MG – When You Trap a Tiger

Keller, Tae. When You Trap a Tiger. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-524-71570-0. 287 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Lily, known as Lily Bean to her mom, and Eggi in her Halmoni’s stories, and her family suddenly pack up and move to Washington one rain soaked evening. They are moving in with her Halmoni, a storyteller, and the story she shares with Lily from many years ago is about how she stole the stars from the sky and bottled up the bad stories which angered a tiger. Lily is intrigued by her story, and when a tiger suddenly appears in the middle of the road one rainy night, Lily is convinced everything is real. But time is of the essence, as Halmoni is showing signs of illness – could it be a consequence of her stealing the stars? With the help of Ricky, a boy Lily meets at the library across the street, the two devise a “hypothetical” tiger trap. Little did Lily know that the Tiger would make her an offer that can help her Halmoni, but with consequences. Lily wants answers and to find a way to help her Halmoni before it’s too late. But can a QAG, short for quiet Asian girl, really find the truth? Can she rescue her family before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will not be disappointed with the characters in this book – they are full of heart, determination, love, and curiosity, even if one of them is a tiger. This title is perfect to add to your collection of diverse books, as it shows the struggle of an Asian family and how their history and heritage affect their lives today. I truly enjoyed reading this story and believe it is the perfect story to capture how storytelling and reading books can truly be art.

Fantasy          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Change is happening in Lily’s life. With little notice, her mother has uprooted her daughters from their California home to their halmoni’s (grandmother’s) home in Sunbeam, Washington. Lily does her best to be the invisible, accommodating, “QAG” (quiet Asian girl) while her older sister, Sam, finds every reason to voice her displeasure to their mother and often rebukes Lily. Lily both chafes under and finds comfort in her invisibility. Lily’s many worries worsen when she (and only she) sees a tiger in the road as they approach their halmoni’s home. Her grandmother has shared countless Korean folktales with Lily and Sam, often with a dangerous tiger involved. When Lily discovers that her grandmother is ill and facing death, she’s determined to convince the tiger to use its magic to cure her grandmother, despite admonitions from her mother and sister that dissuade her from believing the “silly” stories have any power in their lives. The library across the street provides hope and friendship for Lily, who teams up with Ricky to build a tiger trap in her grandmother’s basement. Can she convince the tiger to help, and can she convince her family that the stories are real and useful?  Will the stories save her grandmother and her family?

THOUGHTS: This is a tale of a young girl growing up and deciding who she will be, while she comes to terms with death. The targeted age level seems to increase through the story as Lily matures, and this may not quite work for readers. The grief, anger at moving, and the sister difficulties between Lily and Sam smooth a bit too perfectly by the story’s end. I found myself wishing for more scenes with the interesting, enigmatic tiger.

Magical Realism          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Korean Folktales

MG – Maya and the Rising Dark

Barron, Rena. Maya and the Rising Dark. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-10622-7. 291 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

When Maya notices the colors around her fading away, it seems like something out of the stories her father tells her, stories of ancient gods, magic and scary creatures. When she and her friend Frankie encounter terrifying werehyenas, only to be saved by Frankie suddenly throwing bolts of lightning, Maya learns that her father’s job as a structural engineer is a bit more complex than he ever let on. He is an Orisha, a god, whose job it is to maintain the veil between this world and the Dark. Maya, along with Frankie and her other friend, Eli, are all godlings, or half-Orisha. When Maya’s father disappears during a trip to fix the veil, Maya is convinced that she must find a portal to the Dark and rescue her father. Her loyal friends accompany her on a journey undertaken with love, but maybe not a lot of thought and planning. Maya and Eli have not yet discovered if they possess powers, leaving the three vulnerable to attack by the darkbringers, as well as the Lord of Shadows, a sinister creature haunting Maya’s dreams. This captivating story offers a new entry in the demi-god genre, showcasing the less known mythology of the Yoruba religion, originating in western Africa. Unique among the genre, Maya, her family and friends live in an Orisha enclave; many of her neighbors are also Orisha, and she is surrounded by other godlings. The vibrancy of the community in which Maya resides adds a warmth to the narrative, as Maya never has to search out for other individuals like herself; she has a built-in support network. The tale is suspenseful, replete with deliciously creepy characters, and filled with love – family, friends and neighbors.

THOUGHTS: A noteworthy addition to the mythology based adventure collection. Hand to fans of Percy Jackson, Sal and Gabi (Carlos Hernandez) or Aru Shah (Roshani Chokshi).

Fantasy – Mythology          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Anthem; The Skylarks’ War; The Jumbie God’s Revenge; Owling

Wiles, Deborah. Anthem (The Sixties Trilogy #3). Scholastic Press, 2019. 978-0-545-10609-2. 480 p. $19.99. Grades 4 and up.

It’s the summer of 1969. The summer of Woodstock, hippies, the Vietnam Conflict, and the Draft. After heated disagreements over Vietnam, Molly’s brother, Barry, left their home in Charleston, SC, one year ago. Now, Barry’s draft notice has arrived, and it’s up to Molly and their cousin, Norman, to find Barry and get back to Charleston in 21-days. As their adventure unwinds, Molly and Norman meet people at every stop that introduce them to life beyond their experiences. They experience music beyond their wildest dreams in Atlanta, Memphis, and LA. They help people along the way in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico that introduce them to love, heartbreak, pain, suffering, and hope. They see the changing United States through the land, the people, the music, and others’ experiences. But when they reach San Francisco, will Barry be willing to return and face life in the Army, or will their adventure lend more for Molly and Norman than either thought possible?

THOUGHTS: I have enjoyed Wiles’s Sixties Trilogy thoroughly. Wiles’s inclusion of primary source documents throughout help readers better understand this decade of change in the United States, especially in this novel. The primary sources included do not directly correlate with Molly’s and Norman’s story, but instead provide insight into the Vietnam War both in the US and in Vietnam. Wiles uses song titles with original production information at the beginning of each chapter which many students will use as a launch point into the music and figuring out the correlations between the titles and the chapters. Although written for middle grade students, this title, and trilogy, are insightful for all ages and recommended for upper elementary, middle school, and high school collections.

Historical Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Book is too small a word to describe Wiles’ third entry in her 60’s trilogy. It is a gift wrapped seminar on the 1960s, particularly the year 1969. But seminar sounds dry, and Anthem is anything but dry. It is bursting at the seams with color, texture, sound and emotion. Molly’s brother, Barry, ran away from home after an argument with his father, and the family has not heard from him in a year, when his induction notice arrives. Molly’s mother decides 14-year-old Molly and her 17-year-old cousin, Norman, must go find Barry and bring him home before his army physical date. Barry has secretly been writing to Norman, and the last letter came from San Francisco. Despite the misgivings of both teens, they pack up Norman’s school bus (a parting gift from Barry) and leave Charleston South Carolina. Norman, a drummer, stipulates that the trip must include music, and therein lies the cohesive thread of their journey, as they travel the country ingesting the culture and music of the era, meeting people vastly outside their conventional upbringings, and growing up so fast it can be heartbreaking to read. But aside from the novel, Anthem, like Wiles’ other books, is a cultural scrapbook of photos, news clipping and quotations which add richness to the story and understanding of the era. And, this may be the first book you’ve read with it’s own playlist, (the only thing that could make the book better is if there was a comprehensive list of all the songs mentioned in the story) the glorious soundtrack of the 1960s. The individuals Molly and Norman encounter along the way are richly nuanced, even if their appearances are brief. When Molly and Norman arrive in San Francisco, the conclusion of their quest is bittersweet, but a perfect ending to the book and the decade.

THOUGHTS: A literary tour de force, Anthem stunningly captures the upheaval of the era, as “nice” teens like Molly and Norman are introduced to a wider world which often contradicts what they thought they knew. A first purchase for libraries serving intermediate grades and higher.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

McKay, Hilary. The Skylarks’ War. Margaret McElderry Books, 2019. 978-1-534-46004-1. 324 p. Grades 6-8. $17.99.

Previously published under the title Love to Everyone, this work of historical fiction is set in London and is the story of Clarry Penrose, a young girl who lives with her brother and father. Ever since the death of the children’s mother in 1902, Mr. Penrose has been emotionally distant from his children. For the most part, Clarry and Peter must fend for themselves, although they get some guidance from a friendly neighbor and housekeeper. The high point of their year is summer, which they spend with their grandparents and cousin in Cornwall. Clarry wants to have the same opportunities as her brother and cousin Rupert, like going to school and learning how to swim. Peter is sent off to boarding school with his cousin and with the encouragement of her brother and some friends, Clarry happily begins school also. Life has taken a turn for the better for the children and their friends, but then World War I breaks out. After Rupert joins the army and is presumed killed in action, life for the Penrose family changes forever. McKay has written an engaging novel and takes us on a journey of Clarry’s life from infancy through young adulthood. There is a bit of a surprise ending, and readers will wish for a sequel.

THOUGHTS: Purchase for readers who enjoy books about family life with well-developed characters or for those who appreciate historical fiction.

Historical Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD

Baptiste, Tracey. The Jumbie God’s Revenge. Algonquin Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-616-20891-2. 263 p. $16.95. Grades 3-7.

Corrine has had enough dealings with the jumbies, the magical creatures that stir and stalk on her Caribbean island home, thank you very much. But when a storm, a monster hurricane unlike anything ever seen, strikes the island, she knows it must be the work of a powerful jumbie, but why? She and her friends first work to move their friends and family to safety, then turn their attention to things mystical and magical. Corrine talks with jumbie Mama D’Leau and realizes her own past actions may lie at fault, upsetting the great god Hurican, who now seems determined to destroy the island in revenge. Can Corrine appease the god and set things right before it is too late? This third entry in Baptiste’s Jumbies series again highlights Corrine’s love of family and friends, and loyalty to her community. She and her friends may act recklessly at times (certainly in the view of their families), but they are wise in the ways of the jumbies, trust each other implicitly, and are willing to put themselves at risk to save those they love. Baptiste lovingly depicts life on their Caribbean  island and weaves in its folklore to craft a warm story in the eye of the storm. Corrine’s firm faith in family saves the day and the island.

THOUGHTS: While the story can hold up as an independent read, having read the prior two books will vastly improve the experience. Introduce the series as a whole to lovers of Rick Riordan Presents books and other folklore and mythology fans. Corinne is a feisty, loyal girl readers will enjoy. 

Fantasy (mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Wilson, Mark. Owling: Enter the World of the Mysterious Birds of the Night. Storey Publishing, 2019. 978-1-612-12962-4. 120 p. $18.95. Grades 3-8. 

Owling introduces readers to the 19 species of owls native to North America. An introductory chapter informs readers about general owl characteristics, including physical characteristics, hunting habits, mating, nesting, and the owl life cycle. Two to four page profiles of each of the 19 species of North American owls comprise the majority of the volume. Each profile includes unique identifying characteristics, geographic range, description of the owl’s hoot/vocalizations, nesting behaviors, and hunting habits and prey. Numerous photos show the owls in the wild, in flight, hunting, and nesting. Close up photos are used to show unique physical characteristics of each species. Additional chapters discuss finding owls in the wild and creating an owl friendly environment, as well as working with owls (scientists, educators, rehabilitators, etc).

THOUGHTS: This is one of the best non-fiction books I have had the opportunity to read in the past year. The author is an owl educator and photographer, and his passion and knowledge about the subject matter is readily apparent. This title is sure to be popular with students interested in animals or wildlife who will enjoy the fantastic photos and comprehensive information.

598.9 Birds          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA – Jackpot; Last True Poets of the Sea; Wicked Fox; Red at the Bone; Hungry Hearts; Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens; One of Us Is Next; What We Buried; Opioid Crisis; #MeToo Movement; The Plastic Problem; Full Disclosure; All We Could Have Been; The Hand on the Wall

Stone, Nic. Jackpot: All Bets Are Off. Crown, 2019. 978-1-984-82962-7. $17.99 343 p. Grades 8+.

Rico Danger (yes that’s her name, pronounced) is a high school senior working at a convenience store to support her struggling family. She learns that a 100 million-dollar lottery ticket has been sold there on Christmas Eve while she was working and when no one steps up to claim it, she recalls a sweet older lady who visited that night. Believing that woman may be the holder of the winning ticket, Rico sets out on a quest to find her and hopefully get a tiny share of the payout. Rico finds an unlikely helper in her popular and super wealthy classmate, Zan. As they work together to try to find the lotto ticket holder, they realize they have a lot in common despite their family circumstances. Though the book does take on the serious topics of poverty, sacrifice, and family issues, it is overall a lighthearted read with a slowly building romance between opposites.

THOUGHTS: Nic Stone is another solid, up and coming African American author to follow. With popular titles in the last two years – Odd Man Out and the exceptional Dear Martin, Stone’s latest book should be popular with high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD

Drake, Julia. Last True Poets of the Sea. Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-04808-8. $17.99. 391 p. Grades 9 and up.

After her brother attempts suicide, Violet’s family is torn apart. Her parents retreat in their grief at home in New York City; her brother is in a treatment center; and Violet, a sixteen-year-old wild child, is sent off to live with her uncle in her mother’s hometown on the coast of Maine. While there she is determined to isolate herself, but she is sent to volunteer at the aquarium where she meets Orion, a local teen with a unique circle of friends. The story follows Violet as she faces her own trauma over her strained relationship with her brother and his mental illness. Woven in is her new quest to investigate her family’s strange history, including the mystery of the famous shipwreck that her great great grandmother survived. Another element is a love triangle that develops between Violet, Orion, and Liv. With parallels to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, this is a sweet and thoughtful novel with lovely prose, an enchanting setting, and vivid characters.

THOUGHTS: A lovely coming of age tale that addresses mental illness, family dynamics, sexual orientation, and first romance. Recommended for fans of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD

Cho, Kat. Wicked Fox. Putnam, 2019. 978-1-984-81234-6. 420 p. $18.99. Grades 8 and up. 

The gumiho, seductive foxes masquerading as women who eat the livers of men to survive are just myths, right? Jihoon has grown up hearing the stories of the gumiho from his grandmother, his halmeoni, but he knows that they are just scary stories, ones meant to keep children from the woods at night. That is until an otherworldly encounter in the forest brings all those stories to life. Miyoung, a gumiho, manages to save innocent bystander Jihoon when a dokkaebi, a goblin, attacks although she loses her fox bead in the process. Without the bead Miyoung is unable to hold the energy, the gi, she sucks from humans to survive, making it necessary to feed more often and making her more dangerous. But when their worlds collide in another life or death situation, Miyoung is faced with a choice she never thought possible: save herself or the life of a human.

THOUGHTS: Set in modern-day Seoul, this mythical love story paints a vivid picture of a world unseen, where monsters live alongside men and the stories that you grew up to discredit just may be the thing that saves your life.

Fantasy (Mythology)           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

Woodson, Jacqueline. Red at the Bone. Riverhead Books, 2019. 978-0-525-53527-0. 208 p. $26.00. Grades 10+.

Woodson knows how to tug at your heartstrings. Whether you’re a mother or not, this book so sharply addresses the complicated relationship of mothers, daughters, and extended relatives. The novel is told in a back and forth, switching from the perspective of a mother at age sixteen and her sixteen year old daughter as she gets ready to participate in her debut to society. Each character was authentic in their own way, making the story relatable to most readers. Woodson touches on themes of race, legacy, social class, parenting, coming of age, and family dynamics. The narratives toggle back and forth between 2001 and 1985, when Iris and her daughter were both sixteen, respectively. The family history allows Woodson to mention historical events such as the race riots in the early part of the 20th century as well as the attacks on September 11, 2001.

THOUGHTS: There are some heavy topics covered in this title that some young and immature readers might not be able to digest on their own including teenage pregnancy, dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships, drug abuse, 9/11, and sexuality. This book should be on the shelves of all high school libraries for mature readers.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Chapman, Elsie. Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-42185-1. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

A true collaboration between best-selling authors that are interconnected by not only location, but by a few characters as well. The thirteen stories include various different genres and tackle topics that are easier to handle with a sweet confection or a magic soup dumpling. Not only is the collection diverse in genre types, but also with characters including nontraditional families, gang violence, bi-racial families, people of color, and a lot of the author’s #ownvoices. My favorite story in the collection is the final tale: “Panadería ~ Pastelería.” The protagonist shows up in many other stories with a unique and handcrafted pastry at moments when characters didn’t know they needed it more than anything in the world. This concluding story includes topics of generational differences and coming of age all while focusing on the moral of the story: do what’s right, and you get to choose what is right.

THOUGHTS: This anthology would be a good addition to high school libraries that supply content for contemporary fiction. This title can be recommended to reluctant readers to provide a feeling of accomplishment in finishing one or two tales, but can also serve as exposure to a variety of genres for readers who are looking to branch out.

Short Stories          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Boteju, Tanya. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-43065-5. 384 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Small town? Check. Bored teen? Check. Bi-racial queer protagonist? CHECK! Drag kings and queens and #ownvoices? Check! CHECK! CHECK! After spending time with her nerdy best friend at the town carnival, Nima stumbles into a drag show that leaves her with more questions than answers about herself and her world. Luckily, Deidre, a drag queen with flair, takes on Nima as a side project and not only serves as her mentor but another adult to trust when she isn’t even sure where her mom is. As Nima muddles through discovering secrets about her mom, working through a crush, and getting on stage to finally participate in a show, there are quite a few subplots with different characters including her hippie dad, a gay family friend, and even a childhood friend who isn’t sure of his place in the world. Written by a queer author who has knowledge about the drag community makes the story authentic and provides a true depiction for a reader who hasn’t had exposure to drag.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to any library that needs more diversity, a better LGBTQ+ representation, or an example of a novel written with attention to precise detail or pronoun usage and hope. The storyline is a bit jumbled, but tells a hopeful story with a cast of diverse characters.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

McManus, Karen. One of Us is Next. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-525-70796-7. 384 p. $19.99. Grade. 8-12.

The sequel to One of Us is Lying has the same thrill, but it’s missing some of the avant-garde pieces of the first book. Many of the main characters in the second book were featured in some manner during the debut. Mauve, Phoebe, and Knox take center stage in the newest mystery at Bayview High. Per McManus’ classic whodunit writing format, the mystery of who is behind the deadly game of truth or dare keeps readers on the edge of their seat. A game of truth or dare via text message has all of Bayview High constantly checking their phones for updates. Truths are escaping that confuse even the sluethy-est among the characters, and the dares are getting lethal. The pacing is perfect, and the ending will be sure to shock even the most astute readers.

THOUGHTS: A book that should sit right beside its counterpart on every high school shelf but can just as easily stand alone. This is another great answer for a psychological thriller on a school library shelf to fit the craving many teens have from some of the trending adult novels of the same genre.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

A year after the Bayview Four are exonerated in the death of Simon Kelleher, several copycats have appeared, but not until a viral game of Truth or Dare begins has anyone taken the copycats seriously. Now, students are choosing to complete a Dare or have a Truth about them revealed. But, not everyone wants to play. Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox are all targets of the game who refuse to participate, opening themselves up to a horrible Truth being revealed. As they dig into the chatroom used by Simon during his revenge plot, they meet Darkestmind and begin investigating who is behind the viral Truth or Dare. When tragedy strikes and a student ends up dead, their inquiry into Darkestmind becomes a full investigation into him (or her), their dead peer, and the past, individually and in relation to others. As more tragedy strikes Bayview, will Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox be able to uncover Darkestmind before it’s too late, or is revenge the new norm in Bayview?

THOUGHTS: Personally, I think One of Us is Lying is a fine stand-alone that didn’t need a sequel. That being said, One of Us is Next is in high demand. It lacks some mystery because it is more predictable than the first, and I found it difficult to keep all of the minor characters straight and their connections to the others. It felt like more of a realistic fiction read for the majority of the text over a mystery read. I did not like the connection in the end to the characters and story; it was both predictable and disjointed. This text felt forced in comparison to McManus’s previous two novels. It is still highly recommended, though, for YA collections.

Mystery        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Boorman, Kate. What We Buried. Henry Holt and Co., 2019. 978-1-250-19167-0. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.  

What We Buried is a twisty mystery that constantly had me second guessing myself and my ability to keep characters, timelines, and realistic events in order. Liv, a former child pageant star and reality TV star, doesn’t have a great track record with her brother, Jory. As a court case for emancipation nears a gritty end between Liv and her parents, Jory is sitting back and watching how the media and Liv’s followers react to the news. Before the hearing, their parents disappear, and Liv and Jory are left to find out what happened to them in the desert of Nevada. There is never a clear sense of time or perception as the narration toggles back and forth between Liv and Jory. The time the siblings are forced to spend together makes them travel back to places from their childhood to reconsider their life choices so far.

THOUGHTS: A must have for any high school library looking to add to their thriller collection with a young adult perspective. The characters are hard to like, but the tension and sense of confusion encourage curious readers to not put the book down. The unreliable narrator can be a challenging concept for some readers.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Hyde, Natalie. Opioid Crisis. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74973-8. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

This six chapter book focuses on what a responsible citizen can do to understand, inform, and take action on the epidemic that has “affected every community, class, ethnic group, industry, and age group.” The first chapter defines the crisis and some of the key terms. In addition, there is a glossary in the back of the book. Although the second chapter uses the perspective of the opioid crisis to frame how to find quality and reliable information, most of the information could be applied to any general research project. Chapter three dives into the recreational and street use of opioids and how the crisis developed. Chapter four focuses on the effects the opioid epidemic has had on families, work society, and individuals. The last two chapters offer statistics on where the crisis stands and a look toward the future, including initiatives from the government. Each page includes color photographs, and there are many graphical representations and pop out text boxes.

THOUGHTS: Neatly packaged, this title should be in all middle and high school libraries to provide concise and accurate information on a very emotional and pervasive topic. Two chapters include valuable research and reliable information checks that can be helpful across topics.

362.29 Drugs          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Hudak, Heather. #MeToo Movement. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74971-4. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Organized in six chapters focusing on the definition and international issues of sexual harassment and abuse, #MeToo Movement covers the major points of the movement including a glossary and further reading suggestions. Each chapter ranges from four to twelve pages and many pages have multiple photographs, graphs, and other pop outs that make this current issue accessible to readers as middle grades. The history, including dates and information about the founder of the movement, Tarana Burke, provide context to readers who may be lucky enough to not have experienced sexual harassment or assault within their social circles. The last two chapters focus on the reader and provide ways to stay informed and ways to influence the future of the #MeToo movement.

THOUGHTS: This succinct nonfiction title should be on shelves in middle and high school libraries to provide resources on a topic that is current and pervasive across ages, races, and social economic classes. The inclusion of ways to encourage the reader to become active within the movement is particularly insightful as many students are not looking for resources just for an assignment, but to help shape their perspective and discover ways to make change.

Nonfiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Salt, Rachel. The Plastic Problem. Firefly Books, 2019. 978-0-228-10231-1. 80 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Full of disturbing pictures and data on the plastic problem that is plaguing the globe. Each page has full color photos with enough text to get the information across to the reader, but not too much to make the work feel like a textbook or peer-reviewed journal article. Although it’s not arranged in chapters, there is a table of contents that provides the reader the opportunity to focus on a specific topic. There is also a glossary and index in the back of the book. The flow of The Plastic Problem begins with definitions and some foundational knowledge about plastic and the plastic industry, including how humans use plastic and where it ends up. It continues into problems at the micro and macro level of producing, using, and discarding too much plastic and ends with suggestions for solutions that can be accomplished on local, small levels.

THOUGHTS: This book doesn’t do a deep dive on any of the problems or solutions for the plastic problem, but provides enough information for a curious reader to get started. The title would be good for middle grade and possibly high school shelves, but should be accompanied by more in depth books to provide a more comprehensive study of a specific plastic problem.

363.72 Environment          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Garrett, Camryn. Full Disclosure. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-82996-2. 320 p. $21.99. Grades 10-12.

Not many contemporary novels take a full dive into the world of HIV-positive main characters, especially based in current day. Starting at new high school is daunting, but when you’re a teen who isn’t sure about her sexuality and is HIV-positive, the task is that much more daunting. Simone finds herself at home with the drama kids and two other friends and even becomes comfortable enough to start a relationship with someone, but now she has to decide whether or not to disclose her medical history with Miles. Her dads don’t make the potential for Simone to discuss it with her doctor any easier.

THOUGHTS: This book covers a lot of representation including LGBTQ+, HIV-positive, and African American (#ownvoice). It even hits on topics that most teens have to deal with like bullying and sexuality while layering on perspective and information about HIV that most teens might not remember from health class. This is a well-written debut novel that deserves space in a collection lacking diversity.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Carter,T. E. All We Could Have Been. Feiwel & Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-17296-9. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Lexie’s brother committed murder when he was 15 years old. Her brother has been locked away since the day of the murders. Despite having nothing to do with her brother’s actions, Lexie has been treated like a criminal ever since. She has standing appointments with her therapist and finds control in her life by wearing the same color each day of the week. At the fifth school since she was 12, Lexie finds comfort in a neighbor and a peer in the drama club. She decides to try and control a bit more of her life and her friendships, but the results have rippling effects and leave her questioning every aspect of her life so far.

THOUGHTS: Carter represents mental illness and even a bit of asexuality, but in a dark and twisty way that isn’t relatable to most readers. The lesson that is brought to life through the characters about not making assumptions about who someone is or believes is something that teens of all backgrounds can benefit from. Like much of her other work, this book is highly emotional and targets mature readers who have an understanding of grief, PTSD, and the uneasy terrain of high school gossip and drama (outside the actual drama club).

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Johnson, Maureen. The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious Book 3). Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-33811-2. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Following the death of Stevie’s mentor, Dr. Fenton, Stevie uses information from Dr. Fenton, along with the clues she has figured out, to solve the mystery of the Truly Devious letter from 1936 and the kidnapping of Iris and Alice Ellingham. But, unsure of the current climate at Ellingham and who she can and cannot trust, Stevie decides to maintain secrecy about what she has learned and continue her investigation before revealing her findings. As a blizzard approaches, Ellingham is shut down and students are sent home, but for the students of Minerva, who follow the bright-idea of David and hide in order to remain behind. As David convinces them to investigate his father, Senator King, Stevie continues her own Ellingham investigation and soon learns of secrets hidden in the walls that confirm her initial discoveries and unveil the truth behind Truly Devious and the Ellingham murders of 1936.

THOUGHTS: Johnson masterfully concludes this trilogy with an ending that keeps readers on edge. Her intersection of present mystery with the 1930s Ellingham mystery keeps the reader rooted in each mystery and the connection between the two. This is a must-read trilogy for mystery lovers.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – Maybe He Just Likes You; Good Enough; Klawde; Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic; The Okay Witch; Over the Moon; Other Words for Home; Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club; Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky; The Story Web; Dragon Pearl

Dee, Barbara. Maybe He Just Likes You. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-43237-6. 283 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

When do you decide enough is enough? Seventh grade Mila is excited to celebrate her friend Omi’s birthday after lunch with a thoughtful gift and a group hug with her other friends Max and Zara. This moment between friends is perfect – that is until the basketball boys come over and hug them too, lingering on Mila. This small moment makes Mila uncomfortable, and it doesn’t stop there. The boys find ways to bump into Mila, make comments, and invade her personal space. Afraid to tell her mom, the principal (who is also the boys basketball coach), or her guidance counselor, Mila’s emotions spiral out of control. Mila tries to tell her friends what is going on, but they shrug it off, saying that’s just how boys are. But when a friend comes to Mila with information about a “scorecard” and another friend steps forward and says it happened to her too, Mila finds the strength to speak up for herself and stop the unwanted attention.

THOUGHTS: This middle grade novel does a perfect job of exploring the #metoo movement and how harassment and innocent “jokes” can end up affecting others. The story will bring you all the feels – joy, anger, shock – and leave you feeling like you may know someone this book is perfect for. The book also explores different relationships between characters and the strength a person has to stand up for themselves.

Realistic Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Petro-Roy, Jen. Good Enough. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-12351-0. 261 p. $16.99. Grades 7-9.

Twelve year old Riley doesn’t think she’s good enough, fast enough, talented enough…the list goes on and on. Tired of being compared to her “golden” younger sister Julia, Riley starts running excessively, skipping meals, and having a bad attitude. And it gets worse! At school she is being picked on for what she looks like and how she eats, which leads Riley down the path to an eating disorder. Riley’s parents decide she needs to be hospitalized in order to find the path to recovery. The story is presented as a journal of Riley’s experiences while hospitalized – her struggle with anxiety, food issues, and her parents’ constant judging and disappointment. The program requires strict meal planning, therapy sessions, group activities, and even counting out loud while you go to the bathroom. Riley meets several girls in the program all while dealing with the loss of her best friend and discovers that she is more than the voice in her head telling her she’s “not enough.” Will Riley’s parents accept her for who she is and not just as someone with a problem? Does Riley have the power to be in control of herself? A must read!

THOUGHTS: Perfection. Petro-Roy does a fantastic job of approaching a delicate subject as she is someone who battled an eating disorder. The journal style of writing allows readers to feel as if they are taking the journey with Riley day by day and makes for a fast read. The story deals with so much more than recovering from an eating disorder and allows readers to see that we all have flaws that make us who we are.

Realistic Fiction         Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Marciano, Johnny, & Emily Chenoweth. Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat: The Spacedog Cometh. Book 3. Penguin Workshop, 2019. 978-1-524-78724-0. $14.99. Grades 4-8.

The third epic adventure of Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat! As Klawde continues to plot his return to his home planet and take over from the tiny evil kitten who has taken command, he is unaware that there are others looking for him: the most loyal beasts of all…dogs! Barx has been given the mission to capture and return Klawde to his home plant to pay dues for blowing up one of their most amazing plants! As Barx travels to Earth, he realizes just how wonderful it is, especially Klawde’s master Raj. While the animals fight and attempt their vengeful missions, Raj is suffering with his own problems. His parents are out of town for a few weeks for a conference vacation, so his Ajji, grandmother, is staying with him. All she cooks is weird, un-American food and decides to throw him a birthday party. How will Raj deal with Ajji, as well as dealing with Klade being…Klawde!

THOUGHTS: I was so excited to see the third book to this hilarious series! The addition of the dog characters brought forth more excitement and perspective to the “dog vs. cat” personality stereotypes. A great third book for the Klawde lovers!

Adventure/Action/Fantasy          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Russo, Kristin J. Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic. Orchard Books, 2019. 978-1-228-18736-6. 48 p. $25.95. Grades 5-8.

In a subseries of Part of the Perspectives Library, Viewpoints and Perspectives takes a look at how various people may have different views about some of the most known events in history. In Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic readers get a look inside the Titanic through the eyes of three very different passengers. Using first person stories inset with facts about the ship and a timeline of the events, this title takes readers through what the sinking of the Titanic was like for a first, second, and third class passenger. This book is a nice mixture of pictures and stories, allowing for students not to be overwhelmed by the amount of text to read. With a mixture of historical black and white, recreated color, and pencil drawings readers get a look back in time. The simplicity of the pages and clear nonfiction text structure lends this book to be a great introduction to text structures including table of context, index, timeline, and captions. The book includes ideas for teachers in the sidebars to help lead research or a lesson on the Titanic.  

THOUGHTS: The unique look into different classes on the Titanic would allow students to see how classes were separated and the prejudice against the lower classes even while evacuating the boat. A book like this could, and others in this series, be used in middle schools to see how prejudices have changed throughout history.

910.9 History, general          Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD

Steinkellner, Emma. The Okay Witch. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-43146-1. 271 p. $20.99. Grades 4-8.

Moth believes she is a typical Halloween loving teenager, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. After studying the history surrounding Founder’s Bluff and the persecution of witches, Moth suddenly discovers that she may have special “powers.” After an incident with the school bullies and a talking cat at home, Moth confronts her mother for the truth. Yes, Moth is from a long line of witches, and with her mother’s diary and her new found powers, she is about to discover the truth. The witches of Founder’s Bluff were real…and they are still alive. Moth learns to navigate middle school (including a new boy who keeps bumping into her), harness her powers against her mother’s wishes, and meet her very ancient grandma. Travel with Moth through past and present as she discovers her heritage and becomes an “okay” witch.

THOUGHTS: This debut graphic novel will delight middle schoolers as Moth discovers who she truly is. The illustrations are whimsical and eye-catching, while the story just flows across the frames through a series of chapters. Graphic novel readers will want to pick this novel up, especially if they enjoy the element of magic.

Graphic Novel            Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Lloyd, Natalie. Over the Moon. Scholastic Press, 2019. 978-1-338-11849-0. 291 p. $14.95. Gr. 4-8.

The Dust has taken away the light from the stars in Coal Top, made the villagers feel hopeless, and forced children to work for measly wages. Mallie cleans the home of a well to do family in the “Down Below.” The work is hard and does not pay enough to help protect her brother from being taken by the Guardians and sent to the mines to work. When a mysterious flyer appears and offers an opportunity for orphan boys to earn riches, Mallie knows this is her chance to save her family. Mallie quickly discovers that the task is to tame and ride a Starbird into the Dust above in order to retrieve gold dust. Up for the challenge, she doesn’t back down and struggles with her disability as well as the others who wish she wasn’t there. With the help of her friend Adam, and her loyal Starbird Leo, Mallie finds she can be successful. But when she discovers the leader, Mortimer, is up to something dark and sinister, Mallie decides she must expose the truth. Risking her life and her family’s, Mallie races against the Dust and Mortimer to prove that the stars really do exist.

THOUGHTS: You can’t help but cheer for Mallie as she struggles to protect her family, discover the truth, and overcome obstacle after obstacle. The characters are well developed and the whimsy of flying horses and dust puppets make the story come to life. Fans of Lloyd will not be disappointed with this title that pulls at your heart strings and reminds you to shoot for the stars.

Science Fiction            Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Warga, Jasmine. Other Words for Home. Balzer and Bray, 2019. 978-0-062-74780-8. $16.99. 352 p. Grades. 4-8.

Jude, young immigrant from Syria adjusts to her new life in Ohio. She had to flee with her pregnant mother, leaving behind her father and older brother. There is so much change living with her uncle, aunt, and cousin who is in the same grade. Although her aunt and uncle are accommodating, her cousin Sarah is a bit jealous of the attention and practically ignores Jude at school. School is a challenge. She thought her English was good in Syria, but in the United States pace of life is so much faster, including the language! Life is definitely not like the American movies she used to watch with her friends. Jude is a resilient girl. She makes friends with others in ESL (English as a Second Language) and meets Layla who is also Muslim. She wants to fit in, and one of her real motivations is the musical. She works really hard to try out, perfecting her English and learning about drama. This annoys Sarah and her friends who Jude thinks of as “SarahMinaHarperStone” (They seem to lack individuality.). Jude is concerned for Amal, her new baby sister. Amal, whose name means Hope, will be an American, not an immigrant. Jude realizes that home is where the people you love and those who love you are. It is where you feel you belong, and Jude works very hard to create a place for herself.

THOUGHTS: Jude voices very real concerns about fitting in, prejudices against Muslims, and the safety of her father and older brother who are still in Syria. The reaction to a bombing in the Middle East and subsequent vandalism of Layla’s family property is both upsetting to the community and an opportunity to bond. Warga’s use of verse to tell the story makes it accessible and poignant as the succinct wording and rhythm evoke emotions and meaning.

Realistic Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired

Nicherson, Sara. Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club. Dutton Children’s Books, 2019. 978-1-101-99442-9. 240 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Josh is starting fifth grade at a new school, a fresh start, where no one knows of Josh’s multiple invisible friends. Only Josh’s friends are not imaginary; they just can’t be seen by anyone else. But the friends are all gone, buried at his old house. Until Big Brother shows up again on Josh’s first day of school. Big Brother dispenses advice, comfort, and companionship. But Josh is not the only student in his class with an awkward friend. Lucas has an invisible friend, Maxie, and Josh can see her too. While Big Brother gently guides and encourages Josh to be brave and try new experiences, Maxie seems a bit more malevolent. When she engineers a meeting between the two boys, she may be dangerously replaying her sad history. But Lucas and Josh discover real friends are powerful also.

THOUGHTS: A unique look at processing death and maturing. Readers who feel they see the world differently than those around them will definitely relate to Josh and Lucas.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Mbalia, Kwame. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. Rick Riordan Presents, 2019. 978-1-368-03993-2. 482 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Tristan is having a difficult time recovering from the school bus accident that left his best friend Eddie dead. Frustrated, his mother sends him to spend some time with his grandparents down south in Alabama. Grandma warns Tristan to stay away from the bottle tree, a traditional structure to capture haints, or spirits, at the edge of the forest. Tristan would have gladly done so, but that night he is awoken by a small, sticky figure sneaking in his room. Gum Baby has come to steal Eddie’s journal, and Tristan chases her into the forest, attempting to reclaim his cherished memento. When Tristan punches the bottle tree in frustration, he inadvertently creates a hole in the sky and is pulled into another world, where the stories his grandma used to tell him and Eddie come alive. Another mythology/folklore based adventure from Rick Riordan’s imprint, Tristan Strong brings alive the tales of the deep south, featuring Brer Rabbit, John Henry and, of course, Tristan’s reluctant sidekick Gum Baby. Tristan is sent on a quest to find the trickster god, Anansi, who can weave the sky back together. While Tristan is convinced he cannot save anyone (he broods that he failed to save Eddie), he discovers heroes do not necessarily have to be strong, or even brave, and he is more than capable of saving the world of his new friends from destruction.

THOUGHTS: This lightning fast, rollicking tale will win many fans, as well as introduce them to Black American folklore. Tristan and Gum Baby are a new dynamic duo that provide constant laughs as they attempt to save the day.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Blakemore, Megan Frazer. The Story Web. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19525-4. 321 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7. 

When Alice was little, her magical father would regale her with wondrous stories. But now Alice’s world is broken in so many ways. She no longer socializes with friends, she quit her ice hockey team, and even nature seems out of whack, with forest creatures making their way into town. She believes everything stems back to that something she did that made her father go away. But Alice can no longer maintain her invisible persona. The animals know; Alice’s classmate, frequently bullied Melanie, knows; and her best friend, Lewis, knows. The story web, a fragile creation of spiders, spun to record the stories of man, is broken. If it is not fixed soon, the world will be in peril. Alice’s father had explained the story web to her when she was young, and now Alice must look past her grief and fear to work with Melanie, Lewis, and many caring individuals, to repair it. But when the stories Alice remembers from her father don’t rebuild the web, the children realize they must find their own stories, as painful as they may be. The plot unfolds at a leisurely pace, through various viewpoints, including several animals. Much like spinning a web, individual threads eventually weave together in a breathtaking finale. The storyline of Alice’s father, who is eventually revealed to be suffering from PTSD, also takes time to uncover, and is never explained directly, but rather through oblique comments, reminiscences, and finally a conversation between Alice and her father.

THOUGHTS:  While the climax is riveting, it will take a patient reader to navigate to that point. Hand this lovely, heartwarming story to a reader who enjoys the journey as well as the destination.  

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Lee, Yoon Ha. Dragon Pearl. Rick Riordan Presents, 2019. 978-1-368-01335-2. 320 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl, one of the first titles published under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, will delight young readers who like their fantasy informed by the trappings and tropes of science fiction. Lee imagines a world—a thousand worlds, actually—inspired by Korean mythology, and then sends it – them – spinning off into outer space. The young protagonist, Min, is a shape-shifting fox disguised as a human to avoid the persecution her species has long suffered. When her brother disappears, she sets off in search of him, planet-hopping through the universe on a grand and dangerous adventure. The plot moves at a breathless, breakneck pace as Min pilots a rocket ship and has run-ins with ghosts, dragons, and pirates.  

THOUGHTS: A top-notch #own voices entry in the sci-fi/fantasy genre that subtly addresses issues of identity and acceptance.  Highly recommended for middle schools.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

MG: The Magnificent Migration; Aru Shah and the Song of Death; The Clockwork Ghost; Genesis Begins Again; The Revenge of Magic; Freedom Fire; Order of the Majestic

Montgomery, Sy. The Magnificent Migration: On Safari with Africa’s Last Great Herds. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 162 p. $24.99. 978-0-544-76133-1. Grades 5-8. 

Noted nonfiction writer Montgomery joins with wildebeest expert Dr. Richard Estes and others to witness the amazing migration of the wildebeest (gnu) on Africa’s Serengeti. She narrates the entire journey, inserting the notable backgrounds, expectations and hopes of the various travelers involved. Readers learn of the life cycle of wildebeests (a life of constant migration) and their impact on other species, the ecosystem, and humans. Montgomery succeeds in communicating a sense of awe of the animals and the scenery surrounding the researchers, and shares numerous specific events and important information on other migratory animals worldwide, such as monarch butterflies, Christmas Island red crabs, and Arctic terns. This pulls in readers who may be unfamiliar with wildebeests, but certainly recognize migratory stories of other species. Notably, she highlights the North American buffalo, once so numerous that in 1871, a soldier on horseback was surrounded for six days by a single herd (59) and now hunted nearly to extinction and relegated to comparable tiny plots of land. Their demise, she maintains, impacted the species, weather, economics of the North American region for years–and serves as a warning to protect remaining wildebeest populations and migration as well. With this book, Montgomery proves the worth and beauty of this species and region, leaving us to agree, “the whole world has a stake in keeping this greatest African savanna ecosystem alive…Serengeti must not die!” (Estes, The Gnu’s World 2013). 

THOUGHTS: Beautifully photographed and shared by experts, this book invites readers to explore wonders of the world. This book is best for mature readers who can handle the life and death of various species, as well as the mating experiences described. A fine addition to animal research and understanding for middle or high school libraries.

591.56 Animal Migration          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Chokshi, Roshani. Aru Shah and the Song of Death. Rick Riordan Presents, 2019. 978-1-368-05203-0. 365 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

The second book in the Pandava series drops readers in the middle of a search for a demonic presence, complete with rampaging zombies. Aru and her Pandava sister, Mini, reincarnations of Hindu demigods, are on a mission to find the bow and arrow of the god of love. Unfortunately, the last person seen with the magical implements looked an awful lot like Aru. To prove her innocence and maintain her place among the celestial gods, Aru must locate the weapon within 10 days. Going with her is Mini; Brynne, another Pandava; and Aiden, the cute boy who lives across the street from Aru, with a few secrets of his own. After a quick shopping trip at the magical Costco, the four begin their quest. While Aru and Mini have experience working together, the addition of Brynne and Aiden requires a rocky adjustment for all of them. Will the foursome pull together in time to save Aru’s future? The nonstop action and humor are liberally sprinkled with Hindu mythology, and the spunky heroines are a welcome addition to the mythological fantasy genre.

THOUGHTS: Percy Jackson fans should flock to this funny, adventure-filled series, as well as anyone who loves wisecracking demigods.

Fantasy (mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Ruby, Laura. York: The Clockwork Ghost. Walden Pond Press, 2019. 978-0-062-30696-8. 446 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8. 

Tess and Theo, the Biedermann twins, and their friend, Jaime, are back for more puzzle-packed adventures in book two of Laura Ruby’s fascinating series, York. For those who have not read the first book, Ruby succinctly recaps the story in the first chapter. The three friends attempted to keep an unscrupulous businessman from purchasing their apartment building, one of several in New York City erected by the legendary Morningstarr twins who were inventors of mechanical marvels, by solving the centuries-old Morningstarr Cipher. In this next installment, the action never stops as the intrepid trio desperately soldier on following the cipher’s clues. The mystery is compounded by numerous mysterious blonde ladies in red dresses, and when Tess’s therapy cat, Cat, is impounded when a blonde woman claims he bit her, Tess is frantic to retrieve her chimera pet. The story introduces readers to several types of codes as well as early computer programmer Ada Lovelace and other historical characters. The cryptic ending ensures there are more books to come, and readers will be impatiently waiting for the third volume.   

THOUGHTS:  A truly delightful steampunk mystery with relatable, ethnically diverse characters. The action keeps readers on the edge of their seats, and the explanation of various codes makes them feel like they are solving the Cipher right along with the three friends.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Williams, Alicia D. Genesis Begins Again. Caitlyn Dhlouhy, 2019. 978-1-481-46580-9. 364 p. $17.99. Grades 5-9.

Genesis is thrilled to be bringing a group of girls home after school; finally, she thinks, she has been accepted by the popular clique. But delight quickly changes to mortification when Genesis sees her family’s possessions laid out on the front lawn. She knows what this means: they have been evicted, and the all-too-familiar routine begins again. Her father spends too much time drinking and gambling, and Genesis suspects it’s all her fault. She’s not pretty or light-skinned like her mother, which her father points out to her when he’s mean-drunk. Genesis decides to change herself, to become someone her father will love. But she eventually discovers it is more important to love herself. The story deftly explores self-image as well as prejudice among African Americans. Is it better to be paler, to be able to pass as white? Is straighter hair more desirable? Genesis is disturbed to hear her grandmother’s reminiscence of her own father who would not let his daughters “marry down,” or marry a darker-skinned man, stories that only increase Genesis’s desire to lighten her skin.

THOUGHTS: Besides deftly addressing the issue of self image in teen girls, this book provides an unusual insight into African American culture and deserves to be in all collections.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Riley, James. The Revenge of Magic. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-481-48577-7. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Fort Fitzgerald was having a great time seeing the sites of Washington, D.C. (except when his father insisted on embarrassing him) until everything turned crazy. The earth shook, the visitors at the monuments started walking calmly away from the mall, and then a giant fist emerged from the ground. A voice in Fort’s head is loudly urging him to RUN, but he turns back to find his father, and that’s when he sees his father grabbed by the giant fist and pulled underground. Six months later, Fort is invited to enroll in a school to learn magic, powers that emanate from a set of ancient manuscripts found 13 years ago. Magic to destroy monsters like the one Fort saw. While Fort is thrilled at the thought of hurting the monsters, it soon becomes obvious that several factions at the school do not want him there, calling him dangerous. Few students befriend him, and he is given impossible tasks to complete in the classroom. But Fort is determined to stay, by any means possible, including the assistance of a student no longer at the school, who reaches out to Fort’s mind, as well as a small band of friends with unique powers of their own. Everything he learns makes him more determined to learn enough to seek his revenge. This first book in a new series is action-packed from the first pages. Readers will enjoy Fort’s journey learning magic spells, and the secondary plot of why Fort is deemed dangerous promises more books to come.

THOUGHTS: Magic/adventure fans will find much to enjoy with this book. Lively plot and engaging characters will leave them anxious for the next book.

Fantasy (Magical Realism)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Older, Daniel José. Freedom Fire. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-26884-3. 277 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Magdalys Roca and her friends, human and dinosaur, are back in this action-packed sequel to Dactyl Hill Squad. After a short plot recap that will assist readers new to the series, the story picks up with the Dactyl Hill Squad, refugees from the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York City, flying pterosaurs south to New Orleans, looking for Magdalys’ brother who was injured in the Civil War. After literally dropping in on the Louisiana Native Guard, an all-black unit fighting for the North, however, the group is soon forced to realize that they cannot avoid becoming involved in the war. Magdalys’ dino wrangling skills are too valuable to the Union Army. Older creatively works a Civil War history lesson into the nonstop action leading up to the Battle of Chickamauga, mixing historical figures and events into the dino action. The black soldiers of the Louisiana Native Guard talk with the youngsters about why the are fighting, and Magdalys comes to understand that no matter how high she flies on her beloved Pterosaur, Stella, she cannot rise above taking sides in this ugly war. The story is captivating, with an all-star cast of characters and dinos. The action rarely pauses, and young readers should flock to this series. Older supplies a plethora of author notes to assist readers in determining fact from fiction (“There were no dinosaurs during the Civil War era!”), including information on the Civil War, dinosaurs and weapons.

THOUGHTS: There is so much to love about this series. Students may read it for the dinos, but they will take away much more. This series should be a middle grade first purchase.

Historical/Sci-Fi          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Myklusch, Matt. Order of the Majestic. Aladdin, 2018. 978-1-534-42487-6. 421 p. $18.99. Grades 3-7.

Myklusch, author of the Jack Blank Adventures series, creates another endearing hero and intriguing world with Order of the Majestic. Joey’s innate cleverness has finally gotten him into big-time trouble. A semi-serious slacker, Joey has, nonetheless, managed to ace his standardized tests. His parents are delighted with their prodigy of a son and seek to enroll him in the elite Exemplar Academy despite Joey’s repeated pleas not to. However, Joey is left speechless when the entrance exam for the school consists of learning magic tricks and ends with him suddenly transported into a different world. Joey meets Redondo the Magnificent, an elderly magician, and learns that magic is real. He quickly becomes embroiled in a bitter battle for the future of magic. While Joey feels inadequate to be part of the fight, having no magical heritage, his quick wit and super-hero knowledge aid him as he attempts to prove to Redondo that he belongs in the magical world. While many plot points feel like they owe a good deal to Harry Potter books (particularly “the wand chooses the wizard”), the characters and setting are engaging and readers, will quickly become swept up in Joey’s adventures.

THOUGHTS: Fans of magic and wizardry, particularly those who are not ready for Harry Potter, will flock to the new series. 

Fantasy (Magical Realism)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


MG – Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World; Assassins’ America; Crush; Knights Club: The Bands of Bravery; The Mad Wolf’s Daughter; Team Players; The 11:11 Wish; The Alcatraz Escape; Waste of Space; Without Refuge; Aru Shah and the End of Time; Love, Penelope; Lost in the Amazon

Blake, Ashley Herring. Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World. Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 978-0-316-51546-7. 307 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Ivy Aberdeen lost everything weeks before her thirteenth birthday.  She lost her house to a tornado; she lost her mom to her twin baby brothers; she lost her family (they sent her to live at her best friend’s house); and she lost her notebook – her precious notebook full of her own drawings, drawings that share her family, friends, and inner-most thoughts. Ivy is confused by her feelings, feelings she’s had but hadn’t thought about until she met June Somerset. Now Ivy doesn’t know how to share her feelings; she doesn’t know how to verbalize the emotions within her. All Ivy can do is draw, but she’s afraid that her drawings will end up in the wrong hands and be confused or judged. With help from a friend, Ivy works through her confusion and finds her voice.

THOUGHTS: Ivy Aberdeen is what middle grades fiction needs. She is a strong protagonist who is confused by her emotions and feelings for others. She always knew something was different, but it wasn’t until she met June that she got “that feeling,” the feeling of a crush. Ivy is beautiful, innocent, smart, confused, and talented. She is exactly what readers need and should be on all middle grade shelves.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Assassins’ America. Capstone, 2018. $29.99 ea. $91.96 set of 4. 64 p. Gr. 4-8.

Gunderson, Jessica. President Lincoln’s Killer and the America He Left Behind: The Assassin, the Crime, and Its Lasting Blow to Freedom and Equality. 978-0-756-55716-4.
Gunderson, Jessica. President McKinley’s Killer and the America He Left Behind: The Assassin, the Crime, and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rise, and the Dawn of the American Century. 978-0-756-55714-0.
Tougas, Joe. President Garfield’s Killer and the America He Left Behind: The Assassin, the Crime, the Hapless Doctors, and a President’s Slow, Grim Death. 978-0-756-55715-7.
Tougas, Joe. President Kennedy’s Killer and the America He Left Behind: The Assassin, the Crime, and the End of a Hopeful Vision in Chaotic Times. 978-0-75655-713-3.

The Assassins’ America series explores the lives of the four men who assassinated U.S. presidents. The men’s lives and motivations for the actions are examined and put in the context of social and economic times in which they lived. Each volume also examines the life and political actions of the president they assassinated. The aftermath of the assassination, including the consequences faced by the assassin as well as the political consequences, are also presented. The text is complemented by inclusion of numerous photos and images.

THOUGHTS: This series would be a worthwhile addition to elementary and middle school collections. Though slim (48 pages), each volume offers a complete overview of the lives of the key characters and the times in which they lived. Hand these titles to fans of American history and to researchers.

973 American History          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Chmakova, Svetlana. Crush. Yen Press. 2018. 978-0-316-36319-8. $11.00. 235 p. Gr. 6-9.

Let’s face it, middle school can be full of drama. In fact, it seems that everyone is interested in either drama or relationships, something that Jorge is just not here for. Big and strong, Jorge is able to make sure that everyone is getting along. After all, people assume that he is mean just because he is a large middle schooler. But really, Jorge is just here in middle school trying to survive like everyone else but out of the drama. With his two best friends, Olivia and Garrett, Jorge can make it through anything. Although it seems like Garrett is working way too hard to impress James, the “all-star” football player. Jorge doesn’t want any part of dealing with him. He would rather continue on his way… until he meets Jazmine, who he admittedly has a crush on. Things are about to get very interesting in middle school.

THOUGHTS: This is another great piece by Chmakova, following her previous graphic novels Awkward and Brave. The illustrations and flow of this graphic novel follow in her previous books’ footsteps. The plot line of this story is one that many middle school students will relate to: survival of school, drama, and crushes. A great read for middle school students.

Graphic Novel                                                                Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Shuky. Knights Club: The Bands of Bravery. Quirk Books. 2018. 978-1-68369-055-9. $9.99. Gr. 4-8

What is better than digging in compost, watering plants, and harvesting? Almost anything, especially becoming a knight! Three brothers, each with different abilities have had enough of working in the fields and are ready to go to knight school! Travel on this journey with them, as they begin their quest of bravery to becomes knights!

This is a choose your own quest novel, comic book style! Take part in the adventure by choosing one of the brothers’ rank. Using a tally sheet provided in the book, readers can mark their points and ranks as they make decisions for their characters. Using the panels and numbers, have your character travel throughout the land, making choices to help them on their way toward knighthood!

THOUGHTS: I love the idea of a comic book style choose your own adventure. This story allows readers, both male and female, really to become involved in the story. Readers not only have to make decisions for their character, but they can actually mark points and ranking, allowing them to “level up” within the book. A new idea for an original book type!

Graphic Novel          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Magras, Diane. The Mad Wolf’s Daughter. Kathy Dawson Books, 2018. 978-0-735-22926-6. $16.99. 265 p. Gr. 4-7.

Drest’s medieval Scottish world is turned upside down in an instant. A band of knights attacks the camp of the small war-band formed by her father and older brothers. As Drest watches, her family is taken captive and loaded into a boat, sailing for who-knows-where. But Drest is the Mad Wolf’s daughter, and she knows it is up to her to rescue her clan. An injured knight left behind knows where the captives are headed, and offers to guide Drest there, if she helps him make the journey. The ill-matched pair are soon joined by a young boy looking for a quest. As they journey along, Drest learns of her father’s reputation in the area, both good and bad. Some folk view the Mad Wolf as a protector against the cruelty of the overlord, while others tell tales of horrible acts committed by the war-band. But Drest continues on her mission to save her family, with unexpected results. Drest is a delightful character; she follows the war-band code but with a panache all her own. She takes on all battles, because that’s what a warrior does, but learns that words can be as mighty a weapon as the sword. By the end of her journey, she is a legend is her own right.

THOUGHTS: Dripping with Scottish atmosphere and packed with adventure, this book won’t stay on the shelf long. Readers will be captivated by plucky Drest from the first page.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Lupica, Mike. Team Players. Simon and Schuster, 2018. 978-1-481-41007-6. $16.99. 291 p. Gr. 5-7.

Cassie and her friends Gus, Teddy, and Jack are thrilled summer is here – that means baseball and softball season. Cassie, an outstanding softball player, knows her team has a chance to be very good this summer, but is dismayed to witness her team fall apart and friendships strain when Sarah, a talented player with autism, joins the team. Sarah’s awkward interactions with teammates bring a friction to the team that Cassie just cannot figure out how to fix. Meanwhile, Gus, Teddy, and Jack are dealing with a new coach, one who is verbally abusive. Can the four friends find a way to make sports fun before the summer is over? This addition to Lupica’s Home Team series presents likeable characters, if a bit mature for their years, and lots of baseball action. Cassie is a great female athlete character and leader, and the portrayal of Sarah gives readers an insight into the world of autism. However, Lupica’s efforts to Make People Understand Autism rarely get out of the way of the plot, and may wear thin for some readers.

THOUGHTS: While this does not seem to be a comfortable age level for Lupica, and the writing at times feels awkward, it is a good sports book with male and female athletes, and the careful explanations of autism are extremely illuminating, if a bit didactic.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Tomsic, Kim. The 11:11 Wish. Katherine Tegan Books, 2018. 978-0-062-65494-6. $16.99. 361 p. Gr. 4-7.

Megan is determined to make a new start at her new school. She will have friends! And be popular! But when she is dared to make something exciting happen on her first day of middle school, she panics. Reaching back to a story her grandmother taught her, she whimisically makes an 11:11 wish on a cat-shaped clock in her classroom. Only after she receives a delivery from a magical supply shop, and a hurried phone call to her grandmother, does Megan begin to understand that she has unwittingly unleashed a force she may be unable to contain. This warm-hearted book deftly deals with middle school drama enhanced by the recent death of a parent. Who wouldn’t have loved a bit of magic to get through middle school? But Megan finds that being herself is the best answer to life’s little ups and downs.

THOUGHTS:  The message might be trite, but the approach is fun. Megan is a likeable character readers will root for as she stumbles along finding her way.

Realistic/ Fantasy (magic)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Bertman, Jennifer Chambliss. The Alcatraz Escape. Henry Holt, 2018. 978-1-627-79963-8. $16.99. 262 p. Gr. 4-7.

Friends Emily and James return in the third entry in the Book Scavenger series. Everyone they know is eagerly anticipating literary gamester Garrison Griswold’s newest challenge, “Unlock the Rock,” taking place on Alcatraz island, but Emily is feeling the stress of her past success. Ever since she and James solved the Unbreakable Code, she has become a legend in Book Scavenger circles, admired by some, envied by others.The pressure and expectations are taking the fun out of the game for Emily, especially when she and James receive threatening notes. Once the players are on Alcatraz, Emily realizes the game is deadly serious for one of the contestants, and her brother, James, is being framed. Bertman has added another delightful book to her series, with no let down in the fun. Filled with literary references and historical information about Alcatraz, this book should delight fans of the series.

THOUGHTS: Although it concentrates more on the mystery than on the puzzles this time, this may be the best book in the series.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Gibbs, Stuart. Waste of Space. Simon and Schuster, 2018. 978-1-534-43166-9. $16.99. 321 p. Gr. 4-7.

Dash Gibson, teenage resident of Moon Base Alpha, is shocked when the base commander assigns him to determine who recently attempted to kill one of the moon base residents. Unfortunately, everyone on Moon Base Alpha detested billionaire space tourist Lars Sjoberg, including, possibly, his own family, so suspects abound. But Dash, having already solved several other crimes in space, starts poking around asking questions. The urgency increases when it is revealed the moon base habitat is losing pressure, and plans are made to evacuate everyone back to Earth. But will Dash live to see home again? This final book in the series is a fun mystery mixed with some deep philosophical questions courtesy of Zan, the alien being who befriended Dash in the first book of the series. Charged with determining the fate of Earth, Zan frequently communicates with Dash, trying to understand humankind. Can Dash manage to convince Zan that despite trying to kill each other, humanity is worth saving? An afterward provides a gratifying conclusion to the series.

THOUGHTS: While I am sad to see the series end, Gibbs wraps it up with a bang. The mystery is satisfying, and the gentle moralizing is appropriately on level to get young readers thinking.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Mitchell, Jane. Without Refuge. Carolrhoda Books, 2018. 978-1-541-50050-1. $16.99. 269 p. Gr. 5-8.

Ghalib and his cousin Hamza have as normal a childhood as possible in war ravaged Syria. While much of the city of Kobani is in rubble, Ghalib still lives with his parents, brother, sister, and grandmother in an intact apartment. Ghalib’s father works as a  pharmacist, assisting those injured during bomb attacks. But normal for Ghalib and Hamza is being recruited by the Protection Units and dodging bombs to scavenge merchandise to sell to black marketeers. When the two youths are injured during a nighttime bombing, the family makes the painful decision to leave Syria. Through Ghalib and his family, the book details the experience of refugees fleeing Syria, the fear of being caught by ISIS before crossing into Turkey, the anger against refugees they encounter, life in a refugee camp, and being scammed by individuals promising to convey the refugees to Greece. While the plot is sometimes lost to the overwhelming amount of information the author is trying to convey, it is a worthy sacrifice. When you are 13 years old and leaving home, what do you pack? An extremely relevant, thought-provoking book.

THOUGHTS: A must-have for middle grade/middle school collections. A clear look at the situation in Syria, as well as migrants from many countries. A glossary and further information add to the impact of the book.  

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Chokshi, Roshani. Aru Shah and the End of Time. Rick Riorden Presents, 2018. 978-1-368-01235-5. $16.99. 343 p. Gr. 4-7.

What middle schooler, when desperate to impress classmates, hasn’t resorted to setting an evil demon loose in the world? Aru Shah may not have exactly planned this sequence of events, but she did light the Lamp of Destruction in her mother’s Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture when taunted by three students from her school. To her horror, there really is a demon in the lamp, and time freezes as he is unleashed. Lucky for Aru, the lamp also sends forth Boo, a sarcastic, yet helpful,  pigeon, to guide and educate her. She learns she is the incarnation of one of Pandava brothers of Indian mythology, and soon meets Mini, another Pandava, who will help her on her quest to stop the Sleeper before he frees the Lord of Destruction and the time freeze becomes permanent. While somewhat reminiscent of Percy Jackson (the girls must be claimed by their godly fathers), this book stands solidly on its own. Aru and Mini are endearing, spunky girls, both of whom feel like outcasts at school. While their relationship gets off to a rocky start and hits a major bump when Mini eventually realized Aru is responsible for lighting the lamp, they end up fast friends. Boo the pigeon suffers mightily while trying to guide his young charges, and there are some laugh-out-loud scenes, such as the godly Costco shopping trip. Aru and Mini save the day and unfreeze time, but are answering the call for another adventure as the book ends.

THOUGHTS:  A delightful introduction to Indian mythology and culture with two dynamic, yet realistic, heroines. A can’t-put-down book that holds your interest from the first page, with plenty of adventure and humor.    

Fantasy (mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Aru Shah spends more than a visit in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture as he mother works as a curator there. She does not expect the Lamp of Bharata to react to her, but it starts the adventure of a lifetime ensuring that the universe continue. From The Palace of Illusions and The Bridge of Forgetting, it is not easy to save the world. Shukra has killed his wife because she loved him and made his ugly appearance fade. He curses the daughter of Indra and says that she will forget at the worst time. Aru is shocked to learn that the Sleeper had loved his mother. Can Aru stop time from ending?

THOUGHTS: Readers will not want the adventures to end. They are in luck because there is already a second book planned called Aru Shah and The Song of Death.

Adventure          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD

Rocklin, Joanne. Love, Penelope. Amulet, 2018. 978-1-419-72861-7. $16.99. 255 p. Gr. 4-6.

Penny (NOT Penelope) has a lot on her plate for a 5th grader, all of which she shares in this diary addressed to her unborn sibling. Penny lives with two moms, and issues of legalized gay marriage in the state of California and the same-sex marriage case addressed by the Supreme Court are covered, as well as prejudice against her family from various acquaintances. She and her friends are rabid Golden State Warriors fans, and Penny lives and dies with the team as they march to the NBA championship. Penny experiences jealousy as a new girl at school enters her cozy friendship with her best friend Gabby, as well as guilt as she lies to her favorite teacher in order to impress him, then cannot extricate herself from the lie. In addition, issues such as Black Lives Matter and a student with an incarcerated parent are casually dropped into the narrative alongside lessons on fetal development, as well as a discussion between the 10-year-old girls on how babies are conceived. There are so many lessons trying to be taught in this book that it barely has time to develop a plot. It could have worked well as a depiction of an alternate family, but gets lost in too many side issues.  

THOUGHTS:  A well-meaning book bogged down by trying to be too much.  

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Olson, Tod. Lost in the Amazon: A Battle for Survival in the Heart of the Rainforest. Scholastic, 2018. 978-0-545-92827-4. 162 p. $7.99. Gr. 4-8.

On Christmas Eve, 1970, a flight took off from Lima, Peru. Among the 86 passengers of Flight 508 were seventeen year old Julia Koepcke and her mother. They were looking forward to spending the holiday at their research station home in the remote jungle where Julia’s zoologist parents conducted their research. Shortly after clearing the mountains, however, Flight 508 encountered intense storms and was struck by lightning causing it to break up in mid-air. Julia found herself strapped into a row of seats, tumbling two miles to the jungle floor below. She awoke the next morning, injured and alone in the remote rainforest. She quickly determined that in order to survive, she would need to begin moving. Drawing upon lessons imparted by her father and her years of experience living the the remote jungle, she began to follow a waterway, keeping aware of dangers in the rainforest and battling her deteriorating physical condition. Finally, on the tenth day of her journey, she came across a remote cabin and was rescued by three forest workers. Taken to safety, she learned that she was the sole survivor of the plane crash.

THOUGHTS: This book is more than an amazing story of survival. Olson weaves information on Amazon history, jungle plant and animal life and the search effort to find survivors of Flight 508 around the story of Julia’s experiences. The result is a complete picture of the events surrounding the crash and the insurmountable odds Julia faced. Readers will found themselves hard-pressed to put this title down! Highly recommended.

363 Survival          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MS FIC – Murderer’s Ape; Whisper of Horses

Wegelius, Jakob. The Murderer’s Ape.  Translated by Peter Graves. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-1101931752. 624pp.  $17.99 Gr. 5-8.

This beautifully illustrated mystery is the English translation of a Swedish novel published in 2014.  The book’s heroine, Sally Jones, is an anthropomorphic gorilla who can read, write, and understand language but cannot speak.  She is single-mindedly determined to prove that her best friend, Chief Koskela, a ship’s captain, is innocent of the murder he has been convicted of.  Her quest to free him takes her on a wild adventure from Portugal through India, where she struggles not only to follow a convoluted trail of evidence but for her own safety.  THOUGHTS:  Sally Jones is an unforgettable animal heroine extraordinaire who has more humanity than most humans, and yet remains a gorilla to her core.  This fun romp blends mystery, animal fantasy, and adventure, and is highly recommended for middle school libraries.

Mystery       Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Bethell, Zillah. A Whisper of Horses.  Feiwel and Friends, 2017.  978-1250093943. 339 p.  $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

Serendipity lives in the walled city of Lahn Dahn, which clever readers will recognize as a futuristic, dystopian version of London.  She is a member of the lowest of three castes, and her most treasured possession is a map which shows a route outside the city to a place where horses–which are believed to be extinct–still thrive.  Serendipity dreams of finding the horses but despairs of finding a way outside the city until she meets Tab, an orphan who knows all about eluding the law. Together, Serendipity and Tab forge a tenuous alliance when they discover that each has resources the other can use to achieve their separate goals. THOUGHTS:  Excellent writing, an unusual storyline, and themes of friendship and loyalty that are developed in nuanced and thought-provoking ways make this book more than a run-of-the-mill dystopian novel.  One thing to note is that Bethell plays with language, imagining how words might evolve in a dystopian future (“amazering” instead of “amazing,” etc.); some readers will enjoy this, while others may find it frustrating or distracting.  Recommended for middle school libraries.

Dystopian    Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Upper Elem/MS FIC – Lost in a Book; Great Hibernation; This is Just a Test; The Handbook

Donnelly, Jennifer. Lost in a Book. Disney, 2017. 978-148478098. 16.99. 341 p. Gr. 3-6.

If any child has ever wished for a more in-depth telling of Beauty and the Beast, Disney and Jennifer Donnelly have provided such a story. This awkward book offers readers not so much as a backstory, or a continuation of the familiar tale, but a fleshed-out moment of Belle’s adventure. The spectral beings as Love and Death wager over Belle’s life and the resulting drama is the basis of Lost in a Book. Belle, trapped in the Beast’s castle, stumbles upon an enchanted book which allows her to escape into the story, into a more exciting world where she thinks she is free, but in actuality is being lured into Death’s trap. The book is a frustrating waste of Donnelly’s talents and seems to have no discernable target audience. The storyline of Love and Death requires a more sophisticated reader than the young princess-loving base of Disney’s audience, but does anyone old enough to appreciate the horror of Belle’s life being toyed with for a wager still care about Disney princesses?  THOUGHTS: Not a quality fairytale rewrite such as those by Alex Flinn, this book screams commercial tie-in. Purchase if there is a demand for fairytale books.

Fantasy     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District


Dairman, Tara. The Great Hibernation. Wendy Lamb, 2017. 978-1-5247-8. $16.99. 256 p. Gr. 3-7.

The town of St. Polonius-by-the-Fjord has many traditions that bind the inhabitants together, but none more important than the annual Tasting of the Sacred Bear Liver which recalls the year of the Great Hibernation, when the town’s founders fell into a deep sleep. Now that Jean has passed the magical age of 12 years, four months and six days, she must partake in the ceremonial tasting. She is terrified and does not manage to keep it down long. Shortly thereafter, all the adults, those who partook of the liver, are fast asleep and not waking up. Is this Jean’s fault because she did not eat the liver? Led by the dictatorial son of the town’s mayor, the children marshal resources to keep the town running, each child tasked with assuming her parent’s career with predictably hilarious results. However, Jean is determined to discover why the adults are asleep, and soon starts to unearth rather unsettling facts about the children in the town. Teamwork among an unlikely group of friends saves the day. THOUGHTS: A delightful mix of faux-myth, mystery, and giggles. Jean is an intrepid heroine, assisted by new friend Isara, whose family recently emigrated to St. Polonius. The topical issue of welcoming immigrants is deftly handled without bogging down the plot with moralizing.  

Fantasy    Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District


Rosenberg, Madelyn and Wendy Wan-Long Shang. This is Just a Test. Scholastic, 2017. 978-1-338-03772-2. $17.99. 243 p. Gr. 4-7.

If middle school weren’t difficult enough for David Da-Wei Horowitz , mixing two cultures is not going well. His Chinese and Jewish grandmothers are turning his upcoming Bar Mitzvah into an ethnic battleground. But fame strikes when geeky David and his friend Hector are invited by cool guy Scott to form a team for the school trivia tournament and pull off the upset win. David and Scott form a friendship while building a 1980s bomb shelter in case the Soviets attack.  But tensions arise when the pair discuss who to invite into the shelter. Can David get Scott to allow Hector and crush Kelli Ann in? As the two work, David learns that there are all kinds of families, and perhaps his over-loving ethnic-goulash is far better than a perfect “American” family. THOUGHTS:  A wonderful period piece along the lines of Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars or Jack Gantos’ Dead End in Norvelt. The book conveys the political tensions of the cold war as well as exploring the definition of family.

Historical Fiction       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District


Benton, Jim. The Handbook. Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-94240-9. $12.99. 222 p. Gr. 4-6.

Jack only proved what every kid knows: there really is a parent’s handbook. It all started when Jack, who loves picking through the neighbors’ trash in search of treasure, scored an interesting looking box of junk from a neighbor who was moving to Florida. He forgot about the box until neighborhood adults start acting suspiciously. Upon closer examination, Jack discovers, hidden in an innocuous book on turnips, the Secret Parent’s Handbook. Jack, with his friends Mike and Maggie, unlocks the secrets of parenthood and the three gleefully manipulate their own parents with techniques lifted from the book. But their behavior does not go unnoticed, both by the authorities and the tiny tot resistance, and the trio frantically works to engineer a solution that will please everyone. THOUGHTS:  Traditional dumb-parent trope with the unique twist of the protagonists eventually working with their parents to restore order.  Students may enjoy the thought that there is a source for all the tried and true parenting lines like “because I said so”.

Humor     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District


Upper Elem/MS – Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race; Wishtree; Fish Tree

Grabenstein, Chris. Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race. Random House, 2017. 978-0-553-53606-5. $16.99. 279 p. Gr 3-6.

Kyle, Akimi and the other library lovers from Grabenstein’s Escape from Mr. Lemonchello’s Library and  Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics are back for a new game. Mr. Lemoncello, the P.T. Barnum of libraries, has created the Fact-Finding Frenzy to debut his new Nonfictionator technology, interactive holographic displays. Pairs of the young library trustees compete against each other for the chance to travel around the country promoting Mr. Lemoncello’s newest game. Grabenstein does a nice job keeping the series current by introducing Abia, a Muslim girl. In addition, the competitors find themselves abandoning the game to save Mr. Lemoncello’s reputation when rival game-makers accuse him of plagiarizing the idea for his very first game. The four finalists dig into researching Mr. Lemoncello’s background, learning to check facts and verify fake news to save their hero from shame.  THOUGHTS:  With the excitement generated by the Nickelodeon movie, this will be a welcome addition to the series. It is at least as good as the first book in the, if not better. The emphasis on research and verifying what we read on the internet is a timely, important message for students.  

Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Applegate, Katherine, and Charles Santoso. Wishtree. Feiwel and Friends, 2017. 978-1-250-04322-1. $16.99. 216 pp. Gr. 3-6.

Red has been growing, living, watching, and even speaking for 116 years. Most people don’t stop to listen, but they do come to leave wishes on branches every year as a neighborhood tradition. In that time, things have changed, yet some things remain the same for the old oak tree. Wishes have come and gone, and the residents of the tree continue to share with Red and learn from its wisdom. When the word LEAVE is carved in its trunk, Red wonders if it’s the end of the family living next door, perhaps even the end of the wishtree’s life. Can Red make one more wish come true, and can tolerance and friendship save the day?  Katherine Applegate continues her trend from The One and Only Ivan and Crenshaw to shed light on unique points of view and stories that matter and move. The amazing illustrations from Charles Santoso fill the pages with wonder and whimsy. Stop and pause and listen as Red shares a tale you won’t soon forget.  THOUGHTS: I must say that I loved the message, but was equally delighted by the humor and imagination that Applegate shows in bringing this tree’s world to life. The relationship between the animals, and their naming traditions, and the friendship of Red and a crow named Bongo are inventive, natural, and remarkable at the same time. Students could easily relate and play along with naming their neighborhood creatures. Hopefully, they would also hold discussions about acceptance and wish for a better world.

Realistic Fiction; Magical Realism     Dustin BrackbillState College Area SD

Napoli, Donna Jo, and David Wiesner. Fish Girl. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 978-1-537-90518-1. $25.00. 186 pp. Gr. 3-6.

Come see the mysterious Fish Girl! She lives inside the Ocean Wonders aquarium and is protected by Neptune himself, her keeper and caretaker. Fish Girl is indeed a mermaid, but she is told that she must stay hidden from humans and can’t talk or walk. She is still curious and lonely, though the aquatic animals and her devoted octopus friend care for her. When Neptune isn’t watching, she makes a friend, explores beyond her boundaries, and may just unravel some truths about her life and world. David Wiesner uses his amazing artistic vision from work like Flotsam to fill the panels of this graphic novel passion project. Donna Jo Napoli brings voice to the Fish Girl as she navigates her adolescence and questions whether she is a protected treasure or a captive. There are unresolved questions and wonders galore at the ending, but young readers will be captivated by the “mysterious Fish Girl.”  THOUGHTS: This is a great debut graphic novel for Wiesner, though many will recognize that he uses panels effectively in his other picture books. This would be great for a book club discussion and brings in bits of mythology and mystery that deserve further analysis. Another worthy project idea would be for students to study the traits of the other ocean creatures who dwell in the Ocean Wonders. Fun book to explore!

Graphic Novel; Fantasy      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD