MG – Ground Zero

Gratz, Alan. Ground Zero. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-24575-2. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Brandon, 9 years old, suspended from school for fighting, is spending the day with his father, who works at the Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. He sneaks away from his dad to run an errand when a plane flies into the building. It is September 11, 2001. Brandon’s life has changed forever. Decades later, and a world away, Reshmina, a young Afghan girl, also lives with the fallout of that horrific day. Life in rural Afghanistan changed drastically when the US armed forces came to push back the Taliban. While no one likes the American soldiers, most Afghans fear the Taliban as well. Alan Gratz’s take on the 9/11, attack follows the two young people, alternating between their stories. While Brandon fights for his life as he tries to escape the burning tower, Reshmina struggles with the burden of Pashtunwali, providing aid to those who request it. Reshmina comes across an American soldier injured during a Taliban ambush. Despite her hatred of the Americans, she cannot leave him to die after he asks for help. The move places her family in danger; her twin brother has begun working with the Taliban and threatens to notify them of the soldier’s presence at their home. It won’t surprise any reader that the soldier is Brandon, 18 years later. There is nothing subtle about this book. Gratz had a point to make, and he hammers it home. The two stories aren’t just parallel, but painfully structured to be identical stories – an event in one story is mirrored by a similar event in the other narrative. And Gratz does not couch his opinion that everything the US did in Afghanistan was wrong and hurtful. While the current generation of readers looks for books set around 9/11, Gratz, a master of historical fiction adventure, who single handedly has converted young readers to historical fiction fans, falls a bit flat with this story. Gratz fans will want to read it, but it will not replace gems like Refugee or Projekt 1065.

THOUGHTS: Purchase where Alan Gratz is popular, but readers may be disappointed.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – My Contrary Mary

Hand, Cynthia, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows. My Contrary Mary. Harper Teen, 2021. 978-0-062-93004-0. 496 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12. 

For readers who like their historical fiction a bit more on the fiction side, the trio of authors known as the Lady Janies offer their fourth rollicking rewrite of history, this time turning to Renaissance France for felicitous fodder. Mary, Queen of Scots has been engaged to Francis, Dauphin of France since they were tiny tots. They are best friends, and Francis keeps Mary’s deepest secret: she is an Eꝺian, a shape shifter with an animal alter ego. In a country ruled by Verities, this is a death sentence. This story returns to the highly enjoyable world of the trio’s first book, replacing religious warfare with Eꝺian/Verity strife. While historical events form the basis of the plot, the authors never let facts get in the way of a good story, and certainly not a happy ending. When King Henry suddenly dies, (possibly probably with an assist from Mary’s uncles), and Francis is placed on the throne, the maneuvering begins to gain control of France. Ari, the daughter of the court prognosticator, Nostradamus, finds herself thrust into the middle of the messy machinations, as her skill as a potion maker is in demand on all sides. Can Mary save Francis, save France, save Scotland, save her mother, save Eꝺians, and save her marriage? Of course she can! This is history as it ought to have been, and far more fun than anything you were taught in school. All characters are presumed white, but Ari develops a romantic relationship with one of Mary’s ladies-in-waiting.

THOUGHTS: This is a delightful, giggle-inducing romp through history, containing just enough facts to send readers to Wikipedia to discover what really happened. A steady stream of asides from the authors adds to the hilarity.

Fantasy (Historical)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Napoleon vs. The Bunnies

Fox, Jennifer. Napoleon vs. The Bunnies. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30202-2. 32 p. $17.99. Grades 1-4. 

Until now, Waterloo may have been considered Napoleon Bonaparte’s greatest loss. Young history buffs will giggle all the way through this zany description of another defeat suffered by the famous general to “les fluffy buneez.” After signing a treaty with Tsar Alexander in 1807, Napoleon’s chief of staff arranged a celebratory hunt in which hundreds (maybe thousands) of fluffy bunnies were released from cages. Unfortunately for Napoleon, his staff collected farm-raised bunnies that did not run from the hunters. Instead, tame bunnies charged directly towards Napoleon who inexplicably turned and fled! Ink and digitally colored illustrations paired with text bubbles will keep readers giggling. Napoleon’s retreat is framed in a kid-friendly way emphasizing that even the “bravest of the brave” have fears. Backmatter presents a list of Napoleon’s strengths and weaknesses along with historic highlights and failures encouraging the reader to decide. Some French phrases are scattered throughout the text.

THOUGHTS: A hilarious self-aware read-aloud with potential learning extensions into history and French culture. A great addition to any collection looking to expand the historical section for primary learners with a social-emotional learning twist.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD
944.05 Napoleon

MG – The Legend of Auntie Po

Khor, Shing Yin. The Legend of Auntie Po. Kokila, 2021. 978-0-525-55489-9. 290 p. $12.99. Grades 5-8.

The Legend of Auntie Po is a story about stories, specifically the legend of Po Pan Yin and her trusty blue water buffalo, Pei Pei, as told by 13-year old Mei. Mei lives in a Sierra Nevada logging camp with her father, Hao, who is the camp’s head cook. At night she gathers the little ones around the campfire and shares tales of Auntie Po, the matriarch of all loggers who “stood taller than the tallest white pine.” While gathering kindling in the forest, Mei bumps into Auntie Po and Pei Pei, and wonders if she can actually conjure the stories she tells. This magical revelation collides with the all-too-real anti-Chinese violence of 1885. When the camp manager is forced to fire all of his Chinese workers, Hao must move into town and leave Mei behind at camp. In the midst of this upheaval, stories about Auntie Po allow Mei to express her emotions, which include anger, frustration, fear, jealousy, and also wonder. In her Author’s Note, Shing Yin Khor writes that this graphic novel is, among other things, “about who gets to own a myth.” Some readers will recognize a reclaiming of the Paul Bunyan legend, while others will simply appreciate the stories and accompanying rustic pencil-and-watercolor illustrations.

THOUGHTS: This remarkable blend of history, legend, and art has multiple layers to explore and enjoy!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem./MG – Amina’s Song

Khan, Hena. Amina’s Song. Saleem Reads, 2021. 978-1-534-45988-5. 275 p. $17.99. Grades 4-6.

Amina is spending some of her summer in Pakistan with a family that she doesn’t see often, and she loves it! The market, the food, the sights, as well as spending time with her extended family, it’s hard to pick a favorite thing. With the end of the summer pending, Amina is headed back home and ready to share her favorite parts of Pakistan with her friends and classmates. However, they only seem to hear the bad parts of Pakistan, which is extremely frustrating and disheartening to Amina. She wonders if she can change their minds when she gets just that opportunity! Her history teacher assigns a project which just might help Amina change her classmates’ mind about her homeland, as well as show them the Pakistan Amina knows.

THOUGHTS: Amina’s Song is an amazing sequel which showcases the bond that Amina’s family has between Pakistan and the United States wonderfully. I feel many readers will be able to relate to Amina’s thoughts and feelings, especially when Amina is struggling to share her favorite parts of Pakistan with her classmates and friends. Highly recommend this book for any elementary or middle school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem./MG – The Magical Reality of Nadia

Youssef, Bassam. The Magical Reality of Nadia. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-67481-1. 176 p. $14.99. Grades 3-6.

The Magical Reality of Nadia is a realistic fiction that follows Nadia, a 6th grade student who loves facts, and loves sharing them with her friends and classmates. Some fun facts about her: her family moved from Egypt when she was 6 years old, she collects bobbleheads, and she has a hippo amulet she wears that is actually from Ancient Egypt. One day there is a new student that comes to Nadia’s school who teases her about her heritage which causes some issues with her friends and throws Nadia for a loop. The other thing that throws her for a loop? The amulet around Nadia’s neck starts glowing! She finds that her amulet was holding a secret, which is hilarious and helpful at the same time!

THOUGHTS: This is an amazing transition novel, for a student who isn’t ready for longer chapter books. There are black and white illustrations found throughout the novel, which break up the book. This is a great book to have in any upper elementary/middle school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG/YA – Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition

Treuer, Anton. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition. Levine Querido. 2021. 978-1-646-14045-9. $18.99. 383 p. Grades: 7-up.

A Native Ojibwe professor of Ojibwe language and culture at the University of Bemidji in northern Minnesota, Anton Treuer has compiled a thorough exploration of Native American history, past and present. Formatted as questions and answers, Dr. Treuer separates the material in essays on the following topics: terminology; history; religion, culture, identity; powwow; tribal languages; politics; economics; education; social activism; perspectives. Among the subjects discussed are how to refer to Native Americans (which term to use), explanation of different customs and ceremonies, justification for reservations, criticism of imposed governmental removals and Indian schools, gender identity, women’s roles, and marriage in Native American community, identification of Native inventions and discoveries, and discussion of incidents connected to Native Americans. The information, albeit short, is noteworthy because of the wide variety covered. Students can use the detailed index to research Native American life; all ages can benefit from educating themselves on the Indigenous people whose home colonizers disrupted. Dr. Treuer writes in a relatable style, often posing his own carefully crafted opinions on some sensitive subjects and providing a personal touch to otherwise expository writing. This guidebook adapted for young readers is an essential purchase for school libraries. In addition to the index, the book includes photographs, recommended readings, and notes.

THOUGHTS: Each section of this book begins with quote(s), and I was surprised to see under the History heading one by Adolph Hitler. Rest assured, Treuer is reinforcing the devastation of Native American history, compared with Hitler’s annihilation of people. Treuer’s father, Robert Treuer, was an Austrian-Jew who escaped the Holocaust because of his mother’s efforts in securing transport to England and then, America. Dr. Treuer is steeped in his own mother’s Ojibwe heritage, and his non-Native father was also an advocate for Native American rights. Easy to use as a reference tool or for cover-to-cover reading, Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, fulfills a need in everyone’s school collection and supports the continuing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work.

970 History of North America          Bernadette Cooke   School District of Philadelphia
908.9 History of Ethnic and National Groups

Elem. – Magical History Tour (Series NF)

Erre, Fabrice & Sylvain Savoia. Magical History Tour. Papercutz. $6.99. Grades 3-6.

The Great Pyramid. 2021. 978-1-545-80633-3.
The Great Wall of China.
2021. 978-1-545-80634-0.
Hidden Oil. 2021. 978-1-545-80690-6.
The Crusades. 2021. 978-1-545-80714-9.
The Plague. 2021. 978-1-545-80772-9.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this series, Annie and Nico travel throughout the span of time learning about important places and moments in history. Traveling to Egypt to learn about the Great Pyramid, traveling along the Great Wall of China, finding hidden oil, and learning about the crusades and the plague are just the beginning of their magical historical adventure! This book presents fun factual information through comic-book style illustrations, incorporating maps, timelines, and other important characteristics that define and explain some of the greatest moments of our world history.

THOUGHTS: I received the first book, The Great Pyramid, and cannot wait to purchase the rest of the series! The historical information is presented in a fun way for readers to learn and enjoy moments and places in history.

Graphic Novel          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – Vertical Bridges: Poems and Photographs of City Steps

Corso, Paola. Vertical Bridges: Poems and Photographs of City Steps. Six Gallery Press, 2020. 978-1-989-30505-8. 137 p. $16.00. Grades 9 and up.

Steps connect people and places around the world. In Vertical Bridges: Poems and Photographs of City Steps, poet and native Pittsburger, Paola Corso, connects stories of strength and suffering, the past and the present, and family together through the motif of steps. She details the uniqueness of Pittsburgh’s steps (approximately 800 public sets) connecting neighborhood to neighborhood by exploring the history and people of this great city to the “steps” taken in life and the experience that makes each person. In her poem “Beginnings,” Corso moves through the history of Pittsburgh in each stanza and highlights change, the good and the bad, and ultimately connects change universally while focusing on the changing features of Pittsburgh. In later poems, Corso explores hauling water, the famous Spanish Steps in Rome, steps of love, death, faith, immigration, and much more.  Mixed in with her poems are pictures of steps of various size, strength, and life. Each picture tells the story of what was, what is, and what can still be.

THOUGHTS: Although this book of poetry is very specific to Pittsburgh and the experiences of poet Paola Corso, it also takes readers on a journey around the world and connects one with the hardships and joys of life through the mundane: steps. This is a wonderful addition to school library collections in and around Pittsburgh and those looking to broaden their poetry collections. It is also a great text for teaching creative writing and using images with writing. My only disappointment with this text is how it is printed. The print makes some of the photographs hard to see and/or appear blurry. I would have liked glossy pages for the photos to bring them alive.

811 Poetry          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis

Gaddy, K.R. Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis. Dutton, 2020. 978-0-525-55541-4. 301 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

This engaging non-fiction title introduces readers to the Edelweiss Pirates, groups of nonconformist German youth. The Pirates rejected the demands of the Nazis to join Hitler Youth organizations. Instead, they held secret gatherings where they enjoyed activities such as camping, hiking, and singing. They also adopted a distinct style of dress that often included badges or buttons featuring an edelweiss flower motif. Gaddy incorporates many first hand accounts and experiences of Edelweiss Pirates within the text to help bring their stories to life for the reader. When war broke out, the teen members of the Pirates grew daring in their defiance of the Nazis. They painted anti-Nazi graffiti around their towns and distributed anti-Nazi flyers. Some members even carried out sabotage and planned attacks against the Nazis. These actions carried a high risk. Many Edelweiss Pirates found themselves arrested and beaten by the Gestapo, imprisoned, or worse. The text is supplemented by numerous photos and excerpts from official documents. An extensive bibliography is also included.

THOUGHTS: This fascinating exploration of these little known anti-Nazi resistance groups is sure to hold appeal for students. A worthwhile addition to secondary World War II collections, it could also be incorporated into discussions or displays about historical youth activism.

940.53 World War II            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD