Elem. – Time Capsule

Redniss, Lauren. Time Capsule. Random House Kids, 2022. Unpaged. $18.99. 978-0-593-42593-0. Grades 3-6.

Redniss (author of National Book Award finalist Radioactive) turns her attention to time capsules as a way to remember history. The book has two parts. The first is a story of a present-day girl adding objects to her time capsule (readers could create reasons why she includes dice, a marble, a ticket….then a nightmare (about a terrible storm) and a dream (about outer space)). The second part is a ten-page author’s note which reads like a history of time capsules, then concludes with a bibliography alongside instructions on how to make a time capsule. With these two parts, the book seems designed for use with older elementary students curious about time capsules. 

THOUGHTS: For students wondering about time capsules and what they would include in their own. This seems well-suited as an introduction to history and social science mixed in our memories.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – The Last Cuentista

Higuera, Donna Barba. The Last Cuentista. Levine Querido, 978-1-646-14089-3. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 5-9.

In the year 2061, a comet has been knocked off course and is hurtling to planet Earth. While the majority of earth’s citizens will die as the comet collides with the planet, a small group of citizens are selected to travel to space and prepare to make a new home on planet Sagan. Petra, her brother Javier, and her scientist parents make the cut, but her beloved grandmother Lita does not. Petra and her grandmother have a special relationship, strengthened by the cuentos, or stories, that Lita tells her. Petra lives for these moments with her grandmother and vows that she will remember every single one of her grandmother’s cuentos so she always has a piece of her to share with others. After boarding the ship that takes them away from Earth, Petra and her family are frozen for 380 years inside stasis pods until they reach Sagan. While frozen, each person receives a brain download that inputs all kinds of knowledge so they are fully educated and ready to colonize a new planet when they arrive at their destination. Hundreds of years later, as Petra is taken out of her stasis, she realizes very quickly that she is the only one that remembers anything about Earth – and the plan for colonization has changed. A group called The Collective has taken over the ship and has plans to erase everything relating to Earth and its human inhabitants. According to them, the humans of Earth have made a lot of mistakes, and they do not intend on repeating (or remembering) those mistakes on their new planet. Petra realizes that if she wants Earth’s cuentos to live on, she must fight The Collective from the inside.

THOUGHTS: This book has received a slew of awards, including this year’s Newbery Medal. The Mexican-American main character is a strong female hero that readers will root for. It is a beautiful story filled with loss and hope, which makes it a perfect cuento. A must-purchase for middle grade libraries.

Science Fiction            Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Sing Me Forgotten

Olson. Jessica S. Sing Me Forgotten. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-14794-3. $19.99. 336 p. Grades 8-12.

Isda has lived inside an opera house since she was a baby. She was born with a magical ability to extract the memories of others, and since these magic wielders are feared and easily recognized by their facial differences, she was left in a well at birth to die, standard practice for any baby born with this rare, but dangerous gift. Isda was saved by Cyril, and the only world she knows is the one that he tells her he saved her from. If she was ever discovered, both her and Cyril would be executed. Isda longs to share her own voice and music with the world, just as the opera singers are able to do, and when she meets Emeric, an aspiring performer, she decides to befriend him and become his tutor, hiding her own identity behind a mask. While he sings, Isda is able to use her ability to explore Emeric’s memories and soon discovers that the world may not be as Cyril has told her. Her friendship with Emeric motivates her to explore and expand her abilities and plan for a potential escape from her lonely and unfulfilling existence in the darkness, but a life in the light may require Isda to become the monster the world fears that she is.

THOUGHTS: Sing Me Forgotten is a twist on The Phantom of the Opera, but it also reminds me of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In this retelling, the “phantom” is a young girl who has lived alone her entire life, but when she learns the truth about the world around her, this angel of music quickly becomes a monster and walks a fine line between being a hero and becoming a villain. Readers will finish this one with tears in their eyes, a craving for warm caramel candies, and perhaps a desire to watch an adaptation of the original tale that inspired this new, stand alone fantasy.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – The Memory Thief

Anderson, Jodi Lynn. The Memory Thief. Thirteen Witches Book 1. Aladdin, 2021. 978-1-481-48021-5. 325 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Rosie finds great comfort in writing fantasy stories with happy endings, to compensate for her less-than-perfect life with a mother who cannot remember she has a daughter. But when Rosie’s best friend, Gemma, suggests the girls are getting too old for stories, Rosie, shocked and hurt, burns her writings. Later that night, the ghosts come. When a young boy ghost realizes Rosie and Gemma can see them, he takes it up himself to educate Rosie of her family’s heritage. Armed with The Witch-Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, Rosie learns of the existence of 13 witches, who steal the good from inside of people. Her mother, the last known witch hunter, was cursed by the Memory Thief. Now that Rosie has triggered her own sight, the witches will be aware of her existence and will come for her. Anderson, author of the ethereal Midnight at the Electric, creates an equally luminous fantasy for middle grade readers. The main characters are fully nuanced, and the evolution of friendship is a major theme in the story. The layering of the magical world over the ordinary world is an element sure to pull in readers, as they cheer for Rosie and Gemma to succeed in holding off the darkness. This is the first book of the series, and the ending will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next volume. The main characters are presumed white.

THOUGHTS: This is a top-notch fantasy with three dimensional characters to whom readers can relate. There should be a wide audience for the book, beyond fantasy readers.

Fantasy (Magical Realism)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Before the Ever After

Woodson, Jacqueline. Before the Ever After. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020. 978-0-399-54543-6. 176 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Known for her powerful verse, Jacqueline Woodson takes on a topic that many fiction pieces haven’t touched: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Admittedly, as a recent discovery in neuroscience, the condition may not be prevalent in large numbers of readers, but the awareness is beginning to spread. Middle readers who pick up this book, especially young athletes, will likely recognize some of ZJ’s dad’s symptoms throughout his story as having to do with his professional football career. Although awareness of CTE is important, the story ZJ tells in this book can be applied to any adolescent dealing with change and identity. It begs the question: What is the value of family traditions and memories?

THOUGHTS: Buy this book immediately, and hand it out to all seventh grade football players. In all seriousness, this short verse-novel can be the hook a lot of reluctant readers need into using literature to help explain trauma in their own lives.

Realistic/Verse Novel          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD