MG – Engineering Disasters

Engineering Disasters. ABDO Books, 2020. $23.00 ea. $138.00 set of 6. 48 p. Grades 5-8. 

Huddleston, Emma. Ford Pinto Fuel Tanks. 978-1-532-19-072-8.
—. The Johnstown Flood. 978-1-532-19073-5.
—. The New Orleans Levee Failure. 978-1-532-19074-2.
Kortemeier, Todd. Air France Flight 447. 978-1-532-19070-4
—. Chernobyl. 978-1-532-19071-1.
—.  The Space Shuttle Challenger. 978-1-532-19075-9.

This series looks at well-intentioned concepts which ultimately failed in some way. The solid format covers the disaster, the search for the cause, and the changes enacted to avoid further disasters. The text is clear and factual, with various sidebars and charts adding meaningful supplemental perspectives. A full-page “Straight to the Source” occurs twice in the book, linking another text with useful questions for further thinking and writing, while a “Stop and Think” segment is part of the well-rounded back matter of Fast Facts, glossary, index, and ABDO’s free online resources.

THOUGHTS: This is a well-presented series on major failures and how the engineering in question has changed. (Title reviewed: The Space Shuttle Challenger.)

363 Manmade Disasters            Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Talkin’ Sports (Series Nonfiction)

Talkin’ Sports. The Child’s World, 2020. $20.00 ea. $160 set of 8. 24 p. Grades 3-6. 

Buckley, James. Talkin’ Baseball. 978-150383-571-9.
—. Talkin’ Basketball. 978-150383-574-0.
—. Talkin’ Lacrosse. 978-150383-576-4.
—. Talkin’ Motor Sports. 978-150383-577-1.
—. Talkin’ Soccer. 978-150383-573-3.
Gigliotti, Jim. Talkin’ Football. 978-150383-572-6.
—. Talkin’ Golf & Tennis. 978-150383-578-8.
—. Talkin’ Hockey. 978-150383-575-7.

“Play sports? Watch sports? Talk sports!” That’s the tagline for this series highlighting special sports terms, insider phrases, comical or descriptive terms, and player nicknames. Fans of these sports will want to check up on their lingo–historical and modern-day–and add some understanding to their use of it as they go. They may even think of plenty more to add to the mix. For example, “The slugger ripped a frozen rope into the gap and pulled up with a two-bagger.” Baseball translation: “A powerful hitter smashed a line drive (further defined) between two outfielders (further defined) & ran to second base.” These books will cause laughter, and comments such as, “that’s right” or “I didn’t know that was why…” as fans feel a bit more at home watching, playing, and talking sports. For the uninitiated, these books can solidify the lingo.

THOUGHTS: A fun series suitable for upper elementary and middle school. ( Titles reviewed: Talkin’ Baseball and Talkin’ Football.)

796 Sports          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel

Currie, Rob. Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel. Tyndale House, 2020. $14.99 253 p. 978-1-496-44034-1  Grades 4-8.

In late 1944, 13-year-old Dirk’s father has gone into hiding as a leader of the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. The chase begins immediately; in chapter one, Dirk learns via a neighbor that his older sister Els has been captured by the Gestapo, to question and torture for information, and to encourage their father’s cooperation. Dirk knows his next move must be to escape with his younger sister, six-year-old Anna, to their grandparents’ home, but questions and worries bombard his mind. Chapter two reveals Els’s perspective as she is starved; questioned; threatened; and worries for her father, brother, and sister.  Most of the story is Dirk’s, but returns to Els’s point-of-view in the final chapters. This tense novel reveals the strength of the Dutch people during what became known as the “Hongerwinter” when Nazi control of resources led to daily food rations of a mere 320 calories per person. Dirk must call upon memories of his father’s instructions and strength to guide him through difficult decisions on his journey, while shielding Anna from the brutal realities of war as best he can.

THOUGHTS: This is a middle-grade novel a step up in complexity and danger for readers who loved Number the Stars and The Devil’s Arithmetic. It will expand readers’ knowledge of Nazi tactics and brave Dutch resistance. An inspiring read.

Historical Fiction; World War II in Netherlands  Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne

Cline-Ransome, Lesa. The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne. Simon and Schuster, 2020. 978-1-481-46289-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 1-4.

The life of Ethel L. Payne, the “First Lady of the Black Press”, is depicted in this picture biography. Born in Chicago in 1911, Ethel loved listening to her grandparents’ stories of the cotton fields in Kentucky and her parents’ own sharecropping tales. Ethel developed a love of writing and after high school fought against racism in her community. After World War II, she left for Japan and collected stories from black American soldiers on the base, noting the unfair treatment they received from the Army. Soon Ethel’s stories from Japan were sent to American newspapers. On her return, Payne took a job as a features editor with the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper.  Her stories progressed from local events to covering the Democratic National Convention. Eventually, Ethel moved to Washington DC and became one of three African American reporters with a White House pass. For the rest of her life, she wrote stories that focused on civil rights and the issues facing African Americans.  There is an author’s note that gives more details on Ethel L. Payne’s life. John Parra has used acrylic paint to create illustrations that feature other well-known African Americans. Readers will enjoy poring over the drawings to search for the small objects found throughout the text, including the clocks that move forward in time by the end of the story.

THOUGHTS: This text is a worthwhile addition to elementary collections. Readers will learn about the life of this famous African American woman and her important contribution to the civil rights movement.

921 Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
070.92 Journalism and Publishing

YA – Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio

Backderf, Derf. Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio. Abrams ComicArts. 2020. 978-1-4197-3484-7. 288 pp. $24.99. Gr. 10+.

For many of us, “Kent State” is synonymous with one of the most indelible images of the Vietnam War era. John Paul Filo’s influential, award-winning photograph captured the aftermath of four days of antiwar protests and National Guard presence, and more specifically thirteen seconds of gunfire. Tragically, four students were shot and killed, and nine more were wounded. In this gripping and painstakingly sourced graphic narrative, comics artist Derf Backderf turns his inimitable skill to chronicling May 1-4, 1970, from the perspectives of the four students whose lives were lost. They played music, went on dates, studied, called their parents, protested President Nixon’s escalation of the war, and uneasily observed the presence of the Ohio National Guard on campus (called in to suppress the “radicals” and agitators, who were generally not part of the student body). Backderf portrays the exhaustion, confusion, unpreparedness, muddled leadership, and dishonesty of the Guard throughout the catastrophic operation, as well as the political pressures impacting their actions.

THOUGHTS: Backderf recreates these four days with such intimate immediacy that the panels depicting the deaths of Jeff, Allison, Sandy, and Bill are gut-wrenching, even 50 years later. Distinctive artwork, ample period details, and integrated exposition set the narrative firmly within the era and provide helpful context. Simply outstanding on every level!

Michael Burgan’s 2017 juvenile nonfiction title, Death at Kent State, and Deborah Wiles’ recent novel-in-verse, Kent State, would round out a text set on this topic for a range of readers.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Mañanaland; Nat Enough; Black Brother, Black Brother; On the Horizon

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Mañanaland. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-15786-4.  251 p. $16.53. Grades 3-6.

Maximiliano Córdoba has a lot. He has his hard-working, bridge builder father and his loving Buelo who cooks delicious dinners and tells fantastic stories. He has a best friend, Chuy, and a group of neighborhood boys with whom he plays soccer. He even has a playful dog named Lola. But it is what Max doesn’t have that occupies his thoughts. He doesn’t have the strength that Ortiz has when he throws the fútbol out of the goal, and he doesn’t have a pair of Volantes, which would ensure his success at tryouts. He doesn’t have the freedom to attend a summer clinic in Santa Inés with his friends. And most of all, he does not have a mother. He doesn’t know where she is or why she left, and his Papá will not tell Max anything about her. “When you’re older, I’ll explain more,” is what he hears from his Papá, but he wants answers now, and he may just get them sooner rather than later. The new soccer coach expects all players to have a birth certificate to try out for the team, and Max learns his mother took his documents with her when she left. With Papà out of town in search of Max’s documents, Max finds himself thrust into an adventure of a lifetime. Will the legend his Buelo has been telling him his whole life lead Max to the answers he seeks? And will Papà finally accept that he can be trusted?

THOUGHTS:  Middle school is a time for students to explore their strengths and weaknesses and also to test the boundaries of the freedoms that come with growing up. Many middle schoolers will see themselves in Max and their parents in his Papà. The folklore adds interest to this coming of age story. Pam Muñoz Ryan’s fantasy novel is a self-discovery tale for every upper elementary and middle school library.

Fantasy          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD


Scrivan, Maria. Nat Enough. Graphix, 2020. 978-1-338-53821-2. 235 p. $21.59. Grades 3-6.

Natalie Mariano is not enough. She is not cool enough, not athletic enough, not talented enough. Whatever you need to make you enough for middle school, Natalie doesn’t have it–at all. And to make matters worse, her best friend, Lily, seems to have changed her mind about wanting to be friends with Natalie, so now she is not enough for Lily either.  Add in a disastrous first day of gym class; bully Shawn Dreary, who barks at Natalie every chance he gets; and a Jell-o frog dissection debacle, and Natalie is sure that she will never have what it takes to make it in middle school. But maybe Natalie has it all wrong. Instead of focusing on what she isn’t, maybe Natalie should focus on what she is. With the help of some new friends and some old hobbies, a story contest and some new-found confidence, maybe Natalie will discover that who she is, in fact, is exactly enough.

THOUGHTS: Every middle school student has been in Natalie’s shoes at one point, whether it is a falling out with a friend, that awkward feeling when trying something new, or an embarrassing moment that everyone sees. Her epiphany is gradual, but the progression is logical, and even the bullies have evolved by the end. Maria Scrivan’s debut graphic novel is a perfect fit for upper elementary and middle school libraries.

Graphic Novel    Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD


Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Black Brother, Black Brother. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-49380-2. 239 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

Donte Ellison fit in in New York, in his multiracial neighborhood. He fit in at his old school. He does not fit in in his new white neighborhood, and he certainly does not fit in at his new school, Middlefield Prep. His brother, Trey, fits in, and everyone wants to know why Donte can’t be more like Trey. But Trey has light hair and blue eyes like their father, and Donte has dark hair and brown eyes like their mother, and this makes all the difference at Middlefield Prep, and makes Donte a target of bullies, especially Alan. When Alan throws a pencil at another student, Donte is immediately blamed. Frustration turns to anger, and Donte finds himself in handcuffs in the back of a police car. No one in his school sees him. They only see the color of his skin, and Alan has made sure that Middlefield Prep is a miserable place for Donte to be. A week of suspension gives Donte time to plan his revenge on Alan, but is revenge really what Donte needs? A mentor, some new friends, and an athletic outlet provide Donte with support, purpose, and a goal that goes far beyond Alan and revenge.

THOUGHTS:  Middle grade students, regardless of race, will understand Donte’s anger and frustration with not being seen or heard, but his story will resonate most with BIPOC students. White students will benefit from reading this novel as a window into the experiences of their BIPOC classmates.  A must-read for students and teachers alike.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD


Lowry, Lois. On the Horizon: World War II Reflections. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-12940-0. 75 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Inspired by her own personal memories, Lowry has created a wonderful contemplative work about two major events that occurred during World War II. The text, told mostly in verse, contains a single reflection per page concerning specific incidents or individuals during the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the bombing of Hiroshima. These short remembrances are about some who perished and some who survived. In Hawaii, one of the Anderson twins survives the attack on the Arizona, and his ashes are buried with his brother years later. Frank Cabiness saves his watch that is stopped at 8:15, the time of the attack. The author deftly contrasts this story with Hiroshima. Four year old Shinichi Tetsutani is riding his red tricycle when the bomb falls and is buried with his bicycle. Shinji Mikamo survives the bombing, while his father does not. All he can find in the ruins is his father’s watch that is stopped at 8:15.  It is details like this that make these stories come alive for the reader. The illustrations by Kenard Pak are done in pencil and add to the thoughtful tone. Part of the story is autobiographical. Lowry was born in Honolulu in 1937 and remembers playing on the beach with her grandmother while a giant ship passed by on the horizon. As an adult, she later realized this was the Arizona. As a child, she returned to Japan after the war and while riding her bicycle, sees a young boy that will become a famous author.

THOUGHTS: Lowry’s work is a masterpiece made powerful by the stories of real people who were impacted by these historical events. These poignant tales will linger in the reader’s mind for a long time. This is an essential purchase for all elementary and middle school libraries.

940.54 World War II          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD

YA – Infinity Son; All Your Twisted Secrets; The Kingdom of Back; The Between; The Upside of Falling; This is My Brain in Love

Silvera, Adam. Infinity Son. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-98378-7. 353 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Twin brothers Emil and Brighton grew up idolizing Spell Walkers, the Celestials who use their powers to maintain order. But now that they’re turning 18, Emil thinks his brother needs to put the hero-worship aside and face the future realistically. But Brighton thrives on subscribers and likes on his Celestials of New York YouTube channel, and he wants fame so bad he can taste it. When the pair are attacked by a Spector, one who drank Celestial blood to acquire powers, mild mannered Emil erupts in rare Phoenix Fire, to his amazement and Brighton’s cold envy. The family is brought to a Spell Walker compound for protection, and Emil is convinced to join the unit, even though he is an introverted pacifist who isn’t sure the Spell Walkers always use their powers for good. As Emil reluctantly assists in missions, Brighton becomes the team’s public relations director, while his jealousy of his brother, and his disgust with Emil’s pacifism, continue to degrade the one invincible bond between them. Silvera adds another dimension to the superhero genre with his action-packed book. Emil’s reluctance to be a hero contrasts sharply with Brighton’s driven need for fame and power. The Celestials are morally ambiguous, even though they believe their actions are done for the greater good. There are no clear heroes and villains here, and Emil illustrates the danger of having powers others desire. Several big reveals later in the book set the stage for an eagerly awaited sequel.

THOUGHTS: Well developed characters paired with action and suspense make this book a winner. Hand this to fans of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades series or other superhero readers.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Urban, Diana. All Your Twisted Secrets. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-90821-6. 390 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

The beginning of the book starts off so tritely: six stereotypical high school students are notified they have won a prestigious scholarship. The music nerd, the jock, the alpha cheerleader, the stoner, the valedictorian, and the genius loner all show up at the restaurant for the dinner/scholarship presentation, only to find out something is horribly wrong. Then the addictive wild ride begins. Narrated by Amber, the music nerd, the six find themselves locked in a basement dining room, with a ticking bomb, a loaded hypodermic needle, and a note that warns the students that within an hour, one of them must be killed with the poison loaded hypodermic, or the bomb will explode and they all will die. Flashbacks fill in the back story, as the minutes tick down and the frantic teens turn on each other in order to survive. As the plot unfolds, the relationships between the six are uncovered, and true feelings ruthlessly rise to the surface. Subtly woven throughout is the backstory of Amber’s brilliant older sister who committed suicide due to cyberbulling.The suspense is top notch, and you cannot put the book down until its shocking, gut wrenching conclusion.

THOUGHTS: This cross between Karen McManus’ One of Us is Lying and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is sure to fly off the shelf. The ending scarred me for weeks.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lu, Marie. The Kingdom of Back. Putnam, 2020. 978-1-524-73901-0. 313 p. $18.99. Grade. 7-12.

Once upon a time there was an extraordinarily talented pianist who was also a gifted composer, by the name of Mozart. Nannerl Mozart. The older sister of the Mozart still adored the world over, Nannerl knows from a young age that, as a woman, her moment in the spotlight will be fleeting. Her father constantly tells her so. He values her musical ability as a means to earn money and recognition for the family, but once she reaches marriageable age, her public performances will end. As for her compositions, well, don’t be ridiculous. Women don’t compose. Lu takes the bare bones of what is known about Mozart’s sister, and weaves an enchanting historical fantasy that pulses with the frustrations Nannerl must have felt being a gifted woman in a society who had no need of such a person. As the siblings toured Europe, performing for royalty and earning the fame and fortune their father desired, they amused themselves by inventing the kingdom of Back. It is this magical realm that drives Lu’s story. In the kingdom, Nannerl is offered the opportunity of lasting fame, to have her name and her music remembered through the ages, but it may be a bargain too costly to make. Lu skillfully crafts the loving relationship between the siblings, and how Nannerl chafes under her father’s restrictions. She tantalizingly creates a scenario where young Mozart is influenced by Nannerl’s compositions, seeks her help with his own compositions, and even has her compositions published under his own name, all the more intriguing  because the world will never know how much Nannerl truly did influence her brother. This unique blend of fact and fantasy creates a world the reader will remember, as well as brings to light a talented woman too long lost to history.

THOUGHTS: This gorgeously written, uniquely plotted book may take some booktalking, but readers will be enthralled once they read a few pages.

Fantasy (Historical)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Hofmeyr, David. The Between. Delacorte, 2020. 978-0-385-74475-1. 376 p. $17.99. Grades 7+.

One moment Ana Moon is a normal high school girl, sneaking out to meet her best friend, Bea. The next, the train they’re riding on freezes in place and time, and a monstrous creature snatches Bea and takes off. When a shocked Ana makes it back to her dad’s flat, everything has changed. Dad is different; the flat is slightly different; and, most disturbingly, when Ana calls Bea, she is told that Bea died a year ago. By the time Malik, a cute guy Ana had been flirting with on the train, shows up at her bedroom window in the middle of the night, it barely registers as odd. Malik explains to Ana that she is no longer in the world she knows. She is a Pathfinder who can fall between the seven worlds. Bea has been taken by a reaper, and Ana must trust Malik, a fellow Pathfinder, if she hopes to find Bea. Ana enters a society she can barely comprehend, joining Malik’s clan and working with him and his team. As Ana is indoctrinated into her new reality, it becomes evident that she is not just a new Pathfinder, but perhaps the one Pathfinder who is the key to the mystical Seventh Gate. She may be the one to stop the war between the Pathfinders and the brutal Order. Hofmeyr compacts what might have been a seven volume series into one energetic, action packed story. Ana is a dynamic heroine, who plausibly grows into her new role while traversing continuously shifting ground. Her single minded goal of rescuing Bea, is never forgotten, and is a rare display of a literary friendship that is not overshadowed by romance. While there is an attraction between Malik and Ana, Bea remains her focus.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: action, friendship, romance, betrayal. It should find a home with Sci Fi readers as well as action/adventure fans who appreciate a few battle scenes in their books.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Light, Alex. The Upside of Falling. Harperteen, 2020. 978-0-062-91805-5. 279 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

Reclusive, bookish Becca flat out does not believe in true love. Not after her parents’ messy, painful divorce. But, aggravated by her former best friend’s taunting about Becca’s lack of a lovelife, Becca spontaneously declares she is in a relationship. This might have fallen flat seconds after it came out of her mouth had not high school hunk Brett Wells come over, thrown his arm around her and confirmed that they are secretly dating. It turns out he is in need of a girlfriend to satisfy his good-old-boy father. So begins a relationship born of mutual convenience, that turns into a needed friendship for both of them. And could it even end up in love? This Wattpad romance doesn’t cover any new territory, but it is light, sweet, fun, and just the sort of addictive story that will be devoured by dedicated romance readers. Sadly, 10 pages from the end, the book loses continuity. While young readers most likely will not notice or care, it reveals the need for an editor’s hand.

THOUGHTS:  I adored this book for 269 pages. Then the characters acknowledge their love by immediately having (off page) sex, despite the fact that Brett’s mother had him when she was 17, and his father repeatedly discusses how he had to give up on his college plans and football future to stay home and help raise Brett. (And despite the fact that a few weeks ago Becca had never even kissed a boy.) This likely will not bother most readers, who will thoroughly enjoy the dreamy romance.  

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gregorio, I. W. This is My Brain in Love. Little, Brown, 2020. 978-0-316-42382-3. 367 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

Jocelyn is stunned when her father announces that the family’s restaurant, A-Plus Chinese Garden, is floundering and he may move the family back to New York City from Utica, NY. Will is crushed when he fails to garner a plum editorial position on the school newspaper. Jocelyn convinces her father to hire a social media consultant to improve the restaurant’s visibility. Will finds himself needing a summer job. Jocelyn hires Will. The pair bring a boatload of baggage to the table from the start. Will, of mixed Nigerian and American heritage, filters the world through the lens of an African American male teenager, and suffers with anxiety. Jocelyn is almost crippled by her family’s emotionally reticent Asian culture. The pair click and begin dragging the restaurant into the digital era. Not unexpectedly, sparks fly, only to meet the disapproval of Jocelyn’s strict, racially prejudiced parents. But what seems like a trope-fulfilling romance veers off into a thoughtful exploration of mental health when Jocelyn’s erratic mood swings begin to trigger Will’s anxiety. Will, who has been in therapy for years, notices that Jocelyn may have some undiagnosed issues herself, but knows broaching the topic could cause a rift in their nascent relationship. As Jocelyn struggles to confront her depression, she finds an unexpected ally in her mother, who reveals she has been taking depression medication for years. Told from the alternating perspectives of Will and Jocelyn, the story maintains its relationship-cute vibe while honestly exploring mental health issues in teens, including the pros and cons of taking medication. A subplot involving Will tutoring Jocelyn’s younger brother, who clearly suffers from ADHD, as well as a reference to a friend with autism, may feel like a few issues too many  but does not detract from the story and might pique recognition in a reader.

THOUGHTS:  This book is a winner. An adorable romance exploring racial issues as well as mental health topics, it should fly off the shelf. Purchase multiple copies.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Nazi Saboteurs; Fighting for the Forest

Seiple, Samantha. Nazi Saboteurs: Hitler’s Secret Attack on America. Scholastic Focus, 2019. 978-1-338-25924-7. 224 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

In June 1942 eight men came ashore in New York and Florida. Their mission: to carry out acts of sabotage on American industries working to support the war effort. These German born men had all spent time in America but had returned to Germany for a variety of reasons, before they were recruited to be saboteurs. Their mission was doomed almost from the start. Though well equipped with explosives, their training in sabotage and spycraft had been mere weeks. The group members distrusted one another and some even wanted to kill their leader. It seemed almost inevitable that the group landing in New York had the misfortune to run into a Coast Guardsman on patrol immediately when they walked ashore. Though they managed to escape, their sabotage plans were quickly abandoned. Within a week, their leader George Dasch, had turned himself into the FBI. Within two weeks, all the men were in custody. Shortly thereafter, they were tried by a military tribunal. The verdict: six were sentenced to death; two were sentenced to prison terms. The book includes short biographical profiles of the saboteurs as well as a selection of historical photos. The title concludes by discussing how military tribunals have been viewed as controversial throughout U.S. history and discusses the use of tribunals in the case of 9/11 conspirators.

THOUGHTS: This title sheds light on a story from U.S History that I doubt many students have heard of before. Part WWII story, part spy thriller, and part bumbling/inept criminal story, it is sure to hold appeal for World War II aficionados and history buffs.

940.54 World War II          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD


Pearson, P. O’Connell. Fighting for the Forest: How FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps Helped Save America. Simon & Schuster, 2019. 978-1-534-42932-1. 197 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8. 

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933, the outlook across the nation was bleak. Millions of Americans were without work. People went to bed at night hungry. Working with his Cabinet (and with the cooperation of Congress), Roosevelt proposed and implemented various New Deal policies to reform industries, bring relief to Americans, and put people to work. One such program was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). A cooperative program of the Departments of Interior, Labor, Agriculture and War (Defense), the CCC recruited young men in need of jobs and put them to work building parks and working on conservation projects in forests and on farmland. The men were paid a wage and provided with housing, uniforms, and meals. Readers learn about the operation of the CCC by examining one CCC project–Shenandoah National Park. First person accounts of CCC boys who lived in the CCC camps and worked on the park helps to bring the story of the CCC to life. While the CCC had many positive impacts, the author also presents information on racial inequalities within the CCC and how some of the Corps projects may have ultimately had unintended  negative impact on the environment. The text is supplemented by numerous photographs as well as sidebars spotlighting selected topics.

THOUGHTS: This title does a great job of explaining and bringing the CCC to life for today’s readers. Since many CCC recruits were teens, readers will be able to relate to the first person accounts shared within the book. Recommended.

333.75 Forestry, Parks          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – Song for a Whale; Infinite Hope; Malamander; Becoming RBG; White Bird

Kelly, Lynne. Song for a Whale. Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-1-524-77023-5. 303 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

When 12-year-old Iris learns about Blue 55, she feels a special kinship with him. Blue cannot communicate with other whales because he “sings” at a different decibel level than other whales. Iris, who is Deaf, can relate. Her parents want her to attend a mainstream school, but Iris longs for the companionship of other Deaf people with whom she can communicate using sign language. Iris is good with technology, and she comes up with a plan to create a special song for Blue so that he will not feel so alone. But making the song turns out to be one thing, while finding Blue is something else altogether. Iris’s journey to help Blue will require her to collaborate, communicate, and to speak up not only for Blue, but for herself.

THOUGHTS  An original and gripping story centering a complex, nuanced Deaf protagonist. Highly recommended for middle school libraries. 

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Twelve year old Iris is different from most kids. Born deaf and named after a whale who may have also been deaf, Iris longs for understanding. Both of Iris’ grandparents are deaf, and with the recent passing of her grandfather life has changed – a lot. Her grandmother has become distant, her father couldn’t be bothered with learning sign language, and school causes more struggles for Iris than it should. One day during science class Iris learns about Blue 55, a whale that does not belong to a pod because it cannot sing at the same hertz level as other whales like him. Determined to help the whale, Iris works with her music teacher to create a unique song for Blue in order to help the scientists trying to tag the whale. But when writing the song doesn’t seem like she’s helped enough, Iris sells her most prized possession and teams up with her grandmother to take a trip of a lifetime. Together the two will journey to Alaska in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Blue 55, but along the way end up discovering more about themselves than either thought possible. 

THOUGHTS: A perfect book to include in your collection that perfectly demonstrates the windows and mirrors philosophy of literature. Iris is a relatable character with a disability and her need to “do good” to help a creature of the Earth is heartwarming. The story unfolds beautifully and pulls at your heartstrings at just the right moments. This book has many themes that could be related to various aspects of life. 

Realistic Fiction         Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Bryan, Ashley. Infinite Hope: A Black Artists’ Journey from World War II to Peace. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-40490-8. 107 p. $21.99. Grades 5-8.

Infinite Hope, a 2020 Caldecott Illustrator Honor book, features the sketches, letters, and paintings of author and illustrator Ashley Bryan’s experience of being in the Army during World War II. Bryan writes about being drafted for World War II while attending The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the hard labor of being a stevedore, and the segregation issues during the war itself. Beautifully illustrated with Bryan’s pencil sketches and photographs from the time period, this title does a wonderful job of telling the story of WWII without the graphic details. Bryan uses his art to recount the storming of Normandy beach and to show the struggle to get home after the war ended. Letters written to Eva show Bryan’s struggles, victories, and worries throughout the three years he was deployed. Upon arriving back in America, Bryan locked away the art he created during the war and instead went to Columbia University to study philosophy while still creating art. 

THOUGHTS: This beautifully illustrated book allows readers to visualize the difficulties of serving and segregation in the army and how one man used his art to get through challenging times. The mix of drawings, handwritten letters, and photographs provide deeper connection to Bryan’s story. This title did not overwhelm the reader with dates, figures, or historical facts, but instead painted a picture of what life was like for a Black soldier during World War II.

92          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Taylor, Thomas. Malamander. Walker Books, 2019. 978-1-536-20722-4. 289 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Eerie-on-the-Sea definitely lives up to its name. Winter, especially, is a time of dire darkness, storms, and tremendous tides. In the harbor lies the wreck of the battleship HMS Leviathan ominous and looming. It is the source of the local legend of the dangerous part fish, part –human Malamander, a beast who appears once a year looking for a mate (tremble at the idea). At that time it lays an egg which has powers to grant wishes, but at a cost. Herbert Lemon is a small boy who happens to be the Lost-and-Founder at the Grande Nautilus Hotel. His job is to find owners of the lost items, but how can he find the owner of a girl, Violet Parma? Somehow her parents mysteriously disappeared when she was a baby, and she has come for help. As Herbert and Violet search for answers, others are doing the same. With characters like Mr. Mollusc, Lady Kraken, the Boat Hook Man, and Sebastian Eels the reader will suspect everything is not as it seems. There will be great fantastical adventure filled with mystery and a monster. Taylor keeps the action going in this series opener. The unanswered questions will ensure that students will want to continue the series (What did really happen to Violet’s parents?). The next adventure in the Eerie-on-the-Sea series will involve the ancient Gargantis looking for her missing treasure.   

THOUGHTS: Malamander lends itself to discussion of literary devices such as the author’s use of setting, tone, and characters to create interest. Even with all the twists and turns, this would be a good book for students to make predictions. Taylor uses very clever descriptive names for his characters. This might be a challenge for students to come up their own names for characters in this book or other books.

Fantasy          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Levy, Debbie. Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice. Simon and Schuster Books, 2019. 978-1-534-42456-2. 207 p. $19.99. Grades 5-8.

One of the most iconic Supreme Court justice members has her life chronicled in a biographical graphic novel. In Becoming RBG readers experience Ruth’s life during the Nazi occupation, her college studies, then her early career aspirations while working toward becoming a revered judge. In each chapter readers learn more about Ruth’s passion for equal treatment of all individuals. When Ruth’s mother passes away, she is determined to go to Cornell University (her mother’s dream) and finds inspiration in the professors she studied under. After noticing segregation occurring beyond the dorm walls, Ruth went on to study law and advocate for those struggling with being mistreated by society. With each chapter we discover Ruth’s passion for the law and her successes in the political world. Readers will also experience Ruth’s marriage, watch her daughter Jane grow, and experience the highs and lows of her career. Gardner’s illustrations use red highlights to showcase important moments and bold text to focus readers on key takeaways. 

THOUGHTS: As far as graphic novels go, this is a well done title that allows readers to know girls can do anything they want to in life! The life story of Ginsburg unfolds with each chapter and shows the passion and fire that Ruth had for equal rights in the workplace. The illustrated panels provide a format that allows readers to connect with the heart and brain of Ginsburg and are not overwhelmingly distracting. A great nonfiction graphic novel!

347.73 Civil Procedures & Courts/Graphic Novel          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Palacio, R.J. White Bird: A Wonder Story. Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 978-0-525-64553-5. 220 p. $21.00. Grades 5-8.

In a powerful lesson touching on the themes of Wonder and Choose Kind, R. J. Palacio has created a graphic novel tale of life as a Jew during WWII. Julian, a former classmate of Auggie during Wonder, has an assignment to interview someone about their story. He chooses his grandmother, Sara, who was in Nazi occupied France during the war, and she reluctantly agrees to recount her travails. Through a graphic format, Palacio moves between the beauty and kindness of Sara’s youth and the horror, fear, and cruelty that surrounded her light. Only from the grace and goodness of a polio-stricken boy named Julien does she live to tell the tale. The gorgeous coloring and layout pull readers quickly through a tough and touching narrative, which will make sure that young readers Never Forget.

THOUGHTS: There are similarities enough between this book and Anne Frank’s tale and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry to give middle grade readers a lesson in comparing texts and living in a world of fear and hope. Those who already know Auggie and Julian’s relationship may also be able to discuss the behaviors and choices involved in both stories.

Graphic Novel          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – My Papi Has A Motorcycle; The Brain Is Kind Of A Big Deal; The Escape of Robert Smalls; Human Habitats; Explore Your World; Daring Dozen; Teddy; Moth; You Are My Friend; Insect Superpowers

Quintero, Isabel. Illustrated by Zeke Pena. My Papi Has A Motorcycle. Kokila, 2019. 978-0-525-55341-0. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

This gorgeous picture book pays homage to the bond between fathers and daughters and to the importance of communities. Daisy Ramona loves riding on the back of her papi’s motorcycle and exploring their L.A. neighborhood together. The book paints a realistic picture of a community that is tightly knit but struggling–a beloved shaved ice shop, for instance, is now boarded up and closed for business. A palette that features the muted colors of a sunset hints at history and nostalgia; yet at the same time, the movement of the motorcycle (“VROOOOM!”) gives the book a contrasting sense of immediacy and momentum. Spanish words are incorporated naturally throughout

THOUGHTS:  An evocative book, thematically rich, but also fun and appealing to read aloud or pore over. Highly recommended for lower elementary library collections. This book may be an especially worthwhile purchase because it may fill gaps in collections that need more books featuring girls who like vehicles, father/daughter books, and/or Lantinx literature.

Picture Book          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

When the workday is over, Daisy’s tired Papi still has energy enough to take his daughter on a motorcycle ride around their town. The routine is clearly beloved by both father and daughter (his hands “feel like all the love he has trouble saying”) as they pass by favorite spots and wave to family and friends (including Daisy’s librarian). Locales throughout the town recall memories of the past, or portents of the future. Papi takes Daisy to see the new houses on which he is working, but they notice with sadness the closing of the water ice store. The illustrations by Zeke Peña are gorgeously drawn, and the love between Daisy and Papi leaps off the pages. The warm terracotta color palette adds to the depth of emotion, as well as evokes the historic feel of the town Daisy imagines throughout the ride.  

THOUGHTS:  This lovely book, defining family and home, should be a first purchase.  

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Seluk, Nick. The Brain Is Kind Of A Big Deal. Orchard Books, 2019. 978-1-338-16700-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-4

The Brain Is Kind Of A Big Deal introduces us to all the things the brain does for us every single day! This book goes into the science behind smells, taste, sight and so many more things your body accomplishes everyday, all because of your brain! The illustrations are bright and colorful which add to the fun feel of the book. The inside of the front cover is full of colorful images with the same images throughout the book. Along with the facts that are found throughout the book, there are small little boxes full of fun facts. Each of the illustrations has the body parts saying funny or silly things related to what they do within the human body.

THOUGHTS: This is a fun picture book that is full of information that will cause the students to learn without realizing they are learning. The theme of the brain being the lead in a rock band that carries throughout is funny without coming across as too ridiculous.

612.8 Human Anatomy         Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Charter Academy


Jones-Radgowski, Jehan. The Escape of Robert Smalls: A Daring Voyage Out of Slavery. Capstone Editions, 2019. 978-1-543-51281-6. 40 p. $18.95. Grades 2-5.

This is the true story of Robert Smalls, an enslaved African-American man who engineered a courageous escape from slavery by hijacking a Confederate military ship docked in Charleston Harbor in 1862. From his youth, Robert worked on ships and became a skillful sailor and wheelman on a military ship called Planter, which brought supplies and ammunition to the nearby Confederate forts. He got the idea about using the ship to flee after observing the captain pilot the ship and memorizing his mannerisms. One night, after the captain left the ship for shore leave, Smalls set his plan in motion. Family members joined him on his quest along with other crew members. The plan was a dangerous one, because Smalls had to navigate the boat past Confederate forts and ships. Smalls disguised himself by wearing the Captain’s hat and uniform and used the cover of darkness to sail out of the harbor. By the time the Confederates realized that something was wrong, the Planter had reached the Union ships and freedom. In the Afterword, more information is given about slavery, the Civil War, and Smalls’ other accomplishments during his lifetime. A glossary plus suggested readings are found in the back matter. Kang’s full bleed illustrations include a map showing the escape route.

THOUGHTS: This book is a worthwhile purchase for elementary libraries. It will work as an introduction to Civil War units or as a discussion starter for lessons on slavery. There are a number of books about Robert Smalls, but this one is made accessible by the care that the author, a US Foreign Service officer, takes to explain the historical events and vocabulary.

973.8092 History and Geography, United States          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
92, 921 Biography


Human Habitats. Crabtree Publishing, 2020. 24 p. $17.70 ea. Grades K-3.

Duhig, Holly. Life by the river. 978-0-778-76485-4
—. Life on an Island. 978-0-778-76482-3.
—. Life by the Ocean. 978-0-778-76484-7.
—. Life in the Mountains. 978-0-778-76483-0.
—. Life in the City. 978-0-778-76480-9.
—. Life in the Forest. 978-0-778-76481-6.

Duhig explores how humans live within six different habitats and how people adapt to the unique conditions and use the resources in each of these environments. Each book visits four specific locations around the world. Full color photos and illustrations in each book, with simple text for primary grades. Includes glossary and index, and a teacher’s guide that provides lesson plans for individual and collaborative work for students to explore human habitats with links to the publisher website which offer additional resources.

THOUGHTS: The advertised Student Discovery Lab materials were not accessible with the code listed in these titles.

304          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Explore Your World. Nomad Press. 2020, 2019. 90 p. $19.95. Grade 3-6.

Haney, Johannah. Natural Disasters! With 25 Science Projects for Kids.978-1-619-30862-6.
Klepeis, Alicia Explore Makerspace! With 25 Great Projects. 978-1-619-30566-3.
McKinney, Donna. Engines! With 25 Science Projects for Kids. 978-1-619-30940-1.
Swanson, Jennifer. Bridges! With 25 Science Projects for Kids. 978-1-619-30591-5.
Van Vleet, Carmella. Robotics! With 25 Science Projects for Kids. 978-1-619-30813-8.
Yasuda, Anita.  Ancient Civilizations Aztecs, Maya, Incas! With 25 Social Studies Projects for Kids. 978-1-619-30834-3.
—. Canals and Dams! With 25 Science Projects for Kids. 978-1-619-30647-9.
—. Explore Greek Myths! With 25 Great Projects.
978-1-619-30450-5.

A growing set of non fiction books for students in grades 3-6. Seventeen titles are now available with more planned. Each title provides clear background information on the topic with clearly explained key terms and a timeline of developments.  Includes index, glossary, metric conversions, and lists of related YouTube videos for viewing. Each of the 25 projects listed includes a supplies list, step by step instructions, and notes if adult supervision is necessary.

THOUGHTS: Great ideas for science fair or independent or group or group projects for students.

Non Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Slade, Suzanne. Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon. Charlesbridge, 2019. 48 p. 978-1-580-89773-0. $17.99. Grades 1-4.

In simple lyrical text, this nonfiction picture book discusses the seven Apollo lunar missions and the twelve astronauts who took part in them. The author begins by using personification to describe the moon as “all alone” and “silent” until a spacecraft (Apollo 11) appears and later as “waiting patiently” for other Apollo flights. Each flight’s unique objective is discussed, such as the use of the land rover with Apollo 15 and the discovery of origin of the moon’s craters in Apollo 16. Slade includes some interesting bits about the astronauts, such as Alan Shepherd’s playing golf on the moon and Charlie Duke’s leaving his family’s photograph on the surface. The back matter contains a note from astronaut Alan Beam, a timeline to the moon, information about various moon vehicles, as well as specific fast facts about each Apollo flight. Alan Marks uses watercolor ink to create stunning full bleed illustrations throughout the book. On the opening pages, the full moon is the main focus as part of the earth appears to look on. The drawing of Gene Cernan holding a multicolored rock made of small rocks is pictured on the page with his quote that this rock will be a “symbol of mankind: that we can live in peace and harmony.”

THOUGHTS: This is an essential purchase for elementary libraries. It is a good example of a nonfiction mentor text for figurative language and poetic style. A great read aloud, this book can serve an introduction for astronomy units, but will also have great appeal for those budding astronauts who will enjoy reading this on their own and dream as they look skyward.

629.454          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
Manned Space Flight


Sage, James. Teddy: The Remarkable Tale of a President, a Cartoonist, a Toymaker and a Bear. Kids Can Press, 2019.  978-1-771-38795-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Sage has crafted a partially fictionalized story about the origin of the teddy bear. The author describes how President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman, refused to shoot a bear during a hunting expedition in Mississippi. This incident was then portrayed in a newspaper cartoon by Clifford Berryman. The cartoon was seen by many Americans, including Mr. and Mrs. Mitchtom who were New York shop owners. Mrs. Mitchtom made toys to sell in the store, and she came up with the idea of creating a toy bear in honor of the President. They called it Teddy’s Bear. Sales of the bear took off, and soon the Mitchtoms had so many orders that they formed the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, which produced millions of toy bears and accessories to go with them. The author’s note includes a photograph of one of the original bears, as well as a copy of the cartoon. The author explains the real circumstances surrounding the President’s hunting expedition (the bear was chained to a tree) and reveals which minor parts of the story were embellished. The illustrations by Lisk Feng were rendered digitally and add a whimsical touch. At the beginning of the story where the many interests of the President are listed, the illustrator places a small drawing next to each hobby. At the end, the President is seen sleeping with a teddy bear of his own.

THOUGHTS: A must-have for all elementary collections, this text is a great choice for bear themed storytimes, especially on September 9, Teddy Bear Day.

813.54, Easy          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
688.7243, 973.911                                        


Thomas, Isabel. Moth: An Evolution Story. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019. 978-1-547-60020-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 2-5.

This fascinating piece of narrative nonfiction is the story of the peppered moth and its evolution over time due to environmental factors. Told in simple text, the author begins by telling us that this is a story of “light and dark…of change and adaptation…of survival and hope.” She explains that after birth, the moth is in a struggle for survival from predators, such as bats and birds. The moths that had wings that look like salt and pepper were better able to camouflage themselves on trees than moths of that species that were pure black. As a result, the black winged moths were eaten and eventually made up a smaller percent of the population. With the Industrial Revolution, this pattern was reversed, because the trees were now black from pollution, and the moths with the peppered wings were most at risk. Then, as efforts were made to curb pollution, the population of the peppered moths increased once again. Today both black and peppered wing moths can be found on trees because they have adapted. In the afterword, the author explains the processes of natural selection, adaptation, and evolution in more detail, explaining that this tale gives us hope that a species can adapt and not die out. Daniel Egnéus uses a variety of media to create stunning illustrations that add to the narrative. The cover drawing will attract readers as it depicts a moth with silvery wings touched with black looming large against a black sky dotted with silver stars. The author and illustrator have made this narrative of the peppered moth surprisingly appealing and interesting.

THOUGHTS: This is a strong purchase, and elementary librarians will not want to miss this one. This text would be useful in evolution and ecology units and is a good choice as a read aloud, especially on Earth Day.

595.78 Butterflies, Moths          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD


Reid, Aimee, and Matt Phelan. You Are My Friend. Abrams Books for Young People, 2019. 978-1-419-73617-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Why the resurgence of all things Mister Rogers lately? Through popular entertainment and the media, we have renewed our journey to his friendly neighborhood. Perhaps it is the enduring need for kindness, decency, and compassion in the world. This charming picture book takes young readers who may not be familiar with Fred back to his beginnings. We learn of his illness and isolation, his emotions and how he learned to express them, and his willingness to like himself just the way he was. Freddie’s youth serves him well as he grows up and seeks to overcome his shyness and share his message with children through television. The soft and steady tone of Reid and the equally soothing, gentle watercolors from Matt Phelan make for a fitting tribute to Mr. Rogers. The color palate and message afterward will warm your spirits and make you glad that you have a friend who likes you just the way you are!

THOUGHTS: This is an accessible and highly recommended introduction for young readers to the world of Mr. Rogers. Obviously, there are many other videos, songs, and resources online to share once they hear about him. It would be interesting to get responses to the text and drawings as they read it to see how those childhood moments influenced his adult career in television.

Biography        Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Messner, Kate, and Jillian Nickell. Insect Superpowers. Chronicle Books, 2019. 978-1-4521-3910-4. 84 pages. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

Step aside, Spider-man! The insect world is full of supersized, super-powered, and super dangerous bugs. Kate Messner takes a decidedly graphic approach to this novel look at a nonfiction text. Listing the insects by their superpowers, archenemies, aliases and trademark features, partnered with a layout and design by Jillian Nickell that is dynamic, colorful, and fact-filled, makes for an entertaining education. For example, a Texas Ironclad Beetle grows up to 29 mm with an extra hard exoskeleton that can even resist the SWOOSH! Attack from birds or reptiles. Likewise, the Asian Giant Hornet is nicknamed “The Decapitator” for its attacks on honey bee nests, but it should beware of teamwork from the hive that can surround the hornet to heat it up until it dies! Look for more insect superpowers in this action packed comic!

THOUGHTS: This is a clean and attractive graphic book, which would also be perfect for livening up an animal research project and introducing the art of comic layout. Hopefully there will be more like this to make a series.

595 Animals          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD