YA – Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story)

Nayeri, Daniel. Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story). Levine Querido, 2020. 346 p. 978-1-646-14000-8. $17.99.  Grades 7-12.

When Khosrou’s (Daniel’s) physician mother converts to Christianity in the 1980’s, she endangers her life because of the Iranian government’s restrictions on religion. His father, a jovial, loquacious dentist covertly obtains the proper paperwork for escape, then drops off his eight-year-old son and twelve-year-old daughter, Dina, at the airport as his wife starts a journey that will take the threesome to Dubai, Italy, and finally, Oklahoma. Daniel Nayeri’s Printz Award-winning book, Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story), telling how his family turned from comfortable, wealthy land owners to battered, poor refugees can be summed up in these few sentences; but the flow of the chapter-less pages weaves a tale likened to the much admired, Scheherazade of 1,001 Nights. The paragraphs describing memories of Daniel’s (no one in America can pronounce Khosrou!) grandparents’ home and his parents’ relationship spin into beloved Persian legends and myths and wind up next to pages relating the harsher daily existence he experiences in Oklahoma. Daniel is at the center of a maelstrom as the cover depicts, a twelve-year-old boy with different tastes in foods and specific hygienic customs, wanting to fit in yet also wanting to hold on to the Persian culture he cherishes. A son with vivid recollections who longs for the warmth of his biological father, but is resigned to live with his stern, abusive Farsi- speaking step-father whom his mother marries and keeps remarrying for companionship and convenience, despite the beatings she suffers. As Daniel narrates his life tale with casual familiarity, the reader learns of the ancient heritage of Iran and its reverence and love of story, his difficulties adjusting to each stage of the refugee journey, and his impressions of Americans and life here. Most of all, the story is a tribute to the perseverance and unconditional love of his mother, Sima. In the refugee hotel of Italy instead of lolling around all day waiting for the call to emigrate, she makes a connection with a Texan woman living in Rome who home schools her own children and arranges for Daniel and Dina to share in the lessons even though Sima has to spend hours erasing the answers from the host children’s cast-off notebooks so that Daniel and Dina can use them. Her determination and dignity to make life good for her son and daughter are evident in that scene. Told not as a memoir, but as a work of fiction—for as the narrator tells us, it is not so simple to sort out fact from fiction when dealing with one’s memories—Daniel delivers the truth of his life as he remembers it with humor and charm and not a bit of self-pity. Shifting from present to far past to recent past, he shares his varied observations, thus preserving his precious legacy of storytelling, made up or real, or a mixture of both.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: Like the coveted cream puffs described in one of Nayeri’s tales, this book is a treat for those who appreciate a different writing style and matchless imagery. There are bits of scatological references—the unhappy affect of a first-time encounter with Sloppy Joes and negotiating a toilet with a bidet—but the targeted audience may appreciate and even empathize with Daniel’s situations. Written with a truly inimitable voice, this work is unlike any book for middle grade or young adult this reader has encountered. Recommend to students who love words or like to write, to those new to a place, or those needing to understand another perspective.

Elem. – Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes

Orr, Jennifer. Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes. Capstone Editions, 2020. 978-1-68446-077-9. 239 p. $16.95. Grades 3-6.

Abigail Hensley is a twelve-year old genius who knows a lot about everything – anthropology, criminal trials, even the French language. Skipping two grades in school means she knows a lot more than other girls her age. Abigail also knows herself – she doesn’t like others intruding on her personal space and she has a definite aversion to germs. The one topic Abigail doesn’t know much about is how to make real friends. All of that is going to change, however, when she arrives at Camp Hollyhock, determined to make a real friend for the first time in her life. Like any good anthropologist, Abigail uses scientific research methods and writes detailed notes as she studies her cabinmates for their sidekick potential. Although her observations are off to a good start, she is thrown off from her meticulous plans when a crime is committed in her own cabin – and she becomes the prime suspect. Abigail has to use her research methods and observations so she can clear her name and hopefully make a friend before her time at camp is done, even if the answers she seeks may be the opposite of what she thinks.

THOUGHTS: Although author Jennifer Orr doesn’t make it clear in the book, Abigail could be on the autism spectrum, which is evident as she hates invasion of her personal space and struggles to understand social norms. However, Abigail’s journey to make a friend can ring true for any middle grade reader, genius or not. Her scientific commentary on the nuances of young female friendships are humorous yet relatable. All readers can understand that friendship may not be an exact science, but when the elements align, it can be quite wonderful.

Mystery Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

Fuzzy Mud; Written and Drawn by Henrietta; Forbidden

fuzzy mud

Sachar, Louis. Fuzzy Mud. New York: Delacorte Press, 2015. 978-0-375-99129-5. 181p. $16.99. Gr. 4-6.

Tamaya Dhilwaddi is a good student at Woodbridge Academy in western PA, quiet but conscientious. As she navigates the life of a fifth grader, she walks to and from school each day with her older neighbor, Marshall. Marshall was also a good student until Chad, a new student, moves in and starts bullying him. To avoid a confrontation, Marshall takes Tamaya home from school on a not-so-shortcut through the woods. When Chad finds and comes after them, Tamaya grabs a fistful of “fuzzy mud” and throws it at his face. The mud, it seems, has an awful reaction on Tamaya’s hand and when she learns Chad is missing imagines the worst about him. The mystery is fast-paced as she goes looking for him, followed by Marshall, and the three find out the hard way about “fuzzy mud.” It is actually a man-made rapidly multiplying microorganism gone awry, which readers gradually learn about through alternating chapters of testimony from an inquiry into Sun Ray farm.  Thoughts: The story is part mystery, part realistic fiction, and very fast-paced. It is reminiscent of Holes in how neatly the parts come together. Highly recommended for a quick read-aloud worthy of conversation about the environment, bullying and friendship.

Realistic Fiction; Mystery      Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School



Liniers, Ricardo Siri. Written and Drawn by Henrietta. New York: TOON Books, 2015. 978-1-935179-90-0 60p. $12.95. Gr. K-3.

This is a story within a story. Henrietta is given a box of colored pencils which she says is “as close as you can get to owning a piece of the rainbow.” She then uses them to create a story, thinking aloud with her cat, Fellini, as she includes suspense, new ideas, and the “plot thickens.” Her story includes a nod to Narnia, as a three-headed monster comes into her room looking in her messy wardrobe for a hat. As she joins them on the adventure, they meet another monster, a quiet mouse, and ultimately find what they are looking for together.  Thoughts: Through fabulous language about writing and drawing from the start (“A book is like a world you can carry around with you.”) to following Henrietta’s thinking process in creating a story, this book is a great find for budding writers and illustrators. The graphic format is simple but detailed enough that independent readers will enjoy it as well.

Graphic Novel        Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School




Bunting, Eve.  Forbidden.  New York: Clarion Books, 2015.  978-0-544-39092-8. 217 p. $17.99.  Grades 5-8.

Sixteen-year-old Josie Ferguson is sent to live with relatives after her parents succumb to an influenza outbreak in 18th century Scotland.  Josie’s aunt and uncle live along the country’s rocky northern coast and are as menacing as the stormy sea.  Right from the beginning, Josie senses that there is something wrong with her surroundings.  She is determined to discover the town’s secrets and encounters hostility at every turn. While searching for answers she meets a young man named Eli, who is “forbidden” to her.  Josie eventually realizes that the town is preying on ships traveling along the stormy coast, but she cannot foresee the supernatural turn of events, or Eli’s involvement, in stopping the carnage.  THOUGHTS: Forbidden is a solid introduction to the gothic literary genre.  Although older students probably won’t enjoy the hurried nature of the plot, or the chaste romance between Josie and Eli, middle school students will find plenty to keep their interest.  This book is being marketed to a YA audience, but other reviewers have suggested it for younger readers, something that seems to be “on the mark.”

Forbidden is reminiscent of gothic romances by Phyllis Whitney and Mary Stewart and is completely enjoyable.  The plot is somewhat formulaic (innocent girl sent to live with unknown relatives stumbles upon great evil) but the paranormal twist, with the presence of  avenging ghosts, keeps it fresh.  The fact that there is a historical element to the story makes it even more interesting; the deliberate wrecking of ships actually happened along rocky coasts all over the world during the 1800s.  This is a short novel that will be perfect for reluctant readers and young women will enjoy the “romance” between Josie and Eli.

Historical Fiction; Paranormal            Susan Fox, Washington Jr./Sr. High School


Footer Davis Probably is Crazy


Vaught, Susan. Footer Davis Probably is Crazy. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015. 978-1-4814-2276-5. $16.00. 229p. Gr. 5-8.

Nine days ago there was a fire at the Abrams farm.  Mr. Abrams was shot and killed, and Cissy and Doc, his grandchildren, are assumed dead.  Eleven year old, Fontana “Footer” Davis, is determined to figure out what happened at the Abrams farm.  With the help of her best friend, Peavine, and his sister, Angel, they set out to interview neighbors and “witnesses” of the fire.  Footer, though, is worried about more than just figuring out what happened to Cissy and Doc; her mother is back in the hospital in Memphis battling her bi-polar disorder.  To top it all off, Stephanie Bridges, from the Mississippi Children and Family Services office, is now interfering in Footer’s life after she gets into a fight at school and is caught reading (and writing) about serial killers.  As Footer tries to manage Steph, misses her mother, and tries to figure out the Abrams’ mystery, she continues to visualize the night of the fire, smelling smoke and seeing images of Cissy Abrams and her mother with a shotgun.  Footer wonders if she is going crazy like her mother or if she was actually at the Abrams’ the night of the fire.  Susan Vaught captures the trials of coping with mental disease, family relationships and family services, and the impact of a traumatic event on a young mind through the innocence of an eleven year old.  Although Footer Davis Probably is Crazy lacks in development and tries to balance a bit too many sub-plots, this is an enjoyable read for middle grade students and provides students with a strong female protagonist.

Realistic Fiction         Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

Footer Davis reminded me of Sheila Turnage’s character, Mo LoBeau, from her Tupelo Landing series but is not nearly as well developed a character.  Vaught tries to cover too many issues in Footer Davis Probably is Crazy, and therefore loses focus.  I was expecting Footer to be as amusing as Mo, but she wasn’t.  Her questioning of everything is very realistic (and I loved the fear of Walruses), but the novel shifts too much which causes gaps in the story and some confusion at times.

Series Nonfiction…Essential Lives, Digging up the Past, Sports History, Economics


Essential Lives Set 8 (series). Minneapolis: ABDO Publishing Company, 2014. 112 p. $23.95 Gr. 7+.

Asselin, Kristine Carlson. Martin Luther King Jr.: Civil Rights Leader. 978-1-61783-891-0.      

Boshier, Rosa. Ronald Reagan: 40th US President. 978-1-61783-895-8.                                          

Grayson, Robert. Estée Lauder: Businesswoman and Cosmetics Pioneer. 978-1-61783-892-7.        

Krieg, Katherine. Sam Walton: Founder of the Walmart Empire. 978-1-61783-898-9.                   

Lanser, Amanda. Pope Francis: Spiritual Leader and Voice of the Poor. 978-1-61783-704-3.        

Llanas, Sheila. Jonas Salk: Medical Innovator and Polio Vaccine Developer. 978-1-61783-896-5.

Robinson, Tom. Malcolm X: Rights Activist and Nation of Islam Leader. 978-1-61783-893-4.          

Rowell, Rebecca. Malala Yousafzai: Education Activist. 978-1-61783-897-2.

The title I have is Sam Walton: Founder of the Walmart Empire. This volume was very well written and informative. There is plenty of background information as well as facts about his family and his hopes for the future. His battle with cancer is even addressed. Mr. Walton has changed the way mass retail works in the United States. His contribution to society is acknowledged in this volume, with side notes with quotes from Mr. Walton, family members and other well known people. This will make a good addition to a healthy biography collection. Volume includes timeline, glossary, essential facts, glossary, additional resources, source notes and an index.

Our school has a pretty large collection of biographies. This section is used quite heavily by students doing projects on an individual. If a student was interested in the history of Wal-Mart, I would also steer them to this book.

921, Biography    Kathy Gilbride, North Pocono Middle and High Schools




Digging Up the Past (Series). Minneapolis: ABDO, 2015. 112 p. $23.95. Gr. 6-9.    

Amstutz, Lisa J. Titanic. 978-1-62403-238-7.                                                                                       

Bailey, Diane. Emperor Qin’s Terra-Cotta Army.978-1-62403-232-5.                                                  

Capek, Michael. Stonehenge. 978-1-62403-237-0.                                                                                

Eboch, Chris. Chaco Canyon. 978-1-62403-231-8.                                                                              

Gimpel, Daine Marczely. Pompeii. 978-1-62403-236-3.                                                                      

Lanser, Amanda. Ötzi the Iceman. 978-1-62403-235-6.                                                                  

Meinking, Mary. Machu Picchu. 978-1-62403-234-9.                                                                               

Moore, Shannon Baker. King Tut’s Tomb. 978-1-62403-233-2.

Emperor Qin’s Terra-Cotta Army and Machu Picchu are the books I viewed from this series. Both volumes have clearly labeled Tables of Contents to make finding what you are looking for easier. The books take you through the known history, the discovery of the subject of the book, and then gives some insight as to what sort of legacy is left behind. There are many full color photographs and it is written on a very accessible reading level. I believe students as young as grade three could use them, but they are perfect for middle school. The books contain a timeline, digging up the facts, glossary, additional resources, source notes, and an index.

These books get a lot of use in my school because our sixth graders take a course on ancient civilizations. They were out when students had projects due for the course. Some students will just naturally be drawn to these books for further detail about the subject matter.

931, 985, Ancient Civilizations      Kathy Gilbride, North Pocono Middle and High Schools



Greatest Events in Sports History (Series). Minneapolis: ABDO, 2015. 48 p. $22.95. Gr. 3-6.

Daniel, P. K. Magic vs. Bird in the NCAA Final. 978-1-62403-596-8.                                           

Donnelly, Patrick. Joe Namath’s Super Bowl Guarantee. 978-1-62403-595-1.                                 

Smolka, Bo. Jackie Robinson Breaks the Color Barrier. 978-1-62403-594-4.                                     

Trusdell, Brian. The Miracle on Ice. 978-1-62403-597-5.                                                                

Trusdell, Brian. US Women Win the World Cup.978-1-62403-599-9.                                                             

Williams, Doug. Tiger Woods Makes Masters History. 978-1-62403-598-2.

Readers can experience some of the greatest moments in sports history with this series. US Women Win the World Cup and The Miracle on Ice were the copies that were reviewed. Each book takes you through the background of the team or person, and then presents the events in the manner in which they unfolded. This is a little simplistic for middle school, but many of my lower readers love sports books and having a good selection for them is key. The reviewed copies both included a timeline, glossary, sources for more information and an index.

This series is great to broaden a very focused sports collection. It has topics apart from the mainstream, but high in interest and appeal. Some teachers allow students one sports book for a non-fiction book report, so the series could also be used that way.

796, Sports    Kathy Gilbride, North Pocono Middle and High Schools



The Economics of Entertainment (series). New York: Crabtree, 2014. 48 p. $22.95. Gr. 5-8.

Flatt, Lizann. Economics of the Super Bowl. 978-0-7787-7972-8.                                                     

Hulick, Kathryn. The Economics of a Video Game. 978-0-7787-7970-4.                                      

Johnson, Robin. The Economics of Making a Movie.978-0-7787-7971-1.                                                 

Perl, Sheri. The Economics of a Rock Concert. 978-0-7787-7969-8.

There is a great deal of subject matter contained in these short volumes. It introduces the topics of marketing and capitalism in all four volumes. The books explain the breakdown of the ticket prices, and who makes money on each type of event. Presented in a very appealing format, this series offers side notes, full color photos, and questions that make the reader think about the bigger picture. Each volume contains a glossary, index and a “find out more” section which gives books and websites for further reading. Some of the economics will be beyond the middle graders, but financial literacy should start at a much younger age than it currently does. The most important thing the series does is help students recognize what the difference is between needs and wants. That is a good place to start with financial literacy.

I put this series out on display and the kids just flocked to it. Then when the copies came back, other students were asking for it. Obviously, it is addressing a need in my collection and the entertainment factor helps. We currently don’t have anything in place in our curriculum for which the title could be used, so this series is purely entertainment reading.

791.6608 Entertainment       Kathy Gilbride, North Pocono Middle and High Schools

Middle Grades Fiction…Two Great Additions


Pakkala, Christine. Jasmine and Maddie. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2014. 978-1-620917-398. $16.95. Gr. 5-8

Imagine losing your father to cancer and moving to a new school all within the span of middle school.  Now throw in that your mother can’t make ends meet, and you never see her because she is working two jobs.  Jasmine is struggling to keep it together when she is displaced to a new school.  The first day she arrives, the girls in her class are mean to her.  She wants to go anywhere but the new town where she is living. Maddie, a middle child who can’t seem to do anything right, has just been cut from the soccer team.  Kate, her best friend, is obsessed with anything soccer, so Maddie is pushed to the side.  The story, told from both Maddie and Jazmine’s perspective weaves together a lesson of what can happen when friends take each other at face value.

Realistic Fiction   Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central MS



Butcher, Kristin. Alibi. Victoria: Orca Book, 2014. 978-1-459807-686. 133p. $16.95. Gr. 5 and up.

Spending the summer with your great aunt when you’re fifteen may not sound exciting for a teenager, but for Christine, it is truly a gift.  Shortly after arriving at Great Aunt Maude’s house in Whitcombe, British Columbia, Christine is working in her aunt’s antique shop when they decide to offer a walking ghost tour for the tourists in town. Recently, the area has been experiencing thefts, and people are suspicious. On the tour, Christine notices Simon, a boy who sneaks off to the abandoned mansion, leaving the tour. After following him, she realizes he is holed up in the mansion.  Curious to know more, she follows him and investigates his makeshift home. Does this boy have anything to do with the robberies, or is it just a coincidence he has shown up in town as the burglaries have begun? Part of the Orca Currents series, Alibi is a high interest/low level read. Readers will be able to gather information about the characters without having to follow multiple plots and side stories. There is a hint of romance, but not so much that it detracts from the main plot. Readers will find the straightforward mystery is easy to follow and entertaining.  Without many twists and turns in this mystery, any fan of quick reads will enjoy this read.

Mystery    Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central MS

Light Bathroom Reading…Remaking the John




DiPiazza, Francesca. Remaking the John: The Invention and Reinvention of the Toilet. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century, 2015. 978-1-4677-2645-0.  $34.99. 64p. Grades 5 and up.­

Did you know there is a World Toilet Day?  Did you also know that half a pound of solid and 47 ounces of liquid waste are produced daily by humans?  Did you know that over 2 million people die annually, most of them children, due to diseases spread from poor sanitation? In Remaking the John, Francesca Davis Dipiazza investigates the ever-changing world of indoor plumbing from ancient Rome through future innovations in the toilet.  With illustrations, photographs, and a list of resources, this nonfiction gem is sure to get kids interested in the daily details of defecation.  Coupled with facts on diseases and specific instances in which phrases such as “plucking a rose” were born, the photographs of primitive pots are intriguing, causing the reader to envision themselves in the “squat or not” predicament.  This nonfiction work can find a place in the curriculum with world history, inventions, and environmentalism.  It is definitely a nose-crinkling page turner.

644; Technology   Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central MS

Crabtree Chrome

pearlharbor robotics
Crabtree Chrome Series. New York: Crabtree, 2015. 48p. $23.00 ea. Gr. 5-8.
Hyde, Natalie.  Ninjas. 978-0-7787-1365-4.
Superheroes of the medieval period, ninjas were legendary for their skills, spying, and missions.  They were accomplished combatants and masters of disguises which allowed them to blend in during precarious missions to discover crucial secrets.
Johnson, Robin. Pearl Harbor. 978-0-7787-1376-8.
Details the shocking surprise attack on Pearl Harbor two years into World War II.  As a result of this catastrophic event, America joined the war in support of Great Britain and its allies.
Johnson, Robin. The Salem Witch Trials. 978-0-7787-1395-1.
Investigates one of the biggest and deadliest witch hunts in the history of the United States.
Peppas, Lynn. Robotics. 978-0-7787-1369-2.
Delves into the history of automata and robots and explores the potential practical implications of artificial life in the future.  One day robots could perform tedious household chores including vacuuming or execute imperative medical surgeries in space.

Each title provides cursory coverage of a momentous event or component of life and discusses the impact on the time period and possible future significances.  Vocabulary is typed in bold and defined at the bottom of each page in a call-out box.  Bold subheadings and fact boxes keep each title organized while adding additional explanations and highlighting influential quotes.  Photos and authentic copies of primary sources add to the artistic value.  Back matter includes an additional resource list, glossary, and index.

Various Nonfiction (series)    Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

Scary Places…new titles from Bearport Publishing


Williams, Dinah. Scary Places: Haunted Prisons. New York:  Bearport Publishing, 2014.  978- 1627240895. 32p. $26.60. Gr. 5-8.

It is easy to see why this series is so popular with kids. This particular book centers on eleven scary prisons around the world and the history and facts behind their ghost stories. A particular favorite is the story of Al Capone who claimed to see the ghosts of murdered rivals. He could be heard screaming in the night and was quite frightened.   All of the stories have just enough information to tell the story without being overly wordy, and the drawings and photographs also add to the overall creepy feel of the book.  Scary Places includes 25 titles.  New titles for 2014 include Abandoned Amusement ParksEerie Inns, and Tragic Theaters.  2015 titles include Creepy Islands, A Haunted Capital, Haunted Hollywood, and UFO Crash Sites.  This is a great series for exploration and just plain fun with nonfiction.

Haunted Places (various)            Marian Kohan, Erie School District

Holly Black and Cassandra Clare UNITE…Book One of Magisterium


Black, Holly and Cassandra Clare.  The Iron Trial: Book One of Magisterium.  New York: Scholastic Press, 2014.  304p.  978-0545-52225-0.  $17.99.  Gr. 5+. 

Most people do not know that magic exists, but Callum Hunt does, and he knows that it is evil.  He swears to his father that he will intentionally fail the Iron Trial, also known as the entrance exam to The Magisterium, or school for mages.  Despite his best attempts to fail, Callum is dragged to The Magisterium and forced into an apprenticeship, along with two other students, with an accomplished mage.  Though his mind is set to escape as soon as possible, Callum cannot help but be entranced by the world his father hid.  He learns of the great evil that the mage’s are trying to defeat and secrets of his family’s involvement with the war.  A crippling discovery encourages Callum to devote his allegiance to his two fellow apprentices and the unavoidable battle that will ensue.

This is the first book in what will be a five part series, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I had anticipated.  Clare and Black are an excellent writing team.  There are many, many similarities with The Iron Trial and the Harry Potter series, but it is unique in its own right.  The main character is not the hero but an unlikely sidekick.  The book is full of twists, and the cliffhanger ending will leave readers eager for the next one in the series.

Fantasy            Melissa Daugherty, Sharon City Schools