MG – When You Trap a Tiger

Keller, Tae. When You Trap a Tiger. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-524-71570-0. 287 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Lily, known as Lily Bean to her mom, and Eggi in her Halmoni’s stories, and her family suddenly pack up and move to Washington one rain soaked evening. They are moving in with her Halmoni, a storyteller, and the story she shares with Lily from many years ago is about how she stole the stars from the sky and bottled up the bad stories which angered a tiger. Lily is intrigued by her story, and when a tiger suddenly appears in the middle of the road one rainy night, Lily is convinced everything is real. But time is of the essence, as Halmoni is showing signs of illness – could it be a consequence of her stealing the stars? With the help of Ricky, a boy Lily meets at the library across the street, the two devise a “hypothetical” tiger trap. Little did Lily know that the Tiger would make her an offer that can help her Halmoni, but with consequences. Lily wants answers and to find a way to help her Halmoni before it’s too late. But can a QAG, short for quiet Asian girl, really find the truth? Can she rescue her family before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will not be disappointed with the characters in this book – they are full of heart, determination, love, and curiosity, even if one of them is a tiger. This title is perfect to add to your collection of diverse books, as it shows the struggle of an Asian family and how their history and heritage affect their lives today. I truly enjoyed reading this story and believe it is the perfect story to capture how storytelling and reading books can truly be art.

Fantasy          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Change is happening in Lily’s life. With little notice, her mother has uprooted her daughters from their California home to their halmoni’s (grandmother’s) home in Sunbeam, Washington. Lily does her best to be the invisible, accommodating, “QAG” (quiet Asian girl) while her older sister, Sam, finds every reason to voice her displeasure to their mother and often rebukes Lily. Lily both chafes under and finds comfort in her invisibility. Lily’s many worries worsen when she (and only she) sees a tiger in the road as they approach their halmoni’s home. Her grandmother has shared countless Korean folktales with Lily and Sam, often with a dangerous tiger involved. When Lily discovers that her grandmother is ill and facing death, she’s determined to convince the tiger to use its magic to cure her grandmother, despite admonitions from her mother and sister that dissuade her from believing the “silly” stories have any power in their lives. The library across the street provides hope and friendship for Lily, who teams up with Ricky to build a tiger trap in her grandmother’s basement. Can she convince the tiger to help, and can she convince her family that the stories are real and useful?  Will the stories save her grandmother and her family?

THOUGHTS: This is a tale of a young girl growing up and deciding who she will be, while she comes to terms with death. The targeted age level seems to increase through the story as Lily matures, and this may not quite work for readers. The grief, anger at moving, and the sister difficulties between Lily and Sam smooth a bit too perfectly by the story’s end. I found myself wishing for more scenes with the interesting, enigmatic tiger.

Magical Realism          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Korean Folktales

MG – Guts; Sunny Rolls the Dice; Beast Rider; Tree of Dreams; Not If I Can Help It; A Place to Belong; Allies; Level 13; Lizzie Flying Solo

Telgemeier, Raina. Guts. Graphix, 2019. 978-0-545-85250-0. 211 p. $12.99. Grades 5-8.

Panic attacks. Fear of vomiting. Negative thoughts. Self doubt. After her family gets sick from bad artichokes, Raina’s fear of getting sick again sends her into a spiral of panic and anxiety. She can hardly focus in school, is afraid to speak in front of the class, and is getting made fun of by a girl in her class. After a visit to the doctor (where she was “as healthy as a horse”) and continued belly aches, Raina begins to see a therapist. At each visit Raina is able to explore the causes of her anxiety and learn strategies to cope.  Raina begins to explore drawing and new friendships all while figuring out what triggers her panic attacks – whether it is puberty, public speaking, or beans. A surprise ending will leave readers excited for Raina’s future. Based on the author’s real life struggle with anxiety, this is a must read for middle level students.

THOUGHTS: As a companion book to Smile, Guts does not disappoint. True to the nature of the series, this book will make readers cry, laugh, and cheer as Raina navigates her way through life with anxiety. This story helps shed light on the mental health struggles kids face and ways to manage. 

Realistic Fiction            Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Holm, Jennifer & Matthew Holm. Sunny Rolls the Dice. Graphix, imprint of Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-23314-8. 217 p. $12.99. Grades 5-8.

Sunny’s “groovy meter” is out of whack and no matter what she tries, she just can’t seem to keep up with the “coolness” of her friends. Sunny is discovering that middle school is trickier than she thought. Her friends are into makeup, boys, and the newest trends, and Sunny just can’t seem to figure out how to be “cool” like them. Sunny begins playing Dungeons and Dragons with some friends in her basement, and suddenly she sees herself as a mighty fighter. As Sunny becomes closer to her Dungeon and Dragon male counterparts, her best friend Deb drifts farther into the popular zone. Sunny discovers that staying true to herself is more important than trying to be someone you’re not! 

THOUGHTS: Sunny is at it again! This graphic novel does not disappoint relaying just how difficult middle school life can be. With relatable characters, readers will enjoy watching Sunny travel down the path of exploration as to what is groovy or not. The third book in the Sunny series brings back a classic game to help reveal how finding your inner dragon slayer can help you discover who you really are.

Realistic Fiction            Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Johnston, Tony, and Maria Elena Fontanot De Rhoads. Beast Rider. Amulet, 2018. 978-1-419-73363-5. 159 p. $17.99. Grades 6 and up. 

This timely book explores the controversial topic of immigrants and immigration from the inside. Manuel, a twelve-year-old boy, lives with his extended family on a small subsistence farm in Oaxaca, Mexico. The train heading north to the border, nicknamed “the Beast” by locals, runs past their fields, and Manuel is familiar with people jumping onto the top of the train to travel north and into the United States. His older brother, Toño, successfully made the trip four years ago, but many do not survive. Toño lives in Los Angeles now, and Manuel misses him deeply. Despite his firsthand experience with the dangers of the Beast, Manuel resolves to join his brother in LA. He saves up money, makes the jump, and begins his own long journey. Johnston does not flinch at portraying the dangers involved in trying to reach the border. Manuel’s experience includes being preyed on by thieves, chased by police, and caught by gangs, while also having the kindness of strangers bestowed upon him along the way. After several years, Manuel eventually reaches LA and reunites with his brother. The book includes a helpful Spanish-English glossary, as well as an author’s note which discusses the realities on which this book is based. Beast Rider is a brutal (although not graphic) look at the hazardous journey undertaken by individuals desperately clinging to the hope of a better life.

THOUGHTS:  An important book which explores immigration from the point of view of the immigrant; it should be added to most collections.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Resau, Laura. Tree of Dreams. Scholastic, 2019. 978-0-545-80088-4. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Coco lives up to her name. She loves chocolate with a passion. Not in the Halloween candy kind of way, but as a professional epicure. Coco’s mother owns a chocolate shop in Colorado, and Coco absorbs every aspect of producing chocolate, from sourcing cacao beans sustainably grown in the Amazon, through to creating delicious chocolate creations. But when her mom informs Coco that the shop is losing money and she needs to close it, Coco stubbornly looks for a way to prevent the loss of everything she loves. At the same time, she starts dreaming of a large Ceiba tree which speaks to her. Conveniently, a local dessert competition offers the prize of a trip to the Amazon rainforest. Coco and her former best friend, Leo, enter the contest and, conveniently, are declared co-winners. Coco is determined to locate the treasure the Ceiba tree tells her awaits within her roots. But when the party arrives, they face the reality of the rapid destruction of the Amazon, and the life and death struggle to stop the damage. Coco and Leo bond with Isa, a Huaorani girl, and the friends realize all of them have been dreaming of the Ceibo tree. The three friends urgently work to find the magical tree before it is lost for good. The plot framework is compelling, so readers may not realize the wealth of information Resau has woven into the story. The ecological message is very timely, and, while it drives the plot, does not come across as didactic.

THOUGHTS:  An enjoyable mystery which brings the reality of the deforestation of the Amazon to middle grade readers. Mystery fans and chocolate lovers alike will enjoy the story and walk away more knowledgeable about environmental issues. 

Magical Realism          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Mackler, Carolyn. Not If I Can Help It. Scholastic, 2019. 978-0-545-70950-7. 240 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Willa has quirks. She knows this about herself. She can’t wear socks with a seam in the toe. She hates chewing baby carrots, and don’t even bring up slimy eggs! Willa has Sensory Processing Disorder, and it makes life challenging for her and those who love her. Willa’s therapist helps her problem solve and cope. Classmates, and even her best friend, Ruby, are unaware of her diagnosis, and generally accept her eccentricities. However, Willa’s carefully constructed world implodes when she learns that her dad is planning on marrying Ruby’s mom. Everyone else thinks Willa should be ecstatic that Ruby will become her sister, but all Willa can see is that Ruby will be exposed to the inner workings of Willa’s world: her therapy sessions, her melt downs, and her intense likes and dislikes. Everything she keeps private. Willa feels she can’t take the risk and closes down, even as she knows she’s being unkind to Ruby. Will their friendship survive being sisters?

THOUGHTS:  A delightful middle-grade story that is not overpowered by the exploration of Sensory Processing Disorder. Readers will root for Willa to find her way to acceptance, and, possibly, happiness. 

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Change can be difficult, especially if you have Sensory Processing Disorder like Willa. Things have to be just so or she gets anxious. Clothing must be soft, socks have to fit just right, and no collar tags on her shirts. Besides clothing certain foods are just gross or irritating. She is getting along fairly well even if her parents are divorced. She goes to her mother’s on the weekend. It is the end of fifth grade, and things are about to get more difficult. Everyone is on pins and needles
hoping to get into the middle school of their choice. Willa and her best friend Ruby really hope to be together. One evening her Dad and Ruby’s mom announce that they have been dating and are getting married. This is not okay with Willa. It disturbs her that her best friend’s mom will be her stepmother and her friend, her stepsister. There are too many adjustments for Willa to cope with. She loves Ruby, but…. Will this spoil everything including their friendship? Slowly obstacles are overcome, but there are hurts along the way. Choices must be made.

THOUGHTS: Mackler deftly hands SPD and the anxiety it creates, especially in the preteen years. She creates a caring and informative environment as show when a “mean” girl comes around and is sympathetic. The parenting in this book is outstanding. Both girls have strong support from all sides.

Realistic Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Kadohata, Cynthia. A Place to Belong. Athenaeum, 2019. 978-1-481-444664-8. 399 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Kadohata takes readers down a quiet side street of history for her newest book. In the aftermath of WWII, Hanoko and her family are on their way to Japan. Although they are all American citizens, they spent four years in internment camps during WWII. Afterwards, they accepted the US government’s offer to expatriate them to Japan, renouncing their citizenship. Hanoko and her brother Akito are nervous to meet their grandparents for the first time and have no idea what the future will hold. Traveling through Hiroshima, Hanoko is exposed to the painful aftermath of the atomic bomb. Life in post war Japan requires many adjustments for the children, but after their years in internment camps (separated from their father) Hanoko enjoys being with her family, even though food is scarce and her grandparents work long hours on their tenant farm. Kadohata shows the loving relationship between Hanoko and her grandparents. Hanoko is always courteous and respectful, trying her hardest to be kind to them and make them happy. When Hanoko’s father hears of a lawyer, Wayne Collins, who is suing the United States on behalf of the Japanese individuals who renounced their citizenship under duress, the family has to decide where their future lies. Based on actual events, Kadohata’s book brings to light a little known codicil to WWII. In the afterward, Kadohata explains that Collins was unable to file a class action suit on behalf of all expatriated citizens and spent decades filing individual suits on behalf of thousands of Japanese Americans. 

THOUGHTS:  An enlightening story that expounds upon a shameful chapter in American history. The dignified demeanor of Hanoko’s family contrasts with the circumstances in which they find themselves. A first purchase for classrooms and libraries.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gratz, Alan. Allies. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-60449-8. 322 p. $9.99. Grades 4-8.

Alan Gratz hits another home run with his latest book, Allies. Set on June 6, 1944, D-Day, Gratz covers the Allied invasion of France from multiple perspectives. Young American soldiers who should be in school, not slogging through the water off the coast of Normandy, try to beat the odds and make it to shore alive. An Algerian woman and her daughter assist the French resistance, despite the fact that the French occupy their own country. A black medic overwhelmed by the volume of casualties, patches together men who wouldn’t sit down to eat with him. A Canadian paratrooper floats to earth with the earliest wave of troops. Throughout the long, long day, a plethora of individuals perform numerous small tasks and brave acts, finding hope in what they see and do, despite the brutality of the war. While writing for a middle grade audience, Gratz does not sugarcoat the reality of the Omaha Beach landing, the mistakes that were made in logistics, leading to the horrific number of casualties. A comprehensive Author’s Note at the end of the book helpfully delineates what is factual and where Gratz used creative license.

THOUGHTS: Purchase multiple copies of the book. Alan Gratz fans have been chomping at the bit waiting for publication day.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Korman, Gordon. Level 13. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-28620-5. 241 p. $16.99. Grades 4-6.

Cameron Boxer is at it again! President of the P.A.G., gamer, and part of the Awesome Threesome, he decides that it’s time to step up his gaming career. Determined to reach 5,000 subscribers (and make some serious cash) Cam discovers that school and the P.A.G. are getting in the way. Cam decides to step back from his role of president in order to focus on his “failing grades” a.k.a. his live streaming channel. With the help of a beaver named Elvis, and an elusive Level 13 in Guardians, Cam is rocketed into the spotlight as the impressive streamer GameFox229. Suddenly students are sharing their homework and projects with Cam (to help him from failing) and wearing GameFox229 T-shirts (as a library fundraiser). Cam finally has everything he wanted – a successful streaming channel and amazing grades. But when a mysterious stalker appears, Cam wonders if it’s all worth it. As the heat is turned up to discover who GameFox229 and his sidekick beaver are, Cam discovers that being a slacker can backfire! 

THOUGHTS: Students will connect with gamer Cam and the antics of the group of boys in the novel. The story provides multiple perspectives that weave together a story that will keep you guessing what’s next, or leave you craving gummy worms! The second in the Slacker series does not disappoint with it’s laugh out loud moments and lovable rodent.

Realistic Fiction         Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Steveson, Nancy Turner. Lizzie Flying Solo. Harper, 2019. 978-0-062-67318-3. 320 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6. 

Lizzie’s life has been turned upside down. Her father is in jail, awaiting trial on charges of embezzlement, and when her mother can no longer make mortgage payments, the two move to a homeless shelter. Lizzie is shaken by the loss of her former life, and terrified at starting a new school, worried that people will know she lives at the shelter. One day Lizzie follows a path in the woods and comes upon a riding stable. Horse crazy Lizzie can’t stay away, hiding in the brush and watching the girls who come for lessons, girls who attend her school. When new friend Bryce takes Lizzie to the stables to see his horse, Lizzie receives an unexpected offer of a work-to-ride scholarship. In return for helping out at the stables, Lizzie is able to take riding lessons and she finds a place where she belongs and is accepted. She bonds with a recalcitrant new horse she names Fire and sets her sights on purchasing him. She also makes friends with an older student assistant, a friendship that brings unexpected rewards. While at first glance a homeless girl taking riding lessons and participating in horse shows may seem unlikely, Stevenson places Lizzie and her mom in a situation where it is entirely plausible. Throughout the book Lizzie expresses confusion about her father and whether or not he is guilty of the crimes. Her emotions are quietly raw and very real. She is as skittish as Fire and as terrified of trusting people. But her love of horses helps her learn to trust again.

THOUGHTS:  A thoughtful look at homelessness and how it affects children. The story is not dark and wraps up with a sparkly future ahead of Lizzie and her mom, but it can demystify homelessness a bit. While there is no indication that this will become a series, readers will be rooting for Lizzie all the way, and are sure to hope for more of her story.  

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Ruff vs. Fluff; Share Your Smile; Rising Water; The End of the World and Beyond; Eventown

Quinn, Spencer. Ruff vs. Fluff: A Queenie and Arthur Novel. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-09139-7. 293 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Arthur the dog and Queenie the cat live with Mom and the twins (Harmony and Bro) at the Blackberry Hill Inn. Business is slow, so they are delighted when Mr. LeMaire checks in and recruits the twins to guide him partway up the Old Sokoki Trail. The twins return, but Mr. LeMaire doesn’t, and he is soon discovered dead on the mountainside. Happy-go-lucky Arthur and aloof Queenie know what the humans do not: Mr. LeMaire had a gun as well as an old map of the region. The local sheriff quickly makes an arrest, but both the animals and their people know that the case hasn’t really been cracked. A new guest might not be who he claims, and it seems that more than one mystery haunts the Old Sokoki Trail. Also, Arthur accidentally ate the map! Can Arthur and Queenie save the day before anyone else gets hurt?

THOUGHTS: Arthur’s voice will remind readers of Bowser from Spencer Quinn’s delightful Bowser & Birdie series: loyal, a little absent-minded, and always in the mood for a treat. Queenie, more self-possessed, is entirely disdainful of her canine compatriot. It’s all in good fun (except for the murder) with a big finale that gets the whole gang together on the mountaintop. Stay tuned for Paws vs. Claws, coming in September!

Mystery          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Telgemeier, Raina. Share Your Smile: Rainia’s Guide to Telling Your Own Story. Graphix, 2019. 978-1-338-35384-6. 133 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Sometimes the wait for a new Raina Telgemeier book can feel never-ending! Until Guts arrives in September, readers can get a little practice telling their own stories with this interactive journal, which is full of “tips, tricks, and inspirational kick-starters for getting your story down on paper.” In Chapter One, “Share Your Smile,” Rainia shares how she transformed the dental drama she experienced as a tween into her beloved graphic memoir, Smile. She also provides prompts for readers to begin sharing their unique experiences through both pictures and words. Chapter Two, “All in the Family,” focuses on the week long road trip that inspired Sisters, and encourages readers to find inspiration in their own family adventures. “The Drama of School” and “The World Around You” chapters flow from Raina’s fictional comics, Drama and Ghosts, and demonstrate how real life can generate story ideas, settings, and even supernatural elements. A sneak peek at Guts rounds out this fun, colorful guide.

THOUGHTS: With plenty of empty panels for readers to practice drawing, paste in their own photos, and write their own stories, Share Your Smile is a contender for “Library Book Most Likely to Be Written In.” But it will be worth it to see Raina Telgemeier’s many fans find inspiration in these pages. Share Your Smile could also provide some fresh prompts for classroom writing assignments, especially the traditional how-I-spent-my-summer essay, as well as an English/Art curriculum crossover.

808 Writing and Drawing; Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Aronson, Marc. Rising Water: The Thai Cave Rescue. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019.  978-1-534-44441-3. 148 p.  $17.99  Gr. 5-9.

Marc Aronson tells the gripping story of the rescue of twelve young Thai soccer players and their coach during the summer of 2018, an event that attracted media attention from around the world. Aronson begins by providing information about each one of the boys, including information about the “stateless” status of many of them. The book generally follows a chronological timeline, as Thai authorities gradually started inviting various experts from other countries in to work with them to find and rescue the boys. The true story is so full of twists, dashed hopes, highs, lows, and then a final, almost unbelievable ending, that even Aronson’s restrained, matter-of-fact writing style can’t stop the book from being a page-turner. A highlight of the book actually comes in the backmatter, when Aronson explains his struggle to tell the story through a lens that is global, and not just American, in nature.

THOUGHTS: Many kids enjoy reading rescue and survival stories, and this one has all the elements of real-life drama with a happy outcome. However, this story also brings a number of global issues to the forefront, including the plight of people who, for whatever reason, find themselves undocumented or stateless. Recommended for middle schools and high schools.

796.52  Caving          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley

Aronson is renowned for his non-fiction and this book does not disappoint. Present readers will recall the dangerous and brave experiences of both the Wild Boars Soccer Team and their rescuers in a cave complex in Thailand in 2018. A cast of characters reveals the large scale of the event from the coaches, players, military, government officials, and expert helpers from other countries. The book reads like a detailed log of the events with pictures and words creating a sense of urgency to orchestrate the rescue. As time passes, students will not recall the events unfolding before their eyes, but the book will transport them to the events. Important primary quotations and facts such as being “stateless” or the story behind the name of the cave system are interwoven into the text. Four pages of full color images with captions help to clearly visualize the location and those involved. 

THOUGHTS: The author includes a section on their research. This would be very helpful to share with students embarking upon a research project. There are a lot of caves that students may have visited. A creative option is to make a display for students and faculty to share a picture or a favorite memory from visiting a cave.

796.52 World History, Survival Stories          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Avi. The End of the World and Beyond. Algonquin Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-6162-0565-2. $16.95. 304 p. Gr. 4-7.

12-year old Oliver Cromwell was convicted of stealing and must board a prisoner ship bound for the colonies, specifically, Maryland, to serve out his 7-year indentured servant sentence. His father is left behind in England and his beloved sister, Charity, is placed on a different prison ship also headed to America. (Oliver’s mother died at his birth.) Oliver soon gets purchased by a dreadful man named Fitzhugh to replace a slave that he recently murdered for trying to escape. Oliver suffers much abuse at Fitzhugh’s hands, and it seems like the only positive thing is that Fitzhugh also owns a slave, Bara, who eventually becomes friends with Oliver. Bara and Oliver spend their days tending Fitzhugh’s tobacco farm and trying to plan an escape through the swamp to find the maroons, who are groups of slaves and indentured servants rumored to have escaped and formed small colonies. Bara and Oliver know they will be killed if they are caught, but Oliver’s need to find his sister and both of their desire to leave the inhumane treatment by Fitzhugh gives them the courage to want to try. Even though they have a plan in place, they are forced to run when another of Oliver’s “follies” puts them in danger. They make their way to the great swamp and will need to use their wits to avoid the large cats, cottonmouth snakes, quicksand, and, most especially Fitzhugh and his band of men, who have followed them into the swamp.

THOUGHTS: Although this book is written for students 8 through 12 years old, some of the descriptions of brutality on the ship and actions by the evil master, Fitzhugh, are disturbing. Oliver’s somewhat sophisticated thoughts may also be lost on all but the most precocious young readers. This is the second book in the Oliver Cromwell story, but you do not have to have read the first book to enjoy and understand The End of the World and Beyond.

Historical Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Haydu, Corey Ann. Eventown. Katherine Teagen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-68980-1.  336 p.  $16.99  Gr. 5-8.

A tragic event has left Elodee, her twin sister, Naomi, and their parents, shattered. Although they do not talk about the past, they are unable to move on from it. Then, Elodee’s mother gets a job in the too-good-to-be-true village of Eventown, where the sun always shines and no one is ever sad. Naomi and their parents immediately settle in, but Elodee can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right . . . even though everything’s perfect. She starts to ask questions, but soon finds that curiosity isn’t welcome in Eventown. When she visits the Eventown library and discovers it’s nothing like any library she’s been to before, Elodee is horrified. Elodee grows more and more frustrated at both Naomi and herself as she wonders why she can’t just be happy like everyone else in this seeming paradise. When strange things start to happen, like the first rainstorm ever, everyone blames Elodee, and the residents of Eventown have to make some heartfelt choices.  

THOUGHTS: This is a complex, deep, but age-appropriate story that offers an interesting take not only on the themes of grieving and the importance of sharing feelings, but also on a number of interesting philosophical questions. However, the story can also be read for the enjoyment of its well-paced narrative and well-developed characters. Highly recommended for middle schools.

Fantasy-Magical Realism          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley

MG – The Book of Boy; Code Word Courage; Sing Like Nobody’s Listening; The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone; The Benefits of Being an Octopus; The Hotel Between; In Your Shoes; Charlie and Frog; Smart Cookie; You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P; Monstrous Devices; The Law of Finders Keepers; The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise; Game Changer; City of Ghosts; Changing Families; Understanding World Religions; Backyard Bears

Murdock, Catherine Gilbert. The Book of Boy. Greenwillow, 2018. 978-0-062-68620-6. 278 p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

“Boy,” an orphan living a wretched life in rural medieval France, jumps at the chance to serve the mysterious Secundus on his pilgrimage to St. Peter’s tomb in Rome. While Secundus, who smells oddly of brimstone, gathers relics along the way in hopes of attaining entrance to the gates of heaven, Boy wants to be rid of the hideous hump on his back. The two forge an odd alliance, with Boy’s ability to talk to animals proving him a worthy companion. Both have deeply held secrets, which they slowly reveal to each other (and the reader) as their journey progresses.

THOUGHTS: A strange, fascinating, and captivating story, highly recommended for middle school libraries.  

Historical Fiction; Fantasy          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Larson, Kirby. Code Word Courage. Scholastic, 2018. 978-0-545-84075-0. $16.99. 233 p. Gr. 4-8.

It all started with the big, black dog. Injured and abandoned on the side of a California road, he is rescued by a marine hitchhiking with his friend. Denny, a young navajo man, and Leo are on leave from boot camp, looking to spend a long weekend at the ranch of Leo’s aunt Doff, where Leo and his younger sister Billie grew up. As they vainly wait for a ride, Denny hears the soft, but unmistakable wimpers of an injured animal and searches until he find the big, black dog. When the two marines arrive at the ranch, young Billie falls in love with the dog, whom Denny christens Bear. Bear stays behind when the soldiers ship out to see action in WWII, helping Billie cope with her many sorrows, from not knowing where her dad is, to losing her best friend and worrying about Leo and Denny. Told through the alternating voices of Billie and Denny, the book touches on many themes, including prejudice against Mexican Americans, the efforts of the U.S. Government to obliterate Native American culture, and the role of Navajo Code Talkers during WWII, as well as friendship and the issue of Billie’s father abandoning his children during the height of the depression. The reader gains an understanding of life during the WWII era from a variety of perspectives, including the vital role of Navajos in WWII and the irony of the country using the Navajo language to win the war, after attempting to eradicate their culture. The only slightly off note is when the spirit of Bear aides Denny’s survival during the battle for Iwo Jima, but young readers probably will not mind.

THOUGHTS:  Beautiful historical fiction wrapped in a dog story, this book is sure to be popular with middle grade readers.   

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gutnecht, Allison. Sing Like Nobody’s Listening. Aladdin, 2018. 978-1-481-47157-2. $17.99. 223 p. Gr. 4-8.

Wylie has been friends with Jada since forever, but it looks like seventh grade may be the end of the road. When Jada convinces Wylie to audition for the school musical, Wylie ends up fleeing the stage in terror. Much to Wylie’s consternation, Jada makes the cast and accepts the part, and Wylie senses Jada slipping away. Add to this the stress of dealing with her divorced dad and his new family, Wylie feels as though she doesn’t fit anywhere anymore. When she makes a new friend and starts an a capella group, it’s Jada’s turn to feel left out. Can their friendship survive this upheaval? Middle schoolers will certainly empathize with Wylie as she struggles to find her group (and the all-important lunch table that goes with it) and negotiate between two households.

THOUGHTS: This is a fun take on a familiar theme. The ending may be too pat, but it is a satisfying read. A hint of romance is just enough for this solidly middle school story.  

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig  Penn Manor SD


Moriarty, Jaclyn. The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018. 978-1-338-25584-3. 384 p. $17.99. Gr. 4-7.

Bronte Mettlestone is rather nonplussed by the death of her parents. She is sure she should feel sorrow, but, afterall, she was raised by her Aunt Isabelle after her parents deposited her stroller in the lobby of Aunt Isabell’s apartment building and went off in search of adventures. What is of more concern to Bronte is the peculiar will her parents left. Bronte is given a detailed itinerary to visit all her aunts and give each a specific gift. As the will is bordered with fairy cross stitch, Bronte learns, the directions must be followed exactly or her hometown will break apart. So, off Bronte sets on her adventure. While she (mostly) enjoys meeting her aunts and various relations, the trip often tests her mettle. However, the true significance of her journey eventually becomes clear, and, just in time, Bronte realizes her own magical abilities to save the day. Moriarty has whipped up a tasty confection of equal amounts madcap zaniness, magic, and adventure. Readers are sure to cheer on Bronte as she calmly deals with an eccentric variety of aunts, makes friends with water sprites, rescues a drowning baby, fights pirates, and eventually saves a kingdom.

THOUGHTS:  An enjoyable romp of a read youngsters are sure to enjoy.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Braden, Ann. The Benefits of Being an Octopus. Sky Pony Press: 2018. 978-1-510-73748-8. 254 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Seventh grader Zoey passionately admires the octopus. Her love for the cephalopod originated with the one DVD her family owned, and watched over and over. Very often, she wishes she possessed the characteristics of an octopus. When your clothes are old, and rarely washed because mom has to find a way to get to the laundromat, it would be convenient to be able to camouflage yourself. When you have to take care of three younger siblings after school, extra arms would come in handy. Zoey would like to glide through the sea of school without creating a ripple, but knows her reality is vastly different than that of most of her classmates. Zoey aspires to do well in school, but homework takes a back seat to minding her siblings and placating her mother’s boyfriend. However, when a discerning teacher assigns Zoey to debate club, Zoey is soon able to apply the skills she learns to her own life, with dazzling success.

THOUGHTS: This book clearly presents the effects of poverty and abuse on our students. Zoey is a heroine all readers will cheer for as she learns to reveal herself in all her courageous glory. A must purchase for collections.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Easley, Sean. The Hotel Between. Simon and Schuster, 2018. 978-1-534-41697-0. 341 p. $17.99. Gr. 3-6.

Cameron’s life is ruled by his WWTD list (worst ways to die). His twin sister, Cass, was born with spina bifida, and, ever since their mother died and their father disappeared, Cameron has shouldered the burden of worrying about Cass’s health. He maintains hope that their father will return, and he can resume his life as a adolescent, so when Cameron stumbles upon a new hotel in their neighborhood bearing the image on the coins the twins’ father left them, he embraces the possibility that the hotel may lead him to his father. But nothing in the Hotel Between is as it seems. It is, as Cameron’s guide, Nico, says, a hotel with an agenda, a mission. As Cameron gets drawn deeper into the magical world of the hotel, he becomes unsure who to trust, as he learns his father is at the heart of a battle for control of the hotel. The premise of the book will captivate readers, and the cast of characters is compelling. Perceptions of the hotel shift as fast at Nico can make a coin disappear and reappear.

THOUGHTS: Readers will empathize with Cam, whose worries and fears dominate his life, and not put down the book until they, too, discover the secrets of the Hotel Between.   

Magical Realism          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD 


Gephart, Donna. In Your Shoes. Penguin Random House, 2018. 978-1-524-71347-4. 336 p. $19.99. Gr. 4-7.

Miles is a quiet boy who fancies wearing bowling shoes to school. Amy is a sad girl who loses herself in her writing. Miles’ family owns a bowling alley. Amy and her father are living above her uncle’s funeral home. In this sweet fairy tale in ten frames, boy meets girl when his bowling shoe accidentally meets her forehead. Amy is new in town, having moved to Pennsylvania from Chicago with her father, after the death of her mother. Amy can’t imagine ever being happy again, especially far from her home, friends, and beloved dog. A perceptive school librarian and a feisty, Krimpet eating, blue-haired, 12-year-old weightlifter named Tate make Amy feel more at home, and Miles, well, Miles has the makings of a special friend. But sometimes life interrupts the fairy tale.  Yet, oddly enough, when tragedy strikes, Miles and Amy both find a way through their sadness to a happily ever after.

THOUGHTS: An utterly charming story of finding true friends when you least expect it.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Kane, Karen. Charlie and Frog. Disney Hyperion, 2018. 978-1-368-00582-1. 249 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Charlie Tickle is used to being an inconvenience in his parents’ lives. This time, they are off to save the giant golden moles, and leave Charlie with his grandparents in Castle-on-the Hudson. But Charlie’s grandparents have their own busy lives, what with doctor appointments and television shows every day, leaving Charlie on his own. Exploring the town on his own, Charlie walks right into a mystery, the disappearance of Aggie, a deaf woman he met at the library. For assistance in American Sign Language, Charlie seeks out Francine “Frog” Castle, at Castle School for the Deaf. Frog, also deaf, enthusiastically joins Charlie in trying to solve Aggie’s disappearance. The intrepid pair end up unravelling a decades old mystery. Along the way, Frog educates Charlie, and the reader, in ASL, which supplements Charlie’s finger spelling. Eventually, using amusing subterfuge, Charlie even succeeds in getting his grandparents to notice him.

THOUGHTS: Charlie and Frog are an endearing dynamic duo. Charlie’s enthusiasm to learn ASL to communicate with Frog educates the reader, as each chapter in the book introduces an ASL sign. Readers will hope for more adventures from Charlie and Frog.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor


Swartz, Elly. Smart Cookie. Scholastic, 2018. 978-1-338-14356-0. 228 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Frankie Green has a plan. This year she wants to go to the Winter Family Festival Parade as a complete family. Which means finding a new wife for her father, and, thereby a new mom. Frankie’s mom died when she was four, and now Frankie, her dad and her grandmother live in the Green Family B&B. However, creating an online dating profile for her dad may not be the best way to accomplish her goal. Besides being under deadline to find a mom, Frankie also worries about the fights between her dad and grandma over all the “stuff” her grandmother collects.  There is also the problem of guests cancelling their reservations because someone is spreading a rumor that the B&B is haunted. That is a lot on one plate, and even though Frankie is one smart cookie, she may not be able to fix everyone’s problems.  

THOUGHTS: This book is as sweet and gooey as a warm chocolate chip cookie. Frankie is a thoroughly likable character readers will root for.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig  Penn Manor SD


Gino, Alex. You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! Scholastic, 2018. 978-0-545-95624-6. 256 p. $16.99. Gr. 3-6.

Twelve-year-old Jilly Pirillo enjoys her life. She has great parents and a new baby sister, Emma, a best friend, and warm conglomeration of extended family. Additionally, she has an online community centered on her favorite books. But when it is determined that her baby sister has profound hearing loss, Jillian finds she is constantly learning how much she doesn’t know. She turns to Derek, an online friend who is a deaf African American boy, but is surprised when he objects to being thought of as her deaf friend. Jilly means well, and is truly trying to learn how to navigate Emma’s new world, but she continually angers and offends Derek. As Jilly learns through painful trial and error, she begins to apply what she learns to other life situations, such as the interactions between white and African American members of her extended family, where the casual assumption or offhand comment causes great hurt. Jillian is our guide through the landscape of otherness – people who are not like us, either through race or disability. She asks the questions we might ask, and makes the mistakes we could make, but shows us that, like her, we can do better.

THOUGHTS: This book packs a thoughtful punch, without ever being didactic. An important purchase for all collections.    

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Love, Damien. Monstrous Devices. Viking: 2018. 978-0-451-47858-0. 338 p. $17.99. Gr. 3-7.

Alex shares a fascination with old toy robots with his grandfather, who often sends new finds to him. But the robot Alex just received is somehow different. The note grandad included with the robot said, “This one is special,” and Alex believes it. The tiny tin man seems to read Alex’s thought and do his bidding. Then grandad shows up and takes Alex on a danger-filled flight across Europe, ostensibly to find out more about the little robot. But Alex realizes they are being chased by individuals who also want the robot. Little by little, Grandad begins to explain the ancient feud between two families involving magical monsters, real or imagined, that might even lead Alex to his father. Readers will relate to Alex, who is bullied at school and just tries to keep his head down and avoid notice.  Grandad has a wicked droll humor, and although Alex at times questions his trust in his grandfather, in the end we all might wish we had a grandfather like that.

THOUGHTS:  A clever mystery, with abundant chases, magical monsters and just enough creepiness to make for  a gripping read.

Magical Realism          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Turnage, Sheila. The Law of Finders Keepers (A Mo & Dale Mystery). Kathy Dawson, 2018. 978-0-803-73962-8. $16.99. 356 pp. Gr. 4-6.

Mo, Dale, and Harm are back in the newest addition to the Mo & Dale Mystery series. For years, Mo has quietly been searching for “Upstream Mother.” After unwittingly finding clues about her, the Desperados are on the case to find her no matter what the cost. With limited clues and lots of questions, the search for “Upstream Mother” may be more than Mo expected. At the same time, treasure hunter Gabriel Archer comes to town looking for Blackbeard’s treasure, and the Desperado Detective agency is hired by Mayor Little’s mother to work the case and find the treasure. As they dig through the Little’s attic, they find clues about the history of Tupelo Landing and the location of the treasure, but location isn’t enough when you’re up against a professional treasure hunter who will steal and cheat to find the treasure. As if treasure wasn’t enough for the Desperados, Harm’s mother, Kat, has returned and is working with Gabriel. Neither Harm nor Mr. Red are thrilled about her return, and quickly neither are Mo, Dale, and others when they realize what she’s up to. All the while, antics towards Attila and the quirkiness of the Colonel, Miss Lana, and the residents of Tupelo Landing explore the meaning of friendship, family, and community.

THOUGHTS:  This is a fabulous middle-grades series.  Each title can stand-alone or be read in order.  The characters are honest and unique, as is the setting. Students will relate to a number of the residents of Tupelo Landing, especially Mo, Dale, and Harm. Highly recommended series.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Gemeinhart, Dan. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. Henry Holt and Company. 2019. 978-1-250-19670-5. $16.99. 341 p. Gr. 4-7.

Five years is a long time for a road trip without a real destination; yet, Coyote and her dad (don’t call him Dad) Rodeo have been moving forward and living out of an old school bus for just that long. They are not looking back, because the tragically painful past is too much for both of them to face. However, news from Coyote’s grandmother that their old park in Washington State is getting torn down may force a return trip. There is a very valuable memory box that Coyote must get, even if that involves tricking Rodeo to head home. Along the way, Gemeinhart stirs up the adventure with several passengers who each have their own important story to be heard. It becomes a remarkable journey indeed, one that you won’t forget any time soon!

THOUGHTS: Gemeinhart has a voice that is so clear and poignant, even with the varied collection of novels he has written to this point. The voice of the characters and the tone with which we read them is a perfect text analysis sample for budding writers and dramatic readers alike. Start with The Honest Truth, and dive into this remarkable middle grade author’s work!

Realistic Fiction          Dustin Brackbill State College Area SD


Greenwald, Tommy. Game Changer. Amulet Books, 2018. 978-1-497-3143-3 $16.99 Gr. 5-9.

The story opens with freshman Teddy, an athlete with a strong football future, hospitalized and in a coma following a collapse at pre-season football practice.  Through free verse, text messages, therapy sessions, conversations in his hospital room, and a social media feed set up by friends, the truth of that suffocating day on the practice field slowly comes out. More than just a hard hit, what happened to Teddy could be construed as hazing, bullying, or fanaticism. Greenwald shows readers the situation through many different eyes, including Teddy’s polarized parents (dad encourages his son to dominate the sport, while mom demeans it as violent). Two teammates share their guilt over their actions, mixed with their love of the game. (By novel’s end, one will stick with the game, while one will abandon it.) Will, team captain of the likely-to-make-States team, continually tries to boost the team while sweeping any wrongdoing to the sidelines, using intimidation naturally. Coach Benzetti’s words soothe outsiders, and it remains unclear whether he is intentionally or naively blind to his team’s actions. The novel succeeds in displaying a wide range of views on football, raising very important questions while revealing what attracts individuals to the the game as athletes and spectators. Slowly, Teddy returns to alertness from his coma, and the last words of the novel are his: “I remember.”

THOUGHTS: A winner for football fans and those who care about athletes, this novel pulls readers in with its changing narrators and formats.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Schwab, Victoria. City of Ghosts. Scholastic. 2018. 978-1-338-11100-2. $17.99. 304 p. Grade 5-8+.

Ever since she nearly drowned in a childhood accident, Cassidy Blake has the unusual ability to see ghosts, and the ghost that pulled her from the water and saved her from death is now her closest friend. Cass’s parents are well known ghost hunters and authors who have a series of best selling books on the history and folklore surrounding paranormal activity around the world. When they are offered a chance to film a pilot for a television series in Edinburgh, the Blakes, with Jacob in tow, head off to Scotland where the spirits of the past haunt the castle, the alleyways, and graveyards of the ancient city. Cass finds herself overwhelmed by the presence of so many spirits, but she finds an ally in a young girl, Lara, who shares her gift. One frightening spirit in particular takes a keen interest in Cass, and before long she finds herself in grave danger.

THOUGHTS: A fast-paced and atmospheric mystery tale for middle grades with a smart, quirky, Harry Potter obsessed heroine. City of Ghosts is first title in a new paranormal mystery series which will appeal to fans of Mary Downing Hahn.

Mystery Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Changing Families. Reference Point Press, 2019. $29.95 ea. $149.75 set of 5. 64 p. Gr.6 and up.

Currie-McGhee, Leanne. LGBT Families. 978-1-682-82359-0
Currie-McGhee, Leanne. Adoptive Families. 978-1-682-82355-2
Mooney, Carla. Foster Families. 978-1-682-82357-6
Sheen, Barbara.  Multiracial Families.978-1-682-82361-3
Sheen, Barbara.  Single Parent Families. 978-1-682-82363-7

This five title reference set examines the changing family dynamics in American society. Each volume discusses how individual children are affected growing up in non-traditional family situations, including how society is adapting to these changes. Also highlights well known families in each type of family and provides testimony of adults who have grown up in these families. Includes some terrific text features such as full-color photos, sidebars of historical information, and pull out quotes from children. Also includes source notes, bibliography, and index.

THOUGHTS: Changing Families is a solid purchase that would provide insight into the realities of life for families in these circumstances.

306 Families          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Nardo,Don. Understanding World Religions. Reference Point Press. 2019. $29.95 ea. $149.75 set of 5. 80 p. Gr.6 and up.

Understanding Buddhism. 978-1-682-82459-7
Understanding Christianity. 978-1-682-82461-0
Understanding Hinduism. 978-1-682-82463-4
Understanding Islam. 978-1-682-82465-8
Understanding Judaism. 978-1-682-82467-2

This reference set presents concise information about each of the five major world religions with chapters focusing on the origin of the religion, fundamental beliefs and practices, and the role of that religion in the world today. The set features simple, clear text with beautiful photos and illustrations, statistical information, and pull out quotes from the holy texts or from scholars or adherents to the religion.

THOUGHTS: An excellent introductory reading into each of the five religions focusing on the positive aspects of each and highlighting similarities in the belief systems.

200 Religions          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Cherrix, Amy. Backyard Bears: Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife (Scientists in the Field Series). HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-328-85868-9. 80 p. $18.99. Gr. 5-7.

This is an in-depth look at field scientists in North Carolina who have been tracking black bears which were once a threatened species but no longer are. Since the population has increased, bears now are finding their habitats intersect with humans a lot more. The field scientists are studying the positives and negatives of suburban and urban wildlife.

THOUGHTS: This is a great higher level book (5th-7th grades) for those students who are interested in both wildlife and human interactions as well as those who interested in the different careers scientists can have. Lovely full page pictures, along with interviews from the scientists make this a great addition to the collection.

599.78 Bears          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

Upper Elem/MS – Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race; Wishtree; Fish Tree

Grabenstein, Chris. Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race. Random House, 2017. 978-0-553-53606-5. $16.99. 279 p. Gr 3-6.

Kyle, Akimi and the other library lovers from Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemonchello’s Library and  Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics are back for a new game. Mr. Lemoncello, the P.T. Barnum of libraries, has created the Fact-Finding Frenzy to debut his new Nonfictionator technology, interactive holographic displays. Pairs of the young library trustees compete against each other for the chance to travel around the country promoting Mr. Lemoncello’s newest game. Grabenstein does a nice job keeping the series current by introducing Abia, a Muslim girl. In addition, the competitors find themselves abandoning the game to save Mr. Lemoncello’s reputation when rival game-makers accuse him of plagiarizing the idea for his very first game. The four finalists dig into researching Mr. Lemoncello’s background, learning to check facts and verify fake news to save their hero from shame.  THOUGHTS:  With the excitement generated by the Nickelodeon movie, this will be a welcome addition to the series. It is at least as good as the first book in the, if not better. The emphasis on research and verifying what we read on the internet is a timely, important message for students.  

Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Applegate, Katherine, and Charles Santoso. Wishtree. Feiwel and Friends, 2017. 978-1-250-04322-1. $16.99. 216 pp. Gr. 3-6.

Red has been growing, living, watching, and even speaking for 116 years. Most people don’t stop to listen, but they do come to leave wishes on branches every year as a neighborhood tradition. In that time, things have changed, yet some things remain the same for the old oak tree. Wishes have come and gone, and the residents of the tree continue to share with Red and learn from its wisdom. When the word LEAVE is carved in its trunk, Red wonders if it’s the end of the family living next door, perhaps even the end of the wishtree’s life. Can Red make one more wish come true, and can tolerance and friendship save the day?  Katherine Applegate continues her trend from The One and Only Ivan and Crenshaw to shed light on unique points of view and stories that matter and move. The amazing illustrations from Charles Santoso fill the pages with wonder and whimsy. Stop and pause and listen as Red shares a tale you won’t soon forget.  THOUGHTS: I must say that I loved the message, but was equally delighted by the humor and imagination that Applegate shows in bringing this tree’s world to life. The relationship between the animals, and their naming traditions, and the friendship of Red and a crow named Bongo are inventive, natural, and remarkable at the same time. Students could easily relate and play along with naming their neighborhood creatures. Hopefully, they would also hold discussions about acceptance and wish for a better world.

Realistic Fiction; Magical Realism     Dustin BrackbillState College Area SD

Napoli, Donna Jo, and David Wiesner. Fish Girl. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 978-1-537-90518-1. $25.00. 186 pp. Gr. 3-6.

Come see the mysterious Fish Girl! She lives inside the Ocean Wonders aquarium and is protected by Neptune himself, her keeper and caretaker. Fish Girl is indeed a mermaid, but she is told that she must stay hidden from humans and can’t talk or walk. She is still curious and lonely, though the aquatic animals and her devoted octopus friend care for her. When Neptune isn’t watching, she makes a friend, explores beyond her boundaries, and may just unravel some truths about her life and world. David Wiesner uses his amazing artistic vision from work like Flotsam to fill the panels of this graphic novel passion project. Donna Jo Napoli brings voice to the Fish Girl as she navigates her adolescence and questions whether she is a protected treasure or a captive. There are unresolved questions and wonders galore at the ending, but young readers will be captivated by the “mysterious Fish Girl.”  THOUGHTS: This is a great debut graphic novel for Wiesner, though many will recognize that he uses panels effectively in his other picture books. This would be great for a book club discussion and brings in bits of mythology and mystery that deserve further analysis. Another worthy project idea would be for students to study the traits of the other ocean creatures who dwell in the Ocean Wonders. Fun book to explore!

Graphic Novel; Fantasy      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

YA FIC – Wild Beauty; Language of Thorns; Optimists Die First; The List

McLemore, Anna-Marie. Wild Beauty. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2017. 978-1-250-122455-5. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Anna Marie-McLemore has become the undisputed queen of Magical Realism.  Her third book in as many years, Wild Beauty, is even more nuanced, sophisticated, and breathtakingly beautiful than her first two novels, and that is saying quite a lot.  Wild Beauty describes this story perfectly; it is a story about a family of women who have the ability – a compulsion, really – to grow flowers simply by reaching into the soil and willing them into existence.  As with all good stories, however, it is much more complex. Up until about a century ago, the Nomeolvides women had been persecuted, hunted, shunned, or killed because of their gifts. When they are offered sanctuary at La Pradera on the estate of the wealthy Briar family, they take it gratefully. It comes with a price, of course: the Nomeolvides women can never leave; if they try to escape, or outrun their destiny, they will die. La Pradera also takes their lovers; if a Nomeolvides woman loves someone too hard, they disappear. The current generation of cousins, Estrella, Azalea, Gloria, Calla, and Dalia, are all in love with the same girl, Bay Briar, and they are determined to keep her from disappearing. When they make a sacrifice to the land, the land gives them back a boy, a boy who can’t remember how he got there, where he came from, or who he is. This is a story of love, betrayal, heartbreak, jealousy, but above all, family, and the lengths one will go to to protect those she loves. Thoughts: Every page of Wild Beauty is a sensuous, tactile, graceful dance, and while the steps can be challenging, it is absolutely well worth the effort.

Magical Realism      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Bardugo, Leigh. The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. New York: Macmillan, 2017. 978-1250122520. 288 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Leigh Bardugo reimagines classic tales in her newest collection of stories, The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic. Each of the six stories are set in Bardugo’s Grishaverse, but readers don’t have to be familiar with that world in order to understand or appreciate them.  There is something warm and familiar about each, but with a dark, and often subversive, twist to them; these are stories meant to be read aloud around a roaring fire on a blustery evening; the lovely and whimsical illustrations by Sara Kipin add to the magic, as well. Every story here is a gem, but there are two standouts.  “Amaya and the Thorn Wood” is a spin on the Minotaur myth, with a hint of “Beauty and the Beast.” Bardugo does a wonderful job playing with rhythm, repetition, and pacing; as it’s a story about a storyteller, it’s cleverly done. It is a story of two outcasts, both of whom are ostracized because of their looks, and both of whom are second-fiddle to their more attractive, more talented siblings. Through a shared love of stories, they redefine the idea of a “happy ending.” “The Witch of Duva,” a take on “Hansel and Gretel,” challenges the tropes of the evil stepmother, and the child-snatching witch, and explores the ways in which women mistrust each other; it is richly told, and Bardugo once again utilizes repetition to great effect. The ending is exceedingly disturbing, but will hopefully imbue a sense of caution to any young person who reads it; at the very least, it will leave a lasting impression. A common thread throughout the book is the complexity and diversity of women; each tale forces the reader to confront their own preconceived notions of how women should behave. Thoughts: Give this to lovers of fairy tales, self-proclaimed feminists, and anyone who needs a wake-up call about a woman’s place in society.

Fantasy     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Nielsen, Susin. Optimists Die First. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2017. 978-0-553-49690-1. 240 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Petula is scared of everything and spends her days thinking of the myriad ways in which people can be killed. Before the accident that killed her little sister, Petula was an average adolescent girl with a passion for crafting.  Petula, however, has never stopped blaming herself for what happened, and she has cut herself off from everything that reminds her of that time, including crafting, and her best friend. When Petula meets Jacob, a new boy with a prosthetic arm, a warm and open demeanor, and a tragic past of his own, her life slowly starts to knit back together. Jacob, however, is keeping a huge secret, and when Petula inevitably finds out, it completely alters the way she views him.  Nielsen does a wonderful job getting into Petula’s psyche; the way her grief and guilt manifests will hit home to a lot of people.  Petula is constantly hounded by that little voice going “If only…,” a voice that beleaguers everyone at some point in their lives.  Jacob’s prosthetic is sensitively portrayed, and is only one small part of him; it does not define who he is.  THOUGHTS:  While the heavy emphasis on crafting may turn some people off, at its heart, it is a story about two lost, grieving souls finding each other, and finding joy.

Realistic Fiction    Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Forde, Patricia. The List. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017. 978-1-4926-4796-6 353p. $16.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

The Melting (of the icebergs) has happened and much of life as we know it has disappeared.  John Noa has set up a settlement he calls “Ark” where he tries to make sure humans survive by not making the same mistakes.  He thinks one of those is language, so he limits what people in Ark are allowed to say, by approving a “list” of words.  Letta, the wordsmith’s  apprentice, is overwhelmed by the order to take more and more words off of the list.  At the same time, she is trying to preserve old wordsn her master disappears, leaving Letta to become the wordsmith.  She meets a boy who speaks more eloquently than the list will allow and Letta discovers much about the artists and others who are forced to live outside of Ark.   Letta has to make a lot of decisions that she never thought she would have to, much bigger than what words to take away from the citizens of Ark.  THOUGHTS: A book that will make everyone think about the importance of words, and of language, this would be a great purchase for libraries with lovers of fantasy, especially dystopian stories.

Dystopian     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Forde, Patricia. The List. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017. 978-1-492-64796-6. 368 p. $16.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Ark is a gated post-apocalyptic community that only survives because of the extreme planning and strict rationing of John Noah, Ark’s founding leader. With food, water, and even words strictly limited to only what is essential, life is not always easy. Sentences like “We ready now.” and “I no wait.” are considered speaking in List and take some getting used to. Reading List sometimes requires more than one glance. Letta lives in Ark and is the apprentice to the Wordsmith, a highly respected job. Almost immediately, her master Benjamin, the Wordsmith, heads out on a journey for a few days to hunt for new words to be preserved. This is considered a typical task of the Wordsmith. Letta is left behind to run the shop, where she transcribes boxes of List words for the Ark teacher, and creates special request List words for various trades.  Shortly after Benjamin leaves, an injured boy enters the shop, requesting a box of List words. Though she does not recognize him, Letta is intrigued by Marlo, and without thinking she quickly hides him before the gavvers (police or military equivalent) arrive. As she attempts to nurse Marlo back to health, Letta learns information about life outside of Ark, and she begins to question all she’s ever known. Thus begins Letta’s dissent from Ark.  THOUGHTS: As a former English teacher, my mind was racing with fun activities for using this book in the classroom: What words would be on your list? Could you figure out all of the words on Ark’s list? Would you eliminate/add any words to Ark’s list? The focus on the importance of words can lead to many great discussions, regardless of age. Though this book is marketed as middle grade, I could absolutely see using it in a high school classroom.

Dystopian   Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

YA Fiction – One Silver Summer; Moon was Ours; Still Life…

Hickman, Rachel. One Silver Summer. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-80892-7. $17.99. 263p. Gr. 7-10.

Sass’s world has fallen apart due to the recent death of her mother. She has moved from New York to England to live with an uncle she hardly knows. As a way to escape her overwhelming grief, Sass explores the countryside around the small seaside town that is her new home. It it on one of these jaunts that she stumbles across a silver horse in a pasture and Alex, who she assumes to be a stable boy. Drawn to the horse, Sass begins to take riding lessons with Alex. Over time, they form a friendship and then a romantic connection. But Sass is not the only one looking to escape problems by riding. Alex has fled the city to the rural home of his grandmother after the breakup of his parents’ marriage and the resulting publicity. But he can’t outrun publicity forever because Alex is really Alexander, son of the Prince and Princess of Wales and heir to the throne. When Sass realizes the truth and the media descend, the two teens must decide if their relationship can endure the spotlight. THOUGHTS: One Silver Summer is a gentle, romantic read with some fairy-tale like components.  Readers willing to suspend their disbelief about certain plot points (for instance, Sass not immediately recognizing the heir to the British throne in a book set in the present day, media saturated age), will find a sweet story about making connections and falling in love.

Realistic Fiction, Romance     Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

 

 

McLemore, Anna. When the Moon was Ours. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2016. 978-1- 250-05866-9. 273 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up.

An intriguing romantic fantasy that follows the bond between two outsiders in a small town;  Sam a transgendered boy of  Pakistani heritage whose true past is unknown and Miel, a Latina girl who magically appears in the water spilled from the tipped over water tower.  Magical realism pervades the whole story.  Sam  paints moons that illuminate spaces and stop the fears of the school children, and Miel grows roses out of her wrists which are rumored to have romantic powers.   The two develop a genuine, caring, and protective relationship, starting as friends and growing into something much more.  The antagonists in the story are the enigmatic Bonner sisters, who have the  ability to make all the boys in town fall in love with them. This ability is lost when the eldest sister must leave town because of a secret pregnancy. When Chloe returns, the sisters hone in on Miel and her roses to recapture their power. This novel explores the themes of love, loyalty and self acceptance.  A big positive in this novel is the portrayal of diversity. Families in all forms are present, the novel reveals beautiful elements of Latina and Pakistani cultures and  the transgendered Sam, is a wonderful character whose gender is matter of fact, just another one of many intriguing character traits. Though the descriptive language is beautiful, much of the story is too ambiguous for my understanding, leaving me confused and unsatisfied at points. I found that it strained my ability to suspend disbelief. THOUGHTS: This title could be a hard sell for many teens, but for those who enjoyed McLemore’s Weight of Feathers or who have a strong preference for magical realism this tale would make a good choice.

Fantasy                 Nancy Summers, Abington Senior High School

 

 

King, A. S.  Still Life With Tornado. New York: Penguin Young Readers Group, 2016. 9781101994887. 295 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up.

Sarah is having an existential crisis. Her older brother has been in exile from the family for six years, there’s been a major rift between Sarah and her friends and classmates, and she’s been truant from school for weeks. When her artwork is sabotaged before an exhibition, Sarah stops attending school and spends her days wandering around the streets of Philadelphia. Sarah’s living in angst and denial about her family, her friends, and her art, but three of her former and future selves are helping her put the pieces together. Ten year-old Sarah is the catalyst for 16 year-old Sarah to remember the emotional and physical abuse that tore her family apart, and her 23 year-old and 40 year-old selves are there as proof that things can work out. Accept the strange detours in this novel, as Sarah figures out her complicated family and school life and enjoy this original work.  Many of King’s novels have a decided surrealistic bend, but at the heart of all of her books is the very real anguish and search for validation of her teenage characters. THOUGHTS:  A thought provoking book that looks at the effects of domestic violence without portraying the actual abuse. The intermittent chapters narrated by Sarah mother, provide a glimpse into the rationalization of the victim who hopes for the best.  

Realistic Fiction; Fantasy               Nancy Summers, Abington Senior High School

YA Realistic FIC – Rocks Fall…; Run; Female of Species

rocksfall

Ribar, Lindsay. Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies. New York: Kathy Dawson Books, 2016. 978-0-525-42868-8. 323 pp. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Aspen Quick can reach inside of people and steal almost anything: thoughts, feelings, memories, or physical attributes. It’s a family trait the Quicks of Three Peaks, New York, have always used to perform the “triad ritual” that repairs dangerous fault lines in the cliff looming over their town. And sure, maybe Aspen occasionally uses his ability to make his life a little better (e.g., manipulating his crush into breaking up with her boyfriend and falling for Aspen instead). Following his cousin Heather’s death, Aspen becomes a regular member of the ritual. But he notices something strange afoot in seemingly idyllic Three Peaks; local teens still talk about Heather in the present tense, and one of them seems immune to Aspen’s abilities. The novel’s interesting structure, with scenes from “Before” closing each chapter, adds context even as the holes in Aspen’s memory are revealed. THOUGHTS: With Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, Lindsay Ribar has stirred up a singular brew of summer love, magical realism, and family secrets. It’s a satisfying stand-alone that readers of Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap will enjoy.

Magical Realism      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library

 

run

Keplinger, Kody. Run. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.  978-0-545-83113-0. 295 pp.  $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

Bo Dickinson and Agnes Atwood could not be more different.  Bo comes from a family of drunkards, drug addicts, and criminals and has a reputation for being wild.  Agnes, on the other hand, goes to church with her parents every week and always follows the rules.  Because she was born legally blind, Agnes has lived a very sheltered life.  When Bo suddenly enters her life, Agnes is curious about the world outside her small circle, and the two become best friends.  That’s why Agnes doesn’t hesitate when Bo asks her to run away from their small, rural town with her.  Told in alternating perspectives, Agnes explains how their friendship formed while Bo relays the events of their road trip.  Throughout the course of the book, the two will share secrets and new experiences, break rules, and form an indestructible bond.  A solid story of friendship, this book has some edgy topics that will be relatable to many teens: bisexuality, sexual experiences, disabilities, dysfunctional family dynamics, underage drinking and more.  THOUGHTS: This book really opened my eyes to what life can be like for those who are blind and how refreshing it can be for others to treat them like normal people (as Bo does for Agnes) rather than treating like they are handicapped.  For that reason, I could see this book pairing well with Blind by Rachel DeWoskin or with books about other disabilities or abnormalities, such as R.J. Palacio’s Wonder or Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind.  I would warn purchasers, however, that the book contains some graphic language and edgy content, so it may be more suited for older readers.

Realistic Fiction       Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

 

female

McGinnis, Mindy. The Female of the Species. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016. 978-0-06232-089-6. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Three years ago, Alex Craft’s sister Anna was found in pieces in the snowy woods. Without enough evidence to convict the killer, Alex watched her sister’s murderer walk free. Now she watches and waits, and becomes what she thinks and feels; violence and vengeance. With her own crime unpunished, Alex retreats from her family and peers, afraid to unleash the violence buried deep inside her. While volunteering at an animal shelter for her senior project, Alex meets Peekay, the local preacher’s daughter, and an unlikely friendship blossoms. Now venturing into the high school social world, Alex also meets Jack, who begins to chip away at her hard exterior and see the person underneath- but with that person also comes darkness and anger. Told through Alex, Peekay, and Jack’s alternating perspectives. McGinnis expertly taps into the often uncomfortable yet realistic world of teenage drinking, drugs, and sex, as well as the social pressure that accompanies it. THOUGHTS: While the ending seemed a bit rushed and dramatic, McGinnis is an excellent storyteller who expertly unravels Alex and Anna’s story over the course of the book. Jack, Peekay and Alex are far from the perfect teen, which makes them all the more relatable to teen readers.

Realistic Fiction     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

New Middle School Stand-alone Fiction

chickens

Jones, Kelly. Illustrated by Katie Kath. Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer.  New York: Knopf, 2015. 978-0-385-75552-8. 216 p. $16.99 Gr. 3-6.

Moving from the city to her late-great-uncle’s house has changed 12-year-old Sophie Brown’s life. She finds a flyer in the barn from a farm supply catalog and writes them  letters. The novel is told through letters, lists, full page illustrations, newspaper clippings, broken typewriter like telegraph messages and even a comic and recipe.  Will Sophie and her family adjust to a new lifestyle? The novel can serve as a bridge to chapter novels for younger readers.  Thoughts: Moving presents a challenge to many students as Sophie learns to embrace her new situation demonstrating to readers that not all changes are terrible.

Realistic Fiction   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

afterdark

Leck, James. After Dark. Toronto, ON: KCP Fiction, 2015. 97801-77138-1109. 252 p. $16.95 Gr. 5-8.

Charlie’s school year at a posh and private school ends differently than in the past. Instead of oversleeping and embracing a lazy summer, his summer shifts into restoring an old inn with his mother, sister, and movie star brother that will also serve as their home. All of a sudden Charlie notices that locals are becoming oddly sick and present with sunglasses. As much as he wishes to disregard beliefs from Mile Van Helsing, the local “conspiracy crackpot,” Charlie finds truth in the thoughts that either an unexplained epidemic or hybrid mashups of zombies and vampires will completely overtake the town. Will Charlie be able to help the town or will he succumb to the mystery?  Thoughts: Like Paolo Bacigalupi’s Zombie Baseball Beatdown readers are presented with a terrifying mystery that has ramifications beyond fear.

Supernatural; Mystery     Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

 

answers

Messner, Kate. All the Answers. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. $16.99 978-1-61963-374-2.  248 p. Gr. 5-8.

In need of a pencil, Ava finds a basic blue pencil in the junk drawer at home. Normally, Ava struggles with test anxiety, but she notices when she takes her math test that the pencil can answer the questions. Ava later learns that the pencil will address fact based questions, and she shares this with her best friend Sophie.  The questions go beyond school questions and move onto crush questions and topics related to family members. Why is it that her mother calls her own father by his first name? In All the Answers, Ava learns that a magical pencil is not the way to find every answer. Ava learns more about friendship, family, love and trust, while discovering information about the pencil that she never dreamed to be possible. With a little bit of magic and a lot of heart, readers will connect to Ava and  her parents of opposite political belief, her academic goal setting brother, her sister who changes her name on a name tag since there are some many Emma’s in her classroom, her grandmother ready to pray for all in need, and her best friend with a zest for shopping, fashion and latest trends. Thoughts: With the increase use of technology and even lead pencils, students tend not to use a traditional wooden pencil outside of state testing exam. The book allows readers to ponder what they would do if they found a pencil with the qualities from the story.

Realistic Fiction; Magic    Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

 

henryhubble

Myer, Andy. Henry Hubble’s Book of Troubles.  New York: Delacorte, 2015. 978-0-385-744393. $15.99. 151 p.  Gr. 5-8.

Henry Harrison Hubble writes an old fashion journal and adds his clever cartooning skills, poetry and photography to the entries.  He has plenty to reflect upon from his days at Orville Crumb Middle School.  The journal entries range from missing the whale on their school field trip to trick-or-treating mishaps, getting sick at school, a misguided science presentation, and dancing difficulties. This book has humor and a fast pace to encourage the most reluctant of all readers to take delight in reading. Thoughts: Having students learn more about their family history can tie into this novel as Henry is named after President Harrison. Another topic could be  family heirlooms as Henry’s sure is unique.  Another topic of discussion can be social media awareness. At the end of the novel we learn that his journal was stolen and posted online for all to view leading to unwanted situations. A conversation about uses of social media can be linked to meaningful discussions.

Realistic Fiction   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

 

Bone Gap

bonegap

Ruby, Laura. Bone Gap. New York: Balzer & Bray, 2015. 978-0-06-231760-5. 345 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Bone Gap, Illinois, is a mysterious and magical place where small-town intrigue coexists with an undying menace. Finn O’Sullivan (a.k.a. Sidetrack) lives with his paramedic older brother, Sean. One night a beautiful but battered young woman named Roza appears in their barn. She quickly slips into their lives (and Sean’s heart). When she is kidnapped at the Spring Fair, Finn – the only witness – is frustratingly unable to give a detailed description of the abductor. As Sean mourns the loss of Roza, Finn connects with Priscilla “Petey” Willis, the beekeeper’s daughter. Even as they fall in love, Petey doesn’t trust that Finn can accept her unusual face, and she digs for a reason why he’s such a “Spaceman.” Chapters alternate between Bone Gap and Roza’s captivity; add romantic nighttime horseback rides and a trip to the underworld and you have a sense of just how deep Bone Gap’s metaphors, myths, and magical realism go.

Realistic Fiction (Magical Realism)     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

This novel begs to be discussed! It would be a wonderful choice for a student book club or Psychology class. Be sure to explore some of the connected myths, especially Persephone and Demeter.