlet Guard, a Red rebel group, ruins her plan to escape and her own family’s future, so Mare does the only thing she knows and runs.  As she pickpockets outside of a tavern, she’s caught, but instead of being punished her capture gives her a tetrarch, a silver coin worth much more than the pennies Mare has stolen.  Soon after this encounter with Cal, a royal servant arrives at the Barrow home for Mare.  Mare is taken to Summerton, the royal’s summer home, where she is to serve the royal family and high houses.  With conscription no longer looming over her, Mare accepts a life of servitude, but during Queenstrial, Mare falls from a balcony into an electrified dome and is not burned up.  Instead, lightning surges from Mare, and she almost kills Evangeline, the front-runner for future queen.  Mare shouldn’t have powers; she’s a Red, yet she just summoned lightning and electricity.  The royals must cover up Mare’s powers because Reds cannot be equal to Silvers, and they cannot kill her because too many questions would arise.  Queen Elara creates a ruse around Mare, which she must play along with to protect her family.  Within the day, she is betrothed to Prince Maven and learns that Cal, the man who caught her stealing outside of the tavern, is actually the king’s first son.  As Mare is schooled in all things Silver, she learns of the evil living in the royal family and high houses and their need to maintain power.  When approached by the Scarlet Guard to fight against the Silvers, she accepts and learns that her betrothed, Maven, is also a sympathizer and has joined the Scarlet Guard.  As they work together to learn more about the guard and help them rebel against the Silver ruling class, Mare learns that trust should not be given lightly and anyone can turn at any moment.

Fantasy           Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City SD

Red Queen (to me) is a mash-up of The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, and Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini. It’s fantastical due to the powers that Silvers possess but also very realistic.  Aveyard does a great job providing characters to love, hate, root for, and root against, while maintaining the reality of the world: a ruling class enslaving those “less than them”.  The need for rebellion is clear in the novel, but Aveyard does not shy away from the intensity needed for change to occur nor the pitfalls and defeats found in revolution.  The Scarlet Guard do not win; evil wins, which then leads the reader to consider our world today and how we govern ourselves, treat one another, and think about why people chose to commit evil acts against others.  Red Queen is an excellent debut novel.  Aveyard has set the bar high for her follow-up novels and the remaining pieces of this anticipated series.