MS/YA Nonfiction – Survivor’s Club; One Last Word

Bornstein, Michael, and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat. Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017. 978-0-374-30571-0. 348 p. $16.99. Gr. 6-8.

Born in 1940 in the Nazi-occupied ghetto of Zarki, Poland, Michael Bornstein spent the first 11 years of his life enduring an incredible amount of heartbreak and despair.  When he was only four years old, he and his family were relocated to the Auschwitz concentration camp, which he, along with his mother and grandmother, miraculously survived.  Sadly, his father and brother were killed at Auschwitz.  After returning home to Zarki, Michael and his remaining family discovered they were unwelcome, and eventually ended up moving to Munich as displaced persons.  There, Michael attended a Hebrew school and his mother worked until, after six years, they were finally able to emigrate to the United States.  Throughout this honest and harrowing memoir, the power of hope is consistently reinforced, as Michael’s mother is constantly reminding him: “Gam ze ya’avor” (“This too shall pass”).  The book is supplemented by an afterword, a Bornstein family “who’s who,” captioned photographs, a glossary of Yiddish terms, and source notes. This is a powerful and memorable addition to any middle school Holocaust collection.  THOUGHTS: There are many options for using this title in a school setting.  Social studies teachers could use it to supplement a unit on the Holocaust or to spark discussion about racism and senseless murder that is still happening in the world today.  Another option would be to pair this title with fictional stories about the Holocaust, such as Jennifer Roy’s Yellow Star, Alan Gratz’s Prisoner B-3087, or John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.  As with many selections that deal with the Holocaust, bear in mind that there are some horrific scenes throughout the course of the story that may not sit well with more sensitive readers.

940.53; Holocaust       Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School


Grimes, Nikki. One Last Word. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978-1-61963-554-8. 119pp. $18.99. Gr. 5 and up.

“Can I really find / fuel for the future / in the past ?” (11) One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance is Nikki Grimes at her finest.  Following the beautiful poetic structure of Gwendolyn Brooks known as Golden Shovel, which Grimes explains in the preface, Grimes pieces together new poetry amongst Harlem Renaissance poems to explore life and common experiences.  Every other poem is written by Grimes with the even poems chosen from poets such as Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar and many others.  Grimes highlights the line from the Harlem Renaissance poems that she uses in her Golden Shovel style poem that follows (the words in her poems are also highlighted to connect back to the original text).  Intermixed with the poems are colorful mixed media art that support the poems and experiences. Two of my favorites are “Jabari Unmasked”, about how students mask themselves to fit in and often their hearts and mind are lost in the act, and  “Lessons”, about the impact of poverty in life and how love and family can save. THOUGHTS:  As a teacher-librarian, Grimes poems speak to the need to raise students up and praise them for their abilities while teaching them to strengthen their weaknesses.  Poems “Crucible of Champions”, “A Safe Place”, “The Sculptor”, and “Lessons” are just a few of the poems that remind the reader, adult or student, that life is different for each person no matter how similar they may seem.  This is an exquisite text.

Poetry     Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD




YA NF – How Dare the Sun Rise; March Against Fear; Martin Luther; American Fire

Uwiringiyimana, Sandra, and Abigail Pesta. How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child. Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 978-0-06-247014-0. 288 pp. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

This excellent memoir relates how one “war child” went from stateless refugee to leading activist. Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sandra Uwiringiyimana enjoyed a happy childhood in a large, loving family. Her parents strongly valued education and envisioned a life for their daughters beyond an arranged marriage; her siblings were both her playmates and protectors. However, the possibility of war was a constant cloud on the horizon. When she was ten, Sandra’s family fled to a refugee camp in Burundi that was attacked by a rebel militia. With a gun to her head, Sandra said goodbye to life, but the rebel spared her and she escaped into the darkness. Miraculously, after the massacre she reunited with some of her family, and together they began a journey that would ultimately bring them to Rochester, New York. Sandra’s challenges continued as she learned to navigate American culture, race relations, and her flashbacks to the Gatumba massacre. Sandra’s passion for education and human rights have driven both her activism and her quest to heal from the trauma she suffered. THOUGHTS: Sandra Uwiringiyimana has written a moving account of her harrowing years as a child of war, and the strength and support she found to rebuild her life. It stands alongside other standout titles such as Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara, Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee, and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah.

In her closing Information and Resources section, the author highlights three organizations:

  • Jimbere Fund, whose mission is to revitalize distressed communities in rural Congo (
  • The Maman Shujaa, a women’s movement for peace, women’s rights, rights of the indigenous, and nature (
  • RefugePoint ( helps refugees in life-threatening situations find safety and rebuild their lives

92, Autobiography    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Bausum, Ann. The March Against Fear. National Geographic, 2017. 978-1-4263-2666-0. $19.99. 144p. Gr. 7 and up.

The March Against Fear is the story of the last great, but sometimes forgotten, civil rights march. James Meredith was one of the first wave of recruits into the newly integrated Air Force, and he was the first African American to successfully integrate the University of Mississippi. It was that courage and determination that gave him the idea of marching across his home state of Mississippi to encourage African Americans to register to vote. A year earlier the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed but still a majority of African Americans had not registered to vote. Meredith thought that fear of retaliation was holding people back from registering, and this Walk Against Fear would be the thing to inspire them to register. On the second day of the march Meredith was shot. Fortunately, he didn’t die, but with the shooting his walk turned into a march and his cause was taken up by civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Stokely Carmichael. This march and the violent confrontations that the people who took part in it endured pitted King’s nonviolent response with Carmichael’s demand for “black power.” Following the march, all across the country there was growing unrest and frustration with racism and protests were held in at least 20 major cities. The media focused on what they thought was Carmichael’s call to violence and “black power” became the legacy of the March Against Fear.  THOUGHTS: Ann Bausum spoke to our students in support of the publication of this book. Our students and some teachers were mesmerized by this bit of history that they had never heard of. This book has powerful quotes and engaging photographs on solid black backgrounds that make it a pleasure to read. It would be an excellent book to use for Social Studies book clubs at the 7th through 9th grade level.

323.1196; Civil Rights      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Ciponte, Andrea Grosso and Dacia Palmerino.  Renegade: Martin Luther, The Graphic Biography. Plough Publishing House, 2017.  9780874862072. 160 p. $19.95. Gr. 8 and up.

Beautifully illustrated and well researched, this graphic novel follows the life of Martin Luther, the man who challenged the Catholic Church and inspired the Protestant Revolution. It is a fast read that captures the tumultuous times in Germany at the beginning of the 16th century, a time of poverty, plague and suffering. Martin was the son of hard working, strictly religious family. He excelled in school and was granted the opportunity to study at the University in Erfurt with the hopes of becoming a lawyer and improving his family’s lot. When caught in a violent storm, Martin has an epiphany which brings him to the church. Obsessed with salvation and faith he pores over the scriptures as he seeks to reconcile his growing doubts with the practices of the Holy Catholic Church. His major complaints against the Church over the sale of indulgences and the true meaning of faith and grace lead him to post the infamous 95 Theses on the door of the Cathedral. The novel presents Luther’s reasoning on the questions of faith, his friends and foes in his struggle to clarify his theology, and his efforts to bring the word of God closer to the people of Germany.  The good the bad and the ugly of Luther’s life is exposed, including his end of life tirades against Jews, Anabaptists and the peasants of Germany.  Ciponte’s drawings are gorgeous and colorful – evocative of some of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance.  THOUGHTS: Could be used as a companion text for students of world history to bring this revolutionary time period to life. Having a degree of background knowledge would help the reader understand the events in this retelling.

92, Graphic Biography               Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Hesse, Monica. American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017. 978-1-63149-051-4. 255 pp. $26.95. Gr. 10+.

Monica Hesse, author of the excellent young adult WWII mystery Girl in the Blue Coat, returns with a compulsively readable true crime case study. In American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, Hesse relates the story of Accomack County, part of Virginia’s Eastern Shore peninsula, where dozens of abandoned buildings were set ablaze in 2012 and 2013. The story hinges less on whodunnit (the arsonists are already serving time) than why-dunnit. American Fire’s subtitle teases the answer, which Hesse reveals through depictions of the county’s cultural history, the crime of arson itself, the painstaking efforts of law enforcement, and an intense but ill-fated love story. THOUGHTS: American Fire is narrative nonfiction at its best. Written for adults, it’s also a perfect choice for teens who are listeners of the S-Town podcast, readers of David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon, or simply enjoy puzzling out a seemingly random crime spree. One gripe: an Eastern Shore map would have been helpful! Hopefully one will be included when the paperback edition is released.

364.16; Crime     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA Nonfiction – Buffalo Bill; Born a Crime; ABCs of LGBT

Fleming, Candace.  Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West.  New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2016.  978-1-59643-763-0. 273 p.  $19.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

William “Buffalo Bill” Cody is perhaps the most famous figure of the “Wild West.”  In this biography, Fleming examines the legendary figure and attempts to separate fact from myth.  According to Cody’s own autobiography as well as the Wild West show he created, life on the American frontier was never dull; rather, it was full of gunfights, raids, racing horses, and skirmishes with Native Americans.  Although there was a great deal of violence in the West, this exciting image fabricated by Cody is not entirely true.  Comparing Cody’s account of the Wild West to other primary source materials, Fleming attempts to address the inaccuracies. Beginning with his childhood, Fleming presents a thorough account of Cody’s life up through his tours with his Wild West show and his death.  Complete with a bibliography, source notes, and period photographs, this compelling title gives readers an objective look at frontier life and the legendary figure known as Buffalo Bill.  THOUGHTS: This is an outstanding addition to any middle or high school U.S. history collection.  Not only does the fast-paced, story-like narrative keep the reader’s attention, but I could see the book being used in the classroom in a variety of ways.  It provides an excellent introduction to important events, issues, and establishments in U.S. history, such as the Civil War, the Pony Express, Bleeding Kansas, slavery, and Native American relations.  I could also see it being used to introduce historical research.  Fleming’s sidebars describing the inaccuracies in many of Cody’s stories are intriguing and set the stage for additional research and debate.  A definite must-have for school library collections.

978 U.S. History; 92 Buffalo Bill Cody      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School


Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016. 978-0399588174. 304 pp. $28.00. Gr. 10 and up.

Trevor Noah, best known as host of The Daily Show, delivers a memoir that’s both moving and humorous. He’s a comedian, after all!  Noah was “born a crime” in 1984 to his South African mother and Swiss-German father; under apartheid, their relationship and their son’s very existence was illegal. Each chapter opens with a little background on the author’s home country, including the mechanisms of apartheid, the role of language in South Africa, and the quagmire of racial identity in a former police state. Noah then relates youthful episodes, escapades, and misadventures, with his close relationship to his mother anchoring the entire narrative. The book’s final and most gut-wrenching chapter chronicles his mother’s marriage to an abusive man, which nearly ended in her murder. THOUGHTS: Trevor Noah is a popular TV personality, but this exceptionally well-written book demonstrates that he is also a gifted author.

Memoir     Amy Pickett, Ridley High School

Trevor Noah narrates Born a Crime on audiobook, and his gift for impressions and accents makes it a must-listen. Play the excerpt in which Noah gets his hair straightened for the first time, and I guarantee there will be a holds list for this book!


Mardell, Ashley. The ABC’s of LGBT+. Mango Media, 2016. 978-1-63353-409-4. $16.95. 190 p. Gr. 6-12.

Popular blogger and YouTuber Ashley Mardell gives readers a crash course in LGBT+ terms, identities vocabulary, and labels. Designed for all, from novices to experts, Mardell starts off with a very thorough cheat sheet of terms used throughout the book which readers can refer to at any time. Readers then dive into informative and easy to understand chapters focused on spectrums, sex and gender, and sexual and romantic identities. Mardell successfully brings a voice to many LGBT+ identities that are not portrayed in mainstream media and offers personal anecdotes and drawings throughout to help engage the reader. THOUGHTS: An excellent nonfiction title that brings visibility and voices to all identities and strengthens the field of gender and sexual diversity.

306.76; Sexual Orientation; Gender identity     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

YA Nonfiction – Shadow of Liberty; Rad Women; March Bk 3; This Land is Our Land


Davis, Kenneth C. In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2016. 978-162779-3117. $17.99 286 pp. Gr. 7-12.

Davis shines light on five lesser-known individuals of American history in In the Shadow of Liberty.  They were five enslaved persons (Davis explains the preference for enslaved person rather than slave) who were owned by four presidents who espoused liberty for all.  Billy Lee served as George Washington’s valet.  Ona Judge worked as Martha Washington’s maid and successfully escaped.  Isaac Granger served at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello all his life.  Paul Jennings worked at both James Madison’s Montpelier and the White House. Finally, Alfred Jackson served Andrew Jackson’s household.  Davis gives a succinct history of slavery and its profitability before detailing each person’s story.  Between chapters, he skillfully places timelines to explain national events and how slavery was affected.  The research is thorough and though Davis could be judgmental, he opts instead for a factual perspective.  “It would be…simple to condemn them…and to call them hypocrites and negate all they did…But history is never a simple tale.  The story…is a complicated one.  At times, some of them agonized…some of their views and behavior changed, though never enough to make a difference.  We must take these hard, cold facts into account” (261-262).  This is a finely written history of interesting people in difficult, at times horrifying, circumstances.  Davis’ writing pulls in the reader and gives life to these five little-mentioned people.  THOUGHTS:  This history gives fuller understanding of the times and (often contradictory) views held by early American leaders.  Social studies courses could include the entire text or portions of it (consider chapter one, with its succinct history of slavery) to better understand the wide impact of slavery on individuals and a nation’s psyche.  This is accessible reading for middle and high school to give another view of colonial life and the abolitionist fight.  It serves as a fantastic example of biography and narrative nonfiction.  This could also be paired with Albert Marrin’s A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery (2014).

973; American History      Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



Schatz, Kate, and Miriam Klein Stahl (illustrator). Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2016. 978-0-399-57886-1. 104 pp. $15.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Rad Women Worldwide contains forty mini-biographies, representing all seven continents and describing the achievements of truly radical women in lively, conversational profiles. The very helpful map on the book’s front endpapers will orient readers to this journey through time and around the globe. Rad Women Worldwide covers contemporary women such as Malala Yousafzai, Venus and Serena Williams, and primatologist Biruté Mary Galdikas. There are also plentiful entries on historical figures: Enheduanna (the world’s oldest known author), Hypatia (the first known female mathematician and scientist), Queen Lil’uokalani of Hawaii, and many more. Each chapter is accompanied by an iconic papercut portrait, created by illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl using paper, pencil, and an X-Acto knife. “The Stateless,” a poetic ode to the world’s 60 million displaced people (almost 80% of whom are women and children) is a fitting conclusion to this excellent collective biography. One small complaint: if the map and Table of Contents included keywords such as Educator, Environmentalist, or Musician next to each woman’s name, Rad Women Worldwide would be even more accessible to browsers and student researchers. THOUGHTS: It’s a must-have for every teen library and a strong companion read to Schatz and Stahl’s 2015 collection Rad American Women A-Z.

920; Collective Biography       Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library



Lewis, John and Andrew Aydin. March Book 3. Art by Nate Powell. San Diego, Top Shelf Productions, 2016. 978-1603094023. 256 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

March Book 3 is a powerful conclusion to Congressman John Lewis’s graphic memoir of his experiences during the Civil Rights movement. Books One and Two focused on the lunch counter sit-ins and the March on Washington, respectively. The plot of the third book centers around the events and marches in Selma, Alabama.  Lewis also shares his experiences traveling to Africa and meeting Malcolm X, and the struggles within the different groups pushing for change at that time. The art, drawn in careful detail by Nate Powell, propels the story forward at a fast clip and engages the audience with stark black and white scenes. This series should be required reading in all high schools, not only because it is engaging in a way that textbooks generally are not, but also because the themes and events are, sadly, exceptionally relatable to the events occurring in our world today. THOUGHTS: Students and educators alike will be fascinated by Lewis’s story and experiences. This series should be in all high school libraries.

Graphic Novel; Memoir      Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

I have eagerly awaited the final installment of this series, and it did not at all disappoint. Reading John Lewis’s graphic memoir has opened my eyes to the power of this form of literature, and how it can be used to engage readers and teach about different eras in history. I also had the opportunity to attend an event with Congressman Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. The Congressman gave one of the most powerful speeches I have ever witnessed. Hearing his story in person, and the story behind the graphic novel, made me appreciate the venture even more than before. I hope that more famous and influential individuals will use this genre to tell their stories in order to reach a whole new audience and generation.



Osborne, Linda Barrett. This Land is Our Land: A History of American Immigration. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016. 978-1-4197-1660-7. 124p. $24.95. Gr. 7 and up.

Focusing on American immigration from the 19th century to the present, this title presents the experiences of immigrants who came to America to start new lives and examines the way Americans have responded to these immigrants over time.  Surprisingly, attitudes towards immigrants have remained remarkably similar and consistent throughout the history of America.  Osborne offers context and reasons for these attitudes while at the same time highlighting the benefits that immigrants have brought to our country and encouraging fairness and compassion towards all.  Numerous period photographs and quotes from immigrants themselves adds a personal touch to the work.  A timeline of immigration history, source notes, bibliography, and index are also included.  Overall, this is a very thorough and objective account of American immigration throughout history.  THOUGHTS: With the upcoming presidential election, immigration is a very timely topic.  This title provides a wonderful introduction to the topic and could spark excellent discussions about attitudes and responses towards immigration.  Another option would be to pair this title with fictional accounts of the immigrant experience, such as Melanie Crowder’s Audacity or Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Uprising.

304.8; Immigration      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

MS/HS Nonfiction – Every Falling Star; Coral Reefs; Uncovering the Past


Lee, Sungju and Susan McClelland.  Every Falling Star. New York: Amulet Books, 2016.  978-1-4197-2132-8. $16.95. 320p. Gr. 5 and up.

Every Falling Star is the story of Sungju Lee’s privileged life as the son of a high ranking army official during North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung’s, reign.  Sungju lives in a luxurious apartment, takes Taekwondo lessons at a top school, and dotes on his rare purebred dog.  Shortly after the leader dies, the family’s fortunes change under the leadership of Kim Jong-il.   Sungju’s father announces that the family will be going on an extended “holiday” near the sea (in reality, his parents were being deported).  North Korea experienced severe famine during the 1990’s and each of his parents ultimately left to find food for the family.  With his parents missing, Sungju must fend for himself on the streets.  He forms a “gang” (partnership) with friends from school in order to survive.  Lee’s stories of survival are harrowing: violence, substance abuse, constant hunger, and death surround him as he travels from place to place.  Fortunately, Sungju Lee’s story ends happily, although he mourns dead and missing friends/family to this day.  THOUGHTS:  Lee wrote this story with Susan McClelland, the author who worked with Mariatu Kamatu to write The Bite of the Mango.  Much of the success of this story can be attributed to McClelland, who edited Sungju’s story to make it emotionally affecting without too many “adult” details.  This is an action-packed story that provides a rare inside peek at life in North Korea, and I would purchase it for middle and high school libraries.

Every Falling Star reads like a work of fiction,  The narrative moves along quickly, and the boys in the “gang” lead a life of adventure which would seem fun if it weren’t true.  The seven boys in the gang refer to themselves as brothers, and the relationship between the boys is heartfelt.  The fact that Sungju’s story is written in an autobiographical format reassures the reader that all ends well for him, but we wonder what has happened to the other people in the story (and how widespread these stories are in North Korea).  This book would be an excellent addition to any study of North Korea or Asia because it helps the reader have empathy for those living under communist regimes.  This book is highly recommended.

950 or 92 (Memoir)        Susan Fox, Washington Park School



Wicks, Maris. Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean. New York: First Second, 2016. 978-1-62672-145-6. $19.99. Gr. 5-8.

Maris Wicks, author of the wonderful Human Body Theater, explores the underwater world of coral reefs in this vibrant, descriptive, and entertaining graphic novel. Readers are guided through the coral reef’s vast ecosystem by a small, bespeckled yellow-prawn goby, who covers an array of topics from biodiversity to pollution, making a few corny jokes along the way. Illustrations are extremely detailed, especially when showing plant and aquatic life within the reef. Wicks does an excellent job of making somewhat scary creatures seem friendly; weary readers won’t need to shy away. A glossary, list of additional resources, and bibliography are provided and help aid younger readers or those wishing to learn more about coral reefs. This title is part of a broader series, Science Comics, which includes Dinosaurs and Volcanoes, and more volumes to come! THOUGHTS: For anyone looking to expand their nonfiction graphic novel section, this is a great addition that will attract many readers through it’s impressive, easy to read text and colorful illustrations.

577 Ecology    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School



Uncovering the Past: Analyzing Primary Sources. New York: Crabtree, 2016. $31.32 ea. $313.20 set of 10. 48 pp. Gr. 6 and up.
Hyde Natalie. Black Tuesday and the Great Depression. 9780778717089.
Hyde, Natalie. The Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. 9780778725701.
Peppas, Lynn. The Displacement of Native Peoples. 9780778725718.
Peppas, Lynn. Women’s Suffrage. 9780778717201.
This eye-catching series offers a fresh spin on both analyzing sources and evaluating pivotal historical events using primary sources specifically. The first half of each book covers the importance of studying history, identifying primary and secondary sources, and analyzing evidence with an eye toward bias and context. The second half delves into the event itself, revisits evidence to explore different viewpoints, and wraps up with modern examples that seem to repeat/parallel history. The timeline and glossary are especially strong components of each volume’s back matter. These titles provide a solid middle-grade introduction to identifying, evaluating, and interpreting elements of the historical record: photos, magazine articles, political cartoons, speeches, and more. THOUGHTS: Though not a series students will gravitate to for enjoyment reading, it fills a need in most collections for current, balanced coverage of key historical events. The focus on types and quality of sources distinguishes it from other strong series such as Compass Point’s Snapshots in History.
COMMENTARY: Pages 12-13 of The Displacement of Native Peoples discusses evaluating the reliability of both primary and secondary sources. “The best primary or secondary sources,” author Lynn Peppas states, “are those created closest tin time to the historical event under consideration.” I disagree with her example that posits James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans as a “better secondary source” than Michael Blake’s 1988 novel, Dances with Wolves. As a general rule, a secondary source created closer to the time of a historical event may be more reliable, but evaluating fiction in this way (or even using fiction as a historical source) seems ill-advised, especially for young researchers.
900 (various historical topics)    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

YA NF – Pound for Pound; The Shakespeare Book


Kopp, Shannon. Pound for Pound. New York: William Morrow, 2015. 978-06-237022-8. 288p.  $25.99. Gr. 9 and up.

In this memoir author Shannon Kopp shares her story of of recovery from an eating disorder and how she drew strength in her her recovery by working with shelter dogs, particularly pit bulls.  Growing up in a dysfunctional home (her father was an alcoholic), Kopp suffered from bulimia throughout her teen years and into her early twenties.  In and out of rehabilitation and treatment programs to no avail, she eventually began to turn her life around when she got a job working with shelter dogs at the SPCA.  The loving relationships she establishes with the dogs she works with (particularly pit bulls) gives her the strength to work through her relapses and begin to heal.  In the process she also discovered her calling – working as an animal welfare activist and finding homes for shelter dogs.  THOUGHTS:  Kopp is a first time writer, and at times that shows in the occasional awkward passage.  However, her struggles with bulimia and her deep passion for dogs are sincerely communicated.  Those who enjoy true-life stories of those who face obstacles or those who share a bond with animals may enjoy this memoir.  Be advised: Kopp does not shy away in her descriptions of her bulimic experiences.     

921 Memoir      Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS



The Shakespeare Book. New York: DK, 2015. 978-1-4654-2987-2. 352 p. $25.00. Gr. 7-12.

The cover of this book says it all: ”Big Ideas Simply Explained.” The Shakespeare Book offers readers an easy to understand overview of each of Shakespeare’s plays (and major poems).  A brief biographical introduction to Shakespeare is also included.  Each chapter presents a timeline of the events in the play, a summary of the plot, and a description of major characters.  Major themes are identified and discussed.  In addition, Shakespeare’s influences/inspirations in writing each play are identified.  Most chapters are four pages long, however major plays (Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet,Hamlet, etc.) have lengthier entries.  The text is supplemented by a variety of high-quality color photos and illustrations of Shakespearean productions.  Charts are also included to help explain major plot points and character relationships (for example, the entry on Romeo & Juliet features a family tree that outlines the relationships between the characters).  THOUGHTS:  This volume offers libraries an affordable and reader friendly overview of the works of William Shakespeare.  While the average chapter may only be four pages long, quite a bit of information is included within those pages.  Of particular note are the discussion of themes within each play and the illustrations, particularly the informative charts.  Readers with an interest in Shakespeare’s poetry may also find the chapters on major Shakespearean poems/sonnets informative.

822.33 Literature        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

New YA Memoir – Becoming Maria


Manzano, Sonia.  Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx.  New York: Scholastic Press, 2015.  978-0-545-62184-7.  $18.00. 262p. Gr. 9 and up.

Most of us grew up watching Sesame Street and know all of its familiar loveable characters like members of our own families, but we may not have thought about how they got to that famed street.  Becoming Maria shares Sonia Manzano’s journey from the South Bronx to Sesame Street sharing her earliest memories spanning from discovering her love of the theater as a young child to getting accepted at Carnegie Mellon University for acting.  The emotional abuse that she endured from her alcoholic father, and the physical and sexual abuse from strangers will tug on readers’ heartstrings.  Her family’s desire to create a better life for themselves was a struggle and often didn’t go as planned.  They moved a lot from shabby apartment to shabby apartment often taking in family members as they immigrated from Puerto Rico.  Becoming Maria is a true depiction of the American Dream and will give hope to all students with the desire to reach for the stars.  Thoughts: This is a great memoir of a familiar tv star.  It could be used in the tv classroom, theater arts program, or even in a history or language arts classroom.  The writing hooks readers in with short chapters that lead the reader through the seventies and eighties.  

Memoir     Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School

YA Nonfiction – The Shift; Judge This


Brown, Theresa.  The Shift: One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives.  Chapel Hill: Algonquin. 2015. 226p.  $24.95. Gr. 9 and up.

We all know that nursing is hard; that nurses are often overlooked, underpaid, and way underappreciated.  New York Times Opinion Columnist Theresa Brown, sets out to change that perception in The Shift.  Brown gives an inside look at her day; from when she rises before the sun; to when she arrives at home after her twelve hour shift at a Pittsburgh hospital.  Her day begins with three patients, all with varying types and stages of cancer, and continues as she’s given a fourth patient with an unusual, unpredicted infection.  The reality of how busy nurses are, how little doctors respect the nurses on their floor, and how demanding some patients are, is vivid in this honest portrayal of one day in a nurse’s life.  Thoughts: This is great work of narrative nonfiction.  Although heavy with medical lingo at times, Brown makes sure to define everything for those readers not familiar with medical terms.  This is a perfect book for a student interested in a career in medicine.  

616; Health Care; Memoir          Laura Ward, Fox Chapel Area High School



Kidd, Chip. Judge This. New York: TED Books, 2015. 978-1-4767-8478-6. 125 p. $16.99. Gr. 7 & up.

This adorable little book presents examples of design in multiple mediums and weighs the functionality of each.  Chip Kidd is primarily a book jacket designer, but he includes examples of advertising, signs, packaging, and more.  He rates each example on its clarity vs. mystery.  “Clarity gets to the point … mystery gives us hope,” is how he sums up the difference.  Designers often strive for a balance between the two.  He notes that some mystery in design is often a good thing, but other times it’s just confusing.  On examples of poor design, Kidd offers tips to improve. Kidd’s approach is functional and humorous, easily accessible by readers who have no design experience.  THOUGHTS:  This is a great book to include in a graphic arts or design course.  I would present examples from this book and ask students to find their own examples of good and bad design to add to the collection.  Students who are familiar with Kidd’s TED talk or design work will pick this up, especially because he does a lot of work with comic books and graphic novels.  Students who don’t know who he is will still enjoy his unique perspective on our everyday visual encounters.  Reluctant readers may pick this up because of the eye-popping visuals, small size, and sparse text.

Graphic Art, Design              Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School


Take a Stand – New YA NF – Between the World and Me; Three More Words


Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015. 978-0-8129-9354-7. 152 p. $24.00. Gr. 9 and up.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes this book for his son.  It’s written as a letter to Samori, and what a beautifully written piece. Coates began to write this book after a grand jury declined to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This was his attempt at explaining the world as he sees it; his experiences as a boy in school and his neighborhood in Baltimore; his college experience at Howard University, and his life since.  “Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains—whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains.”  There is fear, sadness, harsh reality, and hope in this work.  THOUGHTS:  Being a huge fan of “The Atlantic” magazine, I have read many articles by Coates and was very interested in reading this book. What a powerful work!  My copy is flagged, underlined, and full of post its. Teachers and students should read this book.  Its commentary on growing up black in America is necessary and important.  

Social Commentary        Rachel Gutzler, Wilson High School




Rhodes-Courter, Ashley. Three More Words. New York: Atheneum, 2015. 978-1-4814-1557-6. 290 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter was a child of the foster care system.  Taken from her mother at age three, she spent her childhood in 14 foster homes over ten years. She didn’t come out of it totally unscathed, but she was resilient, finding strength to advocate for herself and others in the system, and writing a book (Three Little Words) about her early life.  Years later, she continued the story with this book, Three More Words. Ashley seems to have it all: a bright future with a career and speaking engagements.  She was helping other children in the system, and she got her “happily ever after”, but it wasn’t always easy.  She had to deal with issues from her past, and does so with great honesty in the book.  She is very honest about her biological parents, foster parents, the foster care system, and all the struggles she had.  The photos are a great addition, as are the updates included at the end of the book.  THOUGHTS:  I was touched by Ashley’s first memoir, Three Little Words, and her struggle spending almost 10 years in the foster care system, ultimately being adopted by a family.  I was very excited to read more of her story.  This was a wonderful follow-up, and I highly recommend both books.  

Memoir       Rachel Gutzler, Wilson High School

Middle School Nonfiction – Scientists in Action (series); Child Soldier (NF GN)


Scientists in Action! (series). Broomall, PA: Mason Crest, 2016. 48 p. $20.95. each. Gr. 5-8.

Cassriel, Betsy R. Robot Builders! 978-1-4222-3426-6.

Kelley, K.C. Astronauts! 978-1-4222-3418-1.

Bailey, Diane. Biomedical engineers! 978-1-42223-420-4.

Glenn, John. Civil engineers! 978-1-42223-421-1.

Kelley, K.C. Marine biologists! 978-1-42223-425-9.

Rich, Mari. Big-animal vets! 978-1-42223-419-8; Cyper spy hunters! 978-1-42223-424-2,

Sutinis, Beth. Crime scene techs! 978-1-42223-423-5.

Thompson, Clifford. Archaeologists! 978-1-42223-417-4; Climatologists. 978-1-42223-422-8.

Icons draw attention to vocabulary, research projects and text-dependent questions in this new series from Mason Crest. Text is supported with catchy headings and colorful images. Just as Star Wars inspired scientist Dr. Dennis Hong to learn about robots, this series exposes readers to careers that they may have yet to consider. Readers will learn that robots are able to help soldiers in battle, safely explore the ocean and also assist doctors with surgery. If students have a passion for space, they can learn what they can do so they are prepared to apply to become an astronaut or a scientist in the field while learning first hand experiences of space related scientists. A listing of books and websites to read and learn additional facts and a series glossary of key terms and an index conclude each book. Thoughts: The series presents the many opportunities found in science while inspiring the possibilities that students invision for their future.

Careers and Occupations; Science  Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School



Humphreys, Jessica Dee and Michel Chikwanine. Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War. Illustrated by Claudia Davila. Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2015. 978-1-77138-126-0.  48 p. $17.95 Gr. 5-8.

This SLJ star reviewed graphic novel is a harrowing nonfiction memoir that provides an overview of the Democratic Republic of Congo leading up to the story beginning in 1993. Children craft their own soccer balls of paper and plastic bags. During a soccer game, rebel militia arrive. Michel is hopeful that his father, a civil rights lawyer, won’t let the rebels succeed, but there is nothing that can be stopped at the time.  The kids are taken and later cut with a knife while the rebels place “brown brown” (gunpowder and cocaine mixture) in the wound. After being blindfolded, five year old Michel is ordered to kill his best friend. The book is powerful and the resources provide ways that children can make differences in the world.   THOUGHTS: Consider cataloging this book with the graphic novels. Students that enjoy graphic novels might not find the book in the 300’s and they might gain a great deal by reading this graphic novel. This book provides a story of growing up that may be unknown to students.

NF Graphic Novel; Children and War   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School