MG – Being LGBTQ in America (Series NF)

Being LGBTQ  in America. Abdo Publishing, 2020. $25.95 ea. $155.70, set of 6. 112 pp. Grades 6-8.

Harris, Duchess, J.D., Ph.D. with Rebecca Rowell. Growing Up LGBTQ.  978-1-532-11904-0.
Harris, Duchess, JD, PhD. with Kristin Marciniak. Being Transgender in America. 978-1-532-11903-3.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Kristin Marciniak. LGBTQ Discrimination in America.978-1-532-11905-7.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Martha Lundin. LGBTQ Rights and the Law.   978-1-532-11906-4.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Jill C. Wheeler. LGBTQ Service in the Armed Forces.  978-1-532-11907-1.
Harris, Duchess, JD, Ph.D. with Martha Lundin. LGBTQ Social Movements in America.  978-1-532-11908-8.

This well-researched series provides an easily understandable, comprehensive exposition of the LGBTQ community, its difficulties, and its successes. In Growing Up LGBTQ, by Dr. Duchess Harris with Rebecca Rowell, the authors focus on LGBTQ teens navigating their gender identity with compelling language and plentiful real-life explanations. The book acts as a primer with each chapter covering a different issue facing LBGTQ and ending with brief list of discussion questions. An interesting topic is a description of stores that engage in “gendering materials,” separation of traditional boy and girl products like clothing and toy and heightened prices for “girl” toys. The authors list the various ways LBGTQ* teens suffer from discrimination in the health care field, among law enforcement, in the homeless community, and in prisons. This particular book reinforces the need for LBGTQ teens to feel the support of family and school in order to find their voices. It concludes with with a discussion of the protests and the consequences around Title IX, its advances and its demise under the Trump-deVose administration. Complementary photographs and informative textboxes interspersed touch on topics like microaggressions, same-sex marriage, and more. Though the slim volume doesn’t go in-depth on any topic, it does give a lively, simple overview of being a LGBTQ teen. Includes a glossary, suggested resources, and an index.

THOUGHTS: Middle-school students as well as reluctant high school readers doing research papers or projects will make good use of these short, information-packed books. They also will benefit gender-curious youth because the authors don’t seem to have missed any issue. Being LGBTQ+ and a person of color and asexuality are also briefly addressed. I wonder if the title will be revised to read LGBTQ+.

306.76 Social Sciences          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – When Stars are Scattered

Jamieson, Victoria, and Omar Mohamed. When Stars are Scattered. Dial, 2020. 978-0-525-55391-5. 257 p. + notes. $20.99. Grades 3-8.

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have been living in a Kenyan refugee camp since fleeing Somalia at the age of 4. Omar’s life consists of taking care of Hassan, with the assistance of Fatuma, an elderly woman who has been appointed the boys’ guardian. UN supplied food rations are meager and entertainment is what can be manufactured, such as playing soccer with a ball created from plastic bags. Omar has not gone to school, feeling responsible for Hassan. But a camp community leader encourages Omar to begin attending school, and a new world  opens to Omar. But it can be a painful world, of crushed dreams and disappointments. Brilliant student Maryam who dreams of going to university in Canada, is forced to quit school and get married. The system of choosing people for possible relocation to the United States seems random, and when Omar and Hassan are finally chosen for an emigration interview, nothing comes of it. But Omar continues to study and dream. When Omar is 18 the brothers are finally selected for resettlement. This stunning autobiography portrays, in beautiful color palettes, the reality of life in a refugee camp. Living conditions are horrific, but there are also close bonds of people who care for and support each other. Omar’s horrific backstory is revealed during his first resettlement interview, explaining how he and Hassan came to be in the  camp alone at such a young age. Author notes at the end of the story update the reader on the brothers’ story after reaching the United States, including the delightful surprise that Omar is currently living in Lancaster, PA.

THOUGHTS: This important story is a must purchase for most libraries. It carries the gravitas of Jarrett Krosocka’s Hey Kiddo, but appropriate for a younger audience.

Autobiography          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

As Omar so succinctly states in the word bubble on the back cover: “Refugee Camps are supposed to be a temporary place to stay until it’s safe to go back home. I guess no one expected the war to last so long, though, because Hassan and I have been here for 7 years.” With gorgeous colors and interesting characters, Jamieson and Mohamed take us through childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya. The monotony of daily essential routines for survival are mixed with increasing odds against finding their mother or going back home to Somalia. What remains is the effort to take care of one another, the opportunity to get schooling and seek a future, and the slightest chance to immigrate to another country for a new beginning. All of these seem unlikely for Omar, who faces tragic memories, current realities, and future possibilities with truth and sincerity that will bring young readers into his world and into their hearts. When the Stars Are Scattered is a remarkable light in the night sky which guides hope home.

THOUGHTS: Both Pennsylvania residents do an excellent job bringing the refugee experience to children. The sibling relationship with Hassan, who is nonverbal except for one word, is truly touching and real. The afterword and authors’ notes bring the story up to date, and help realize the many other refugee stories that need to be heard. Highly recommended.

Graphic Novel          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

This beautifully drawn graphic novel tells the story of Omar Mohamed, a young Somalian boy who was forced out of his country and into a refugee camp in Kenya with his young brother at the age of 4.  Omar’s younger brother, Hassan, is special needs and only says one word, Hooyo, the Somalian word for Mama. Omar and Hassan saw their father killed and were separated from their mother as the Civil War in Somalia started. With the kindness of a new foster mother, Omar and Hassan survive and grow up in the Dadaab refugee camp. Omar’s life changes when he starts school and excels, earning the right to continue to attend school as he grows up. Omar and Hassan never give up looking for their real mother, and in the Afterword we see real photos of Omar and Hassan, and learn that, years later, they are reunited with her.

THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection.

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

Elem. – The Only Woman in the Photo: Frances Perkins and her New Deal for America

Krull, Kathleen. The Only Woman in the Photo: Frances Perkins and her New Deal for America. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-481-49151-8. 48 p. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Readers may know author Kathleen Krull from her writings on important feminist leaders, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Louisa May Alcott. This book, in that same vein, is about a woman who was instrumental in FDR’s New Deal – but rarely given any credit. Frances Perkins learned from a young age to walk through any proverbial door that opened, and she lived by those words every day of her life. As a quiet girl growing up in New England, she observed and listened to the world around her. She saw the extreme inequities between the working class and upper class, even at a young age. Perkins observed working conditions in places like textile mills and bakeries. She helped people in need by fighting for better working conditions, a fight that intensified after she watched the smoldering fire at The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory claim the lives of 146 victims. Perkins knew that in order to make a real difference, she needed to enter the all-male world of politics. Luckily, President Theodore Roosevelt heard of her wonderful work and recommended her to head a committee on workplace safety. Although she was always the only woman in the room, her hard work and compassion allowed her to climb the ranks until she became President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s secretary of labor. Finally, she had a front row seat in the president’s cabinet of advisors; however, many men who worked with her despised answering to a woman and either quit or made snide remarks behind her back. Perkins did not let this deter her – she went on to author the ground-breaking New Deal and presented it to FDR himself.

THOUGHTS: This book is a reminder that even though our textbooks often credit white males for important events in American history, the real credit often goes to other people behind the scenes. Although Frances Perkins did not like the limelight and preferred not receiving credit for her incredible deeds, it is still critical that librarians expose young readers to all facets of historical events. This biographical book reads like a story and the bright, cartoon-like illustrations will capture elementary readers from the first page.

331 Women Social Reformers            Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – The Fabled Life of Aesop

Lendler, Ian. The Fabled Life of Aesop. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-1-328-58552-3. 63 p. $18.99. Grades K-3.

The Fabled Life of Aesop follows the life of Aesop, as he began his life as a slave and ended up becoming free. All throughout Aesop’s life he told stories and tales to his different masters, so you see the tales that he told as well as what happened as a result of his telling those tales. In the middle of the story, there are nine of Aesop’s more famous fables; however, they are woven into the story of Aesop’s life. The afterword by the author goes into more detail about Aesop’s life as far as what is known, as well as more about the fables and how they came to be. The illustrations are absolutely stunning and add so much detail to the story, as well as making the fables come to life. This is a wonderful addition to any elementary school library collection, and gives new life into some of Aesop’s fables that you may have heard several times before.

THOUGHTS: I loved the illustrations and feel they really added so much to the story. The afterword was informative and made me feel like I got more information, even though there isn’t a lot known about Aesop himself.

398.24 Fables          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy Charter School

MG – Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield

Rubin, Susan Goldman. Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield. Candlewick, 2020. 978-0-763-67994-1. 48 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

The true nursing hero of the Crimean War was born in Jamaica and wanted to help others with natural remedies, kindness, and good food since she was young. Mary Seacole is an unsung hero of the nursing world, and this book tells the story of Mary’s interest in medicine from a young girl, watching her mother, the doctress, and practicing on her dolls, pets, and herself to be able to follow in her mother’s footsteps. The frequent full-page illustrations are colorful and a way for a young reader to imagine what Mary’s life was like. Although her story has a lot of focus on healthcare, this book is just as much about prejudice in various countries during the 1800s. In 48 pages, the reader can learn about the tenacity of one person and her ability to help all in any way she could. There is a brief mention of the first modern war correspondent and how Mami Seacole’s fame spread through many countries. The book includes source notes and a bibliography.

THOUGHTS: If you have any biographical books on Florence Nightingale in your library, this needs to sit right beside it on the shelf. Mary Seacole’s story of determination and perseverance is one with which all students should be familiar. This book could find a home in elementary through high school libraries.

973 Biography          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

MG – Close Calls: How Eleven US Presidents Escaped from the Brink of Death

Spradlin, Michael P. Close Calls: How Eleven US Presidents Escaped from the Brink of Death. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-5476-0023-6. 116 p. $18.99. Grades 5-8.

While many authors have told the stories of the untimely deaths of American Presidents, author Michael Spradlin has chosen to focus on the lesser known tales of Presidents who narrowly escaped death during their lifetimes in Close Calls. Each action-packed chapter focuses on an event when a President (or future President) nearly lost his life. Some examples of near misses include: George H.W. Bush being shot down and nearly captured during WWII, Andrew Jackson avoiding death when both(!) pistols an assassin shot at him misfired, and Theodore Roosevelt narrowly escaping death when an assassin shot him, only to have the bullet stopped by a folded speech Roosevelt was carrying. The text is supplemented by the inclusion of sidebars explaining historical events of the time(s) or biographical sketches of persons involved in the story. 

THOUGHTS: This engaging title is sure to be a hit with biography and history readers, as well as readers who enjoy action-packed, adventure-type stories. Highly recommended.

973 American History            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem./MG – Accidental Archaeologists

Albee, Sarah. Accidental Archaeologists. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-57579-8. 210p. $23.31. Grades 3-6.

Pompeii and Herculaneum, the Rosetta Stone, the cave paintings of Lascaux, the Dead Sea Scrolls. All incredible archaeological finds. And all found by ordinary people. Author Sarah Albee starts in 1709 with workmen digging a well and discovering some cut marble that leads to the excavation of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and works her way through the centuries to 2013 and two cavers in South Africa who navigate some tight quarters to discover bones belonging to a previously unknown species of early human. The last chapter speculates about what is still out there to be uncovered, including the final resting place of Genghis Khan. Each chapter details the find, its place in history, and also why it matters today. Readers will also appreciate the photographs that accompany the text.    

THOUGHTS: Students will enjoy reading the story behind some of the important archaeological finds they hear about in social studies class, as well as learning about previously unknown discoveries. A great addition to any elementary or middle school library. 

560 Paleontology          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Elem. – Whoo-ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story

Gianferrari, Maria. Whoo-ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 978-0-399-54842-0. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-3.

Whoo-Ku Haiku shows readers what life is like for a family of great horned owls. High up in a tree, the mama and papa owls care for a pair of eggs, waiting for the day when they tap their way out of the shell and start their lives. After the eggs hatch into little fuzzy owlets, the mama and papa hunt for food and care for their babies while also protecting them from predators. Readers learn that life as an owl can be full of dangers – crows, hawks, and foxes all lurk around the owlets, waiting for the moment they are left unguarded and vulnerable. However, mama and papa are able to keep them safe. Mama cares for the birds by plucking and cleaning their plumes while papa fetches skunks for dinner. When the day comes for the owlets to try out their wings, they shakily bob and teeter in the air as the mama keeps a careful eye on them. When they successfully return to the nest after their inaugural flight, their clan is complete, and they enjoy being together under the moonlight.

THOUGHTS: This book is like a delightful piece of art. The illustrations, by Jonathan Voss, are beautifully done, and the text, all done in haiku, reads like a song. In haiku poetry, the writer is limited in their syllable count which means each word has to be carefully and purposefully chosen, and that is certainly the case in this book. What makes the poetry even more special is that while it reads like a song or a narrative, each haiku is packed with information about great horned owls, including what they eat, where they live, how they hunt, and who hunts them. Any reluctant non-fiction reader would enjoy this book. It would also be a great mentor text for teaching haiku as it demonstrates the beauty of poetry and the significance of choosing meaningful words.

598.9 Great Horned Owls          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

MG – Real Revolutionaries (Series NF)

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

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

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

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

973.3 American Revolution            Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – The Bug Girl: A True Story

Spencer, Sophia, & Margaret McNamara. The Bug Girl: A True Story. Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020. 978-0-525-64593-1. 44 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Sophia Spencer describes herself in three words: “The Bug Girl.” Sophia falls in love with bugs at the young age of two-and-a-half when a butterfly lands on her shoulder and stays there for her entire visit while she is visiting a butterfly conservatory. She starts learning all she can about every type of bug and because of that, Sophia notices them everywhere she goes. She has a strict no-kill policy with any bugs, a rule her mother respects, even when Sophia brings unwanted critters inside the house. When Sophia is in kindergarten, all of her classmates are entranced by her stories and facts about bugs. But as she grows up and moves through elementary school, she notices that her classmates, once intrigued by her unique hobby, are now making fun of her. Crushed by the criticism and ridicule of her peers, Sophia gives up bugs for a bit… until her mother reaches out to other bug scientists. The responses she receives change her life forever. Beautiful illustrations by the husband and wife team Kerascoët (illustrators of Malala’s Magic Pencil) show how full of color Sophia’s life really is.

THOUGHTS: What makes this picture book biography unique, besides showcasing the much under-represented topic of women in science, is that it is written by The Bug Girl herself. This is quite an accomplishment for a fourth grader. There is even a section of bug facts in the back of the book, written by Sophia in kid-friendly language. Her inspirational story shows that elementary students are quite capable of pursuing their interests even when others do not understand them, although it may not be easy. Young female readers who are interested in science will connect to Sophia’s story.

921 SPE          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD