YA – The Backups: A Summer of Stardom

De Campi, Alex, et al. The Backups: A Summer of Stardom. Imprint, 2021. 978-1-250-21259-7. 206 pp. $17.99. Gr. 7-10.

In this charming graphic novel, three rising seniors at the Brooklyn Performing Arts High School land the ultimate summer job: singing back-up on tour with pop superstar Nika Nitro. Jenni is a fierce vocalist, Lauren is a dedicated classical cellist, and Maggie is a tough-as-nails drummer. With their very different backgrounds and musical interests, the girls don’t exactly gel as a squad. But life on tour is tough when you’re twenty feet and a world away from fame, and they quickly learn to depend on each other for support and friendship. Add in an accidental beef with an underground punk band, a blossoming (but strictly forbidden) crush on Nika’s supporting act, and a secret that could end the star’s career, and you have all the backstage / onstage drama you need for summer!

THOUGHTS: The different body types represented on the cover of The Backups hint at the delightfully diverse story within, in which characters cope with anxiety, crushes, coming out, lip-syncing disasters, and so much more.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – A Soft Place to Land

Marks, Janae. A Soft Place to Land. Harper Collins, 2021. 978-0-062-87587-7. $16.99. 288 p. Grades 4-7.

The Taylor family is going through a rough patch. Twelve-year old Joy’s father was laid off, they had to sell their beloved house and move to a small apartment, cut out all non-essential expenses like Joy’s piano lessons, and change Joy’s middle school. Bad enough her dream to be a film composer has to be put on hold and her old friends are not reaching out to her, but her parents are arguing now, and Joy feels she has to keep her feelings hidden to shield her little sister, Malia. The silver lining is the friendliness and kindness of the residents of her apartment building, from next-door neighbor, elderly Mae Willoughby and her French bulldog, Ziggy, to aspiring film-maker Nora, Joy finds a warm welcome and a ready ear that softens the edge of her disappointment and anxiety over losing her house and fearing her parents will get a divorce. Other perks of apartment living are the secret hideout where Joy and her new-found friends can get away to draw, listen to music, read, or play board games, and the dog walking business Joy starts with Nora to earn money to purchase a piano. When Joy’s parents tell the girls that her father is moving in with Uncle Spencer for a bit, though, a distraught Joy runs away to the Hideout and falls asleep, leading to the breaking of the one Hideout rule: don’t tell the adults. Though the other kids are angry that their Hideout is now off limits, Nora remains a loyal friend until Joy’s curiosity about a poignant poem and messages on the Hideout’s walls leads to a rift between them. When Nora ditches the dog walking session, Joy finds out too late she cannot handle the task solo and loses Ziggy. Despite her loneliness and sense of failure, Joy works to come up with a way to find Ziggy, mend her friendship with Nora, and remedy the loss of the special Hideout. Janae Marks’s new novel abounds with positivity while recognizing life does not go perfectly. Joy and her family are African American; most of the other characters are people of color also.

THOUGHTS: A comforting, relatable middle school read. No high drama here, just an enjoyable story showing people bonding together and helping each other, and middle school students being kind and friendly to newcomers. Although there are some difficult issues at play here, all the adults are experts at problem solving and dealing with hard things respectfully. The children follow suit. Joy and Nora show a lot of responsibility and initiative, and the other characters display other positive traits.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Weatherford, Carole Boston. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-534-45228-2. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is introduced to a new generation in this vibrant picture book. While this biography is brief, it succeeds in conveying the essence of Franklin’s life. The oil paint illustrations by Frank Morrison draw readers into the story, their richness implying the importance of her family, faith, community and music. The rhyming couplets on each two-page spread succinctly summarize aspects of Franklin’s history, the rhyme scheme unifying the book. Understandably, the abbreviated format does not allow for deeper exploration of her life, and no mention is made of darker events such as her parents’ separation, her mother’s death before Aretha was 10 years old, or the children she bore at age 12 and 14. (The information about her parents is mentioned in the Author’s Note following the story text.) The book accomplishes its intended purpose beautifully, celebrating the life of a revered talent. Hopefully a nearby adult will pair a reading of the book with an introduction to Franklin’s glorious music.

THOUGHTS: A lush, inspiring introduction to a musical icon and activist. With a motion picture biography slated for release in August 2021, this could be a timely purchase.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Super Fake Love Song

Yoon, David. Super Fake Love Song. G.P. Putnam & Sons, 2020. 978-1-984-81223-0. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Asian-American Sunny Dae is a nerd, into Dungeons and Dragons with his best buddies, Jamal and Milo and anticipating multiple followers when they broadcast an interview with the much admired Lady Lashblade. Then he meets Cirrus Soh, the daughter of a Japanese couple who do business with his own workaholic parents. To impress Cirrus, he takes on the persona of his rocker-brother, Gray. His older brother has returned from his Hollywood pursuit for fame with his tail between his legs. Depressed and disillusioned, Gray succumbs himself to his basement room only to be drawn out to mentor the fledgling band Sunny and his pals have formed as they rehearse for the annual high school talent show. As Sunny’s feelings for Cirrus deepen, he becomes more conflicted about his duplicity: he is pretending to be a rocker and gaining Cirrus’s admiration and the longer he pretends, the more he likes the confidence and attention he is getting from others, including Gunner, his former bully.  When the day for the show comes, the Immortals pull it off, until a drunk Gray interferes. Author David Yoon has a knack for clever dialogue. His narrator, Sunny, weaves DnD references with contemporary situations that are fun for teens. Sunny is wealthy and lives in a posh area of Rancho Ruby in California. Though he is intelligent and good-looking, he still deals with insecurities and feelings of being a loser. However, the charmed life he leads refutes that claim. For those looking for a light romance enhanced by good writing, Super Fake Love Song may be just the thing.

THOUGHTS: Dungeons and Dragons fans will appreciate Sunny’s obsession. Romance fans will like the different male perspective. Though the genre is realistic fiction, the circumstances and events that occur in this book are fantasy to many of the teens who may pick up this book. In one section Sunny gives his take on the extravagant party Cirrus throws when her parents leave her home alone: “Such phenomena occurred solely on insipid television shows written by middle-aged hacks eager to cash in on the young adult demographic” (224). This comment may be a prediction for Super Fake Love Song.

Realistic Fiction/Romance          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Jukebox

Chanani, Nidhi. Jukebox. First Second. 2021. 978-1-250-15636-5. 224 p. $21.99. Gr. 6-9.

Twelve-year old Shaheen and her father have always been connected through music, but lately his interest in record-collecting borders on obsession. When he doesn’t come home one evening, Shahi and her teenaged cousin Tannaz sneak into his favorite music shop to look for clues. In the attic, they discover a rare jukebox that plays whole records … and transports the listener to the album’s time period, for just as long as the side plays. A Bessie Smith record sends the girls to the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago. A Nina Simone album takes Tannaz on a solo trip to a women’s march in 1960s D.C. Shahi realizes that her dad may be trapped in another era, unable to return home. But traveling back and forth in their quest to find him has serious consequences, and the girls know they are running out of time to bring everyone home safely. The girls’ slight age difference provides an interesting dynamic, incorporating their unique strengths and insecurities. The author’s depiction of each era’s color palette and fashions are especially engaging. The abundant music references and iconic album covers are complemented by a Playlist at the book’s close, perfect inspiration for budding music lovers!

THOUGHTS: Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina was well-received, and Jukebox displays even greater depth in portraying both adventure and family relationships.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG/YA – Music Is My Life

Tanzer, Myles. Music Is My Life: Soundtrack Your Mood with 80 Artists for Every Occasion. Wide Eyed Editions, 2020. 978-0-711-24918-9. $19.97. 111 p. Grades 6-12.

Music is my Life was created to help music lovers find more artists to love. Artists are grouped together within chapters titled Get Pumped Up With, Focus With, Fall in Love to, and more. Each artist is featured in a full page spread with biographical information, song suggestions, and information about how each artist’s music will make the listener feel. Every artist is colorfully illustrated in a way that makes the person or band feel accessible and exciting regardless of age or the style of music they produce. Artists include Ariana Grande, Carole King, Prince, Chance the Rapper, and ABBA.

THOUGHTS: A fresh addition to any school library collection seeking to update their music and biography collections. Music is my Life achieves its purpose and those who read it will feel more connected to music than ever before.

781.1 Music          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA – More Than Maybe

Hahn, Erin. More Than Maybe. Wednesday Books, 2020. 978-1-250-23164-2. $17.99. 308 p. Grades 9 and up.

Luke has been reading Vada’s music blog, secretly commenting on it (and crushing on her) for three years. Vada’s also been falling asleep listening to Luke’s “deep, lyrical, and crisp” voice on the podcast he records with his brother… in the studio above the Loud Lizard, the bar where Vada works, which happens to be owned by her mom’s boyfriend and former drummer, Phil. Of course neither of these introverted music nerds have the guts to talk to each other even though they go to the same school and see each other regularly at the Loud Lizard. That is, until Vada’s dance class and Luke’s music composition class get paired together for the end-of-the-year spring showcase. Luke finally takes a risk and offers to partner up with Vada to compose a song for her dance performance, which seems like it might be the end of the story. They’re going to fall in love now, right? It’s not that simple when Luke is hiding his love for composing music from his dad, a former British punk rock star who wants Luke to follow in his footsteps. Luke has no interest in performing – just composing – and to avoid the pressure from his dad entirely, he hides the fact that he even plays music at all. Vada has obstacles of her own. Her mostly absent (also former musician) father only shows up to drink himself stupid at the Loud Lizard, and when he says he’s not helping her pay for college, Vada has to figure out a way to make her music journalism dreams come true on her own. Working at the Loud Lizard and having easy access to concerts helps, but the Loud Lizard is just barely surviving financially. Enter the power of music.

THOUGHTS: Flirting via lyrics? Yes, please! While I think anyone can appreciate this adorable love story whether you know the bands mentioned or not, contemporary music lovers will find themselves swooning over this book. There’s even a user-created playlist on Spotify made up of all the songs mentioned! Highly recommended for any YA collection. Put it in the hands of anyone who loves music.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Elem. – The Heart of a Whale

Pignataro, Anna. The Heart of a Whale. Philomel Books, 2020. $17.99. 978-1-984-83627-4. 32 p. Grades K-3. 

Whale has a beautiful song that soothes, cheers and calms all of the animals in the ocean. Even though whale’s song brings joy and love to many he was lonesome, noticing “how there was no song big enough to fill his empty heart.” One day, the whale is so forlorn he lets out a sigh that is carried by the ocean to another whale who travels far and wide to accompany him. United, the whales sing in unison “of happiness and hope, magic and wonder.” Brief text accompanied by soothing watercolor illustrations of marine animals cover each spread. 

THOUGHTS: A good picture book to begin a conversation with students about loneliness, kindness and friendships. Detailed illustrations alongside a musical theme offer STEAM connections to music and marine life units. 

Picture Book         Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD 

Elem. – We Will Rock Our Classmates

THOUGHTS: This followup to We Don’t Eat Our Classmates is sure to be loved by fans of Higgins’ work, and children will delight with the humorous story. A must have for elementary collections, social emotional learning lessons, or read alouds. You’ll have difficulty reading this one without giggling yourself!

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

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