Elem. – In a Garden

McCanna, Tim. In a Garden. Ill. Aimée Sicuro. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-5344-1797-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Through rhyming verses and vivid watercolor illustrations, In a Garden explores how things grow. From seeds being planted to sunlight and rain nurturing the plants, readers see all of the various aspects of natural growth both in a garden and in those who nurture and care for the garden. McCanna identifies a variety of flowers and vegetables that grow in gardens, while also describing the duties of the various insects that help the garden grow. The four seasons establish how things grow unseen, and also establish the life cycle with insects laying eggs and a woman, pregnant in the beginning, holding a baby when spring returns after winter.

THOUGHTS: This is a gorgeous picture book. Sicuro’s watercolors represent each aspect of the natural world beautifully, while McCanna’s words are playful and representative of the life cycle. Many readers will see themselves in this text because the garden is in a city, and the humans are representative of the diversity in a city. This picture book is a great introduction to the life cycle, gardening, and caring for the natural world. It would pair well with growing a school garden or just planting a seed that students can take home and grow.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

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

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