Elem. – The Long Ride Home

Graegin, Stephanie. The Long Ride Home. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-0-593-42602-9. Unpaged. Grades K-2. 

Little Koala is on a car ride home. As her mother drives through town, the locations the car passes by remind Koala of her best friend Little Cheetah and all the fun times they have shared together. The ice cream parlor reminds her of the times they would sit at a table, sharing stories and enjoying their favorite ice cream. The big hill prompts memories of bicycling trips and a mishap resulting in a skinned knee. When the car passes the library, Koala remembers sitting on the floor inside, side by side with Cheetah, reading their favorite book. Every location evokes a memory of Cheetah; in fact, the text is told in first person, as Koala speaks to her friend. In the closing pages of the book, the reader learns why Cheetah is on Koala’s mind so much and why her thoughts seem to have a melancholy and longing tone. Cheetah and her family  have moved away, and the girls are no longer able to spend time together on a regular basis. The story ends on a positive note when it is revealed that the friends now maintain a long-distance friendship and that Cheetah is thinking about Koala at the same time Koala is thinking about her. 

THOUGHTS: This gentle story would be ideal for children dealing with feelings of loss and grief over friends or family members that have moved or passed away. The emotion of the text is enhanced by Graegin’s digitally created illustrations, which are rendered in a more muted-style color palette. Highly recommended.

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – The Daredevils

Buyea, Rob. The Daredevils. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37614-0 231 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Author of the popular series, Because of Mr. Terupt, has written a tale of one summer for twins- Waylon and Loretta. The two are strongly bonded, and Loretta is her brother’s keeper. Waylon was born smaller and has had his fair share of bullies. This is the summer before they enter middle school, and their parents are determined to send them on separate paths in order to prepare them for the coming year. Waylon is sent to robotics day camp while Loretta attends a sports day camp. However, the two are determined to spend their nights together after they discover an old cigar box with a quest inside. Along the way, they meet up with a mysterious boy named Louie, and the three of them will embark on a summer to remember. 

THOUGHTS: Rob Buyea has a way to tell a beautiful and poignant story through the eyes of the rocky middle school years. This is another perfect example.

Realistic Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

YA – Tin Man

Madson, Justin. Tin Man. Amulet Books, 2022. 978-1-419-75104-2. 219 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Solar is a senior but instead of feeling like her whole life is ahead of her, she feels scared and uncertain. The death of her grandmother, who was also her best friend and mentor, has shaken Solar to her core. Fenn, her little brother, is confused and saddened by her change in personality. The two of them used to work on building a rocket together, but now Solar has little interest in much of anything, especially if it involves Fenn. Campbell is a tin man, a woodsman who wants more in his life than just chopping down trees. Against his father’s wishes, Campbell receives a heart and leaves home to work through all of the feelings he suddenly has. Fenn, Solar, and Campbell become unlikely friends and together, they work through all of their difficult feelings to understand what life has to offer them.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is a heart-warming story of how friendship can help heal feelings of loss and confusion. Read closely to see other objects and symbols from The Wizard of Oz peppered throughout Tin Man. 

Graphic Novel                Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – In the Wild Light

Zentner, Jeff. In the Wild Light. Crown Publishers, 2021. 978-1-524-72024-7 429 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up.

Set in a small Tennessee town, two misfits from troubled families develop a strong bond after meeting at a Narateen meeting. Cash is struggling to come to terms with his mother’s death, the knowledge that his beloved grandfather is dying, and his fear that he has no special gift to offer anyone. Delaney is a brilliant, self-taught scientist who discovers a bacteria-destroying mold with potential medicinal benefits.  Because of this discovery, she is offered a full ride scholarship to an elite New England prep school and secures a spot for Cash as well.  Delaney is determined to start anew and pushes Cash to join her, though he believes he is not deserving of this opportunity and fears missing precious time with his grandfather. They both struggle to adjust to their new life so far removed from their roots but are fortunate to find a friendship with two other new students at Middleford Academy and to nurture their own interests and passions and the special bond between them.

THOUGHTS: A thoughtful, coming of age story with a strong focus on the value of friendship and family, with charming characters, beautiful descriptions, and some gorgeous poetry. Touching, emotional, and heartfelt, this book will be appreciated by fans of All the Bright Places and Looking for Alaska.

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Summers,   Abington SD

Elem. – Ten Beautiful Things

Griffin, Molly Beth. Ten Beautiful Things. Charlesbridge, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-580-89936-9. $16.99. Grades K-2.

Lily and her grandmother are driving to Iowa, which now will be the young girl’s home. As Lily sits in the back of the car watching the scenery, she feels an empty place and an anxious feeling in her stomach. Seeing her granddaughter’s sadness, Gram suggests they play a game and look for ten beautiful things during their journey.  Their trip begins in darkness and then suddenly an amazing sunrise comes into view and becomes the first beautiful thing. As they travel on, Gram and Lily find other marvelous things, like a windmill farm, a red-winged blackbird, the sound of a gurgling creek and the earthy smell of mud. When they are nearly at their destination, a powerful thunderstorm appears with lightning, winds, and heavy rain. Lily realizes that just as this storm seemed to fill up the whole world, the empty places within her are now filled by Gram and her new home. The downpour has stopped, the sun is shining, and all will be well. Lechuga’s digital illustrations are charming, and she skillfully depicts the young girl’s anxiety in the drawings.

THOUGHTS: Children experiencing a life changing event will find a connection with Lily. By not revealing the reasons, the author has created a touching story that will apply to a number of situations, such as death, deployment, imprisonment, abuse, or custody issues. Guidance counselors and caretakers will find this book a valuable tool to promote discussion. A worthwhile purchase for all elementary libraries.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

MG – Just Like That

Schmidt, Gary. Just Like That. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-0-544-08477-3. 387 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Meryl Lee, reeling from the tragic death of her best friend Holling, is struggling to find joy in anything. Her parents enroll her into a New England boarding school to help her find herself again (while also shielding her from the divorce process they are secretly going through). At St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, Meryl Lee feels like she has more in common with the young ladies who are employed there rather than the stuck-up girls who attend as students. Despite being told that it is “unbecoming” to mingle with the staff, Meryl Lee knows in her heart this is wrong. With the support of the headmistress, Dr. Nora MacKnockater, Meryl Lee works on healing her heart and finding her place in the world. At the same time, a boy named Matt Coffin is always on the move. Homeless and parent-less, he moves from place to place carrying his pillowcase full of money, intent on avoiding the scary people who are coming after him. His travels take him to New England and there, his world collides with Meryl Lee’s and Dr. MacKnockater’s. With their help, he confronts his past and starts planting permanent roots in one place.

THOUGHTS: Although these two characters are seemingly different, the struggles they are going through tie them together. The book takes place in 1968 but still feels very modern. The character’s struggles are definitely ones that middle grade readers will relate to (fitting in, divorce) combined with the global struggle of the Vietnam War in the background of the story makes it more complex than it seems on the surface. Gary Schmidt’s witty writing style will make middle grade readers laugh, cry, and think.

Historical Fiction           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever

McNiff, Dawn. Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-684-64027-0. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades PreK-2.

Written as a series of letters between a deceased dog and its former owner (Izzy), this story details Alfie’s new life in dog heaven. Although Alfie misses Izzy, he describes heaven as a place where he can chase postmen, eat burgers and ice cream, chew on shoes, and more–all without any punishment. A tender and somewhat humorous look at the loss of a pet, this story will encourage readers to creatively express their thoughts and feelings about death.

THOUGHTS: I actually read this story to my five-year-old daughter shortly after we lost our cat, and the first thing she wanted to do after reading it was to write a letter to our cat in heaven. Therefore, I love how this book inspires children to acknowledge their grief and make sense of death through the therapeutic act of letter writing. Pair this with Brian Lies’s The Rough Patch (2018) to spark important discussions with young children who have recently experienced loss.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

YA – Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir

Feder, Tyler. Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir. Dial Books. 2020. 978-0-525-55302-1. 201 p. $18.99. Grades 7+.

During the summer after her freshman year at college, Tyler Feder’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. By spring break of her sophomore year, Rhonda had died. Tyler understandably felt rudderless, “like I was on an iceberg out to sea.” Her mom was gone … now what? Chapters tenderly portray the diagnosis, the death, “making arrangements,” sitting shiva, and navigating a new normal. Dancing at the Pity Party is every bit as heartbreaking as it sounds, but it is also a little bit celebratory (as the title suggests). Readers will come to know and care for Tyler’s mom, because her loving personality is so vividly present on every page, even in her absence.

THOUGHTS: This is a must-read for teens who have experienced a loss, who want to support a grieving friend, or who are struggling and just want to know that someone out there gets it. Readers of Lucy Knisley’s introspective graphic memoirs will love this one, too.

Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Not only does Tyler Feder tell the raw truth about dealing with her mother’s death from cancer, but Dancing at the Pity Party offers a guide to grieving for those who might be caring or friends with someone who is grieving. The memoir struck awkward cords and candid cords and will likely have you giggling along with Maw’s obsession with perfect eyebrows. Feder also offers a glimpse into the Jewish traditions that follow the death of a loved one and provides explanations and definitions for each step of shiva, and beyond. Both insightful and poignant, Dancing at the Pity Party captures the before, during, and after of coping with a family illness and comfort in knowing others have similar experiences.

THOUGHTS: This genuine work of art that was born of the ashes Feder had to pile together and work with in the aftermath of losing her mother at a young age. This graphic novel should be in every middle and high school library, even if it’s just a go-to guide in times of need.

Graphic Novel          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA FIC – Before I Let Go; Rules of Rain; Moxie; The Librarian of Auschwitz

Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-64228-2. 368 p. $17.15. Gr. 10 and up.

Returning to Lost Creek, Alaska, for her best friend’s funeral after moving away several months ago, Corey is devastated. She never found the words to tell Kyra that there was a great big world outside of Lost, and now she’ll never have the opportunity. Guilt-ridden over never responding to Kyra’s letters, Corey doesn’t know what to expect in Lost. Lost isn’t what she remembers, and neither are the people that live there. The town that she once loved and that loved her seems like it’s hiding something. Determined to uncover the truth about Kyra’s death, Corey sets out on her own. Desperate to find answers before her return to Winnipeg and terrified for her safety, Corey races against the clock before her flight departs. Told in present tense, letters sent and unsent, and flashback narratives written in play format, Corey’s and Kyra’s stories unfold as Lost fights to keep its secrets.  THOUGHTS: The remote Alaskan wilderness amps up the creepy factor in this mystery. Through the emphasis on Kyra’s storytelling, readers will be compelled to learn what actually happened to her, but they may not feel fully invested in the novel, as the characters lack depth. Though identity and mental health issues are addressed, they are not at the center of the story. Before I Let Go is a good read for mystery fans and those interested in exploring the ways mental illness affects one’s life and experiences.

Mystery; Realistic Fiction    Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Scheier, Leah. Rules of Rain. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1-492-65426-1. 384 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up.

The connection between twins can be unique. Add into the mix one twin has autism, and the dynamics are even more complicated. Rain’s entire life has revolved around her brother and helping him navigate the world. She has been Ethan’s voice and rock for so long that she knows no different.  Now teenagers, Rain and Ethan are beginning to grow into themselves and somewhat apart from each other. She is interested in cooking and blogging about obscure recipes, while he is fascinated by the inner workings of the human body. Rain and Ethan experience many firsts and learn a lot about each other and themselves. While Ethan seems to be thriving in his independence, it is Rain who begins to unravel. THOUGHTS: This is more than a coming of age story, and there are a lot of issues involved. At the heart of the novel twins are learning as much from each other as the world around them. Their twin/sibling relationship, autism, family dynamics/relationships, parent/child roles, divorce, bullying, underage drinking, as well as teen relationships (friendship and romantic). While other issues are present, to say more would spoil the surprise. Teens with complicated home lives and/or challenging sibling dynamics will like this character-driven novel. Some mature content makes this book more suited for high school readers.  

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Mathieu, Jennifer.  Moxie.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017.  978-1-62672-635-2. 330 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Unlike her mother, who was a rebellious teenager, Vivian Carter has always kept to herself and followed the rules.  However, after witnessing incident after incident of sexism in her conservative Texas high school, none of which are corrected by the administration, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines of the nineties, Vivian creates and distributes an anonymous zine around her school, calling for all girls to take action in protest.  The movement gradually grows, with more and more girls participating in each new protest and some girls even taking their own actions to improve the misogynistic environment.  Inspiring and empowering, readers will keep turning pages in order to find out what the Moxie girls are going to do next–and whether or not they will be successful in changing their school’s culture. THOUGHTS: Because of its strong emphasis on feminism, I would recommend this book to teenage girls and/or those who enjoy reading fiction with strong female protagonists.  The novel would also be an excellent supplement for a social studies unit on women’s history, women’s rights, and/or social activism.  It would be sure to spark discussion and may even inspire students to conduct further research on the Riot Grrrl movement of the nineties.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Iturbe, Antonio. The Librarian of Auschwitz. Translated by Lilit Thwaites. Henry Holt and Company, 2017. 978-1627796187. 432 p. $19.99. Gr. 9-12.

Spanish author Antonia Iturbe tells a fictionalized story of the little-known “Librarian of Auschwitz,” a young girl whose task it was to protect the few books in the possession of Jews in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Dita Kraus arrives at Auschwitz after living in the Terezin Ghetto, and is “lucky” enough to be sent to the family camp instead of directly to the gas chambers. In this part of the camp, there is a school run by Freddy Hirsch, who sees in Dita a strong young woman willing to protect their beloved texts. The story moves back and forth between Dita’s life in the ghetto, the lives of other prisoners and Jews, and the backstory of the enigmatic Hirsch. The novel starts out slow and on occasion the language seems a bit stunted (which might be a result of reading it as a translation). However, the story and characters do shine through, and the reader becomes engrossed in this story of both the cultural and physical survival of a people. THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for high schools, especially to complement memoirs and other readings about the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

Upper Elem. FIC – According to Aggie; Evil Emperor Penguin; Danger Gang…; Smarty Marty…

Beaumont, Mary Richards et al. According to Aggie. American Girl Publishing, 2017.  9781683370109. 115 p. $9.99. Gr. 3-5.

This graphic novel tells the story of Aggie Winters Frye, who deals with friendship issues in an elementary school setting.  The story is relevant to any girl who finds that her relationship with a childhood friend is changing.  Aggie’s friend Fiona begins avoiding Aggie and no longer wishes to join her on Friday Fun Day after school or go to the Ice-stravaganza.  At first, Aggie believes that she will be “unfriendable”, but she eventually becomes friends with a new student.  This is not a new story, but one that is meaningful to the intended audience who will easily relate to Aggie’s story. The graphic novel format is very appealing and the characters are from diverse backgrounds.  A short holiday story is included as well and readers can read more about Aggie in the American Girl magazine.  THOUGHTS: While this book is slight, the storyline and format will appeal to elementary students.

Graphic Novel; Realistic Fiction       Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

Anderson, Laura Ellen. Evil Emperor Penguin. David Fickling Books, 2017. 978-1-338-13274-8. 64 pp. $8.99. Gr. 2-5.

Evil Emperor Penguin, or EEP for short, is determined to rule the world.  With his sidekick, Number 8, and his minion, Eugene, he quests for world domination, but nothing ever seems to go quite right.  From “freezing” world leaders (but instead knitting them sweaters) to fear gas (that brings EEP images of his mother), nothing goes quite as planned, and everything goes awry when Evil Cat, EEP’s archnemesis arrives.  THOUGHTS:  This first book in a new graphic novel series is an elementary crowd pleaser.  Reminiscent of Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb, EEP is hilarious in his desire for world domination.  This is a fabulous addition to elementary graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel     Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

Bramucci, Stephen. The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978-1-61963-692-7.  375p. $16.99.  Gr. 4 and up.

Ronald Zupan is a master adventurer, the son of the famous Helen and Francisco Zupan. The only problem is that his parents have not let him come on any of their adventures. On the morning of his 12th birthday, his parents do not appear, and Ronald knows they are in trouble. He teams up with the family butler, the girl who beat him in a fencing tournament, and a pet boa constrictor, to go find them in Borneo. Much adventure ensues.  THOUGHTS: Written mostly in Ronald’s bold and exaggerated voice, interspersed with more realistic details from the butler, this tale is quite funny. It seems like it could be an annoying children’s book, but all three main characters grow and learn from their experiences. This would be a good book for 4th graders on up who like action, adventure, or funny stories

Action/Adventure; Humor     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Gutierrez, Amy. Smarty Marty Steps up Her Game. Cameron Kids, 2017. 978-1944903084. $13.95. Gr. 2-4.

Marty, who loves baseball, is the score-keeper for her younger brother’s little-league team. Having taught him all she knows (which is more than most grown-ups) about her favorite sport, Marty is there to cheer him on! At one game the announcer doesn’t show up, and Marty has the chance to make her announcing dream come true. Some people don’t like the fact that a girl is announcing the game.  What will Marty do? THOUGHTS: This book is written by The San Francisco Giants in-game reporter Amy Gutierrez. The author knows what she’s talking about both in terms of baseball lingo, and what it’s like to be a woman expert in a male-dominated sport.

Sports              Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School