Rossi, Veronica. Rebel Spy. Delacorte, 2020. 978-1-524-77122-5. 348 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

When Frannie Tasker’s abusive stepfather announces it is time for her to take her dead mother’s place in the household, she knows she has to escape her brutal life with him as a salvage diver on Grand Bahama Island. Fate intervenes by way of a fatal shipwreck, and a dead young woman who looks similar to Frannie. A quick change of clothes, (and a bout of “trauma-induced” mutism until she can polish her vocabulary and manners) and she becomes Emmeline Coates, wealthy British heiress on her way to America, during the height of the Revolution. She gradually adapts to her new life, family and friends, and even catches the eye of a handsome British officer. But a chance encounter with American rebel Asa Lane, who befriended Frannie on the voyage to New York and coached her in the ways of society women, shakes her out of her comfortable lifestyle. Utilizing her position in Loyalist society, Frannie begins spying for the Americans, passing along information she overhears during teas and dinner parties. But spying is a dangerous game,and Frannie is risking everything, including her new life and persona. Will Emmeline, or Frannie, survive? Based on the unknown identity of a member of the famous Revolutionary War Culper spy ring, Rossi creates a story for female agent 355. Meticulous research brings to life events of the war, many less familiar than those learned in history class, highlighting the little-emphasized contributions of women patriots.

THOUGHTS: A well-constructed combination of mystery, romance, and history featuring a strong, intelligent female main character, Rebel Spy is perfect for historical fiction fans, readers seeking an adventure story, or period romance readers.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – The Lady with the Books

Stinson, Kathy. The Lady with the Books. Kids Can Press, 2020. $17.99. 32 p.  978-1-525-30154-4. Grades 2-5. 

Annelise and her younger brother Peter wander aimlessly through the streets of post-World War Munich. Feeling hungry and dejected, Annelise wonders why people are attempting to clean up the rubble. Outside of a building they join a queue hoping there will be something to eat. Grey, somber streets give the reader a realistic sense of the destruction Germany was facing after the war, but a lovely green tree just outside the building is a beacon of hope. Once inside, the pair is greeted by a room filled with books. Forgetting their woes for an afternoon, the children become completely absorbed. The illustrations skillfully capture a bustling archive brimming with colorful books from around the world. The children return the next day, just in time to listen as the “lady with the books” reads aloud from The Story of Ferdinand complete with translation from English to German. This story is especially comforting to Peter and Annelise, whose father was killed during the war for “standing up to” orders. Although the children cannot borrow books from the exhibit, they are encouraged to read as many books as possible. Whimsical characters and blooming flowers creep into the pages and eventually follow the children home. Annelise is able to find hope among the destruction and vows to join the rebuilding efforts. Graphite pencil and digitally colored illustrations beautifully enhance Annelise’s mood transformation from hopelessness to regaining a childlike sense of wonder. Annelise, Peter and Mama are white with blonde hair while the story lady has the same complexion with short dark hair. Some diversity in skin and hair types is shown among the book exhibition crowds. Backmatter informs the reader that the children in this story stumbled upon an international collection of books at the Haus der Kunst art museum as curated by Jella Lepman. A Jewish refugee who returned home after the war, Lepman managed to create a traveling collection of books that had been previously banned from Germany, including The Story of Ferdinand which she translated and printed by the thousands to distribute among children. Later, she was able to raise enough money to create the International Youth Library, also known as the “Book Castle” and contributed to the formation of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).

THOUGHTS: This picture book provides a nice mix of fantasy and historical fiction for elementary readers to get a glimpse of the impact Jella Lepman and her international book collections made on children recovering from the trauma of war.

813 Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

MG – Tangled History

Tangled History. Capstone Press, 2016-2020 (2020 Titles Listed). $24.54 ea. $588.96 set of 24. Grades 3-6.

Otfinoski, Steven. The Battle of Iwo Jima: Turning the Tide of War in the Pacific. 978-1-54357-258-2.
Burgan, Michael. The Battle of the Bulge: Nazi Germany’s Final Attack on the Western Front. 978-1-54357-259-9.
—. Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Atomic Bomings that Shook the World. 978-1-54357-256-8.
Otfinoski, Steven. Japanese American Internment: Prisoners in Their Own Land. 978-1-54357-257-5.

Part of the Tangled History series, Japanese American Internment uses the lives of a dozen individuals who were impacted to tell the story of of the Japanese American internment which took place after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and continued until March 1946, when the last of the detainees were released from Tule Lake internment camp in California. Harvey Itano was not present to receive the Gold Medal for Outstanding Student award at his graduation ceremony from the University of California, Berkeley because he and his family were sent to an internment camp. Isamu Noguchi was a well-known sculptor when he volunteered to go to Poston, Arizona and teach art to internees. Mine Okubo and her brother were to be separated when they arrived at the Tanforan Assembly Center in California, but Okubo insisted they be kept together. Their quarters were horse stables, and they were given bags of ticking to fill with straw for mattresses. These are just a few of the stories told about this shameful time in American history. Through their experiences, students will learn what internment meant to Japanese Americans, from the day of the Pearl Harbor bombing until the final detainees were released.

THOUGHTS:  Middle School students likely have little idea about this time in America’s past, and the stories of individuals and the included photos will help illuminate what that experience was like for those involved.  It is certainly a timely addition to a collection.

940.53  World War II          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Elem. – Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Weatherford, Carole Boston, and Floyd Cooper. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre. Carolrhoda Books, 2021. 978-1-541-58120-3. unpaged. $17.99. Grades 3-6.

In 1921, the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a thriving Black community. A stretch of businesses known as “Black Wall Street” included restaurants, shops, salons, libraries, schools, and a hospital. But many white Tulsans resented these symbols of Black prosperity and wealth. When a nineteen-year old old shoeshine man was arrested for assaulting a white, female elevator operator, the simmering anger boiled over. Fearing that the young man would be lynched, thirty Black men clashed with two thousand white men outside the jail on May 31, 1921. The white mob then stormed Greenwood, looting and burning homes and businesses alike. Hundreds of Black people were killed and the neighborhood was completely destroyed. With spare, straightforward text, Carole Boston Weatherford presents the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre to a young audience. Floyd Cooper’s oil and erasure illustrations vividly portray the prosperity, hostility, devastation, and hope in turn. A combination of landscapes, bustling storefronts, fashions, and expressive body language indelibly portray a place in time. The Author’s and Illustrator’s Notes contain valuable insights into the events, including some information about the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park in Tulsa.

THOUGHTS: Particularly with the one hundred year mark approaching in May, Unspeakable is an essential read about a too-little-known moment in U.S. history. For older readers who want to know more, Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham and The Tulsa Race Riot by Duchess Harris and A.R. Carser are recommended.

The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Center in Tulsa has Curriculum Resources at https://www.jhfcenter.org/.

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks

Brown, Don. In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks. Etch / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. 2021. 978-0-358-22357-3. 121 p. $21.99. Gr. 6-9.

Don Brown excels at creating graphic nonfiction that introduces pivotal events in U.S. history to young readers. His previous titles explore the 1918 flu pandemic, the Dust Bowl, Hurricane Katrina, and more. Now, with the twenty-year mark approaching, In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers captures the tragedy, heroism, and aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. Panels depicting the day of the attacks feature chalky, muted tones that represent the ash covering “Ground Zero” and the smoky hallways of the Pentagon. Bright orange flames also appear throughout. Expository text accompanies the artwork, along with first-person speech bubbles from eyewitnesses, first responders, George W. Bush, soldiers, and survivors. As the subtitle suggests, the author’s timeline incorporates the months and years after 9/11, including the grim victim recovery efforts, the massive clean-up, and the invasion of Afghanistan. Highly controversial topics, such as “enhanced interrogation” of suspected terrorists, are also briefly mentioned.

THOUGHTS: Don Brown’s books leave readers wanting to know more, which is a good thing; they are introductory overviews of events that will hopefully lead young readers to further, more comprehensive sources.

973 American History          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD
Graphic Nonfiction

YA – Hood

Moke, Jenny Elder. Hood. Hyperion, 2020. 978-1-368-04745-6. 310 p. $15.69. Grades 7-12.

Follow teenager Isablle, who recently discovered she is the daughter of the infamous Robin Hood, as she travels with the Merry Men to meet her father for the first time. Isabelle is being hunted by the notorious Wolf who knows her true identity and has captured her mother. Traveling with the Merry Men after living in a priory her whole life is full of new experiences and daring acts. Will the Merry Men accept her after learning her true identity, and can her own skill with a bow and arrow live up to her father’s?

THOUGHTS: Adventure lovers will enjoy this new twist on a classic tale with its familiar characters, noble quest, and strong female antagonist.

Adventure          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Graphic Novel

Levinson, Cynthia, and Sanford Levinson. Art by Ally Shwed. Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Graphic Novel. First Second, 2020. 978-1-250-21161-3. $18.99. 279 p. Gr. 8 and up.

This graphic novel, which is an adaptation of a nonfiction book written in 2017 and part of the World Citizen Comics book series, tells the story of the United States’ Constitution, from its drafting and ratification through its many amendments over the last two centuries and right up to and including part of Donald Trump’s presidency. In a sort of dual timeline, the story goes back and forth between the framers making decisions about the Constitution and various points in American history where those decisions had problematic consequences. From the argument of balance of power between federal and state government in the infancy of the nation to the problems with the Patriot Act after the September 11 attacks, the back and forth plot clearly demonstrates how these men couldn’t possibly have predicted and accounted for occurrences 200-plus years in the future when they wrote this monumental document. This includes a particularly timely discussion of habeus corpus in 1787 that the book’s creators then tie to the Ebola crisis in 2014, which obviously strikes a chord with readers in 2020 dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. After telling the story of the Constitution’s history, the creators grade the document in several areas from “providing for the common defense” to “establishing justice” and give it an overall report card; the results are unsettling.

THOUGHTS: Take out the cartoons, and this book reads exactly like a history textbook. It is chock FULL of information, and it forces readers to ask some very serious questions. At times, though, readers may forget how serious the content is because of the fun simplicity of the cartoonish forefathers speaking in common 21st century vernacular. A highly recommended read for everyone, but reluctant readers in a Social Studies class will find this format extremely approachable. On a personal note, I read this book in the days following the insurrection at the US Capitol, and I am not exaggerating when I say that several lines of this book gave me chills – the opening, in particular, part of which reads, “It might be appealing to believe that, because the Constitution and our country have survived this long, they’ll always do so. But the framers were not so confident. Perhaps you shouldn’t be, either.”

Graphic Novel          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD
342.73 Constitutional law — United States

YA – Light For the World To See: A Thousand Words on Race and Hope

Alexander, Kwame. Light For the World To See: A Thousand Words on Race and Hope. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-53941-4. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades 6-12.

“We Can’t Breathe (from American Bullet Points).” Kwame Alexander needed to say something to shed some light on black lives and share some light of hope for the world. “Take a Stand (from Take a Knee).” Kwame Alexander saw those making a difference in sports and culture and politics, then he wrote about them in a way that reaches all of us in three simple, powerful, repetitive messages. “This is for the Undefeated (from The Undefeated).” Through this stylized reprinting of three recent poems, Kwame Alexander aims to make his words hit home for all ages, races, and people. Each of the three are short, thoughtful, visual, and effective in addressing the issues of race in our society and the need to keep that conversation and action moving – for the world to see a better future.

THOUGHTS: I have many thoughts about this small powerful book. First, read it out loud. Second, go find the videos of Kwame reading each for the Undefeated website. Next, go find someone to share, discuss, reflect on these thousand words. Finally, keep adding to your collections, reading diverse perspectives, and finding voice for those who need to be heard. This conversation and collection could really work for all ages with guidance, but perhaps the content is best for secondary grades. Highly recommended.

811 Poetry          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – Flooded:  Requiem for Johnstown

Burg, Ann E. Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-54069-7. 313 p. $16.53. Grades 3-6.

Gertrude Quinn is a spirited young school girl, looking forward to singing at Decoration Day.  Daniel Fagan is planning a summer spent outdoors, maybe even sneaking a swim in at the private late at the top of King’s Mountain. Monica Fagan is looking forward to traveling the world, especially if it means she’ll leave Daniel and his pranks behind. Joe Dixon is waiting for the perfect moment–the perfect moment to tell his father he isn’t working at the company store but instead bought a newsstand, and the perfect moment to propose to his true love, Maggie. William James has been collecting words for a long time, and he’ll get a chance to use them when he reads an original poem at Decoration Day. George Hoffman wishes his pa would let him quit school so he can go to work to help his family of 10. In Flooded: Requiem for Johnstown, Ann E. Berg tells a tale of the lives that were being lived before the disaster on May 31, 1889, that took the lives of more than 2,200 people, including 99 entire families and 396 children. We follow six main characters as they prepare for the Decoration Day celebration, disappointed by the rain but oblivious to the calamity about to unfold. We see the flood as experienced by these characters, and we also witness the aftermath. The flood is the catalyst, but it is not the main character. Instead, Burg has chosen to tell a tale of lives lived, lost and saved.

THOUGHTS: The character development and storytelling will attract students who may not know about the Johnstown flood, and it will likely encourage students to read more about this catastrophe.

Historical Fiction        Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

YA – Stamped

Reynolds, Jason, and Ibram X. Kendi. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-316-45369-1 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Re-evaluate everything you learned or think you know about history in this text that is “NOT a history book.” Broken down by various time periods, Reynolds adapts Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning for a teen audience. Reynolds explains that everyone fits into a category – racist, antiracists, or assimilationist – often moving from one to another or being associated with one but really fitting into another. Various leaders throughout time are analyzed for their words and actions, causing readers to reconsider what they think they know about history.

THOUGHTS: Teen readers will appreciate Reynolds’ open and honest voice which asks them to question the educational system – what they have been taught, by whom, and why. Instead of accepting what they are told, readers will want to prove their history texts (and teachers) wrong. teachers should appreciate the opportunity to encourage students to rewrite history with a more open, honest, and true version. This is a must have nonfiction title for every secondary library.

305.80 Racial, ethnic, national groups          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

This “not history, history book” (how Reynolds references this book) describes how racism has been around in one form or another for centuries. It shows how racist ideas are interwoven into our nation’s history and acknowledges that the only way to change our future narrative is to accept and understand our racist past, and move forward from here. This book is called a “remix” of  Stamped from the Beginning, written by American University professor Ibram X. Kendi. Includes an extensive Further Reading section, Source Notes, and an Index.

THOUGHTS: Told in Jason Reynolds conversational style, this book is a must read (must teach) title for students by the time they graduate from high school. Racist history is shocking, and how it continues to thrive in our culture is shocking.  This book could be an important step in opening student’s eyes to the reality of their lives.

305          Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

“This is not a history book. I repeat, this is not a history book” (1) thus begins Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Jason Reynolds, adapted from Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. In this adaptation, Reynolds shares the history of racism and antiracism in the United States through an easily approachable, conversational tone. Beginning by defining segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists and continuing to revisit these terms throughout history, Stamped looks at the development of racism beginning in Europe through today. Each section of the book focuses on a different period of history and the important players during that period. It connects little known racists, segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists like Gomes Eanes de Zurara, John Cotton, Richard Mather, Phillis Wheatley, and Marcus Garvey to well known figures like Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., and Angela Davis. It examines uplift suasion and the white savior, explores popular culture like Tarzan and boxing legend, Jack Johnson, and forces the reader to consider how history portrays and defines racism.

THOUGHTS: With an introduction and afterword by Ibram X. Kendi, this adaptation truly begins the necessary conversation about racism in the United States for young people and forces readers to not only question the history they know, but also the present in which they live. This is a must-have for all middle school and high school libraries and is a welcome addition to ELA and social studies curriculum. It’s also a fabulous read for adults. Included with the text is “Further Reading,” “Source Notes,” and an index. The audiobook is read by Jason Reynolds and truly feels like you are having a conversation with him. It is possibly more impactful than the text itself because of his voice.

305.8 Social Sciences          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD