YA – Playing with Fire

Henry, April. Playing with Fire. Henry Holt & Co., 2021. 978-1-250-23406-3. 225 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

A gorgeous day in Portland. An idyllic waterfall. A boy who is interested in you – what could possibly go wrong? Natalia and coworker Wyatt are just wrapping up an afternoon hike at Basin Falls when a loud pop shatters the peace. Shortly after a man goes running by, and the smell of smoke drifts in the air. In the blink of an eye Natalia’s worst fear is coming true, again. A fire is raging in the forest and now Natalia, Wyatt, and a dozen other people are trapped. Using Wyatt’s map and skills and Natalia’s medical training, the pair help navigate the motley crew through the forest as the fire chases them. As the night progresses, Natalia will face her fears while helping a burn victim, someone having a panic attack, and someone with a dislocated knee. But when a bridge prevents the troop from escape, will Natalia have the courage to overcome her demons and make up for past mistakes?

THOUGHTS: A fast paced read, Henry does not disappoint with this novel! The characters are well developed and the story follows a clear timeline. Readers get a glimpse into Natalia’s past and how her fear of fire plays such a critical role in helping others. Students who enjoy adventure stories like Hatchet will love Playing with Fire!

Adventure Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Grades 6-12.

Seventeen year old Natalia lives in Portland near beautiful hiking trails, but she’s never been hiking. She was sick – sedated in a hospital – the week of Outdoor School, where most fifth graders stay in cabins in the woods. Her Dairy Barn co-worker Wyatt is determined to right this wrong, and he takes Natalia on a hike up to see a beautiful waterfall overlook. At 6:24 pm they’re on the way down when they hear a loud pop, probably someone firing a rifle in the Gorge, Wyatt explains. Natalia notices the smell of smoke which Wyatt connects to the local Cougar Creek fire as he explains the dangers of the tinder dry woods. Thirty minutes later they approach the bottom of the trail where to their horror the very woods they need to pass through are engulfed in flames. Natalia has avoided even the smallest birthday candle for the past six years. With no cell service and few other options, Natalia and Wyatt begin to hike back up the trail to find a new exit. Warning people to return to the falls on their way back up, Natalia is reminded of her little brother. When a helicopter drops a rock with a note that says, “Fire spreading….Extreme danger.” the group needs to come together to survive. With a variety of personalities and skills and few supplies, will they make it to Sky Bridge before they’re rescued, or will the fire reach them first?

THOUGHTS: Taking a slightly different approach to her typical “missing girl” stories, Henry strikes gold with this fast-paced thriller. A must purchase for middle and high school libraries, especially where Henry books are popular, adventure/thriller fans will zip through and request another.

Adventure Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Fatima’s Great Outdoors

Tariq, Ambreen. Fatima’s Great Outdoors. Penguin Random House, 2021. 978-1-984-81695-5. 40 p. $17.99. Grades Pre-K-3. 

Fatima Khazi is having a tough week. Her math quiz was challenging, her peers teased her about her accent, her friends wrinkled their noses at her lunch, and a boy pulled her long braid in the hallway. Her mood, however, is lifted while she eagerly awaits with her sister for her parents after school. She is beyond excited about a weekend camping trip to a state park with her family. Ambreen Tariq’s picture book Fatima’s Great Outdoors celebrates an immigrant family’s connection and affection for nature and the outdoors. Fatima, who speaks Urdu and English, slowly builds confidence as she helps her family set up the camping tent, start a campfire, and adventure in a state park. Readers gain insight into Fatima’s family, who has immigrated from India, and will also learn of the family members that still live in India through memories and storytelling. Each memory teaches Fatima a little more about her strength and confidence. At the end of the weekend, Fatima is sad to leave her outdoor space, but her sister reminds her that sharing her experience at school may help keep the memories in her heart until the next adventure.

THOUGHTS: Author Ambreen Tariq is the founder of BrownPeopleCamping, which she launched in August of 2016 to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial. This storytelling initiative, found on Instagram, utilizes personal narratives and digital storytelling to promote diversity in public lands and outdoor communities. Her debut picture book Fatima’s Great Outdoors reads like a love letter to state and national parks that encourage all ethnicities and races to explore and enjoy what nature has to offer.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – In a Jar

Marcero, Deborah. In a Jar. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 978-0-525-51459-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PrK-2.

Llewellyn likes to collect things in jars. He collects leaves and feathers and stones to help him remember his experiences.  Then, one night Llewellyn collects the sunset in a jar and meets Evelyn. He give Evelyn a jar of the sunset and soon they become best friends. They collect all kinds of things together to remember their experiences. When Evelyn moves away, Llewellyn feels empty until he realizes that she can mail Evelyn new jars of memories. She then sends Llewellyn jars of her new home and city to share her new experiences with him. As autumn returns, Llewellyn sets out to collect leaves to share with Evelyn and meets a new friend with whom he can share his extra jar. Marcero’s artwork is beautiful. She mixes watercolors, ink, and pencil to explore Llewellyn and Evelyn’s experiences together as friends. Although this picture book highlights the beauty of the natural world, it is also about friendship and the importance of sharing experiences with others even when we experience something without our best friend.

THOUGHTS: I truly enjoyed this picture book. Not only does it have a great appreciation for slowing down and enjoying nature, but it also encourages readers to share their experiences with others. It highlights friendship and loss (a friend moving away) through minimal words and beautiful illustrations. I loved the image of Llewellyn and Evelyn drawing together surrounded by the jars. As an adult, I realize that they were creating their memories to put in the jars, but as a child hearing this story, they can still imagine catching the world around them and keeping it in a jar. This is a fabulous addition to all elementary libraries.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Mae the Mayfly

Brennan-Nelson, Denise. Mae the Mayfly. Sleeping Bear Press, 2020. 978-1-534-11051-9. $16.99. Grades K-2.

Mae the Mayfly has only a day or so to enjoy the wonderful world that is all around her! Mother cautions her to be careful as she explores, and Mae almost ended her day by being eaten by a trout! As Mae hides in a tree, the beautiful world outside calls to her. Mae realizes that she cannot stay hidden in a tree, for there are so many things out there for her to see! As Mae explores, she realizes the same trout that tried to eat her needs help. Are they so different fr other? What should Mae do!?

THOUGHTS: The message of living your life and not hiding away is a great message found throughout this sweet picture book. In addition to this sweet message, this book provides information on an insect that many read may not know about. A delightful read!

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring

Silverman, Buffy. On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring. Millbrook Press, 2020. $20.99. 978-1-541-58118-0. 32 p. Grades PK-1.

This nonfiction picture book features stunning full-color photographs that perfectly capture the spectacular changes taking place in nature when snow begins to melt. Poetic rhyming text has a predictable noun-verb pattern. Phrases like “Snowmen droop / Cardinals swoop / Rabbits bounce / Foxes pounce” are captured in crisp images. Playful word combinations like “Plink-plonking / Marsh-mucking / Duck-dabbling day” add joyful humor while allowing the reader to focus on the science of Spring. Fun and fascinating, this in-depth look at nature in Spring will captivate young readers.

THOUGHTS: This book would be a great starting point for a lower elementary lesson about the seasons or a lovely book to read before a nature-walk to spot signs of Spring.

508.2 Seasons                         Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD 

Elem. – My Friend Earth

MacLachlan, Patricia. My Friend Earth. Chronicle Books, 2020. Unpaged. 978-0-811-87910-1. $17.99. Grades K-3.

This engaging picture book is a tribute to Earth, which is portrayed as a young girl of color. Using lyrical text, MacLachlan takes the reader on a journey through the seasons as well as a trip around the world. The story begins with Friend Earth waking up from a winter slumber and hearing the sounds of insects, birds, and a farmer busy at work. Next she is in Africa helping a zebra find its mother and a chimpanzee find a place to sleep. Friend Earth is also caretaker of all sea creatures and polar bears and reindeer on the tundra. Fall gives way to winter where once again Earth rests. The illustrations by Sanna, which are done in pencil, ink, and digital painting, are really the star of the show. Children will enjoy searching for the die-cuts that can be found on every double page spread. On the first page, Earth is sleeping and after turning the small flap, she is now awake on the opposite page. The edges of some pages are trimmed in a scalloped design, which mimic a stream of fall leaves in the wind and the rolling slopes of the distant mountains. With heavy use, there is some concern that some of the die-cuts might tear. The author’s hope is that children will appreciate the wonders of our planet and work to “be a good friend in return.”

THOUGHTS: This is a beautiful book that is a perfect read aloud for Earth Day. A strong purchase for all elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Tags:  Earth, Nature, Seasons, Picture Books, Earth Day, Toy and Movable Books

Elem. – Outdoor Adventure Guides (Series NF)

Outdoor Adventure Guides. Capstone Press, 2020. $24.04 ea. $96.16 set of 4. 48 p. Grades 3-6.

Bean, Raymond. Backpacking Hacks: Camping Tips for Outdoor Adventures. 978-1-543-59031-9.
Hoena, B.A. Campfire Cooking: Wild Eats for Outdoor Adventures. 978-1-543-59033-3.
Hoena, B.A. Wilderness Survival: Basic Safety for Outdoor Adventures. 978-1-543-59029-6.
Bean, Raymond. Wildlife Watching: Spotting Animals on Outdoor Adventures. 978-1-543-59035-7.

Part of the Outdoor Adventure Guides series, Backpacking Hacks is a valuable resource for both the novice and experienced hiker. Chapter titles include “Preparation and Planning;” “Food, Water, and Shelter;” and “Critters and Fire.” There are thoughtful tips for staying warm, staying cool, and staying dry. The book also includes information on how to pack food and what to pack, how to make your tent more comfortable, and hygiene when you are away from a bathroom. Readers who are using this guide to plan a trip will appreciate the websites listed in the back and the “Hack Your Pack” section that will make all hikers well prepared.

THOUGHTS: This is a thorough guide for planning a backpacking trip. There is so much great information packed into the scant 48 pages. Appropriate for all school libraries, this book should have broad appeal.

796.54 Camping          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Elem. – In a Garden

McCanna, Tim. In a Garden. Ill. Aimée Sicuro. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-5344-1797-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Through rhyming verses and vivid watercolor illustrations, In a Garden explores how things grow. From seeds being planted to sunlight and rain nurturing the plants, readers see all of the various aspects of natural growth both in a garden and in those who nurture and care for the garden. McCanna identifies a variety of flowers and vegetables that grow in gardens, while also describing the duties of the various insects that help the garden grow. The four seasons establish how things grow unseen, and also establish the life cycle with insects laying eggs and a woman, pregnant in the beginning, holding a baby when spring returns after winter.

THOUGHTS: This is a gorgeous picture book. Sicuro’s watercolors represent each aspect of the natural world beautifully, while McCanna’s words are playful and representative of the life cycle. Many readers will see themselves in this text because the garden is in a city, and the humans are representative of the diversity in a city. This picture book is a great introduction to the life cycle, gardening, and caring for the natural world. It would pair well with growing a school garden or just planting a seed that students can take home and grow.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Nesting

Cole, Henry. Nesting. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-88592-0. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

From the branches of an apple tree, a male robin calls out to his mate on an early spring morning. After scoping out the perfect spot, the pair gather twigs and grasses, building a nest in the crook of the tree. The mother robin settles in quietly, and soon, four smooth, blue eggs appear. One week later, the eggs hatch, and the parents begin gathering food for their defenseless babies. The young family weathers a spring storm, as well as an unwelcome snake visitor, before the baby birds flap their small wings and leave the nest for the first time. As spring gives way to summer, then autumn, the family fills up on berries to tide them over during the approaching winter. Snow covers the nest, and the world is quiet, waiting for spring to return, along with the robin’s first call. The story unfolds through simple, straightforward text as well as a brief author’s note sharing additional information about robins. The illustrations are the stars of the story. Cole uses Micron pens and acrylic paints to create beautifully detailed crosshatch illustrations that perfectly capture both the depth and the simplicity found in the natural world.  

THOUGHTS: Students who love nature, and especially bird-watching, will gravitate towards this book. It will also be a nice tie-in for primary grade teachers who discuss the changing seasons, since readers can follow the robin family throughout the year. Pair with Mark Teague’s Fly or Denise Fleming’s This is the Nest that Robin Built with a Little Help from Her Friends for a robin-themed story time. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Astonishing Animals (Series NF)

Astonishing Animals. Crabtree Publishing Company, 2020. $15.16 ea. $90.96, Set of 6. Grades 3-6. 

Howell, Izzi. Animal Athletes. 978-0-778-76933-0.
—. Animal Engineers. 978-0-778-76936-1.
Hyde, Natalie. Animal Oddballs. 978-0-778-76937-8.
—. Animal Disguises.  978-0-778-76935-4.
—. Animal Survivors. 978-0-778-76938-5.
Johnson, Robin. Animal Celebrities. 978-0-778-76934-7.

Astonishing Animals is a high-interest nonfiction series for upper elementary students brimming with full-color nature photography and fascinating facts. Each title focuses on animals that have extraordinary characteristics. In Animal Oddballs, students will read about animals with bizarre adaptations and how these adaptations have allowed the species to thrive including the red-lipped batfish, flic-flac spider and naked mole rats. Animal Athletes focuses on the fastest, toughest, most flexible, and strongest specimens in the animal kingdom. Highlighted animals include impalas, mako sharks, and horned dung beetles. The text is divided into manageable chunks with colorful call-out boxes and captions. Most two-page spreads also include a Fact File table with brief notes about the animal’s size, habitat, diet, and location. Other non-fiction text features include a glossary, index, and table of contents. Website suggestions are also included for students who would like to read more about the featured astonishing animals.

THOUGHTS: This series is filled with everything nonfiction elementary readers crave especially bite-sized facts about unusual nature and extreme full-colored photography. Readers who enjoy almanac and fact books will also appreciate Astonishing Animals.

591.5 Habitats and Behavior          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD