YA – Squire

Alfageeh, Sara, and Nadia Shammas. Squire. Quill Tree Books, 2022. 978-0-062-94585-3. 336 p. $21.99. Grades 7-10.

As an Ornu, Aiza exists on the outskirts of the Bayt-Sajji empire. Her parents are content with their simple but restricted life, while Aiza longs for adventures beyond the borders of the Ornus’ designated community. Opportunity arrives with an announcement that the Bayt-Sajji military is expanding its ranks, offering successful recruits the position of Squire and full citizenship in the Empire. Aiza’s parents reluctantly agree to let her enlist, but ask that she hide her Ornu markings for her own protection. Recruitment involves intense physical training, history lessons, sparring, military strategy, and a general who rules with an iron fist. Aiza’s scrappiness, zeal, and big personality serve her well in training (not so much in history lessons). With the help of a few key allies, she makes steady progress. When Ornu rebels ambush Aiza’s patrol group, secrets and betrayals come to light and everyone must choose a side. Themes of heroism, loyalty, and identity are depicted through bold artwork with plenty of swordplay and action sequences. The author/illustrator team of Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh include a must-read “Making of a Page” section that has insights into the script, artistic inspiration, and more.

THOUGHTS: Squire is a fast-paced read with depth, and the creators leave the door open for follow-up installments. It is a must-read for fans of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – War

Letria, Jose Jorge. War. Greystone Kids, 2021. 978-1-771-64726-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 4 -6.

With sparse words and dark pen and ink drawings, Jose Jorge and Andre Letria offer a haunting portrayal of war. The book imparts a strong sense of unease and sorrow with war being depicted as a non-feeling, cold presence delighting in the misery of the citizens it affects. The work delivers a powerful anti-war message, examining the sobering human impact of the ravages of war. A picture book best saved for older grades. 

THOUGHTS: Could be used in conjunction with a unit on the Holocaust. 

Picture Book          Nancy Summers,   Abington SD

MG – Xtreme Armed Forces (Series NF)

Xtreme Armed Forces. ABDO Books, 2021. 48 p. $22.00 Grades 5-8.

Hamilton, John. Green Berets. 978-1-532-19455-9.
—. Navy SEALs. 978-1-532-19456-6.
—. United States Air Force. 978-1-532-19457-3.
—. United States Army. 978-1-532-19458-0.
—. United States Marine Corps. 978-1-532-19459-7.
—. United States Navy. 978-1-532-19460-3.

This series focuses on the special forces of the military. Despite their average size of 48 pages, much helpful information and interesting photos are packed into the books. Green Berets (available for this review) covers history of the elite group, training and special survival skills, headgear and weapons, and typical assignments. The Green Berets use their skills all over the globe primarily to meet their mission to “free the oppressed.” Their skills and stealth are admirable, and largely kept quiet, earning them the nickname ‘the quiet professionals.’ They carry out reconnaissance missions, train foreign troops to defend their homelands, and fight against drug trafficking. They are often used to rescue downed pilots, or in counterterrorism measures. The efforts of this elite group are largely unknown publicly, but lead to greater worldwide peace and safety. The book includes a quiz, glossary, index, and QR code for online resources. This QR code leads to three active links, one of which proved to offer even more interesting details about the group. 

THOUGHTS: An impressive series choice for middle and high school libraries.  

356 Military           Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Ground Zero

Gratz, Alan. Ground Zero. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-24575-2. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Brandon, 9 years old, suspended from school for fighting, is spending the day with his father, who works at the Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. He sneaks away from his dad to run an errand when a plane flies into the building. It is September 11, 2001. Brandon’s life has changed forever. Decades later, and a world away, Reshmina, a young Afghan girl, also lives with the fallout of that horrific day. Life in rural Afghanistan changed drastically when the US armed forces came to push back the Taliban. While no one likes the American soldiers, most Afghans fear the Taliban as well. Alan Gratz’s take on the 9/11, attack follows the two young people, alternating between their stories. While Brandon fights for his life as he tries to escape the burning tower, Reshmina struggles with the burden of Pashtunwali, providing aid to those who request it. Reshmina comes across an American soldier injured during a Taliban ambush. Despite her hatred of the Americans, she cannot leave him to die after he asks for help. The move places her family in danger; her twin brother has begun working with the Taliban and threatens to notify them of the soldier’s presence at their home. It won’t surprise any reader that the soldier is Brandon, 18 years later. There is nothing subtle about this book. Gratz had a point to make, and he hammers it home. The two stories aren’t just parallel, but painfully structured to be identical stories – an event in one story is mirrored by a similar event in the other narrative. And Gratz does not couch his opinion that everything the US did in Afghanistan was wrong and hurtful. While the current generation of readers looks for books set around 9/11, Gratz, a master of historical fiction adventure, who single handedly has converted young readers to historical fiction fans, falls a bit flat with this story. Gratz fans will want to read it, but it will not replace gems like Refugee or Projekt 1065.

THOUGHTS: Purchase where Alan Gratz is popular, but readers may be disappointed.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

It’s September 11th, 2001, and Brandon Chavez is accompanying his dad to work after getting suspended from school. His dad, a kitchen manager at Windows on the World on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center, is not thrilled that his son has to go with him today. He has told Brandon several times that they have to be a team, especially since Brandon’s mother passed away from cancer. While his dad is busy at work, Brandon decides to take the elevator down to the North Tower’s underground mall – but his plans are interrupted by the crash, stopping the elevator car between floors. Fast forward to September of 2019 and we meet Reshmina, who lives in a small village in Afghanistan. Her family barely scrapes by financially, mostly because the American army is fighting alongside the Afghan National Army to defeat the Taliban in what is practically her backyard. Reshmina has plenty of reasons to hate their war – her sister Hila was accidentally killed by the American army and her brother Pasoon is eager to join the Taliban, a fact that leaves Reshmina worried for his safety. She keeps out of the way of both armies until she stumbles upon an American soldier in need of help after a Taliban attack. Risking her family’s safety, she offers him refuge at their home. Pasoon, angered that Reshmina wants to help an enemy, decides to join the Taliban sooner rather than later and divulge the wounded soldier’s location. Each chapter alternates between Brandon and Reshmina, and their stories mirror each other until a twist is revealed at the end.

THOUGHTS: Author Alan Gratz is well-known for his action-packed historical fiction stories that are beloved by middle grade students. Ground Zero is no exception and is a must-have for middle grade libraries.

Historical Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Gottesfeld, Jeff. Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-5362-0148-2 32 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5. 

Sentinel guards keep vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, protecting soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice. Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a picture book written by Jeff Gottesfeld and illustrated by Matt Tavares, perfectly captures and honors the soldiers that honor the fallen. This moving and inspiring book teaches the reader the history and significance of the memorial and how the “Unknowns” have come to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Gottesfeld and Tavares explain through enriched vocabulary and powerful illustrations that the privilege and most challenging post to earn in the army is to stand, with absolute precision in every type of weather, at every moment of the day, since July 2, 1937, when the tomb became protected by American Soldiers. This moving and informative picture book honors the past, present, and future members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

THOUGHTS: This inspirational and beautiful picture book targets grades 2-5, ages 7-10, and would make an excellent mentor text for upper elementary or even middle grades. Not only is Twenty-One Steps a moving tribute but an informative text that would fit well with a WWII or Memorial Day unit. Emotional. Beautiful. Very well done.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

MG – Fighting Forces of World War II (Series NF)

Miles, John C. Fighting Forces of World War II. Capstone Press, 2020. $21.54 ea. $85.16 set of 4. 32p. Grades 5-8.

Fighting Torces of World War II at Sea. 978-1-543-57481-4.
Fighting Forces of World War II in the Air. 978-1-543-57482-1.
Fighting Forces of World War II on Land. 978-1-543-57483-8.
Fighting Forces of World War II on the Home Front. 978-1-543-57484-5.

 

Fighting Forces explores the military forces of both allied and axis powers. With several primary sources and informative captions, history lovers will enjoy learning about specific units that fought during World War II. In every book, each unit is featured in chronological order with specific dates the units were formed, the strength, and the areas the units were active including Europe, the Pacific, Mediterranean, and the Eastern Front. Included is a Timeline and “Read More” section with credible books and websites.

THOUGHTS: Perfect for students who already have knowledge about World War II and for those wanting to learn about how both sides of the war contributed at sea, in the air, on land, and on the home front. Well organized and full of in-depth information, this is an excellent addition to a library that already has a full World War II collection and history buffs are begging for more.

940.54 World War II     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – We Are Not Free

Chee, Traci. We Are Not Free. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-13143-4. $17.99. 384 p. Grades 9 and up.

Traci Chee’s National Book Award Finalist, We Are Not Free, takes the reader from the close-knit community of Japantown in San Francisco at the start of World War II to the gradual closing of the Japanese imprisonment camps at the end of the war. Told in first-person narrative, each teen—ranging from ages 14 to 19–brings a perspective of life as an American of Japanese descent, from the growing discrimination toward the Japanese after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the injustices of the camps to the explicit racism displayed when their families return to their former neighborhood. In a novel where credible character development is critical, author Chee shows a wide range of astute writing ability inhabiting the minds of the varied group of young people inhabiting two camps, Topaz and Tule Lake. Sensitive Aiko Harano who at only 13 realizes not only the unfairness of the American government’s oppression of her family and friends, but also the repugnancy of her own parents’ abusive treatment of her older brother, Tommy. Intellectual Stan Katsumoto surrenders his hard-earned dream of continuing his college education when he sides with his parents in being a “No No” person: refusing to relinquish allegiance to the Japanese emperor when no allegiance had ever been formed. Perhaps the most impressive chapter is David “Twitchy” Hashimoto’s, the happy-go-lucky, ever-moving nineteen-year-old who, like several of his friends, volunteered to serve in the military, to go to war. The battle description Chee develops with Twitchy’s commentary is both action-packed and gut-wrenching. Though there are other selections telling of the imprisonment of the Japanese-Americans (in an afterword, Chee advises to delete the term, Japanese internment, in favor of more accurate terms like incarceration, imprisonment, forced removal), We Are Not Free dives deep into what it was like in the camps and how it affected a non-combative community. Works like Journey to Topaz  by Yoshiko Uchida, Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata, or Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban—to name just a few–give readers a glimpse into this ignominious period of American history, but We Are Not Free covers the full scope and does so through the voices of teens with whom young readers can relate. This book tells a powerful story, one that has not always been fully explored, but has a new resonance in today’s society. Contains further readings, some historical images.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: After reading this book, I feel that all the other historical fiction books on this topic are just a prelude. If I had to choose one book to recommend on the experience in Japanese prison camps to a high school student, We Are Free would be the one. Chee is able to reveal the complications of feeling American and patriotic while also feeling unaccepted by and disheartened by one’s government. In literature lessons, students can examine the character development in a short chapter. In history class, the revelations of injustices and wrongs can be debated and discussed.

MG – War Stories

Korman, Gordon.  War Stories.  Scholastic Press, 2020.  978-1-338-29020-2.  231 p. $15.67. Grades 3-6.

No matter how many times his father tells him that war is not a video game, 12-year old Trevor Firestone refuses to believe it. Not when his video game seems to line up with what his great grandfather has told him about his experiences in World War II. So when his G.G. has an opportunity to return to France as the guest of honor at a celebration commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the victory in Europe, Trevor can’t wait to tag along. But even before they leave the United States, there are hints that G.G.’s time in France was not as described.  It seems some people remember him differently and would rather he did not return for his hero’s welcome because they see him as anything but a hero. With chapters alternating between present day and 1944, Korman increases the tension the closer Trevor and his family get to Sainte-Régine. G.G.’s stories of war, which had always seemed so exciting to Trevor, start to turn somber, and when the truth is revealed, Trevor will have a better understanding of the price of war.

THOUGHTS: Korman does an excellent job of taking the glamour out of war for students who may experience it only through video games. Ultimately, this is a well-told story about the importance of family.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

MG – Real Revolutionaries (Series NF)

Real Revolutionaries. Compass Point Books, 2020. $25.99 ea. $207.92 set of 8. 64 p. Grades 6-8.

Braun, Eric. The Real Aaron Burr: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-56250-2.
—. The Real George Washington: The Truth Behind the Legend.   978-0-756-55890-1.
—. The Real Thomas Jefferson: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-55891-8.
Gunderson, Jessica. The Real Benedict Arnold: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-55897-0.
—. The Real Alexander Hamilton: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-55892-5.
—. The Real Benjamin Franklin:The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-55893-2.
Lassieur, Allison. The Real John Adams: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-56251-9
Smith-Llera, Danielle.  The Real James Madison: The Truth Behind the Legend. 978-0-756-56252-6.

This series of brief biographies of famous American founding fathers focuses on presenting facts and dispelling myths surrounding their careers. Infamous for being a “traitor, turncoat, and spy,” Benedict Arnold becomes a more fleshed-out person in the well-researched, scaffolded explanations of author Jessica Gunderson. She succinctly tells of Arnold’s descent from riches to poverty as well as the resilience, skill, and ambition that enabled him to become an accomplished businessman, a shrewd businessman, and a cunning military strategist. Gunderson then sets forth valid arguments to support the claim, “His reasons for his treachery stemmed from personal frustration with the Continental Congress and the lack of recognition for is sacrifice” (26). Arnold’s absolute fall from grace is matched only by his initial desire to uphold the patriots’ cause. The book examines the slights Arnold felt from military leaders and the brilliance and fervor of his soldiering. It lays out the treasonous plot and describes Arnold’s ignominious life afterward. Each slim chapter layers the information nicely and builds on facts mentioned in the previous chapter, making it a simple but thorough resource for young researchers. Colored illustrations enhance the text. Includes timeline, glossary, source notes, bibliography, further reading, and an index.

THOUGHTS: At first read, The Real Benedict Arnold: The Truth Behind the Legend may seem repetitious. For example, the author relates a fact about Arnold’s battle injury in one chapter, then revisits it with a longer explanation or in connection to another point in a later chapter. However, for students first approaching serious research, this technique proves beneficial. The decision to layer in the information makes it easier to digest and understand while not distilling the truth. This slim volume can be used to demonstrate how to create and support a thesis for beginning researchers.

973.3 American Revolution            Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – War Machines Series NF

West, David. War Machines. Crabtree Publishing, 2020. $20.70 ea. $124.50 set of 6. Grades 5-9.

Combat Planes. 978-0-778-76666-7.
Combat Helicopters. 978-0-778-76679-7.
Rockets and Missiles. 978-0-778-76667-4.
Submarines. 978-0-778-76668-1.
Tanks. 978-0-778-76684-1.
Warships. 978-1-427-12412-8.

Combat Helicopters and Tanks is a comprehensive resource filled with information on combat helicopters and tanks. Using a historical timeline approach, this book informs readers of the development of the combat helicopter or tanks through various stages of its development and updates through several wars and battles that have occurred in history. Realistic photographs show the different types of helicopters and tanks, as well as the situations in which they were used. The back of the book contains a glossary and a page listing with the helicopters or tanks mentioned in this book. This book allows readers to see the way that combat helicopters and tanks have changed the way war is strategically planned throughout history.

THOUGHTS: Readers interested in the military will love this comprehensive guide to the specific machinery listed in this book. Readers will be able to receive a snapshot of history, while learning about specific war machines.

358.4 WES          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD