YA – The Ghosts of Rose Hill

Romaro, R.M. The Ghosts of Rose Hill. Peachtree Teen, 2022. 978-1-682-63338-0. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 9-12.

“Maybe sixteen is a curse, a time when everyone is stuck between being a child and being something else.” Ilana is 16, and more than anything else, she wants to be a musician. Her parents, both refugees, want Ilana to pick a different career path, one that offers her more stability in her future. When she travels from her hometown of Miami to Prague to spend the summer with her aunt, she discovers an overgrown Jewish cemetery. As a member of the Jewish faith, she feels the need to uncover the forgotten headstones, and while she spends time clearing the cemetery, she meets a ghost named Benjamin and a mysterious man named Rudolph Wasserman. As she befriends Benjamin, Wasserman encourages her to play her music and follow her heart. As Ilana discovers the truth about Benjamin and his connection to the city, Wasserman offers her a place within his house where she can play music and live forever. Although the offer sounds like a dream, Benjamin reveals it’s really a nightmare, and Ilana must find a way to save him and the other children bound to Wasserman and his magic, even if it means risking everything.

THOUGHTS: The Ghosts of Rose Hill is written in prose and incorporates both Jewish and Prague history into this unique ghost story. In many ways, this story reminded me of Coraline. Rudolph Wasserman lures children into his home with promises of a perfect life away from their families before stealing and hiding their souls.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – Dear Student

Swartz, Elly. Dear Student. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37412-2. $16.99. 293 p. Grades 6-8.

Starting middle school is difficult for most students, but for sixth-grader Autumn Blake, it’s a lonely, anxious time not only because her friend Prisha has moved to California but also because her father has decided to “seize the day” and grant his lifelong wish to help others by joining the Peace Corps in Ecuador. Now, Autumn, her mom, and her little sister, Pickles, have to move to the apartment above her mother’s veterinary practice, and Autumn has more responsibilities to help with her sister, their home, and the practice. Though she feels like a misfit at school, she responds to her father’s daily advice to challenge herself and applies for the position as the advice columnist for the school newspaper, The Daily Express. As she awaits the decision on the newspaper slot, Autumn is surprised by the attention from popular, confident classmate, Logan. Selected as the anonymous advice columnist, Autumn reveals that under her awkward and self-conscious exterior lies an insightful and wise counselor. She even winds up giving advice to Logan and learning about her new friend’s hidden insecurities and needs. Autumn also balances this friendship with Cooper, a newcomer to her small community, whom Logan says is weird. When she responds to a disturbing accusation about Beautiful You, a cosmetic business in her community that has provided jobs for many, including Cooper’s mother, her reply sparks controversy around suspected animal testing; and when word leaks out that Autumn is the one dispensing advice, both Logan and Cooper turn against her. To make matters worse, her fantasy about her dad returning home for her birthday fizzles. Ultimately, Autumn realizes she is strong enough to grab hold of her Fearless Fred –a nod to a family story–and summon the courage to do what is hard to make things right. The premise of the friendly advice columnist being the introverted character has been done in Lifetime movies, but Elly Schwarz’s middle school take on it is refreshing and unique. Hard to tell what race the characters are, but both Logan and Autumn are white; Autumn refers several times to her Jewish religion.

THOUGHTS: Give this book to the shy student, the one who travels under the radar whom you suspect has something valuable to say. This book may be a good springboard for Social Emotional Learning–after all, Autumn is providing advice and the situations in which she finds herself can be good What if? examples. What if a parent chooses to go away for a long time? What if you need to move because your family’s financial situation changes? What if you are given more responsibilities? What if you make presumptions about how you impress people and how other people appear to you? What if you need to take a stand about something you really believe in and a friend disagrees? What if a situation arises where you need to speak up? Autumn Blake, with her complicated feelings and struggle for confidence, is a character middle school students would like to meet.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Gitty and Kvetch

Pritchard, Caroline Kusin. Gitty and Kvetch. Illustrated by Ariel Landy. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-47826-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Gitty is sure today is “the perfect day to hang the perfect painting in our perfect, purple tree house.” Kvetch, Gitty’s bird friend, isn’t so sure he’s ready after their last adventure. But Gitty isn’t deterred by Kvetch’s pessimism and convinces him to join the fun with a tempting worm sandwich. Along the way, Gitty sees many wonderful sights, while Kvetch identifies the negatives. Even when storm clouds appear Gitty wonders, “Did we hit the jackpot or what?” It’s not until the friends are forced to take refuge in their tree house that Gitty realizes her “perfect painting was wet and wrecked, just like her perfect day.” Will Kvetch be able to overcome his negative attitude to help his friend see the bright side? Beautiful, bright digital illustrations highlight Gitty’s optimism, while muted purple tones show Kvetch’s cynicism. A glossary of Yiddish words is included at the end, helping emerging readers understand Kvetch’s meaning throughout the story. Note: Kvetch is not identified as male or female, but for the purpose of writing this review I identified him as male.

THOUGHTS: Reminiscent of Spires’ The Most Magnificent Thing, young readers will adore Gitty and Kvetch’s friendship and come to appreciate how differences put together can make the perfect pair. Highly recommended for elementary picture book collections.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Chunky

Mercado, Yehudi. Chunky. Katherine Tegan Books, 2021. 978-1-713-75878-5. 199 p. $21.99. Grades 3-6. 

When Hudi was younger he had some health issues which caused him to have his one lung removed. As he gets older, his parents are worried about his health and want him to lose weight and stay healthy, so they set him up with a variety of different sports. These end in Hudi getting injured most of the time. Hudi has a great imagination along with an awesome sense of humor, which help him through most of his sports injuries and endear him to his doctors. Hudi has an imaginary friend that he names Chunky who is his cheerleader throughout the book as Hudi goes through all of these activities.

THOUGHTS: The illustrations are bright and colorful, and the addition of the Spanish is a wonderful addition. There is an author’s note that delves more into the book and explains how some of this book is based on the author’s experiences growing up as a Mexican Jewish child. This is a lovely addition to any middle school collection.

Graphic Novel            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Hudi Mercado doesn’t quite know where he fits in. He is the only Mexican Jewish kid in his neighborhood and, since Hudi suffered a serious medical condition as a child, his parents are always concerned about his health. Or more specifically, his weight. Hudi’s parents push him to try a variety of sports like tennis, soccer, and swimming. Somehow, most of these endeavors end with a trip to the hospital. To help cope, Hudi invents Chunky, an imaginary mascot who is Hudi’s biggest fan. Together, the two of them love drawing and making jokes. With Chunky, Hudi is able to deal with all the demands coming his way from his parents. However, when his dad loses his job and things at home become even more tense, Hudi starts to forget himself and his imaginary cheerleader.

THOUGHTS: Inspired by the author’s childhood, this graphic novel is perfect for middle grade readers who are fans of Jerry Craft. Readers will relate to Hudi’s struggles and laugh alongside him as he finds his place in his world. Expect book 2 two early this summer.

Graphic Novel          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II

Rosen, Michael. The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II. Candlewick, 2020. 9781536212891. 128 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

The Missing tells one man’s quest to find more information on his family that has been spread across multiple countries and just as many assumptions on what happened to some of the family members after the war. The short chapter book is written in chronological order, and most chapters end with a poem or part of a poem written by the author. Although a lot of specific information regarding World War II, especially from an English perspective, will be novel to most readers, most of it is specific to the author and his family. The abridged poems fit nicely with the topic covered in the previous chapter and are moving. In fact, the poetry could probably stand along as a more moving piece of literature, instead of including the granular details of uncovering the history of the Rosen family. The language is simplistic and the content is covered in a way that is not traumatic for young readers. Most helpful is the list of further reading at the end of the book, as well as some photos, including some letters.

THOUGHTS: In an already rather overpopulated genre, this title is recommended strictly for upper elementary or middle school libraries who feel a need to expand on their World War II collection.

940 Holocaust          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD