Elem. – A Voice Named Aretha

Russell-Brown, Katheryn. A Voice Named Aretha. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-681-19850-7. 32 p. $17.99. Grades 3-5.

A Voice Named Aretha introduces readers to Aretha Franklin and follows her from growing up and singing in her father’s church, to becoming the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This book highlights all the hard work that Aretha put into her career to get the success that she had, and shows the ups as well as the downs well. The illustrations are lovely and they add to the whole book. The end of the book has more information about Aretha, going more in depth with her life story which adds to the story as everything, obviously, couldn’t be covered. There are notes from both the author and the illustrator, as well as a list of songs by Aretha Franklin, along with a source list.

THOUGHTS: I liked the overall style and illustrations in this book, and I feel this is a nice addition to an elementary library biography collection.

Biography                    Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Charter Academy

Elem. – Fry Bread; Who Is My Neighbor; Hi, I’m Norman; Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life; Spencer and Vincent; Moon Babies; Fly; Hey, Water; Sweep; The Bravest Man in the World; The Dinky Donkey

Maillard, Kevin Nobel. Fry Bread:  A Native American Story. Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Roaring Brook Press, 2019.  978-1-626-72746-5. 48 p.  $18.99  Grades K-2.

This ingenious picture book weaves a story celebrating Native American culture, in all its diversity, around the deceivingly simple topic of fry bread. Warm, inviting illustrations depict children and families of varied skin tones in kitchens and hearths gathering ingredients, mixing, cooking, and enjoying variations of the traditional food. Each page spread features a heading that begins “Fry bread is . . .” and follows with a concept such as shape, time, art, and history. While the sparce text and evocative illustrations are largely affirming and joyful, young readers are also told that Native Americans’ land was stolen from them, making them “strangers in our own world.” For teachers or older readers, an author’s note provides more detailed information for each concept. The author’s recipe for fry bread is included. Also, don’t miss the endpapers: They are filled with the names of tribal nations.

THOUGHTS: Especially considering the limited number of picture books by and about Native Americans, this is an essential purchase for elementary schools. Middle and even high schools that utilize picture books will want to consider this one as well.

Picture Book          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Levine, Amy-Jill, and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. Who Is My Neighbor? Illustrated by Denise Turu. Flyaway Books, 2019. 978-1-947-88807-4. Unpaged. Grades PreK – 2.

Blues live with Blues in a world full of blue water, blueberries, and blue skies. Yellows live with yellows in a world of yellow brick roads, butterscotch, and sunflowers. Both have been warned to stay away from the others, “We are better than they are. They are not our neighbors.” Then one day, Midnight Blue loses his balance and falls off his bike. Midnight Blue is hurt and needs help, but when Navy and Powder Blue pass by they are afraid to help, so they keep going. When Lemon sees Midnight Blue hurt, she also is afraid to help him but decides to ignore her fear and do the right thing and help Midnight Blue. Soon Lemon and Midnight Blue realize that perhaps they are not that different from one another. Illustrations by Denise Turu help readers understand the division between the Blues and Yellows until Lemon decides to help Midnight Blue.

THOUGHTS: This is a great picture book for character education and acceptance. It helps young readers understand that being different on the outside does not equate to being different on the inside. It also may help adults reading the book with children to see problems in their own thinking and outlook. The book is written by two religious scholars and explains the parable of “The Good Samaritan” in the Gospel of Luke on the last page which is “A Note for Parents and Educators.” I did not connect the story to the parable of “The Good Samaritan” as I read it, so that last page surprised me a bit, but this may occur dependent on your community. The authors also provide questions to consider while reading following the note to parents and educators.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Burleigh, Robert, and Wendell Minor. Hi, I’m Norman. Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-442-49670-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

Right from the start of this pictorial biography, readers are invited into the studio and the world of iconic artist Norman Rockwell. Norman begins telling of his idyllic childhood with artistic talent and opportunity to express it. As he moved into adulthood, he faced the internal contrast of wanting to do his best always and not always knowing if he was good enough. Rockwell’s big break comes from The Saturday Evening Post, and that success let him explore the American world that he saw around him, with a focus on the positive. The illustrator, Wendell Minor, takes on the daunting challenge of portraying Norman and drawing in his style as well. The tone of the story matches those illustrations – and Rockwell’s life – of capturing a moment in America through the eyes of one of her most famous artists. The endnotes and timeline are insightful, but the five real Rockwell paintings and captions at the end are priceless.

THOUGHTS: We have the recent trend in picture book biographies to learn about many 20th century artists in a relatable way, and that is a real advantage to young artists. Gathering a collection of these for a research project in collaboration with the art teacher would be ideal. Using online research tools and creative options to share would make for a meaningful project that hits on all of the AASL Standards, Domains, and Shared Foundations.

Biography          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Wallmark, Laurie, and Katy Wu. Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life. Sterling Children’s Books, 2019. 978-1-454-92691-7. Unpaged. $16.95. Grades 2-5.

Who was the real Hedy Lamarr? Was she the famous, beautiful actress who always wanted to be on the stage and in the spotlight? Or was she the tinkerer and inquiring mind that tried to work through problems and help military war efforts? For young readers who likely haven’t heard the name Hedy Lamarr at all, they will be pleased and curious to see how she grew up to develop both sides. This double life story is interspersed with direct quotes from Hedy as we learn about her childhood passions which came into adult acclaim. When Hedy met George Antheil at a party and discussed torpedo guidance systems, they began a dedicated quest to develop a frequency hopping communication system. The understandable text by Laurie Wallmark and the visual aids of Katy Wu really shine as curious readers can figure out her invention process and how it is still relevant today. The timeline and additional descriptions and resources at the end will fill in the details of Hedy’s world. With this story, Hedy Lamarr becomes a shining example for pursuing passions across the ages!

THOUGHTS: Students who are familiar with the inquiry cycle would enjoy seeing this process in action. Plus, those with a military interest, inventive streak, or old Hollywood fans will all find something to learn and connect with. However, for me, the concept of the patent process and how inventions can inform new inventions caught my attention and made me want to visit the Patent Office resources and share this as one of many invention narratives.

Biography          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Johnston, Tony. Spencer and Vincent, the Jellyfish Brothers. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-41208-8. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3

Spencer and Vincent follows two jellyfish brothers who live in the sea, spending their days spending time together! Everything is going fine, until a storm sweeps one of the brothers, Vincent away. Spencer is determined to find his brother, with the help of other animals in the ocean. By the end of the story the brothers are reunited. The illustrations are beautiful and make readers feel like they are underwater with the jellyfish. There are a variety of ocean creatures, other than the jellyfish, throughout the book. There is an author’s note at the end of the book, giving more information about jellyfish that will intrigue children who read this and may cause them to seek out other books about jellyfish. 

THOUGHTS: Spencer and Vincent is absolutely adorable! The relationship between the jellyfish was sweet and will make the reader smile.

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Charter Academy


Jameson, Karen. Moon Babies. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019. 978-0-525-51481-7. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-2.

Moon Babies is a debut picture book and tells the stories of moon babies as they wake up, eat, play, and then fall back asleep. The story is told in rhyming lines and has a dreamy quality to it. The moon babies eat breakfast from the “currents of the Milky Way,” get dressed, and even learn to walk as readers go through the story. The moon babies take a bath in a “grand celestial tub” and are read nursery rhymes as they fall asleep. The illustrations are beautifully done in tones of purples and blues, giving the reader the feel of nighttime as they read.

THOUGHTS: This book is perfect for naptime reading, or just a quiet read aloud to supplement. 

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy Charter School

 


Teague, Mark. Fly! Beach Lane Books, 2019, 978-1-534-45128-5. 36 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Although this is a wordless picture book, plenty of communication is happening between the mother robin and her baby. The baby robin hatches on the title page, and his mother begins bringing worms to the nest. Soon, though, she encourages the baby to fly out of the nest. The baby wants the catering to continue, and he flaps his wings tantrum-style. While he is expressing his unhappiness, however, he gets too close to the edge of the nest and falls ungracefully to the ground. Mom swoops down to ensure he’s okay but then urges him to fly back to the nest. The baby is uninterested in flying, though, and brainstorms many different ways of returning to the nest, including piggybacking with Mom, riding in a hot air balloon, soaring on a glider, lifting off with skis, wearing a superhero cape, and piloting an airplane. Mom is not amused by any of these ideas, and she reminds the baby that soon, they will need to migrate. Instead of flying, the baby robin imagines biking, skateboarding, driving, taking a train ride, and pogostick hopping all the way to Florida. Mom also reminds the baby of all the predators he could encounter on the ground, including owls. Readers can see that daylight is fading, and when Mom takes off back to the nest, the baby pitches another fit. All of his stomping and flapping eventually cause him to lift off, and it’s only then that he sees how much fun flying can be. He reunites with Mom in the nest, and the pair snuggle in for the night. 

THOUGHTS: Teague’s expressive acrylic illustrations are laugh-out-loud funny, and young readers will enjoy interpreting the story and turning the pages to see what wild idea the baby robin comes up with next. This book will be perfect for building reading comprehension skills as well as reviewing story elements. This title could also inspire a writing prompt, as students imagine dialogue or retell the actions they observed on the wordless pages. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Portis, Antoinette. Hey, Water! Neal Porter Books, 2019. 978-0-823-44155-6. 40p. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

This celebration of water helps the youngest readers understand that water is all around us, and it’s also a part of every living thing. Beautiful, bold sumi ink illustrations complement this simple, straightforward text. Each page contains an insight about water. For example, the young girl observes that water can trickle from a hose, gurgle in a stream, or rush in a river. She also notes how water can be calm, like a lake, or splashy, like a pool. Additionally, she describes water’s many forms, including steam, clouds, fog, ice, and snow. Water-related vocabulary, including dewdrop, puddle, and sprinkler are integrated in each full-page illustration. End pages provide an introductory explanation of water’s different forms and an illustrated look at the water cycle. 

THOUGHTS: This is a must-have for elementary libraries, as it will support primary grades’ study of the states of matter. It works well as a read-aloud, and it’s also perfect for close-up, one-on-one observation. Readers will be drawn to the book’s simplicity, and it is the perfect fit for elementary STEM collections. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Greig, Louise. Sweep. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-534-43908-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3. (First US edition 2019).

This British import is the story of a young child called Ed who is in a bad mood. It began with something small and then escalated. Ed is so busy being angry that he does not notice all the wonderful things around him, like an amusement park, some hot air balloons, and kites flying high in the sky. Deep down, Ed wants to get out of his bad temper, but he is not sure how. Gradually, his disposition lightens, and he puts down his rake to fly a kite.  The illustrator has cleverly shown the mood changes through the metaphor of raking leaves. As Ed’s mood darkens, he continues to make even larger piles of leaves until they engulf everything in the town. Then, a slight wind causes him to change his attitude, and eventually all the leaves blow away and the city becomes brighter as the wind grows stronger. 

THOUGHTS: The clever use of figurative language makes this an excellent mentor text. As a great read aloud, it also is a cautionary tale of how negative feelings can overwhelm us. This text explains mood psychology in terms that young children can understand and is a good discussion starter. A great choice for all elementary collections.

Easy          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD


Polacco, Patricia.  The Bravest Man in the World. Simon & Schuster, 2019. Unpaged. 978-1-481-49461-8. $17.99.  Grades 3-5.

This engaging piece of historical fiction is the story of a boy who meets Wallace Hartley, the lead musician on the Titanic.  Polacco begins her tale with two characters from 1982, Jonathan and his grandfather. Jonathan is a boy who would rather play ball and be a superhero than practice piano. His grandfather, an accomplished violinist, explains how one musician named Wallace Hartley was a hero and showed his bravery on April 15, 1912, on the doomed ocean liner. His grandfather, also named Jonathan, was an accidental stowaway on the ship. He was a street busker who learned to play the violin in Queenstown, Ireland. After his mother died, he was running away from some street thugs when he found himself in the mailroom on the Titanic. He mets Wallace Hartley and Mrs. Weeks, a ship’s maid. Hartley recognized Jonathan’s potential, and the young boy plays for John Jacob Astor, who awards him a scholarship to a music academy. Then, the ocean liner meets its fate, and Mrs. Weeks and Jonathan find a place on a lifeboat. However, Wallace stays on board, playing bravely along with the orchestra until the ship has completely sunk. Jonathan is adopted by Mrs. Weeks and grows up in America.  Jonathan’s grandfather never forgets the courage of Hartley, who “played with grace… grace under fire” and thinks of him each time he plays his instrument. There is an author’s note about the recovery of Hartley’s violin, as well as a photograph of the violinist and his violin. The illustrations are in Polacco’s signature style and make the story come alive. The anguish of the ship’s final moments are captured in the expressions on the passengers.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful example of historical fiction. It puts a human face to the well-known story of the musicians who courageously played on in the face of certain death and shows that bravery can be demonstrated in many ways. This book is a good choice for those who are interested in learning more about the Titanic. Elementary librarians will not want to miss this one.

Easy Historical Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD


Smith, Craig. The Dinky Donkey. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-60083-4. Unpaged. $7.99. PreK-Gr. 2.

In this follow-up to The Wonky Donkey, Wonky Donkey has a daughter, and her name is Dinky Donkey. “She was so cute and small… and she had beautiful long eyelashes! She was a blinky dinky donkey.” As the narrative progresses, more and more adjectives are added to describe the Dinky Donkey. The repetition of these adjectives, as well as the hilarious antics they describe, will have readers giggling to the very end. 

THOUGHTS: I absolutely love the idea of handing this book to early readers. The rhyming and repetition throughout will help them to build confidence in their reading skills. Another excellent use for this book would be to introduce adjectives to young students. Full of potential and plenty of silliness, all libraries who serve young readers should definitely consider this book for purchase.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray; Gabi’s Fabulous Functions; The Good Egg; Sal and Gabi Break the Universe; ¡Vamos!; Because

Keating Jess. Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-29521-4. 277 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

When a book opens with the accidental firing of a death ray, you know you are in for a fun ride, and Jess Keating does not disappoint. Young Nikki Tesla is a mechanical whiz and scientific genius. But mom has warned her before about blowing up the house (technically it was more vaporizing), and this time there are consequences. Nikki’s mom wants her to attend a school for geniuses, where Nikki can experiment to her heart’s content and meet other prodigies her age. This is where Nikki balks. She has a bad track record with making friends; she has been home-schooled to avoid the bullying and teasing. Nikki reluctantly agrees, but is sure she is going to be sent home when the orientation activity requires her to work as a team with the other six students at the school, Al Einstein, Mary Shelley, Leo DaVinci, Charlie Darwin, Mo Mozart, and Grace O’Malley. Soon after surviving orientation, Nikki learns the true purpose of the elite group is to save the world, and their skills are immediately tested when Nikki’s Death Ray is stolen from the school’s arsenal. The seven youngsters take off on a globe trotting whirlwind, attempting to catch up to a diabolical madman who may be hitting too close to home for Nikki. This series opener hits the ground running and never lets up. While not all the characters are fleshed out yet, Nikki is well crafted. Her inability to trust her new friends, along with her damaged self esteem, almost cost the group their mission, but in the end Nikki relies on the group to save the day and the world.

THOUGHTS: An edge-of-your-seat series opener that ends with a shocker cliff-hanger. Readers will be begging for the next book.

Action Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Karanja, Caroline. Gabi’s Fabulous Functions. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-515-82743-6. Unpaged. $27.72. Grades 1-5. 

Gabi and her friend Adi are busy in the kitchen making Gabi’s father a special meal for his birthday. As they follow the recipe, the two girls notice the similarities between following a recipe and functions in coding. The girls input berries, yogurt, and granola, and the output is a parfait. The two even create a input/output machine to “create” the different dishes for dad, who happily gobbles up the “output.” The simplistic story is successful as a way to explain the challenging concept of functions in terms most students will understand. As an added bonus, it features female coders of Hispanic and African American ethnicities. 

THOUGHTS: Consider purchasing where coding is taught, or students have an interest in coding. 

005.1 Computers          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


John, Jory. The Good Egg. Harper, 2019. 978-0-062-86600-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Jory John follows his delightful book The Bad Seed with The Good Egg. Egg has always been good, as far back as when he was living in the store with his 11 siblings. But Egg was frustrated with the bad things his siblings did, and was one frazzled egg trying to fix their messes. Soon he felt like he was cracking up. So, Good Egg leaves home to get away from the pressure of having to be so good. He learns to think about what he wants and needs, and eventually decides to return home to his siblings. Given the popularity of The Bad Seed, this book will have an immediate following. Children will enjoy Pete Oswald’s illustrations, and the cautionary tale of trying to be too perfect will make for interesting discussion. 

THOUGHTS: This will be a must have where The Bad Seed was popular. 

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Hernandez, Carlos. Sal and Gabi Break the Universe. Rick Riordan Presents, 2019. 978-1-368-02282-8. 382 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Sal is having a hard time adjusting to his new Miami school for the arts. He is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days when he meets Gabi, a whirling dervish of a girl who, as student council president and editor of the school paper, knows everything about everybody. So she makes it her new mission to know Sal, and there is a lot to know about Sal. A type-1 diabetic with a passion for sleight of hand, Sal also has the unique ability to reach into other universes, even somehow conjuring his dead mother to cook Cuban food for him. Sal needs to learn how to control his ability before he permanently disturbs the Universe. Gabi is dealing with a seriously ill infant brother. Can the two precocious kids navigate friendship and family without breaking the universe? This book covers much territory, from diabetes, to magic to bullying, but ultimately, the story is about family, in all its many forms. Sal grieves his lost mother, and learns how to navigate his new family with his American Stepmom. Gabi’s family includes her multiple, unique dads (even a robot dad), as well as her baby brother. And Sal learns not all families are the safe haven they should be, and then friends become family. Filled with Cuban culture, mouth-watering food and loud, exuberant characters, this book invites every reader to become a member of the family and enjoy the cosmic ride with Sal and Gabi. 

THOUGHTS:  A must have for middle grade collections. This breathless journey through the multiverses will have readers clamoring for the next book in the series.  

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gonzalez, Raúl. ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market. Versify, 2019. 978-1-328-55726-1. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades 1-3.

Little Lobo and his dog, Bernabé, have a lot to do today, and we are going to ¡Vamos! with them, learning Spanish as we go. This cheery story immerses readers in Spanish vocabulary as we weave our way through the busy mercado. The pages are saturated in terra cotta hued colors. Speech balloons contribute narration largely in English, while the illustrations and insets seamlessly provide Spanish vocabulary in context. Captions within the busy pictures supply additional Spanish terminology. While the plot is  minimal, children could spend hours examining the exuberant illustrations, soaking up Latino culture as well as language. However, the author does not inform the reader as to what country the story takes place. A bare bones glossary is provided at the end of the story, (without pronunciations) but does not contain all the Spanish words used in the book. Readers are urged to look up additional words in a Spanish/English dictionary.

THOUGHTS:  A clever, entertaining way to introduce Spanish language and Hispanic culture to young readers. The illustrations have a Where’s Waldo quality that will engage readers, and those interested in learning some Spanish will enjoy poring over the book again and again.

463 Spanish Language          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Willems, Mo. Because. Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-01901-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Because is a very unusual offering from the author of such perennial favorites as Elephant and Piggy and Pigeon books. Because shows readers the power of a moment, and, like the familiar cliche of a butterfly flapping its wings, how it can change a life. In this case, because a composer inspired another musician to compose, a young girl eventually is taken to the symphony and is enthralled by the world of music and beauty opened to her. Quiet illustration by Amber Ren accompany Willem’s sparse but powerful text, guiding us through the chain of events (and a little luck, too, Willems points out) leading to the heartwarming conclusion of the story. The musically inclined reader will delight in the book’s endpapers, which reproduce portions of the two musical scores which bookend the story. The book makes a lovely read-aloud, but it also begs to be used as a creative prompt with students of any age.

THOUGHTS: A thoughtful story that will surely set young imaginations soaring. Be sure to share it with classroom teachers as well as youngsters. 

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

This is a beautiful book about those unexpected events that change our lives. It follows the build up to a night at the symphony, introducing the reader to everyone who makes such the night possible, from the composer who wrote the music to the event planners, musicians, train conductors, and ushers. Each person is as important as the next, and they all come together to make this one event happen. Because all this happens, one little girl is forever changed.

THOUGHTS: This book gave me chills. I love all the people who made the event happen and how beautifully everything is portrayed. There’s also an online video about the inspiration and creative process behind the book. And be sure to look in the end pages to learn more.

Picture Book          Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

MG – This Promise of Change; Room 555; New Kid; Bach to the Rescue; Extraordinary Birds; The Woolly Monkey Mysteries; Get Informed–Stay Informed (series); The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise; The Stormkeeper’s Island; Today’s Hip-Hop; Pro Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Comebacks; A Win for Women; The Explosive World of Volcanoes; The Selma Marches for Civil Rights; Can You Crack the Code; George Washington’s Secret Six; The Book of Secrets; Shutout; Stolen Girl; Mirror, Mirror; Mind Drifter

Boyce, Jo Ann Allen, and Debbie Levy. This Promise of Change. Bloomsbury, 2019.  978-1-681-19852-1.  310 p.  $17.99  Grades 4-8.

Jo Ann Allen Boyce, one of the “Clinton 12” African-American teens who enrolled in an all-White Tennessee high school after the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, tells the story of her not-so-long-ago youth in this powerful nonfiction middle grade verse memoir co-written by Debbie Levy (I Dissent, 2017). The book features free verse as well as a variety of more formal poems, each well suited to the subject matter. For example, the villanelle, with its repeated phrasings, is perfect for expressing the way Jo Ann’s thoughts circle around as she ruminates about her first day in her soon-to-be integrated school in “The Night Before.” Boyce’s story focuses on the half-year she attended Clinton High School, which began relatively peacefully but quickly erupted into violence. Jo Ann’s optimism and courage in the face of hatred, and her conviction that prejudice is learned and can be unlearned, is at the heart of this moving book. Brief quotes from primary source material are sprinkled throughout the book. There is extensive backmatter, including information on the poetic forms used, a timeline, photographs, information on the collaborative writing process, and further reading.

THOUGHTS: This unusual book is standout nonfiction, a must-purchase for middle school and upper elementary libraries. Librarians will need to give some thought as to how they will catalog this important book and market it to teachers and young people, as it reads like a beautifully crafted verse novel but is scrupulously researched and written to the standards expected of a first-rate nonfiction title.

379.2 Civil Rights; Poetry          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Watson, Cristy. Room 555. Orca Book Publishers, 2019. 978-1-459-82060-9. $9.95. 116 p. Grades 7-9.

This book is about Mary’s love of hip-hop dancing and the extreme guilt and fear she feels due to her inability to visit her beloved grandmother in the nursing home. Mary, who goes by the nickname her Gram gave her – Roonie, spends most of the book practicing for a school-wide dance competition with her best friend, Kira. Also, their high school requires everyone to log community volunteer hours in order to graduate and Roonie is hoping to get assigned to do clerical work at the local dance school but because she was late handing in the paperwork, she was assigned to volunteer at the local hospital instead. Roonie is devastated about her volunteer assignment but she tries to make the best of it until she finds out she must work on the geriatric floor handing out magazines. The sights, smells, and sounds remind her of the nursing home Gram is in. Although she has severe anxiety, Roonie forces herself to follow through with the job and ends up meeting, Jasmine, the friendly woman in Room 555. Roonie learns that Jasmine belly dances, and they form a connection over their love of dance that gives Roonie the courage to keep returning to her assignment at the hospital. Roonie and Jasmine build a friendship over the next few weeks, and they help each other through some of life’s difficult challenges.  

THOUGHTS: This small book is a good addition to a middle school library’s high-low collection, and Roonie’s love of hip-hop dance may entice students with the same interest to read it.

Realistic Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Craft, Jerry. New Kid. HarperCollins, 2019. 978-0-062-69120-0. $21.99. 256 p. Grades 5-9.

Jordan Banks, an African American seventh grader, begins this graphic novel at his prestigious new school, Riverdale Academy Day School, or RAD for short, even though he’d prefer to be going to a high school that was art focused. His parents (mom especially) think that Jordan’s intelligence would be better addressed at RAD and are excited that he got accepted. Jordan and his father are concerned about the lack of diversity in the student body, and Jordan is anxious about making friends with students who are wealthier than him. Jordan’s father promises him they will revisit the idea of art school in 9th grade if he really feels like he can’t fit in at RAD. His fears come true when on his first day a classmate’s father shows up at Jordan’s apartment in an expensive car that looks out of place in the neighborhood. Jordan ducks down in the seat so his neighborhood friends don’t see him. The story portrays Jordan’s struggles with fitting in while remaining true to himself, and it does a great job of showing all of the microaggressions people of color face on a daily basis. This book makes us reflect on our preconceived ideas of race; even Jordan assumes he will immediately become friends with the handful of other African American students. There are black-and-white double-spread images of helpful life lessons that Jordan has illustrated; things like, tips for riding a city bus in a hoodie, how to do a good handshake, and judging kids by the covers of the books they read.

THOUGHTS: This is the perfect book to give to students who claim they don’t like graphic novels. I laughed-out-loud at one of the images because it was so clever. In the same vein as American Born Chinese, this book is a valuable resource for sharing what African American students experience in school and society in a non-preachy, funny way.

Graphic Novel          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

Jordan Banks loves sketching cartoons of his life and dreams of art school, but for his seventh grade year, his parents have enrolled him in a well-known private school, hoping for academic opportunities and social growth (since Jordan is one of the few students of color). Jordan’s dad maintains that Jordan may choose art school in a year or two, but Jordan’s mom is convinced that Riverdale Academy Day School is the best choice. Jordan complies, and discovers stereotypes (others and his own), endures microaggression–and even finds a way to laugh at them with new friend Drew, builds a variety of friendships (of many cultures), and keeps drawing his story. The tale of his first year is full of pathos and at times laugh-out-loud humor, as Jordan tackles soccer for the first time, considers the “meaning” of secret Santa gifts, and more. He reaches a breaking point when Drew is falsely accused of hitting bigoted student Andy, and when Mrs. Rawle (who consistently mixes up the names of all of the non-white kids) reads his sketchbook and wonders why he is so “angry.” Jordan brings to mind all the advice of his parents, grandfather, and more as he adjusts and thrives at Riverdale Academy. He and his friends bring out the best in each other and grow up, a day at a time (well, except for Andy).

THOUGHTS: Jordan is one of the most honest, likable characters in middle school fiction. Many will benefit from reading his story and have their eyes opened to microaggressions, stereotypes, and how to move beyond false assumptions. This graphic novel is a work of art in more ways than one, and a must-read for all middle school students and their teachers.       

Graphic Novel          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Angleberger, Tom. Bach to the Rescue!!! How a Rich Dude Who Couldn’t Sleep Inspired the Greatest Music Ever. Abrams Books for Young Readers. 2019. 978-1-419-73164-8. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

This book is centered around how Bach’s music came to be. Learning about the life of the Rich Dude and his inability to sleep at night transforms Bach’s Goldberg Variations. A story that may not be completely true, we learn how Goldberg was unable to put the Rich Dude to sleep with his music, which in turn kept everyone else awake. Promised a great deal of money, Bach wrote music for Goldberg to play for the Rich Dude, who loved the music and was able to sleep. Bach, in return, received the money he was promised.

THOUGHTS: An interesting tale, that while may not be true, depicts the possible creation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in a picture book format that is easy for students to understand.

786 Music          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


McGinnis, Sandy Stark. Extraordinary Birds. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019. 978-1-547-60100-4. 214 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

This debut novel features an eleven year old foster child, December, who believes she will one day become a bird and fly away from the foster homes that have caged her spirit. After December jumps out of a tree, she is removed from her foster home and placed with an elderly woman named Eleanor, also called the “Bird Whisperer.” December continues to feel her scar tingle and goosebumps that will turn into feathers during her stay with Eleanor while also discovering the perfect oak tree for “flying.” Eleanor treats December well, and allows her to help at a bird rehabilitation center with Henrietta, a red tailed hawk who cannot fly. But December encounters trouble at her new school – mean girls who pick on those who are different than them. December befriends one of their victims, Cheryllynn, and the two become close friends. December continues to discover who she really is, but when bad news is delivered to Eleanor, December decides that she must turn into a bird… and fast!

THOUGHTS: A great coming of age story of a girl discovering who she really is that will warm your heart. The characters are relatable, and the story moves along quickly. Multiple themes are prevalent throughout, along with a subtle reference to a transgender child. 

Realistic Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Markle, Sandra. The Woolly Monkey Mysteries: The Quest to Save a Rain Forest Species. Millbrook Press, 2019. 978-1-512-45868-8. $24.14 40 p. Grades 3-6.

If you haven’t heard of woolly monkeys, you’re not alone.  These rain forest “gardeners” are both elusive and essential to the life of the rain forest. Scientists in Peru’s Manu National Park and Reserve must work tirelessly to track them, painstakingly setting up cameras in the deepest parts of the forest. Author Markle investigates several of these scientists, what they’ve learned about woolly monkeys, and how they’ve learned it. The results have built a stronger understanding of rain forest life and how rain forests could best be strengthened and preserved. “The rain forest’s health is tied to the woolly monkeys, who have to eat, travel through the rain forest canopy, and drop their seed-filled waste to continually replenish the plant life” (35). Markle’s text, combined with the colorful page spreads and color photos, brings the scientists’ concerns to life for all of us new to the species. 

THOUGHTS: Well-presented with maps, photographs, and explanations of the scientists’ work, this book will fuel career ideas of science-minded students who love animals.  

599.8 Monkeys          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Get Informed–Stay Informed (series). Crabtree, 2019. 48 p. $9.95 (paper) $14.86 (hardcover) ea. Grades 5-8.

Hudak, Heather C. #MeToo Movement. 978-0-778-74971-4
—. Climate Change. 978-0-778-74970-7
—. Digital Data Security. 978-0-778-75345-2
—. Immigration and Refugees. 978-0-778-75347-6
Hyde, Natalie. Gun Violence.  978-0-778-75346-9
—. Net Neutrality. 978-0-778-74972-1
—. Oil and Pipelines. 978-0-778-75348-3
—. Opioid Crisis. 978-0-778-74973-8

These books are designed to be informative on their stated topic, while also guiding the reader to understanding information literacy truths. The information literacy instruction is interspersed with the background on the topic, either in entire chapters or in brief sidebars. Because Hudak’s Immigration & Refugees dedicates more space to the information literacy skills, it better prepares the reader to seek out and evaluate information sources. Segments such as “Where to Look” and “Critical Review” establish strong questions to consider when faced with new material. Hyde’s Oil and Pipelines, despite speaking of alternate viewpoints (such as the government), strongly emphasizes the disadvantages of pipelines (even the cover, which shows an oil spill).  

THOUGHTS: Overall, these are helpful sources for beginning background on a topic, but more importantly, for instruction on how to think about information and ideas. Includes Glossary, Source Notes, Find Out More, Index, and Teacher’s Guide online.  Teaching Resources available for download via Follett’s Titlewave for certain titles, including Climate Change, #MeTooMovement, Net Neutrality and Opioid Crisis

Titles Reviewed: Immigration and Refugees; Oil and Pipelines. 

Current Social Issues          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Gemeinhart, Dan. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. Henry Holt & Company, 2019. 344 p. $16.99. 978-1-250-19670-5  Grades 3-6.

Five years ago, Coyote Sunrise and Rodeo (don’t call him Dad), refurbished a bus as a home and began their travels. It is Rodeo’s way of outrunning the memories of his wife and two daughters who died in a car crash. Coyote and her dad get along well, and she knows how to read him and how to behave (avoid melancholy, avoid memories, avoid the names of her mom and sisters). The love Coyote has for her dad is real and reciprocated. Then in a weekly phone call to her Grandma, Coyote learns that the public park in her old neighborhood is to be demolished. It’s the same public park where five days before the accident, she, her mom and two sisters buried a memory box and vowed to locate it in ten years. Suddenly, her need to save that box–and her need for memories–outweighs all else. She must use all her cleverness to get 3600 miles (from Florida to Poplin Springs, Washington) in just four days–without revealing the plan to Rodeo. Along the way, Coyote and Rodeo pick up others who need a ride: Lester who’s reconnecting with his girlfriend, Salvador and his mom who are looking for a new life with his aunt, Val who cannot stay with her family any longer, and Gladys….the goat. Yes, each has a part to play in Coyote’s would-be return home. As the hours–then minutes–count down, how long will it be before Rodeo puts the brakes on this terrifying idea of returning home?

THOUGHTS: A cleverly introspective and appropriately humorous look at grief, family, friendship, and belonging.     

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

For the past five years, twelve-year-old Coyote and her dad, Rodeo, have spent their days criss-crossing the country on an old school bus they’ve converted into a home. They travel anywhere their hearts desire – anywhere but to their hometown in Washington state. They haven’t returned home since the car accident that killed Coyote’s mother and two sisters five years ago. But, when Coyote learns from her grandmother that a park in her hometown is going to be demolished, she concocts a plan to get back home to retrieve a memory box she buried there with her mother and sisters before their deaths. Returning home is a “no-go” for Rodeo, so Coyote must figure out a way to get him to drive to Washington without realizing what he’s doing. On their journey, they pick up several passengers, including a mother and son escaping from domestic abuse, a musician looking for love, a teen fleeing a turbulent home life, a gray kitten, and a goat.

THOUGHTS: Coyote is a relatable and perceptive protagonist, and readers will be drawn in by her conversational style of storytelling. She is also multifaceted, and she is unafraid to share her true emotions. Readers will cheer Coyote on as she races the clock to get across the country to reclaim a piece of her past before the bulldozers bury it forever. This title will generate discussions about friendships, grief and loss, and the true meaning of family.

Realistic Fiction          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Doyle, Catherine. The Storm Keeper’s Island. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019. 308 p. $16.99. 978-1-681-19959-7. Grades 5-8.

Fionn Boyle should feel the sea, should have the ocean behind his eyes, but instead he fears it. Even the motion of the boat that delivers him and his older sister Tara to Arranmore Island makes him ill, a fact that Tara is happy to broadcast. Tara has been to the island before, so only Fionn is stunned to meet their grandfather, a curious, eccentric old man that locals refer to as “the Stormkeeper.” Fionn is about to realize the part his family–one of five families–plays in the history of the island. Each generation, Arranmore Island itself (a living thing that responds to Fionn’s presence by growing, breathing, even speaking to him) chooses a new Storm Keeper. Tara’s “boyfriend” Bartley Beasley has been primed by his grandmother to become the Storm Keeper by any means necessary, since she believes Fionn’s grandfather actively cheated her out of the power. Bartley seethes with anger at Fionn and his grandfather, even as the dark magic of Morrigan is waking to lay claim to the island and fight the good forces of Dagda, who saved the island eons ago. Fionn struggles with the loss of his father, before Fionn was born, to the sea itself–all Fionn has ever wanted was for his father to be here. The longing is so great, and greater on the island in the face of his father’s bravery. Before his grandfather succumbs to memory loss, he is able to guide Fionn to see his own history and accept his future as the new Stormkeeper. The novel ends just as the island has chosen Fionn and Morrigan begins her desperate rise against the island and its people. “It’s not fair,” Fionn says of his grandfather’s memory loss, and his grandfather does not dispute it. But he adds, “your greatest responsibility [is] to live a life of breathless wonder, so that when it begins to fade from you, you will feel the shadow of its happiness still inside you and the blissful sense that you laughed the loudest, loved the deepest, and lived fearlessly, even as the specifics of it all melt away” (248). 

THOUGHTS: This is an enjoyable fantasy that interweaves naturally with reality and will push readers to grab the sequel: The Lost Time Warriors (2020). Strongly recommended for fantasy readers.

Fantasy          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Mortensen, Lori. Today’s Hip-Hop. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-543-55444-1. $21.49. 32 p. Grades 3-9.

The book includes Hip-Hop, popping, locking, free styling, and fusion. The content is divided into chapters, and vocabulary words are in bold font defined on the page and also in the glossary. Cool facts intersect in boxes like the style in Hamilton Broadway show. Colorful images add to the text and demonstrate different dance moves such as the jackhammer. 

THOUGHTS: Additional books in the Dance Today series include Today’s Ballet, Today’s Street Dance, and Today’s Tap Dancing. This books could add to an area of interest to many students that may be lacking in collections. 

793 Dance          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Lyon, Drew. Pro Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Comebacks. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-543-55436-6. $21.49. 32 p. Grades 3-9.

Full color images throughout concise chapters allow readers to learn about numerous athletic feats such as the 2004 Boston Red Sox, 2016 Chicago Cubs, and standout players such as Ted Williams. Important terms are placed in red font and defined at the bottom of the page. Terms include comeback, RBI, walk-off, pennant, ligament, and are also included in the glossary. Students can continue to explore at facthound.com using a password included in the book.

THOUGHTS: Other books in the All-Time Greatest Comebacks series include Pro-Hockey, Pro-Football, and Pro-Basketball. The series covers a wide range of sports and demonstrates the importance of optimism and never giving up. These are also great books to have in the collection that encourage recreational reading. 

796 Sports          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Terrell, Brandon. A Win for Women: Billie Jean King Takes Down Bobby Riggs. Illustrated by Eduardo Garcia. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-543-54219-6. $23.49. 32 p. Gr. 3-9. 

This book relates the lasting friendship between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs after their 1973 historic tennis match and is told in a full color graphic novel format. The battle of sexes and gender roles was put to the test and the full color graphic novel details this appropriately. The book includes the legacies of the athletes. A glossary, additional reading, critical thinking questions, Fact Hound internet site links, and an index is included. 

THOUGHTS: Other books in this Greatest moments in sports graphic library series include Defying Hitler: Jesse Owens’ Olympic Triumph, Lake Placid Miracle: When U.S. Hockey Stunned the World, Showdown in Manila: Ali and Frazier’s Epic Final Fight, Calling His Shot: Babe Ruth’s Legendary Home Run, and Soccer Shocker: U.S. Women’s Stunning 1999 World Cup Win. These books demonstrate the impact that sports can have on world events and social issues. They can be used to encourage sports enthusiasts to learn more about history and history enthusiasts to learn about the impact that sports have made. 

Graphic Novel          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Harbo, Christopher L. The Explosive World of Volcanoes. Illustrated by Tod Smith. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-543-52947-0. $25.99. 32 p. Grades 3-9. 

Readers are in for a fact filled graphic novel adventure with Max Axiom that includes cones, calderas, and eruptions of volcanoes. Artwork is in full color format. Back matter includes additional facts about volcanoes, a lava flow experiment with detailed steps, discussion questions, writing prompts, glossary, further readings, “super-cool stuff,” and an index.

THOUGHTS: This is part of the new 4D adventures with Max Axiom. 4D content includes videos of lava flow in Hawaii, ruins of Herculaneum, video direction for the lava flow experiment, and a quiz. These additions do enhance the reading experience and can be used in anticipatory sets with students to add additional excitement. Presently there are 24 titles in the series. 

Graphic Novel          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Otfinoski, Steven. The Selma Marches for Civil Rights We Shall Overcome. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-515-77941-4. $24.49. 112 p. Grades 5-9.

Important individuals involved with the Selma Marches for Civil Rights taking place in 1965 have their name in a purple banner with their location and time. Featured individuals include: Geroge Wallace, Lyndon Johnson, John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Jim Clark, Lynda Blackmon, Frank Johnson, Viola Liuzzo, and Leroy Moton. The events feel like they are unfolding as you read. Backmatter includes an afterward leading up with milestones for each featured individual, a timeline, a glossary, critical thinking questions, internet sites, resources, and an index.

THOUGHTS: This book is part of the Tangled History set that currently includes 24 titles. The series presents vital events in history presented in an engaging and organized fashion. Most of the primary and individual photographs in this book are in crispy black and white colors. 

393 Social Issues          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Schwartz, Ella. Can You Crack the Code? A  Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography. Illustrated by Lily Williams. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19514-8. $21.99. 118 p. Grades 4-9.

The book introduces readers to the start of codes and ciphers leading all the way to the 2015 hack using malware known as a Trojan Horse. Illustrations, images, and special features add to the chapters. Ciphers and codes have been used by a wide range of individuals from Julius Caesar, to professional football players, classic fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes, and in Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug.” Important terms are place ind a bold font. A bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index conclude the book.

THOUGHTS: The book provides a lot of opportunities for readers to practice the codes that they learn about when reading. A lot of history is included when learning about codes. The book has connections to history, social studies, math, and computer science. 

652 Games and Activities          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Kilmeade, Brian, and Don Yaeger. George Washington’s Secret Six: the Spies Who Saved America. Viking, 2019. 978-0-425-28898-6. $17.99. 164 p. Gr. 4-9. 

Concise chapters with black and white illustrations make up this adapted version for young readers based off of the NYT bestselling book. Readers step into the conflicts facing the goal of American independence that Washington and the Patriots seek. While students will recognize the exquisite leadership skills of Washington, they may be unaware of the importance that intelligence from spies helped inform his choices. In addition, the great dangers that spies faced is detailed in the book. The “Secret Six” is also referred to as Culpher’s Ring. The book includes an afterword, appendixes that includes the pre-war lives of the spies and invisible ink, a detailed timeline, selected sources, and an index.

THOUGHTS: Can You Crack the Code? Is an excellent non-book to partner with this book, which is also featured in PSLA reviews. There are also fine fiction books to add to make a must visit display such as Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac, The Secret Coders series by Gene Luen Yang, or The Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.                                                                                                    

973.4 United States History          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Tait, A.L. The Book of Secrets: An Ateban Cipher Novel. Kane Miller, 2019. 978-1-610-67827-8. $5.99. 248 p. Grades 4-8. 

Growing up as an orphan and taken care of at the monastery, Gabe has yet to leave the grounds. He feels that he has no choice but to leave when an injured man gives him a fancy book to keep secret and deliver to a persona that he has never heard of named Aiden. He has an hour to hide the manuscript, but this does not go as planned. He is helped by outlaws, but Gabe does not expect the outlaws to be women. How can Gabe repay the outlaws and also save the book from possible sinister intentions from leaders visiting the monastery? The adventure will continue with The Book of Answers.

THOUGHTS: This is the first American edition since the 2017 publication in Australia and New Zealand. The series would be perfect for fans of The False Prince series by Jennifer A. Nielsen or Rowan Hood by Nancy Springer. 

Adventure          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Ross, Jeff. Shutout.  Orca Books, 2019. 978-1-459-81876-7. $9.95. 148 p. Grades 7-12.

Alex is a skilled goalie for the hockey team. Chloe, his girlfriend, is very involved with art and acting, but attends his games. Alex is shocked when the principal wants to see him and believes that Alex is defacing the school with graffiti. The readers know that Alex is not behind the acts, but how can he prove his innocence for his reputation and chance to play hockey? 

THOUGHTS: This fast-paced mystery would also delight readers that enjoy sports or theater arts. There are currently 54 novels in the Orca Sports collection. Presently the teacher guide for this novel is not posted online at Orca Sports, but you could introduce the author using his website: http://www.jeffrossbooks.com/

Mystery          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. Stolen Girl. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-23304-9. $17.99. 208 p.Gr 3-8. 

What if you were unsure of your childhood and had memories of being with members of the Nazi organization? You’ve moved to a new area with your adoptive parents, and children tease you for having blonde hair and blue eyes? What is the truth of your history? This is the struggle that Nadia faces and will finally uncover her past.

THOUGHTS: This book is powerful. The backmatter shares additional information from this time period and experiences from the family of the author. Scholastic included a book trailer for this book in the Spring 2019 fair, and the link to the video will draw interest as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRWYmfeevWU

Historical Fiction          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Calonita, Jen. Mirror, Mirror: A Twisted Tale. Disney Press, 2019. 978-136801383-3. $17.99. 344 p. Grades 5-9. 

A lovely princess makes the best of times despite the loss of both of her parents and being shuttered from the world by a mean step-mother. The princess is lucky to escape death and find the home of the miners. Danger comes in the form of a poison apple. This is a pretty familiar fairy tale for students. Some of the parts are familiar, but not most in Mirror, Mirror. In the new novel, the king is distraught over the loss of his wife, married his wife’s sister, and then finally flees the kingdom distressed. Snow White meets a prince who wishes to speak with the Queen about the trade arrangements with his kingdom, before running to eventual safety and learning the true events that happened to both of her parents and the quest that she and her friends must complete. The classic characters are further defined, and the Magic Mirror develops more giving a clear image of the back story of magic. This novel contains continual fantasy and suspense to see how this tale will unfold with perspectives alternating between Snow and The Queen.

THOUGHTS: Page turning and deeply satisfying, this read shows familiar characters with a different take on a classic fairy tale. This is the sixth book in A Twisted Tale series. Students can write their version of the class tale before beginning the novel and compare all of the renditions. 

Fairy Tale, Adventure          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Kammer, Gina. Mind Drifter: Enemy Mind. Capstone, 2019. 978-1-496-55898-5. $19.99. 128 p. Grades 3-9

The last day of seventh grade at Emdaria North Middle School is significant as students take their personality skills tests. They quickly learn their student helper role for the year 2310. While Syah was eager to become a student artist, she was surprised to see that her role would be a counselor, also known as Mind Drifters. Syah will do her job in the MindLinkLab where counselors enter the mindscape of other students. Her best friend Joden has the role to assist in the science lab. The new roles seem to cause tension in their friendship and Kreo, Joden’s lab partner, is unkind. Syah sees a chance to enter Kreo’s mindscape, but it would be against the policies, and she is presented with a conundrum. Regardless of her choices she will have to face consequences, address bullying, concerns of privacy, and explore the realms of friendship.  

THOUGHTS: This is an engaging book. Three other titles are presently in the series: Dream Monster, Wicked Stepsister, and Reject Rebound. If the book is used in a classroom setting, there are questions for discussion in “Talk it Over” and writing exercises with Think and Write” sections. The book also includes a glossary and reference guide which would be helpful to preview with classes before starting the novel. The 4D content includes an interview from the author, Gina Kammer. This adds to the content included in the about the author section of the book, which sets the background for the book. 

Science Fiction, Adventure           Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD

Early Elem – Old MacDonald

Grimly, Gris. Old MacDonald Had a Farm. Orchard Books, 2017.  Unpaged. 9781338112436. $17.99.  PreK – 2.

Grimly takes us on a delightful romp through the barnyard in his version of the familiar song. We first meet the farmer, wearing a flower in his hat, as he ambles into the barn to gather some eggs from the chickens. As he does his chores around the farm, MacDonald meets a variety of farm animals, including a donkey.  After finishing his work, the farmer returns to the barn on his tractor with all the animals parading behind him, only to find that a ferocious bear is in the barn. The farmer and the animals run for their lives to the refrain of a Grr-Grr here and Grr-Grr there. The illustrations are the winning element of this book and tell a story on their own, separate from the lyrics.  For instance, there is a rationale for the order in which the animals are mentioned. The farmer rides the donkey so he can carry corn to feed the pigs and then helps the runt of the litter find food elsewhere. Grimly uses watercolors and a whimsical style that is sure to make the reader laugh out loud. The drawings of the energetic farmer show him in constant motion as he performs his chores or plays the fiddle.  Readers will find it hard not to tap their feet or hum along with the story. The illustrations are detailed and children will enjoy examining them closely to catch some nuance, such as what the cat did with the mouse or to see a chick peeking out of an egg. In the back matter, the author discusses the origin of the song and then describes his own childhood growing up on a farm in Nebraska. There are some nostalgic family photographs and a copy of the lyrics and music. THOUGHTS:  This is a gem of a book that is perfect for farm-themed storytimes. Music teachers will want to include this in their units on American songs. A great and timeless addition to all elementary library collections.

782.42, Vocal Music       Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

Picture Books – The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes; Snowflake in my Pocket; Miguel & the Grand Harmony

Compestine, Ying Chang, The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-4197-2542-5. 32pp. $17.99. Gr K-3.

This variation on the traditional Hans Christian Anderson tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes features nine-year-old boy emperor Ming Da. Ming Da’s corrupt advisors think he is too young to rule, so they take advantage of him, stealing silks, rice, jewels, and gold. When he looks outside the palace windows, Ming Da sees poor, hungry children begging in the streets. He longs to help them, but it isn’t until his tailors come with his new robes for the Chinese New Year parade that Ming Da hatches his plan. Instead of wearing the ornate robes they initially present, Ming Da enlists the tailors’ help in sewing together old rice sacks decorated with vegetable juices. When he appears in front of his advisors wearing these sacks, he explains that they are magical and that only honest people will be able to see their true splendor. Wanting to mask their corruption, the advisors gush about the rice sacks and agree to have the tailors design magical robes for them as well. One by one, the advisors try on their new robes, and they each want to look more splendid than the others. They bring back the silks, rice, jewels, and gold to finance the creation of the supposedly elaborate robes. Ming Da uses the rice, silks, and gold to feed and dress the poor, and on the morning of the New Year’s Day parade, the advisors march behind the young emperor wearing their own rice sack robes. Amongst themselves, they keep up the charade of complementing each other on the clothing’s splendor, but a young boy in the crowd points and laughs at their rice sacks, and the embarrassed advisors flee the country. Ming Da replaces them with honest ministers and rules wisely and fairly for many years. David Roberts’s vibrant pen and ink and watercolor illustrations feature intricate details such as Chinese scrolls and latticework, and the ornate details pop against plain white backgrounds. Careful readers will also enjoy searching for the emperor’s pet cricket and mouse who appear in almost every spread. A note on the final pages describes the author’s personal history with this fairytale and her childhood in China that inspired this retelling.  THOUGHTS:  This retelling will fit nicely with fairytale units and activities where students compare an original fairytale and a variation. Also use it for Chinese New Year celebrations and storytimes.

Picture Book    Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Bright, Rachel. Snowflake in My Pocket. Kane Miller, A Division of EDC Publishing: 2017. 978-1-61067-551-2. 32pp. $12.99. Gr K-2.

This is the gentle story of a wise old bear who has seen many seasons and a young squirrel who has seen only three. Together, the pair explore every corner of their forest home, and one night, Bear declares that the snow is on its way. Squirrel has never seen snow before, and he is overjoyed when he sees a wintery wonderland outside his tree the next morning. He can’t wait to play outside with Bear, but Bear has come down with a cold and must rest in bed. Squirrel promises to have fun for both of them and heads outside for a day of rolling, making snow angels, and building snow bears. Even though Squirrel has fun, he still misses his friend and decides to catch a snowflake to take home to Bear. He finds the perfect one, puts it in his pocket, and heads home. But, when he tries to show Bear the snowflake, there is nothing in his pocket. Bear tenderly explains that snow comes and goes, but other things, like their love for one another, last forever. Snowy scenes pop in Yu Rong’s papercut art, and her detailed illustrations ensure children will notice subtle details with each repeated reading. THOUGHTS: This title is perfect for snowy storytimes, and it could also be used to jumpstart discussions of students’ favorite snowy day activities. Pair this with Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County

 

De la Pena, Matt.  Miguel and the Grand Harmony.  Disney Press, 2017. 978148478149. Unpaged. $17.99.  Gr. K-4.

This beautifully crafted book tells the story of a boy called Miguel who lives in a Mexican village and yearns to play music.  Inspired by the Disney Pixar film Coco, it is told in first person by the muse of music called La Música, who is depicted as a fairy by illustrator Ana Ramírez, an artist at the Pixar studios. De la Pena begins this story by telling the reader how music shapes and is a part of people’s lives in a wedding, quinceañera or a funeral and keeps “gray at bay.”  Músicos play in the village, where we meet the boy watching the musicians, but who are shooed away by his abuelita who states that their music will upset “Madame Coco,” an old woman in a wheelchair.  Unknown to his family, the boy has an attic room where he “plays” a broomstick guitar to recorded music.  Músicos again perform in the village and the boy is enraptured with the sound. Once again his abuelita chases them away.  The boy finds a guitar and begins to teach himself how to play.  The music he creates appears to bring happiness to Madame Coco as she smiles with delight at the boy’s music.  Ramirez’s drawings depict a Mexican village and are done in bright colors with lots of details.  On several pages, she has placed vibrantly colored flowers and music notes, which are small in the beginning of the story, but are huge by the end when the boy plays the guitar.  This lavishly illustrated book is a delight to the eyes. De la Pena has created a book that shows us the importance of music in our world and how it colors and brings harmony to our lives.  This book stands alone for the most part, but there are some questions left unanswered that might be answered in the film. Why is the boy’s abuelita concerned about the music upsetting Madame Coco?  Who is Madame Coco?  Who is the man that played music to “his little girl”? THOUGHTS: This book will be popular with readers who have seen the film.  It will also be useful for music teachers as a read aloud and will inspire young musicians.  The art in this book may make it a Caldecott contender.  De la Pena’s book is a worthwhile purchase and will add diversity to elementary collections.

Picture Book     Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

Elementary – Hello, Spring; Sheep Won’t Sleep; Soldier Song; The Quest for Z

Rotner, Shelley. Hello Spring. Holiday House, 2017. 9780823437528. $16.95. 32p. Gr. K-2.

This book welcomes the arrival of spring with plenty of photographs on every page spread. The story progresses through early spring’s melting snow, to late spring’s arrival of dogwood blossoms, and all the way to the first day of summer and garden vegetables sprouting. Certain words are in a larger type size throughout the book (mostly verbs, but not always) and there is a small glossary on the last page. THOUGHTS: This picture book would be a nice addition to your library. It is similar to other season picture books you probably already have, but the children in the photographs in this book are diverse.

Picture Book                   Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

 

Cox, Judy. Sheep Won’t Sleep: Counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s. Holiday House, 2017. 978-0-8234-3701-6. Unpaged. $16.95. Gr. K-3.

No matter what she tries, Clarissa can’t sleep. Why not try the old standby, counting sheep? She counts 10 sheep and before she knows it they are hanging out in her bedroom! “Try pairs of alpacas,” advise the sheep, so Clarissa counts colorful pairs of alpacas in twos. When this still doesn’t work, she tries patterned llamas in fives and groups of yaks in tens who wear “…woolly coats of many colors…like a wardrobe of winter sweaters.” With a cast of characters crowding her room, Clarissa uses basic addition and subtraction skills to “unwind” for a night of sleep (she unravels the animals into a giant ball of colorful, patterned yard). What to do with a giant ball of colorful yarn? Why get out knitting needles of course! The last pages show Clarissa peacefully sleeping under a new brightly patterned quilt. Cox’s story and illustrator Nina Cuneo’s pen and digital ink illustrations create a fun, brightly colored math-themed bedtime read. THOUGHTS: Highly versatile–use in math class, at bedtime, or with any group of animal lovers.

Picture Book       Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District

 

Levy, Debbie. Soldier Song. Disney Press, 2017. 9781484725986. $18.99. 80p. Gr. 2-5.

The Battle of Fredericksburg involved the largest number of soldiers of any battle during the Civil War. It was also a low point for the Union Army since more than 12,000 young men were wounded or killed with another 5,300 being wounded or killed on the Confederate side. After the battle, the soldiers camped on either side of the Rappahannock River to wait out the winter months neither side wanting to give up land. Due to the geography of the area, sounds carried very well from one side of the river to the other, especially the music that both sides used as both a time telling device (like, Reveille and dinnertime) and for entertainment. The divided armies could hear each other songs and would taunt each other by volleying back and forth between different patriotic songs. One day someone started playing the song, “Home, Sweet Home” and both sides joined in. That song and its message of home so touched the young men that they cheered for over half-an-hour. One soldier said in a letter sent home that if the river didn’t separate the two armies they would have come together after that song and settled the war right then. This story includes primary source Civil War letter snippets and song lyrics, in addition to the further information in the back of the book about The Battle of Fredericksburg and the history of the song, “Home, Sweet Home.” THOUGHTS: I loved this book. Not only did I learn facts about the Battle at Fredericksburg, but I walked away feeling hopeful about people. This book is great not just as a positive message about coming together even though we have differing opinions, but also the power of music to bridge the gaps between us. This is a great addition to any library or music teacher’s classroom library. The book includes web links to listen to the songs mentioned in the book.

Historical Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Pizzoli, Greg. The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon. Viking, 2017. 978-0-670-01653-2.  

Another nonfiction winner from the author/illustrator who brought us Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower. Greg Pizzoli amazes readers with the life of Percy Fawcett, daring Amazonian explorer and man of mystery. Fawcett was born into a British family of adventurers and took on his own explorations after a military career and training with the Royal Geographical Society in London. He explored in Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru, charting then-unmapped territories and defining borders of r these nations. His South American travels met with many dangers, from aggressive anacondas to equally aggressive native groups, but Fawcett’s quick thinking and bravery usually won out and he completed several missions while making native allies along the way. It was from these people that he first heard of a legendary ancient city in the Amazon; Fawcett referred to the city as “Z” and imagined “…a paradise of grand temples and palaces carved from stone, hidden from modern man deep within the jungle.” In April 1925, Fawcett set off to find Z with only his son Jack, aged 21, Jack’s best friend Raleigh Rimell, basic provisions, a few local guides, and the financial support of several newspapers to whom he sold his story which was carried in snippets by local runners. Fawcett and his party were never seen again. Since Fawcett’s fateful trip in 1925, over 100 people have set off on quests to find Fawcett, or perhaps even Z. None have discovered his fate and some have even disappeared themselves. Pizzoli used a variety of sources including newspaper articles from 1925 and several books that have been written about Fawcett. It’s worth noting that one of Pizzoli’s sources, David Grann’s 2005 “New Yorker” article, is fascinating and would make excellent continued reading for mature readers. Pizzoli’s unusual and enjoyable illustrations provide some comic relief throughout the text. Back matter includes an Author’s Note, information on other Fawcett hunters, a glossary, and selected sources. THOUGHTS: So much more than just a biography, this book will be enjoyed by any reader who likes a little adventure.

910.92                  Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District

YA FIC – I Never; The Way It Hurts

Hopper, Laura. I Never. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-328-66378-8. 304 p. Gr. 10 and up.

When Janey’s parents announce their divorce while on a fabulous vacation, her world is rocked. She used to know who she was, but now she’s not so sure. Add in golden boy Luke Hallstrom, and Janey realizes she has a lot to learn. Self-confidence becomes an issue Janey never realized she had as she experiences many firsts. Navigating uncharted territories (for her), Janey learns how to be who she wants with her family, her friends, and her boyfriend.   THOUGHTS: As an adult who works in a high school, I was uncomfortable at times while reading this book. I’m not saying I’m totally naive about what goes on, but I don’t necessarily want to read the details. Saying this book doesn’t shy away from the details is an understatement. Though I’ve never read it, Judy Blume’s Forever has stood the test of time as a challenged modern classic. I recommend you read I Never and gauge your audience before adding it to your school library. Descriptions of casual sex make this more suited for mature readers.  

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Blount, Patty. The Way It Hurts. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1-492-63278-8. 352 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Dual narrators Eli and Kristen could not be more opposite. Eli is trying to jumpstart his rock career in a band while Kristen stars in her high school musical. Together they take center stage in the back and forth banter of social media misunderstanding.  Off the stage, both teens are dealing with issues in their own lives.  Eli is a protective brother to his autistic sister, while Kristen is navigating some issues with her family. When Kristen tries to diversify her musical resume by joining Eli’s band, sparks fly but not always in a good way.  THOUGHTS: I have enjoyed several of Blount’s character-driven books. Readers looking for a little music, a few family issues, and some social media drama will enjoy this one. As Eli and Kristen navigate their new fame and friendship, they each have some growing up to do and some big decisions to make about the future.   

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

MS Fiction – Guitarist Wanted; Snow & Rose; Well That Was Awkward; Rosemarked

Brezenoff, Steve. Guitarist Wanted (Boy Seeking Band Series) Capstone Press, 2017.  978-1-4965-4448-3. 96 p. $19.54. Gr 5-8.

Finding just the correct members for a band is challenging for Terence Kato. Moving is difficult enough, but now he needs to add members to the band that have different skills or backgrounds. The book concludes with trivia regarding music terms to see if you would make the band.  THOUGHTS: Students will appreciate the fast pace story and look forward to  reading the Boy Seeking Band series.

Realistic     Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

Martin, Emily Winfield. Snow and Red. Random House, 2017. 978-0-533-53818-2. $17.99. 224 p. Gr. 4-7

Life drastically changes when their father never returns from the woods. Their mother is distraught, and their lavish lifestyle is exchanged for a little dwelling in the woods. While in the woods the sisters come across a goblin. Snow’s birthday wish is for everything to go back to the way it was before. Shortly after, Snow and Rose save a bear stuck in a hunting trap. Also in the woods, they meet The Librarian of unique objects and Ivo, an underground dwelling boy. What objects will they find and what happens to their new friends?  THOUGHTS: The illustrations and enchanting chapter artwork are sure to draw in the most reluctant reader and add additional excitement to the readers that are naturally drawn to fairy tales.

Fantasy, Fairy Tale    Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

Vail, Rachel. Well That Was Awkward. Viking, 2017. 9780670013081. $16.99. 314p. Gr. 5-8.

Gracie and Sienna are best friends. Gracie realizes she has feelings for a classmate, AJ, and is upset to find out through their good friend, Emmett, that AJ likes Sienna. Emmett and Gracie have known each other since they were young, and Gracie doesn’t realize that Emmett has a crush on her. All she knows is that her friend, Sienna, needs her help crafting the perfect witty texts to AJ. It breaks Gracie’s heart to help her friend build a relationship with the boy she has a crush on, but she does it because she is a good friend. It makes her feel even worse when AJ’s return texts are romantically funny. Unbeknownst to them, Emmett is the one writing AJ’s return texts because AJ doesn’t know what to say. To complicate matters, Gracie is living in the shadow of a sister, Bret, that passed away before Gracie was born. She feels tremendous pressure to be the perfect daughter and keep her parents happy.  THOUGHTS: This is a great middle-grade retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac. I’m always looking for good books for my 7th graders, and I was happy to have found this one that has realistic banter and situations.

Realistic Fiction            Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Blackburne, Livia. Rosemarked. Hyperion, 2017. 978-148478855-4 390p. $17.99.  Gr. 6 and up.

Zivah is the youngest healer her village has ever seen.  When an outbreak of the Rose Plague breaks out among the soldiers stationed in her village, of course, she has to help.  When she becomes infected, she survives but is “Rose Marked,” meaning she will live for only a short time longer and is contagious.  Dineas is a soldier who was captured by the Amparans and tortured.  He also gets the plague, but survives as “Umber Marked.” He is immune to the Rose Plague.  Zivah and Dineas meet under stressful circumstances and do not like each other, yet they take on a mission to go to the capital city to try to help overthrow the Amparans.  There is much intrigue and deception involved.  THOUGHTS: This is a very smart book that made me marvel at its cleverness at how quickly I was involved in this world.  Fans of The Ember in the Ashes will enjoy this one.

Fantasy      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Blackburne, Livia. Rosemarked.  Hyperion. 2017. 978-1-48478-855-4. 390 p.  $17.99. Gr. 6 and up.

A tale of political intrigue and espionage told in the alternating voices of two teens living under an oppressive regime.  Zivah is a gifted healer who has trained her entire life to reach the level of a master.   As she celebrates her achievement, a battalion of the occupying Amparan Army falls ill with rose plague, the contagious disease that kills most who contract it within a few days.  A lucky few survive for a few more years, but they are “rosemarked“ with red blotches,  contagious and forced to live apart from the general population.  The luckiest few survive the disease and become “umbertouched”, covered with dark spots that indicate the person is completely cured and immune to further infection.  Zivah herself falls to the disease, rosemarked and destined for a lonely and uncertain future. But she is remembered by the Amparan general whose life she saved; he rewards her with an offer to live in the capital and train with the medical experts there.  As she ponders that offer, she meets Dineas, a young warrior from the rebel Shihadi tribe, who has escaped from the Amparan prisons.  Umbertouched after his bout with rose plague, he is now on a quest for vengeance against the Amparan leaders. The two teens, so different in temperament and outlook are brought together by their tribal leaders to fight against the empire. Together, they travel to the capital to spy on and sabotage the rulers. They come to rely heavily on each other and a strong attraction begins to form as they work on their dangerous mission. Rosemarked is the first book in a new political fantasy/adventure series.  The novel is slow to start but builds in intensity as the teens go deep undercover to strike against the oppressive regime. The novel explores such themes as social and racial prejudices, medical ethics and the fight of a conquered people against oppression.  There is solid character development with heroes and villains who are nuanced and fully fleshed out individuals, each with positive and negative traits that humanize them and make them believable.  THOUGHTS: Recommended for fans of tales such as The False Prince or Ember in the Ashes. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers waiting eagerly for the next volume.  

Fantasy; Adventure           Nancy Summers, Abington  School District

Picture Books – Masterpiece Mix; Bizzy Mizz Lizzie; Bob, Not Bob!; La La La

Munro, Roxie.  Masterpiece Mix.  Holiday House, 2017. 978-0-8234-3699-6. $16.95. Unpaged. Gr. K-3.

The first person narrator gets ready to make a new painting but is at a loss as to what kind of painting to make:  still-life, portrait, landscape? The gorgeously illustrated pages show examples of each type of painting, introducing youngsters to well-known paintings by famous artists. Our artist’s resultant painting, a double-page spread at the end of the story, is a Where’s Waldo type cityscape, cleverly incorporating all the paintings in the story. The afterward pages provide a key to the 37 paintings used in the book, as well as a brief introduction to the artists responsible.  THOUGHTS: The simple, sparse text of the book is geared to a young reader, but the key at the back of the book is written for a much older reader. This is a lovely book and fine introduction to art, best used as a shared journey between adult and child.   

Picture Book        Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Shannon, David.  Bizzy Mizz Lizzie. Blue Sky Press, 2017.  978-0-545-61943-1. $16.99. Unpaged. PreK – 2.

Little Lizzie is one busy bee. She studies hard, plays hard, and crams her life full of activities, at which she strives to excel. Her best friend, Lazy Mizz Daizy, encourages Lizzy to slow down and smell the flowers, but Lizzie just can’t relax. However, Lizzie finally takes on one task too many. Striving to win the spelling bee and meet the Queen Bee, she studies and studies without break, until she falls asleep during the bee. Waking up three days later, Lizzie finally goes to the garden with Daizy, where the two little bees meet the queen, who teaches Lizzie that taking time to do nothing makes one a better bee. THOUGHTS:  A gentle tale with a message that is always good to hear, but without the rollicking humor, one expects from Shannon’s books.   

Picture Book     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

 

Vernick, Audrey, Elizabeth Scanlon, and Matthew Cordell. Bob, not Bob! Disney-Hyperion, 2017. 978-148472302-9. $17.99. Unpaged. Gr. K-2.

When the subtitle states, “To be read as though you have the worst cold ever,” the readers should know they are in for a humorous sick day. Indeed, Little Louie is feeling lousy, and all he wants is his mother. Alas, yelling for mom sounds a lot like a call to the faithful pet, a dog named Bob! The confusion continues until Louie is able to find the cure he needs and include Bob and Bob (Mom!). While the text is clever and quick, the illustrations by Matthew Cordell prove to be the perfect ink and watercolor compliment. The frustration of Louie mixed with the confusion of Bob and the exhaustion of Mom leads to plenty of real entertainment. The endpapers and the font choice (with a heart in the Bob for Mom) show details that encourage repeated reading and enjoyment for the ill and healthy alike.  THOUGHTS: Would work to compare well with Martha Speaks books, and the illustrations of William Steig or Quentin Blake. Also allows readers to practice reading with meaning, with expression, and with humor!

Picture Book     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

DiCamillo, Kate. La La La. Candlewick Press, 2017: ISBN 978-0-7636-5833-5. 72pp. $17.99. Gr K-3.

This nearly wordless picture book begins with a small girl standing in a spotlight. She sings a single note: La. She continues singing for a bit, until she realizes she’s singing all alone. Some falling autumn leaves catch her attention and draw her outside where she continues her song. She sings to the leaves, but there is no response. She also tries singing to the pond, the plants, and the trees but still receives no answer. Feeling discouraged and alone, she goes inside, but when the moon rises, she tries singing to it too. Even though she waves her arms and climbs a ladder to be closer to the moon, it doesn’t respond. The lonely girl falls asleep but is awakened by a resounding La: the moon’s triumphant answer. Under a sky full of stars, the girl and the moon call back and forth, each savoring the sense of connection with another. This simple story is brought to life through Jaime Kim’s gorgeous digitally rendered watercolor and ink illustrations. The full bleed spreads – especially the nighttime ones – are saturated with color and fully capture the joy that a sense of belonging brings.  THOUGHTS: Even the youngest readers will pick up on the idea of needing to be heard, so this book will be good for sparking discussions about self-expression. It may also work well with guidance units about loneliness and forming connections with others. Classroom teachers could also ask students to think about ways they express themselves. This could lead to discussions about singing, dancing, drawing, writing, or many other outlets.  

Picture Book      Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD