Picture Books – How Kate Warne…; For the Right to Learn; Two Friends…

Van Steenwyk, Elizabeth. How Kate Warne Saved President Lincoln. Chicago: Albert Whitman and Company, 2016. 978-0-8075-4117-3. 32pp. $16.99. Gr. 2-4.

This historical picture book highlights the career of Kate Warne, America’s first female detective. In 1856, Warne arrived in detective Allan Pinkerton’s office looking for a job. Although Pinkerton had never before considered hiring a woman, Warne convinced him that a female would be able to obtain information in ways men couldn’t. She spent her career attending society parties disguised as a wealthy socialite or sometimes as a fortune teller. Warne earned the trust of both men and women and then used the information she gained to help crack some of the nation’s biggest cases. Her most important assignment involved exposing a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln on the way to his inauguration. Disguised as a wealthy southern woman, Warne infiltrated a group called the Golden Circle and verified the details of the plot against Lincoln. Her information was used to develop a plan that allowed a disguised Lincoln to secretly switch trains under the cover of darkness and arrive in Washington DC unharmed.  THOUGHTS: This title provides a fascinating look at how one woman shattered gender stereotypes and bravely left her mark on a formerly male-dominated profession. The story is told with enough suspense and intrigue to hold readers’ attention, and it will be a welcome addition to women’s history month celebrations and to Civil War units.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County



Langston-George, Rebecca. For the Right to Learn. North Mankato, MN: Capstone, 2016.     978-1-4914-6071-9. 40 pp. $16.99. Gr. 3-6.

In a small village in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai attended school.  Her father was a teacher and felt that all children, even girls, should have the right to learn.  This was not the case everywhere in Pakistan.  In many places in that country, only boys were educated.  As the Taliban rose in power, they also condemned girls being educated.  The Taliban threatened the school leaders, including Malala’s father, to stop allowing girls to come to school. Later, those who opposed the Taliban were bombed as warnings to others.  Malala secretly began to blog about her experiences with a reporter from the BBC.  Finally, a Taliban fighter boarded the school bus and shot Malala for her outspoken stance on education for all girls in Pakistan.  She recovered and gave a speech before the United Nations that propelled her to international fame.  She later won a Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous fight for the right to learn.  This vividly illustrated book is powerful and compelling.  The message that Malala shared is clear and precise.  The incident of the shooting is simply illustrated with a book and three small drops of blood on top of it.  While upsetting, students will be inspired by her persistence and perhaps encouraged to appreciate the gift of education that all children in America may take for granted.  THOUGHTS:  This book is a wonderful addition to a unit on children in the Middle East, human rights, or even an inspiration to students to find something that they are passionate about and act to make a change.

Picture Book Biography     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy



Robbins, Dean. Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. New York: Orchard Books, 2016. 978-0-545-39996-8. 32pp. $17.99. Gr. K-4.

On a snowy afternoon, Susan B. Anthony is setting her table for tea. Two cups, two saucers, two slices of cake. She welcomes her friend Frederick Douglass, and the two sip tea by the fireplace, talking about their ideas for equal rights. This book centers on the real-life friendship these two activists shared and highlights similarities in their campaigns for women’s rights and African American rights. Robbins uses parallel text, repeating the lines, “The right to live free. The right to vote. Some people had rights, while others had none. Why shouldn’t he have them too?” as he describes each crusader’s fight. A brief author’s note provides additional background information about both Anthony and Douglass, and a bibliography offers suggestions for further reading. Mixed media illustrations feature paint, collage, and colored pencil. Swirling cursive script highlighting ideas Anthony and Douglass championed is woven into many spreads, adding to the book’s vintage feel. Overall, this is an age-appropriate introduction to two civil rights contemporaries who respected each other’s ideas and admired each other’s resolve to fight for a better future.  THOUGHTS:  This is a valuable addition to social studies units about equal rights or women’s suffrage. It could also be used to supplement a Civil War unit on emancipation or in celebration of Black History Month.

Picture Book    Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County

YA Graphic Novels – Delilah Dirk; Nameless City


Cliff, Tony.  Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling. New York: First Second, 2016. 978-162672-1555. $17.99. 265 pp. Gr. 5-12.

In this sequel to Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (2013), Cliff continues the rapid-pace action, character insights and talented artwork.  Delilah and her partner Selim continue their exploits in exotic locales, but Selim’s cautionary words can’t stop Delilah from striking back at a British soldier who has wounded her pride.  The soldier, in turn, lets Delilah take the blame for his own unsavory activities.  Thus Delilah and Selim return to Britain to clear Delilah’s name.  And, though she grew up there as Alexandra Nichols, she is as uncomfortable in society as Selim and finds it difficult to keep her alter ego hidden from her mother.  There is much to enjoy in characters and artwork, and Cliff leaves the ending open for further adventures.  THOUGHTS: This is a lively story with excellent art connections, interesting to any fan of art or graphic novels.  Cliff acknowledges his at times inaccurate portrayals of early 19th century London, making this more a story for adventure-seekers than history buffs.  Even readers who pick this up casually will likely enter into Delilah and Selim’s story.  

741.5 Graphic Novels        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School




Hicks, Faith Erin. The Nameless City. New York: First Second, 2016. 978-1-62672-157-9.  232p. $18.74. Gr. 5-10.

Erzi wants the boys to defend the city and be ready for war. Kaidu’s father asks about his mom and is shocked to learn that grandfather died six years ago, and mother is the tribe leader. His estranged father gives him a gift of a knife. Rat doesn’t initially like Kai and certainly doesn’t want him to run faster than she can. On the third day in the city Kaidu asks her to teach him to run, and he will bring food in exchange. It takes 27 hard days of training to get close to him. Kai loves all of the books the monks have, but Rat doesn’t know how to read. She shares that she is not lucky and her parents are dead. Eventually she asks for boots, but wearing boots belonging to another class could lead to major disputes. Rat overhears an assassination plan and risks it all to share this with Kai. Will the assassination be thwarted? THOUGHTS: Be sure to add this fast paced and heartfelt graphic novel to your collection and share with your students.  Students will be impressed with the first book to start the series.

Graphic Novel, Adventure          Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

New Picture Books – Dr. Seuss; Lillian; a Tea Party; Small Elephant


Seuss, Dr. The BIG Orange Book of Beginner Books. New York: Random House, 2015. 978-0-553-52425-3. 240p. $15.99. Gr Pre-K-2.

This book includes six individual titles by Dr. Seuss: Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!; The Shape of Me and Other Stuff; In a People House; Hooper Humperdink…? Not Him!; Ten Apples Up On Top! Because a Little Bug went Ka-CHOO!.  The large print and illustrations help emergent reader guess the words they may not know yet while developing reading skills through rhyme and classic, beloved Dr. Seuss characters.  THOUGHTS: Buy if you do not have enough individual copies.

Picture Book Collection      Caroline Romano Wallenpaupack Area School District




Winter, Jonah and Shane W. Evans. Lillian’s Right to Vote. New York: 2015.978-0-385-39028-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr 1 -4.

As hundred year old Lillian journeys to the top of a very steep hill to vote, she is reminded of what it took in order for all African Americans to get the vote: from slave ties to freedom; from an impossible test to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The colorful art and well crafted sentences create a read aloud that will spark a discussion on the hard won right to vote. THOUGHTS: This is an excellent text for extending a study of Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, or Election Day.  It is highly recommended.

Historical Picture Book      Caroline Romano, Wallenpaupack Area




Miyakoshi, Akiko. The Tea Party in the Woods. New York: Kids Can Press, 2015.  978-177138-107-9. Unpaged. $16.95. Gr. K-5.

One wintery, snowy day, a young girl named Kikko realizes her father has forgotten the pie he was supposed to take to Grandma’s house.  When she tries to catch him in the woods, she accidentally follows a bear instead.  She finds herself by a house she does not know but is too curious to leave.  As she looks through the window, a lamb wearing a coat and carrying a purse asks her, “Are you here for the tea party?”  Keikko joins the many animals for a splendid and magical tea party.  Akiko Miyakoshi has beautifully illustrated this tale.  The illustrations are mostly black and white with an occasional stroke of yellow and red.  The story ends with the animals disappearing back into the woods, and one must question whether the story is really happening or a figment of Kikko’s imagination.  Thoughts:  I would recommend this book for any children’s or elementary library.  This story promotes much discussion with students and is a great read aloud.

Picture Book                             Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School




Feeney, Tatyana. Small Elephant’s Bathtime. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.  978-0-553-49721-2. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. PK-2.

Small Elephant likes water, but not being in it.  His mother tries to make bath time fun with toys and games, but Small Elephant does not want to get in the bath!  Small Elephant’s father thinks of a way to get Small Elephant in the bath, but will it work?  THOUGHTS:  This is a very cute book with enjoyable illustrations.  Young students will be able to relate to Small Elephant.  It’s a great addition to storytime!

Picture Book         Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School

Mortal Heart…His Fair Assassins Book 3


LaFevers, Robin. Mortal Heart. New York: HMH Books For Young Readers, 2014. 978-0-547-628400. 464 p. $17.99. Gr 9-12.

LaFevers’ excellent His Fair Assassins series comes to a close with the highly anticipated story of Annith, the gifted sister of St. Mortain, god of Death, who watches impatiently as her sisters are given tasks to serve the convent and their god. Although extremely skilled at warfare and in the art of seduction, Annith discovers that she is being groomed by the abbess as Seeress, a banal life confined to the convent, even though she has shown no skill as a Seer. Confused and suspicious, Annith runs and sleuths, eventually confronting the abbess and learning a secret she never expected, one so deep and treacherous she decides to leave the convent. Annith runs into the hellequin, souls of the damned serving Mortain by bringing him the recent dead, and connects with the dark, brooding, and handsome Balthazaar, a connection that will change her life and life’s purpose forever. While a bit less action packed as Ismae and Sybella’s stories, Annith is a worthy heroine and her story speaks true to her character. LaFever’s brings a satisfying ending to a wonderful, historically researched, well-paced series.

Historical Fantasy    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

While I loved this series, and another teacher loved this series, I can’t seem to get the students on board. It is definitely for an older crowd; I would not recommend to middle schoolers, and right now that is the group that drives our fiction circulation. I keep recommending it to high school students when they ask about books, and I’ve blogged about the series, but so far no luck. LaFever is an excellent writer and this an excellent premise. It mixes history and fantasy in a way that isn’t overdone or unbelievable; the same can be said for the characters and their romantic interests. I am determined to keep recommending.

Willow…a look at Reconstruction in the South


Hegamin, Tonya Cherie.  Willow.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2014.  978-0-7636-5769-7. 374p.  $16.99.  Gr. 7 and Up.

Willow is a fifteen-year-old slave growing up just south of the Mason-Dixon Line in 1848.  Her life is far different than most other slaves.  Her master, Reverend Jeffries, has taught her to read and write.  She believes that they are almost like family and has little desire for a free life.  Willow’s family has been a part of Knotwood Estate for five generations, and although her mother is dead, she is being raised by a loving father and the other slaves of the estate.  Willow knows that change is coming, however.  Willow’s father has been pressuring her to marry and have children, so the next generation will be ensured a place in the Jeffries family Bible.  There are few suitable men for Willow to marry and her father/Reverend Jeffries have chosen Raymond, a slave at a neighboring plantation.  Willow is distraught over this choice, and bemoaning her lack of choice in the decision, rides off on horseback to her mother’s grave.  While she is praying to her mother, she catches her first glimpse of Cato, a free black man who has been helping slaves cross the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom.

Reverend Jeffries is also contemplating marriage to a widow, Mistress Evelyn, and her grown son from Baltimore.  When the widow visits Knotwood, it is clear that many things will change once she is the Reverend’s wife.  Willow has grown closer to Cato, who wants her to come North with him.  However, Willow commits to life on the plantation as a married woman because it is her duty, but she is deeply saddened because she realizes that there is no place for her anymore as an educated slave at Knotwood.  A dramatic series of events finally leads Willow to decide she must leave with Cato, and they try to make their escape in the tense pre- Civil War days of the Fugitive Slave Act.

This novel did not receive a lot of critical attention, but it is both exciting and well-researched.  It would be a useful adjunct to any classroom study of the Civil War Era and the significance of the Mason-Dixon Line. Although Willow becomes romantically involved with Cato, this is not a love story.  Instead, it is the story of a young woman who must escape from a different kind of slavery- the traditions and family ties that can also be imprisoning. Willow’s story is quite relevant to young adults today who must choose between family, duty, and following their own dreams.

Historical Fiction       Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School

Caminar…a story of war, boyhood, and Guatemala

Brown, Skila. Caminar. Somerville: Candlewick Press, 2014. 978-0-7636-6516-6. $15.99. Gr. 7 and up.
Living in the small village of Chopán, Guatemala, Carlos was only a boy when the soldiers arrived.  Friendly at first, the soldiers soon issued a dour warning: the villagers were not to assist the rebel fighters in any way.  Later when the soldiers return, Carlos is in the forest; he does not see the destruction, the loss, or death.  Running blindly up the mountain, sleeping in trees at night, hiding from the army while attempting to reach his abuela, he stumbles across a band of rebel guerrillas.  He travels with them, enjoying their friendly banter, but he’s too afraid to reveal his secret, carrying a guilt that burns in his soul.  He has lost everything.  When the helicopters return, the sound awakens Carlos.  He dashes into his abuela’s mountain village and leads the people into the safety of the trees.  His courage may save a village if this ingenious young boy can harnesses an inner strength to protect his compatriots in a war that is not his.
Based on true events, Skila has written a compelling story about a young boy attempting to become a man.  For forty years, Guatemala had been trying to resist unfair laws penalizing the poor farmers in rural areas all over the country.  Bands of guerrilla rebels fought back, surviving in the mountains by hiding and accepting any generosity from local villages.  Feelings about the war varied from indifference to a fierce loyalty to the rebel forces or a fear of the army who would crush anyone aiding or assisting them.  Carlos desires to become a man and thinks he should fight alongside the other men, but his mother advises him to run at the first sign of fighting.  When he heeds her advice, he find himself alone, questioning his actions.  Written in a beautiful verse, lines emanate the pain, suffering and ultimate gratification of those who survived.  The casualties of war took many innocent lives and changed the survivors forever.
Historical Fiction (Verse)               Christine Massey JWP Middle School

Tsarina…a story of the Fall of the Romanovs and Russia


Patrick, J. Nelle. Tsarina. New York: Razorbill, 2014. 978-1-59514-693-8. 328 p. $17.99. Gr.7-12.

Tsarina takes place in Imperial Russia during the fall of the Romanov Family. Natalya Kutepova is the beloved of the Tsarevich, Alexei Romanov. She is not royal, but she is from a noble family; her father is the head of the Russian Military. She and Alexei have been in love for most of their teenage years. Alexei suffers from hemophilia and was always sickly when he was young. Gregori Rasputin created a Faberge Egg that contained protective magic for the Tsar and those he loved; he called it the Constellation Egg. When Alexei shows Natalya the Egg, he lets her in on two secrets that no one outside of the family knows; that it exists, and where it is kept. The Constellation Egg is the reason that Alexei is not sickly anymore. Turmoil is brewing in Russia. The Reds riot in St. Petersburg, and Natalya flees to free her friend Emilia, a noble. Emilia just wants to go to Paris until things settle down, but getting there turns out to be a problem. Natalya rescues Emilia from her house as the Reds are starting a fire that will end up consuming the house. They run away and end up at the home of their Tailor who promises to shelter them for the night and get them to the train station in the morning. The tailor’s nephew, Leo, picks the girls up, but rather than take them to the train station, he kidnaps them. Leo is a Red. This is just the beginning of this enchanting novel. Leo is kind to the girls, but they are still his prisoners. The key is to find the Constellation Egg, but to claim it and which group? The Reds, the Whites and a surprising third party, The Mystics, all want to lay claim to the egg. St. Petersburg to Moscow to Siberia, they travel across Russia in search of the magical egg, a magic that lives on even though the Romanovs were murdered.

This book is an interesting companion novel for students studying Imperial Russia. Many of the facts are true, the author outlines in the endnote where she deviated from the truth. I have always been fascinated with Russia, and Anastasia was one of my favorite animated movies. The fantasy element was just enough; I imagine it was a very magical time for the nobility, not so much for the peasants, hence, the Russian Revolution.

Historical Fantasy (Imperial Russia)   Kathryn Gilbride, North Pocono High and Middle Schools

VIII…The Tudors are Back!


Castor, H.M. VIII. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. 978-1-4424-7418-5. 415p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

King Henry VIII was one of the most notorious kings in all of British history.  From a young age, Hal was viewed by his father, King Henry VII, as weak and coddled by his mother, Elizabeth of York.  His grandmother resented him and his mother, since the throne of Henry VII actually belonged to Elizabeth of York.  His older brother, Arthur, looked down upon him because he, Arthur, would be king, and Hal would only inherit the title of Duke of York.  And although Hal was a bit smaller and much younger than Arthur, he had a drive and conviction that would turn him into the king he would become all because of a prophecy, heard at a young age, that the Duke of York would one day be King.  A prophecy that remained in the back of Hal’s mind as he grew in the shadows of his family.  H.M. Castor masterfully captures the struggles of King Henry VIII’s early life that lead him to become the most infamous King of England and began the demise of the Tudor Dynasty.

Historical Fiction        Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

VIII is a fabulous look at the early life of King Henry VIII.  It provides readers with a masterful portrayal of how one king could cause so much destruction and demise and become a notorious leader, all because of his family.  It is a fabulous TV tie-in novel to the series, Reign, on the CW, because it establishes the history of the Tudor dynasty prior to the struggle for power between Mary, Queen of Scots, the rightful monarch, and Henry VIII’s illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth.  Students interested in the show will love this novel because it establishes where Reign begins and includes many references viewers and readers will recognize.  As a fan of The Tudors, I loved this novel because it established the violent and disreputable figure that was King Henry VIII, but also provided a story of a young man, Hal, with love in his heart, but cruelty surrounding him.  This is a great novel for British history courses to connect back to PA Core literary and informational reading, not only for the quick read and interesting read it is, but to establish more background about the Tudor family and how they gained power.  I cannot wait for Castor’s next book (or more, hopefully) about Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary) and Elizabeth I.

The Secrets of Tree Taylor


Mackall, Dandi Daley. The Secrets of Tree Taylor. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 978-0-375-86897-9. 282 p. $16.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Tree Taylor has always wanted to write. Her goal is to write a story over the summer that gets her on to the staff of The Blue and Gold; her school newspaper. She has a writer’s notebook all set to go, with daily inspirational quotes. When a gunshot rings out down the street, she knows she has her big story. Now all she needs to do is find out what happened. As she investigates, she learns more about herself and the circumstances surrounding the shooting. She feels the weight of people’s secrets coming down on her and she is not sure if she is doing the right thing by writing the article or telling other secrets she learns during her investigation. She has a great support system within her family and they help guide her to know when telling a secret is important and when it will cause damage.

Historical Fiction (Vietnam War)      Kathryn Gilbride, North Pocono High and Middle Schools

This book would be wonderful in an English class that concentrates on journalism. Tree is a likeable girl who only wants to write. She sees an opportunity for a big story, and she has inner conflict about whether to reveal all she knows. She writes questions for further investigation and interviews quite a few people. The Vietnam Conflict story line is very interesting, and may educate some of our students on a time period they don’t know much about, which may cause further investigation. There is one story line that doesn’t materialize into much of a story, her friend Sarah is moving to another state. When I was young, I would be consumed by this thought, and Tree rarely mentions it. That was the only implausible part, and it was minor.

One…Night in Shanghai


Mones, Nicole. Night in Shanghai. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.  978-0547516172. 288 p. $25.00. Gr. 9+

Night in Shanghai tells the story of expatriate Jazz musicians living in China prior to the start of World War II and life in Shanghai before and after the Japanese takeover of the city. The story begins with African American piano player Thomas Greene arriving in Shanghai after being recruited by Lin Ming to lead a Jazz orchestra that plays in a club owned by Lin’s father Du Yuesheng, a notorious crime boss in Shanghai. Soon, Thomas becomes enamored with the lovely and passionate Communist Song Yuhua, who was sold to Du to repay her father’s debts. As long as Song is still a possession of Du’s, however, Thomas cannot be seen with her. Surrounding their love story is the contentious atmosphere in China during the Japanese invasion and the beginning of Hitler’s conquests in Europe. Many musicians begin to flee as the Japanese take over, but they are replaced by Jews fleeing from Nazi controlled countries in Europe. This story of star-crossed lovers gives an interesting and sometimes little known (to American students) depiction of the turmoil in China during the 1930s and 1940s. The cosmopolitan and diverse city of Shanghai is highlighted throughout, and some of the most enjoyable scenes are in the Jazz nightclubs and hotels, where the music is given center stage. The novel also provides a non-Western view of the Holocaust, since the author includes real events and people in her novel, and describes in detail the actions of one Chinese diplomat who risked his life to save many Jews. Recommend this story to young musicians who enjoy historical novels, or those who want to know more about the influence of the Holocaust in non-European countries.

Historical Fiction (China WWII)        Lindsey Myers, Peters Township HS

I picked up this book for two reasons: one, because it was a historical fiction and this genre is generally my go-to for summer reading; and two, because it incorporated an area of history that I am not that familiar with, that of the lives of Jazz musicians in China during the 1930s. I absolutely love getting lost in an historical fiction book during the summer, and flying away to different eras and times. While this title was not the best book I read this summer, it is definitely an interesting story that should appeal to a variety of students. It is not marketed as a YA book but has clear appeal to this population.

The story does start off a little slow, but once WWII begins and the main characters have more contact with each other and we learn more about each of them, about their hopes and dreams, and passions, the plot moves quickly. I have to note that my favorite parts of the book involved references and stories relating to the Holocaust. It was interesting to learn how the Jewish population was assisted by some Chinese diplomats and how many Jews were actually saved. The author includes an afterword detailing historical moments and characters, and the extensive research that she completed for the novel.

Our Honors English 10 students must all read one historical fiction novel as an independent reading selection, and I am excited to share this title with them. I often have musicians asking for interesting stories that incorporate music or depict the lives of famous musicians, or students interested in learning more about the Holocaust. And, this novel is not as lengthy as many historical fiction novels, so that is a big bonus with students as well! I look forward to reading other titles by this author.