Picture Books – Chengdu Can Do; Pick a Pine Tree

Saltzberg, Barney.  Chengdu Can Do.  Disney-Hyperion, 2017. Unpaged. 9781484758472.  $16.99. Gr. PreK-1.

This is the latest book in the series about an adorable young panda named Chengdu.  In this volume, Saltzberg tells the story of what Chengdu can do on his own when he realizes he is hungry.  He finds a tasty bamboo plant, and the reader sees how Chengdu can jump, climb and swing on the shoots.  One thing he cannot do is reach the leaves until he gets help from two other pandas.  Although we are not told, we assume it is his parents who pull the tall bamboo plant down so Chengdu can munch on the leaves.  This book will appeal to young readers, who will see themselves in Chengdu as they realize what they can do on their own and when they may need help. The illustrations are done in pencil and watercolor with digital enhancement and are full bleed with a soft color palette.  Saltzberg uses foldout pages to show the length of the bamboo plant that the panda has climbed.  The panda swings back and forth on the bamboo shoot only to be catapulted off onto the ground.  The illustrator creatively shows this action sequence through the use of a foldout page followed by one-quarter and one-half size pages, which makes this part of the story appear to be almost animated.  Thoughts: Young children will enjoy reading the adventures of this young panda bear.  This book would be a good read aloud for preschoolers and primary grade students.

Picture Book         Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

 

Toht, Patricia. Pick a Pine Tree. Candlewick Press, 2017. 978-0-7636-957102. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. K-3.

Looking for a fresh book to add to your holiday collection? Choose this jolly new offering from Patricia Toht. Pick a Pine Tree follows a family through their day as they find a tree at the Christmas tree lot, take it home and set it up, and host a decorating day with friends and family to trim the tree. Toht’s simple rhyming text evokes true holiday joy at all the simple traditions that families value during this season, such as setting up a Christmas tree. “Find the trimmings stored within bulging boxes, rusty tins, paper bags, a wood case. Bring them to that special place, there, beside your tree.” Illustrations by Jarvis are done with pencil, chalk, and paint. The colorful, cozy-looking pictures pair perfectly with Toht’s secular story. This is my favorite new holiday book that I purchase this year! THOUGHTS: Perfect for storytime or one-on-one sharing, read this little gem to children eager to begin the holiday season and trim their own trees.

Picture book         Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District

Upper Elem/MS FIC – Dawn & the Impossible Three; Dirt; Insignificant Events…

Galligan, Gale. Dawn and the Impossible Three. Scholastic, 2017. 978-1-338-06730-9. $24.99. 160p. Gr. 3-7.

This is a full-color graphic novel that is sure to delight readers. The best friends have many obstacles throughout the book. From friendship disagreements, parents remarrying, parents dating, and babysitting parents with divorce visitation difficulties, there’s a lot of conflicts to overcome. Friendship prevails.  THOUGHTS: While the fifth book in the graphic novel series, the books do not read to be read in order. Gale Galligan is picking up with the artwork just where Raina Telgemeier left off.

Graphic Novel, Realistic Fiction    Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

Orenstein, Denise Gosliner. Dirt. Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-92587-7. $16.99. 224p. Gr. 3-7.

Yonder is now in fifth grade and does not talk at school or confront the bullies. She hasn’t talked since the traumatic loss of her mother. Her father hasn’t healed from this loss and seldom leaves his room. After getting in trouble at school, Yonder tries to avoid school by playing hookey. Eventually, the truancy officer gets Yonder to go back to school. Yonder looks forward to taking care of the neighbor’s pony even if it does overeat, so long as the pony does not become horsemeat to others. After skipping school and finding the unhabitable state of the house, Yonder is removed to foster parents. When coping with the stress, Yonder’s father has a stroke. How will everything work out for Yonder and her family?  THOUGHTS: Readers that like horses or Black Beauty might also enjoy this novel. Classmates of Yonder in the novel are extremely unkind and their actions can be a point of discussion with students.

Realistic Fiction    Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

Bowling, Dusti. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. Sterling Children’s Books, 2017. 978-1-45492345-9. 262 p. $14.95. Gr. 6 and up.

Wonder meets Stargirl in Dusti Bowling’s charming new novel, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. Meet Aven, a thirteen-year-old girl, forced to move from her home in Kansas to Arizona, where her parents are managing a slightly decrepit wild-west theme park called Stagecoach Pass. Also, Aven has no arms. While she likes to entertain people with wild stories about how she lost her arms, Aven was in fact, just born without them. While her friends back in Kansas were completely used to Aven, her new classmates in Arizona are not. Although Aven has moments of self-consciousness and embarrassment when she has to do things with her feet, for the most part, she is a supremely upbeat, hilarious kid, and, as she says over and over again, doesn’t mind when people are curious; what she does mind is when people don’t treat her like an actual human being, or treat her like an invalid. While avoiding the school cafeteria (Aven feels unprepared for everyone to watch her eat with her feet), she meets Connor and Zion, two boys who also avoid the cafeteria;  Connor, because he has Tourette’s, which manifests as barking and ticking; Zion, because he’s overweight, and doesn’t want to be stared at. In short order, the three become fast friends, and all of them get caught up in the mystery of the Cavanaughs, the owners of Stagecoach Pass who haven’t been seen in years, and end up discovering a big secret about Aven’s past. THOUGHTS:  Aven’s zeal to make Connor feel “normal” can get a little overbearing at times, and Zion takes a pretty large backseat to Aven and Connor’s friendship, but otherwise, this is a delightful, heartwarming story with a positive message. Hand this to readers who are looking for Out of my Mind and Wonder read-alikes.

Realistic Fiction      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

MS Fiction – Guitarist Wanted; Snow & Rose; Well That Was Awkward; Rosemarked

Brezenoff, Steve. Guitarist Wanted (Boy Seeking Band Series) Capstone Press, 2017.  978-1-4965-4448-3. 96 p. $19.54. Gr 5-8.

Finding just the correct members for a band is challenging for Terence Kato. Moving is difficult enough, but now he needs to add members to the band that have different skills or backgrounds. The book concludes with trivia regarding music terms to see if you would make the band.  THOUGHTS: Students will appreciate the fast pace story and look forward to  reading the Boy Seeking Band series.

Realistic     Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

Martin, Emily Winfield. Snow and Red. Random House, 2017. 978-0-533-53818-2. $17.99. 224 p. Gr. 4-7

Life drastically changes when their father never returns from the woods. Their mother is distraught, and their lavish lifestyle is exchanged for a little dwelling in the woods. While in the woods the sisters come across a goblin. Snow’s birthday wish is for everything to go back to the way it was before. Shortly after, Snow and Rose save a bear stuck in a hunting trap. Also in the woods, they meet The Librarian of unique objects and Ivo, an underground dwelling boy. What objects will they find and what happens to their new friends?  THOUGHTS: The illustrations and enchanting chapter artwork are sure to draw in the most reluctant reader and add additional excitement to the readers that are naturally drawn to fairy tales.

Fantasy, Fairy Tale    Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

Vail, Rachel. Well That Was Awkward. Viking, 2017. 9780670013081. $16.99. 314p. Gr. 5-8.

Gracie and Sienna are best friends. Gracie realizes she has feelings for a classmate, AJ, and is upset to find out through their good friend, Emmett, that AJ likes Sienna. Emmett and Gracie have known each other since they were young, and Gracie doesn’t realize that Emmett has a crush on her. All she knows is that her friend, Sienna, needs her help crafting the perfect witty texts to AJ. It breaks Gracie’s heart to help her friend build a relationship with the boy she has a crush on, but she does it because she is a good friend. It makes her feel even worse when AJ’s return texts are romantically funny. Unbeknownst to them, Emmett is the one writing AJ’s return texts because AJ doesn’t know what to say. To complicate matters, Gracie is living in the shadow of a sister, Bret, that passed away before Gracie was born. She feels tremendous pressure to be the perfect daughter and keep her parents happy.  THOUGHTS: This is a great middle-grade retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac. I’m always looking for good books for my 7th graders, and I was happy to have found this one that has realistic banter and situations.

Realistic Fiction            Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Blackburne, Livia. Rosemarked. Hyperion, 2017. 978-148478855-4 390p. $17.99.  Gr. 6 and up.

Zivah is the youngest healer her village has ever seen.  When an outbreak of the Rose Plague breaks out among the soldiers stationed in her village, of course, she has to help.  When she becomes infected, she survives but is “Rose Marked,” meaning she will live for only a short time longer and is contagious.  Dineas is a soldier who was captured by the Amparans and tortured.  He also gets the plague, but survives as “Umber Marked.” He is immune to the Rose Plague.  Zivah and Dineas meet under stressful circumstances and do not like each other, yet they take on a mission to go to the capital city to try to help overthrow the Amparans.  There is much intrigue and deception involved.  THOUGHTS: This is a very smart book that made me marvel at its cleverness at how quickly I was involved in this world.  Fans of The Ember in the Ashes will enjoy this one.

Fantasy      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Blackburne, Livia. Rosemarked.  Hyperion. 2017. 978-1-48478-855-4. 390 p.  $17.99. Gr. 6 and up.

A tale of political intrigue and espionage told in the alternating voices of two teens living under an oppressive regime.  Zivah is a gifted healer who has trained her entire life to reach the level of a master.   As she celebrates her achievement, a battalion of the occupying Amparan Army falls ill with rose plague, the contagious disease that kills most who contract it within a few days.  A lucky few survive for a few more years, but they are “rosemarked“ with red blotches,  contagious and forced to live apart from the general population.  The luckiest few survive the disease and become “umbertouched”, covered with dark spots that indicate the person is completely cured and immune to further infection.  Zivah herself falls to the disease, rosemarked and destined for a lonely and uncertain future. But she is remembered by the Amparan general whose life she saved; he rewards her with an offer to live in the capital and train with the medical experts there.  As she ponders that offer, she meets Dineas, a young warrior from the rebel Shihadi tribe, who has escaped from the Amparan prisons.  Umbertouched after his bout with rose plague, he is now on a quest for vengeance against the Amparan leaders. The two teens, so different in temperament and outlook are brought together by their tribal leaders to fight against the empire. Together, they travel to the capital to spy on and sabotage the rulers. They come to rely heavily on each other and a strong attraction begins to form as they work on their dangerous mission. Rosemarked is the first book in a new political fantasy/adventure series.  The novel is slow to start but builds in intensity as the teens go deep undercover to strike against the oppressive regime. The novel explores such themes as social and racial prejudices, medical ethics and the fight of a conquered people against oppression.  There is solid character development with heroes and villains who are nuanced and fully fleshed out individuals, each with positive and negative traits that humanize them and make them believable.  THOUGHTS: Recommended for fans of tales such as The False Prince or Ember in the Ashes. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers waiting eagerly for the next volume.  

Fantasy; Adventure           Nancy Summers, Abington  School District

Upper Elem/MS – Adventures of John Blake; Good Story Someday; Orphan Island;

Pullman, Phillip. The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship. Scholastic, 2017. 9781338149128. $19.99. 159p. Gr. 3 to 7.

Philip Pullman’s first foray into graphic novels is The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship. The story involves a time-traveling schooner that many people seem to know about and want to find, including the billionaire, Dahlberg, and, Danielle, a young woman who works for a maritime organization in San Francisco. The boat appears mysteriously after an otherworldly storm followed by a dense fog. The story includes a boy that can mysteriously kill you within a month if you look into his eyes, a 3D object related to time travel, an unsolved murder, and a monitoring device called an apparator, that the billionaire uses to keep tabs on everyone in the world who has one (which is most people.) THOUGHTS: I couldn’t wait to read this graphic novel from Philip Pullman since I’m a big fan of the His Dark Materials books. Although I wasn’t in love with the illustrations, they don’t detract from the story. The story itself kept me interested and the book’s characters are diverse: age, sex, and ethnicity are represented in a natural way. This is a an excellent addition to a school library and even though the publisher rates it for ages 8 to 12, older students and even graphic novel reading adults will enjoy this story.  

Graphic Novel      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Levy, Dana Alison. This Would Make a Good Story Someday. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-1101938171.  315 pp. $19.99. Gr. 4-8.

Sara is going into Middle School after the summer and has detailed plans to spend time with her friends and improve herself. But surprise, Mimi (one of Sara’s moms) has won a month long train trip! Mimi is going to write about the trip and their family, college age Laurel, her boyfriend Root, Sara, their other mom, and Li, the little sister. Sara does not want any part of it but is dragged along anyway. To make matters worse, the other prize winner and his family are going to be traveling companions with them.  THOUGHTS: I loved the fact that the two moms are not the central theme of this book. It also brings up some difficult and current topics through Laurel (very granola and political) but don’t force the reader to agree with the character’s views.

Realistic Fiction       Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

Snyder, Laurel. Orphan Island.  Walden Pond Press, 2017.  978-0062443410.  288 p.  $16.99  Gr. 4-7.

Each year, a new child mysteriously arrives in a green boat on an island where nine orphans live on their own, with no adults to care for them. Then, the eldest must leave because of a rhyme that has been passed down for as long as anyone can remember: Nine on an island, orphans all/ Any more–the sky might fall.”  When little Ess arrives, and Deen leaves, Jinny becomes the eldest, and she is haunted with the knowledge that her days on her beloved island are now numbered. The island is a safe, almost magical place, with gorgeous sunrises, snakes that don’t bite, and cliffs that are impossible to fall off. Only the water is dangerous, and no one knows where the new orphans come from or where the eldest orphans are headed.  There are not a lot of rules to follow, but when rules are broken, there are consequences.  “Never pick the last of anything” is a rule that was broken once, and as a result, there are no more curlyferns on the island.  Jinny does not want to leave, and so, when a new orphan arrives, she simply refuses to get in the boat.  When terrible things start happening, Jinny fears that her choice to break the most important Island rule is wreaking havoc on the only home she can remember.  THOUGHTS: Orphan Island is an allegory about the transition from childhood to adulthood. The fact that it offers far more questions than answers might be frustrating to some readers. However, it is a beautifully written and thought-provoking book that rewards those who enjoy participating in the creative process of making meaning.  A must-buy for upper elementary and middle school libraries.  This book will stand the test of time.

Fantasy                  Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD