Elem. – Fascinating Facts (Series NF)

Fascinating Facts. The Child’s World, 2021. $19.95 ea. $239.40 set of 12. 24 p. Grades 2-5. 

Kruesi, Liz. Inventions. 978-1503844698.
—. Space. 978-1503844636.
Lassieur, Allison. Natural Disasters. 978-1503844681.
—. Scary Stuff. 978-1503844704.
Pearson, Marie. Dogs. 978-1503844629.
Peterson, Sheryl. U.S. Presidents. 978-1503844599.
Smibert, Angie. Engineering. 978-1503844612.
—. Math. 978-1503844643.
York, M.J. Dinosaurs. 978-11503844667.
. Earth. 978-1503844650.
—. History. 978-1503844605.
—. Human Body. 978-1503844674.

Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt had a photographic memory? Or that Chester Arthur was a clotheshorse who owned 80 pairs of shoes? These are just some of the presidential tidbits shared in the U.S. Presidents volume of the Fascinating Facts series. Each volume explores unusual and unique facts and stories on a given subject. Facts are grouped together by chapter (for example, the U.S. Presidents book chapters included “Life in the White House,” “First Families,” and “Strange but True Tales.”) The text is accompanied by numerous sidebars as well as photos on each page. A glossary as well as links to web resources are also included.

THOUGHTS: Perfect for aficionados of fact-style books, this series is a worthwhile additional purchase for elementary collections.

363.34-973.09 Science, Math, Animals, History          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD  

The world is a mysterious place, filled with lots of unique and bizarre stories! This series focuses on some of the most odd stories of the world, including stories about the human body, space, natural disasters, and scary stuff. The Reviewer read Natural Disasters and Scary Stuff. Natural Disasters showcases some of the most iconic types of natural disasters, including earthquakes and tsunamis, volcanoes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Each section of this book describes what the natural disaster is, in addition to presenting unique stories about each. Scary Stuff displays some of the most iconic scary items found throughout the world, such as vampires and werewolves! Scary Stuff shares some legends of these scary items, in addition to ways to prevent and/or save yourself from the monsters that go bump in the night.

THOUGHTS: This series is very well done. It includes a lot of information that is presented with colorful visuals and pictures, both photographs and illustrations.

363.34-973.09                    Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem./MG – Explore! America’s National Parks

Langlois, Krista. Explore! America’s National Parks. Kane Miller, 2021. 978-1-684-64193-2. 96 p. $18.99. Grades 3-6. 

It’s time for a trip – a trip to America’s amazing national parks! This title takes readers around the United States to explore 61 parks. Parks are profiled by geographic region, and readers will learn about not to be missed landmarks as well as recommended activities. Selected flora and fauna readers should keep an eye out for plants that are also spotlighted. Recommended camping and hiking spots are identified as well as locations to take the perfect park photo. Environmental issues facing parks are also highlighted, along with suggestions of what readers can do to help protect and care for parks. The text is accompanied by Hannah Bailey’s beautiful illustrations, which are created with stencil, ink, and digitally enhanced/arranged.

THOUGHTS: A great resource for research projects on national parks or the armchair traveler, this title is deserving of a spot on elementary an/or middle school shelves. The author consulted with park rangers and it is clearly evident in the wide variety of suggested park activities and park spots not to be missed.

917 National Parks          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD   

Elem. – Mighty Muscle Cars (Series NF)

Mighty Muscle Cars. ABDO Books. 2021. Individual book: $20.95, Set: $125.70. Gr. 2-5.

Borgert-Spaniol, Megan. Chevrolet Corvette. 978-1-532-19324-8.
Olson, Elsie. Dodge Charger. 978-1-532-19326-2.
-. Ford Mustang. 978-1-532-19327-9.
Rusick, Jessica. Chevrolet Camaro. 978-1-532-19323-1.
Thomas, Rachael L. Dodge Challenger. 978-1-532-19325-5.
Wilken, Scott. Pontiac Trans Am. 978-1-532-19328-6.

The reviewer read Dodge Chargers in the Mighty Muscle Cars series. This series shows off some of the most popular and historic muscle cars. Each book takes a dive into the history, models, components, and even pop culture references of the muscle car. Photographs provide a large visual for readers, complete with easy-to-read text for the car fanatic. For those interested in taking a spin in the fast lane, this is a must read series.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to an elementary library for the readers who are car lovers. This series provides quality information with photographic visuals to engage readers in the past, present, and future of these vehicles.

629.22 Vehicles          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Standing on Her Shoulders: A Celebration of Women

Clark-Robinson, Monica. Standing on Her Shoulders: A Celebration of Women. Illustrated by Laura Freeman. Orchard Press, 2021. 978-1-338-35800-1. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 2-5.

“Standing on the shoulders of giants” is an oft used term for referencing those who came before us in a given area. In this nod to female path-makers, Monica Clark-Robinson guides a young black girl and shows her some of the great leaders and trailblazers through history who helped bridge her current opportunities. As she walks through a portrait gallery, she sees some expected women figures such as Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Sacajawea, as well as modern heroes like Megan Rapinoe and Serena Williams, and less familiar names including Harriet Chalmers Adams and Nellie Bly. Through the poetic couplets, the young learner hears how important it is to recognize those giants before us in many fields and fighting for equal rights, but also to leave our mark for the next generation. Featuring mostly black and people of color through the illustrations by Laura Freeman, there are a few short notes about each historical figure at the endnotes. The message is clear to walk among the heroines and lead the way for others to stand on your shoulders next.

THOUGHTS: An inspirational, though not always obvious, celebration of female trailblazers. Those readers most familiar with the illustrated people will appreciate the themes for each path, but those wanting to know more about the heroines will need to research further. Nevertheless, the picture book is a beautiful touchpoint introduction or kick-off for Women’s History Month.

Picture Book        Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

YA – One of the Good Ones

Moulite, Maika, and Maritza Moulite. One of the Good Ones. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-14580-2. 384 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Teen YouTube activist and influencer Kezi Smith dies under police custody following her arrest at a social justice rally on her eighteenth birthday. Instantly immortalized as a martyr in the fight against police brutality, Kezi’s family is devastated by loss. While her pastor parents want to preserve and protect Kezi’s memory, sisters Happi and Genny look for a unique way to honor her. Embarking on the trip Kezi planned to take following an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book, the sisters and friends Ximena (Kezi’s girlfriend) and Derek go on a journey to reconnect with the Smith’s African American family history and remember Kezi. Tormented by her broken relationship with Kezi, the trip is an opportunity for Happi to understand her older sister, who she feels like she didn’t truly know. Together they will learn more about Kezi, each other, and their family’s history. A surprising twist won’t shock careful readers, but the alternate time periods may challenge struggling readers.

THOUGHTS: This title examines what it means to be remembered and who gets to be called “one of the good ones.” Recommended for high school collections where social justice and social issue titles are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

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

It’s September 11th, 2001, and Brandon Chavez is accompanying his dad to work after getting suspended from school. His dad, a kitchen manager at Windows on the World on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center, is not thrilled that his son has to go with him today. He has told Brandon several times that they have to be a team, especially since Brandon’s mother passed away from cancer. While his dad is busy at work, Brandon decides to take the elevator down to the North Tower’s underground mall – but his plans are interrupted by the crash, stopping the elevator car between floors. Fast forward to September of 2019 and we meet Reshmina, who lives in a small village in Afghanistan. Her family barely scrapes by financially, mostly because the American army is fighting alongside the Afghan National Army to defeat the Taliban in what is practically her backyard. Reshmina has plenty of reasons to hate their war – her sister Hila was accidentally killed by the American army and her brother Pasoon is eager to join the Taliban, a fact that leaves Reshmina worried for his safety. She keeps out of the way of both armies until she stumbles upon an American soldier in need of help after a Taliban attack. Risking her family’s safety, she offers him refuge at their home. Pasoon, angered that Reshmina wants to help an enemy, decides to join the Taliban sooner rather than later and divulge the wounded soldier’s location. Each chapter alternates between Brandon and Reshmina, and their stories mirror each other until a twist is revealed at the end.

THOUGHTS: Author Alan Gratz is well-known for his action-packed historical fiction stories that are beloved by middle grade students. Ground Zero is no exception and is a must-have for middle grade libraries.

Historical Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central 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