Elem./MG – Real-Life Ghost Stories

Real-Life Ghost Stories. Capstone, 2020. $21.49 ea. $171.92 set of 8. 32 p. Grades 3-6. 

Andrus, Aubrey. Bloody Mary. 978-1-543-57336-7.
Atwood, Megan. Popper the Poltergeist. 978-1-543-57342-8.
Peterson, Megan Cooley. The Bell Witch. 978-1-543-57335-0.
—. The Brown Lady. 978-1-543-57340-4.
—. The Flying Dutchman. 978-1-543-57338-1.
—. The Greenbrier Ghost. 978-1-543-57339-8.
—. La Llorona. 978-1-543-57337-4.
Wilkins, Ebony Joy. Perron Family Haunting. 978-1-543-57341-1.

Real-Life Ghost Stories features tales of spooky hauntings and happenings from around the world. Each volume focuses on an individual ghost story. The history behind the event or location is related and then readers learn about the subsequent claims of ghostly appearances. Fact boxes and skeptic’s notes offer readers background information as well as alternate explanations for the ghostly sightings. This reviewer had the opportunity to read The Brown Lady: The Ghost of Raynham Hall, a classic example of a haunted English manor house story. Raynham Hall not only has its own ghost (Lady Dorothy Walpole), but it was also the location of a famous photo that supposedly captured the ghost on film in the 1930s. The title features numerous illustrations, as well as photographs of the house, including the famous ghost photo. The cover illustration is also very appealing to potential browsers.

THOUGHTS: These spooky titles are sure to capture the interest of readers interested in haunted tales or mysterious happenings. They would also be a great addition to Halloween/October book displays. Libraries looking to add to their ghostly non-fiction shelves should consider this worthwhile series.
133.1  Ghost stories                Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem./MG – Hollow Dolls

Connolly, MarcyKate. Hollow Dolls. Sourcebooks, 2020. 978-1-492-68819-8. 259 p. $16.99. Grades 2-5.

After being trapped for years by the evil Lady Aisling, who held comet-blessed individuals captive to make use of their unique magical abilities, Simone is free. A mind-reader, Simone was particularly prized by Lady Aisling. But while all of her friends are eventually reclaimed by their families, Simone has no one. She is grateful that her best friend, Sebastian, has taken her in, but Simone restlessly pines for a family she cannot remember. When an opportunity arises for Simone to research her family, in hopes of locating them, Simone is ecstatic. However, she becomes concerned when she learns of the existence of a body walker, one who can take over another’s body and will. All too soon the body walker strikes close to home, and the young pair must unmask its identity before it controls them as well. This mildly creepy story is aimed at young readers ready for a slightly more complex story. The plot emphasizes the loyalty Simone and Sebastian have for each other, as well as their continued difficulties overcoming their horrific existence at the hands of Lady Aisling. Connolly brings an interestingly moral viewpoint to possessing magical abilities. While readers may think mind-reading would be a fascinating ability, Simone stresses how overwhelming it can be to hear so many thoughts, and she strives to not accidentally invade an individual’s mental privacy. But when she needs to locate her missing friends and save them from harm, she gladly uses all her abilities. Book one of a duology, readers will be looking for book two to see how Simone and Sebastian’s story ends.

THOUGHTS: Rather like a good bedtime story, Hollow Dolls is just creepy enough for young or more timid readers not ready to dive into Goosebumps-type horror. This is a delightful transition-level book for those readers who want the next step up from early chapter books.

Fantasy (Paranormal)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – How to Be a Girl in the World

Carter, Caela. How to Be a Girl in the World. Harper Collins Childrens, 2020. 294 p. $16.99 978-0-062-67270-4 Grades 5-8.

Lydia has spent the entire summer in pants, long sleeves, and turtlenecks, despite the heat, despite her single mom’s concerned comments, and despite friends’ odd looks. Lydia knows she’s not normal, and she doesn’t want to talk about it. Lydia, her biracial cousin Emma, and Lydia’s mom are proudly moving from an apartment to a dilapidated house of their own. Living in the house will require a huge amount of work (it’s chock full of dusty furniture left behind), but Lydia sees in it a chance to be safe. She would love to escape the nicknames, looks and comments of the boys at her private school. She shivers at men’s glances on the subway, or sitting too close. She feels extremely uncomfortable with her mom’s boyfriend Jeremy, whose hugs are just a little too long or too tight, and who assumes a greater friendliness with Lydia and Emma than Lydia would like. But no one else seems to notice any problem, so Lydia knows it’s her. She’s not normal, and if she can’t fix it, at least she can hide herself. Then maybe she’ll feel protected. In the new house, she finds a room full of herbs in jars and a book of spells. It’s exactly what she needs and even allows her to re-forge a connection with the best friend she’s ignored for the summer. They both try the spells, but the boys’ behavior and Jeremy’s behavior only becomes more troublesome, and an outburst from Lydia results in her being suspended from school. Lydia finally confides in her mother about the boys’ treatment of her, and her mother swiftly comes to her aid. When Lydia next explains Jeremy’s actions, her mother is devastated but resolute that Jeremy will never set foot in their house again. To Lydia, the revelatory message that she alone makes “the rules” concerning her body is freeing, and the new understanding and openness with those around her helps her to learn to own those rules.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful, “ordinary” story that every middle school girl would benefit from reading. It’s for every girl who’s ever been told, “it’s no big deal,” “you’re such a baby,” “that’s part of being a girl,” etc. And it’s for every boy who’s ever been told, “she likes it,” “you’re just being a boy,” or “looking doesn’t hurt.”  Pair with Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot

Key, Watt. Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020. 215 p. $16.99 978-0-374-31369-2 Grades 5-8. 

Adam survives the car crash that apparently killed his parents–at least, they have disappeared. When questioned by police, he speaks bewilderedly but honestly of what he saw in the wooded road near the Suwanee River: not a person or a bear, but something bigger than a bear, covered in hair, with a human face and huge black eyes. When the local paper runs a story about the accident including a “Sasquatch-like creature,” Adam regrets saying anything. The questions and the disbelief become overwhelming, especially from his Uncle John, who takes him in while the search for his parents continues. Adam can’t forget the creature, and due to disrupted sleep and nightmares, he begins searching online for information. He learns of a local Sasquatch appearance nearly 30 years ago, and sets out to question the man who reported it. He finds the near-hermit “Stanley” who reluctantly, then completely, tells Adam all he knows about the creatures, with a strong warning that the search for answers destroys your life. Adam decides he needs answers, and sets off on his own with some basic supplies.  What follows is a hard-core survival story wherein Adam becomes so attuned to the forest and animals that he lives as one of them, soon close to starving. Then he sees one of the creatures, then more. The scenes with the creatures shift from past tense to present tense, adding to the sense of unreality. Adam has found what he came for, but can he survive, can he find his parents, and can he get proof of the creatures’ existence?

THOUGHTS: With a likeable narrator, reasonable length (215 pages), and an attractive cover (see the creature in the trees?), Key has written a suspenseful survival story that will attract middle school readers curious about Bigfoot. Key includes helpful explanatory information about Sasquatch sightings.

Fantasy, Paranormal Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – B*Witch

Ohlin, Nancy, and Paige McKenzie. B*Witch. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-368-02876-9. 336. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

All Iris wants is to get through the first day of school without a panic attack and to keep her magical abilities hidden. After all, being a witch in contemporary society is not easy due to the President’s resolve to prosecute all witches and a new bigot gang, Antima, who search for witches all across the United States. Used to hiding her witch identity, Iris is thrilled when she is befriended by Greta who is a coven leader and a witch like her. When Greta’s coven is sent a mysterious magical shadow message, they, and rival coven The Triad, must work together to protect themselves and solve a murder.

THOUGHTS: Lovers of fantasy will enjoy this mysterious novel about magic and friendship told in multiple perspectives. There are plenty of surprises and contemporary references which create excitement and leave the reader eager for a sequel.

Fantasy (Paranormal)    Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

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 – Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas; Twinchantment; A Talent for Trouble; Mean; The Friendship Lie

Lashner, William. Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas. Disney/Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-04128-7. 310 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

If Elizabeth Webster was unprepared when middle school celebrity Henry Harrison asked her to tutor him in math, she was thoroughly speechless when she discovers he really needs help dealing with a headless ghost who appears in his bedroom. Angry teenage spirit Beatrice Long has requested Lizzie’s help, telling her, “Save me, save him”. While Lizzie wants no part of exorcising Beatrice, she guesses her long absent father is somehow involved, and sets out to find him. When she learns he works for the law firm Webster & Son, Attorneys for the Damned, awkward pieces begin to fall into place. But with her father missing, Lizzie is on her own to placate Beatrice, solve the mystery of her death (and find her head), as well as rescue her father. And, apparently, take her place as a litigator before the Court of Uncommon Pleas. Lucky for Lizzie, she has the support of her best friend, Natalie, and her long despised stepfather (maybe she was wrong about him?), as well as several new friends who enthusiastically help her polish her litigation skills. How did Lizzie go from fly-under-the-radar middle schooler to Elizabeth Webster, barrister, facing down the fallen angel Abezethibou? Part mystery, part ghost story, and totally fun, Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas touches on family relationships as well as being willing to trust and to extend yourself.

THOUGHTS: Hand this rollicking good time to readers looking for a humorous book, as well as those who enjoy a light mystery or a spooky book.

Realistic Fantasy (Paranormal)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Allen, Elise. Twinchantment. Roaring Brook, 2019. 978-1-534-13288-7. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Being a princess means you can do whatever you want, and everyone has to listen to you, right? Normally in stories this is true, but for Flisarra her very existence is technically illegal. You see, the princess known as Flisarah is actually twins Sarah and Flissa, and in their kingdom being a twin is illegal as is anything else seen as magical. A long time ago magic was common and used everywhere. When one Mange tried to use dark magic to take over the kingdom, rules were created and only chosen mange are allowed magic for the protection of the kingdom. Flissa and Sarah must be very careful and never be seen together. That all changes when their mother is sick, and they believe it is because of a curse. The princesses now must sneak across their kingdom and enter the magical realm to bring back the very mange who tried to take over the kingdom. As they travel they discover life and what they have been taught may not always be what it seems.

THOUGHTS: This book would be great for students who like the fantasy genre and books like Harry Potter. The way the girls work together and build friendships throughout the book makes it a great middle grades read.

 Fantasy          Arryn Cumpston Crawford Central SD


Farrant, Natasha. A Talent for Trouble. Clarion, 2019 (US Edition).  978-1-328-58078-8. 258 p. $16.99. Gr. 5-7.

Alice Mistlethwaite has been sent off to Stormy Loch, a boarding school in Scotland, by her Aunt Patience and her father, Barney. Aunt Patience hopes that this will be a new start for the whole family who is grieving over the death of Alice’s mother. Naturally a shy child who loves to write fantasy stories, Alice is apprehensive and lonely, and despite evidence to the contrary, she is devoted to her father. On the train ride to school she meets Jesse, another lonely child who feels lost and is worried about living up to the reputation of his older brothers. Then there is Fergus Mackenzie, who is very bright, plays mean pranks, and doesn’t know how to focus his gifts. Major Fortescue, the headmaster is reminiscent of Dumbledore. Seemingly formidable he, as the reader will discover, knows just how to get his charges on the right path to self-understanding. The three students are assigned team for the Year Sevens’ orienteering challenge in the hills of Scotland. This leads to perilous adventures through the rough terrain. Not only must they survive the trek, but they also escape some villainous characters who are after Alice because of her father.

THOUGHTS: The unidentified narrator really involves the reader and draws us into the story. The ending is not what most would expect – a grand reunion of father and daughter. It is so very difficult to realize that your parent is not the hero and that you have misplaced trust in your dead-beat dad. Life’s lesson can be hard, but Alice is much stronger as are the others.

Realistic Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Sayre, Justin. Mean. Penguin Workshop, 2019. 978-1-524-78795-0. 232 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8. 

Set in the same world as his other novels, Husky and Pretty, Justin Sayre delivers a poignant look at what it means to find yourself when you don’t know where to start. Ellen was once told she gets one adjective to describe herself when she gets to high school, and it turns out she’s mean. She doesn’t try to be; she just has trouble holding back her opinions because why should she have to? Together with best friends Ducks and Sophie, Ellen experiences regular school and, on her own, Hebrew school while preparing for her bat mitzvah. At school, everything is changing. Girls are starting to become boy crazy and change who they are. At Hebrew school, is she starting to become boy crazy herself? And what does that mean? Does she now have to change who she is? Throughout the novel Ellen navigates life’s ups and downs with friends and family all while trying to answer the one essential question: on the day she becomes a woman, what kind of woman does she want to be?

THOUGHTS: Mean was a charming read about what it takes to grow into who you are meant to be and the people who help you along the way.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Donnelly, Rebecca. The Friendship Lie. Capstone Editions, 2019. 978-1-684-46061-8. 267 p. $15.95. Grades 4-6.

Cora Davis’s parents know all about garbage, literally. They study where garbage goes after we toss it, and Cora has spent many an afternoon digging through garbage and sorting it. Lately, Cora feels like her life has been thrown in the trash when she and her best friend Sybella stop talking. 5th grade is not turning out the way that Cora wanted it to be. Woven throughout the book are also diary excerpts from a diary of a girl named Penny Ellen Chambord. The diary plays a large part in the friendship between the two girls and causes them to be able to see things from the other person’s perspective. There is also a family element, as Cora’s parents are separated, and that is causing tension in the family. Cora is a twin, and the relationship she has with her brother, who is the complete opposite of her, plays a rather large role. While Cora’s friendship is falling apart, her parents’ marriage is falling apart. Her mother is away for most of the book, and Cora ‘calls’ her and leaves her voicemails, which are a great insight into how Cora is feeling, both about her parents’ relationship as well as her former friendship with Sybella.

THOUGHTS: There is a major focus on garbage and the science of garbage, so that might turn some readers off. However, at the heart of the book is a sweet story about two friends who have to work at their friendship and learn that friendships change and grow. Overall, I think this book is a great representation of what it’s like for girls and boys to deal with friendships.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy

YA – The Nickel Boys; Don’t Date Rosa Santos; The Babysitter’s Coven; The Grace Year; How it Feels to Float; Dig; Inside Out; Ordinary Hazards

Whitehead, Colson. The Nickel Boys. Doubleday, 2019. 978-0-385-53707-0. 213 pp. $24.95. Grades 10+.

As a young black man in Tallahassee, Florida, in the early 1960s, Elwood Curtis has a vision for his life. The album Martin Luther King at Zion Hill (the best gift he ever received from his grandmother and guardian, Harriet) instilled his belief in King’s message of progress through peace, and he plans to join the Civil Rights movement. An ambitious high school student, Elwood enrolls in a college course, but in an almost absurdly tragic turn of events, he hitches a ride in a stolen car. Thus begins his time at Nickel Academy, a Florida reform school. Though he endures terrible abuse at Nickel, the friendship of another boy named Turner sustains him. Likewise, Turner trusts and confides in Elwood. Interspersed chapters from Elwood’s adult life in New York City provide glimpses of the lasting impact of the trauma suffered all those years before. Just as Elwood tries “without success to figure out why his life had bent to this wretched avenue,” so will readers of this virtuosic novel.

THOUGHTS: It’s difficult to find words that haven’t already been used to praise Colson Whitehead’s unique body of work, but The Nickel Boys is truly something special. An author of rare caliber, telling an essential story in spare and chilling prose. It’s adolescent characters make it a fine crossover selection. Elizabeth A. Murray’s recently published nonfiction title, The Dozier School for Boys, would be a fitting companion piece.

The Dozier School, which closed in 2011, inspired this story. For more information and footage of the school grounds, watch a YouTube video or two, starting with https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cY2Oh9fRSn4&t=4s.

Historical Fiction (Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

In the middle of the 1900s, there was not a lot of equality, especially in the south. The Nickel Boys is set both in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and in modern day. Based on true events, the tale centers around Elwood and Turner’s stay at Nickel Academy, a reformatory center for boys of all races in Florida. Although both boys ended up at the academy for different reasons, they become friends and supports for each other in a place that is brimming with abuse, racism, and corruption. Just as Elwood strived to participate in the Civil Rights movement before his placement, he tries to find a way to follow in Dr. King’s footsteps from afar, despite Turner’s hesitance. There are flashforwards to present day featuring a former student at the academy. 

THOUGHTS: This book did not read as fast as I thought it would, but the ending shocked the foundation of what I thought I understood about this horrible piece of history. It’s worth reading until the end, just for that feeling. The Nickel Boys is a good addition to any library looking to enhance their collection with a fictionalized specific story during the Civil Rights movement in 20th century America.

Historical Fiction.                 Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Moreno, Nina. Don’t Date Rosa Santos. Hyperion, 2019. 978–136803970-3. $17.99. 325 p. Grades 8 and up. 

The Santos women are cursed… or at least that’s what they and their community of Port Coral, FL believes based on their pasts. The curse? Any man they love will perish in the sea. Rosa’s grandfather died at sea in a storm as he and her pregnant grandmother escaped Cuba, and Rosa’s father who also loved the sea perished in a storm when Rosa’s mother was pregnant with her. For this reason, as Rosa explains in the book’s opening line, “The Santos women never go to the sea.” But as Rosa prepares to graduate high school and tries to make a college decision, the curse is the least of her worries… at least until she meets Alex, a super cute and mysterious boy who – of course – is a sailor. Avoiding Alex is difficult as Rosa is paired with him on a mission to save the port and its annual Spring Festival. While Rosa works on projects for the Spring Festival – and navigates her feelings for Alex – her college decision deadline looms in the back of her mind. She longs to take advantage of one school’s study abroad program to see her family’s homeland in Cuba, but she knows that would upset her grandmother who left Cuba for a reason and does not want to see her granddaughter go back. As Rosa’s primary parental caretaker (since her photographer mother is constantly traveling the country), her grandmother’s opinion matters a lot. Throw in a missing golden turtle that’s part of a school tradition, and that rounds out this novel’s array of conflicts. 

THOUGHTS: A cute tattooed sailor boy who bakes? (Can you say “unicorn?”) Still, Don’t Date Rosa Santos manages to be fluffy and feel-good yet complex and even surprising with a satisfying ending. The conflicts between these three Santos women become primary for most of the book, and female readers of any age can relate to their familial relationship struggles. Readers may find the characters’ Cuban culture and history engaging, though there are many times when the characters speak a line or two in Spanish, and readers who have any less than rudimentary knowledge of the Spanish language might find they need to look up words. Overall, highly recommended for fans of YA Contemporary. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Williams, Kate. The Babysitter’s Coven. Delacorte Press, 2019. 978-0-525-70737-0. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7 and up. 

Esme Pearl has a babysitter’s club. Okay, so it’s not like THE Babysitter’s Club, it only has two members, but it still counts. Together with her friend Janis, the club offers babysitting services around town. One night, things start to get weird, and someone that resembles The Goblin King from Labyrinth shows up and attempts to kidnap the child Esme is watching. Deciding that can’t possibly have actually happened, Esme resolves to put the event behind her and tries not to let it freak her out of a job. Events begin to snowball when a new girl appears at school and wants to join the club right around the same time Esme begins to notice that she is able to move things with her mind. The two find they have supernatural powers in common and work to learn their abilities while trying to keep the kids safe. But when an inter-dimensional demon shows up, who’s going to do the same for them? 

THOUGHTS: This was an exciting new take on a classic club. Author Kate Williams wrote a book that is not only imaginative but also culturally relevant by including many references that today’s teens will automatically understand and enjoy.

Fantasy (Paranormal)         Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Liggett, Kim. The Grace Year. Wednesday Books, 2019. 978-1-250-14544-4. 416 p. $16.99. Grades 9 and up. 

At 16 girls become dangerous. They are told they have magic, magic that turns them into sirens disrupting the very fabric of society. In order to continue to live in Garner County, 16 year old girls must be sent away for that year, the grace year. They must rid themselves of their magic in order to return as non-disruptive members of society, young women ready for marriage. Tierney James knows her grace year is coming but knows almost nothing about it given that women are forbidden to speak about what happens during that year. All she knows is that each year fewer and fewer girls return. Banished to an encampment, preyed upon by poachers, the girls must attempt to survive a whole year exposed to the elements with a finite food supply and powerful magic that threatens the sanity of every girl involved. All she has to go on are the few words she was warned with “Trust no one… Not even yourself” (Liggett 56).

THOUGHTS: Nothing is what it seems in this extraordinary tale. This is an incredible story of fantasy, adventure, and survival with underlying currents of feminism. The Grace Year kept me engrossed from cover to cover.

Action/Adventure, Fantasy (survival)          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Fox, Helena. How It Feels to Float. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2019. 978-0-525-55429-5. 384 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

This book makes my heart hurt for Biz, the main character who often talks to her late father as she struggles through life as a teenager. Set in Australia, this novel deals with grief, mental illness, and sexuality all written by someone who lives with mental illness. Biz doesn’t feel particularly attached to anyone or anything after a mis-kiss with her best friend and a sexual assault incident on the beach. A new, mysterious boy at school saves her in so many ways by the end of this book. 

THOUGHTS: This is a strong representation of so much of what young adults are going through in today’s world. The clear truth of Biz’s situation make her easy to relate to and the writing flows so effortlessly and beautifully. Another must have on any contemporary school library shelf.

Realistic Fiction         Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


King, A. S. Dig. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2019. 978-1-101-99491-7. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 11-12.

What do fleas, a shovel, pot, cancer, and a freak have in common? You won’t know until the end of this twisty family saga. King makes weird choices throughout this book that constantly make you question what you just read and then make you question what you believe in your soul. Dig is told from the point of view of five teenagers that don’t seem to have much in common, and they really don’t have much in common except potatoes.

THOUGHTS: This book made me squirm and made me think about things in a way that books haven’t done in a long time. It’s gritty and difficult to keep characters straight at times, but well worth the brilliance of what it will do to your soul. Recommended for hearty readers who can handle multiple points of view and difficult subjects including racism, murder, and abuse.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

A.S. King has written another interesting, metaphor-filled story about a multi-generational family trying to understand themselves, the choices they’ve made, life, and how they fit in their families and the wider world. The surrealistic elements King includes add to the feelings of confusion and despair that the teen protagonists and their parents and grandparents wrestle with. Although the story seems to focus on five teens it also examines the grandparents, Marla and Gottfried, and how their choices affected not only their children, but also their grandchildren. (The middle generation only plays a supporting role in the story.) Some of the teens go by labels like: The Shoveler, CanIHelpYou, The Freak (who is the most surreal), and The Ring Mistress (who takes delight in her Flea Circus). This story addresses many topics, like sexual assault, drug use, dysfunctional families, mental illness, cancer, and white privilege/racism and how each of those things can reverberate through generations. Every generation needs to dig their way out of the toxic blight caused by the generations that proceeded them. The overarching message is to love each other more.

THOUGHTS: I have read every book A.S. King has written and have enjoyed almost every one, but I really enjoyed reading Dig. Because it was told from so many points-of-view, I found it more challenging to get to know the characters initially, but I found myself still thinking about them days after finishing the story. I read it over the course of two days, and I didn’t want to put it down. I can’t wait to book talk this to my 9th grade students.

Realistic Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Maddox, Marjorie. Inside Out:  Poems on Writing and Reading Poems with Insider Exercises. Daffydowndilly Press, 2020. 978-1-950-46245-5. 61 p. Grades 7-12.

Pennsylvania author Marjorie Maddox’s ingenious little book of poems is chock-full of mentor texts that will not only educate, but also delight, budding tween and teen poets.  Most of the poems explain a poetic form or concept while at the same time serving as an example of it. “Couplet,” for instance, is a couplet describing a couplet: “Poet twins all dressed in rhymes / stroll side-by-side in two straight lines.”  Maddox’s poetry is easy to understand and yet full of clever wordplay and delightful images. Also included in the book are creative and fun poetry exercises with clear, detailed instructions, as well as a glossary of poetic terms. 

THOUGHTS: This is a unique, useful, and flat-out charming book. Aspiring young poets will love it, and so will teachers looking for resources for poetry units in middle and high school language arts classes. Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries.

 811  Poetry          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Grimes, Nikki. Ordinary Hazards. Wordsong, 2019. 978-1-629-79881-3 325 p. $19.99  Grades 7-12.

 “It’s a long story, but I’m a poet, /  I can cut it short,” Nikki Grimes promises in the prologue of her memoir-in-verse, Ordinary Hazards. She’s not kidding. In this heartrending but ultimately hopeful story of her formative years, Grimes evokes in a few words what would take most writers paragraphs to explain. Her story is not always easy to read. The daughter of a schizophrenic mother, Grimes endured abusive babysitters, horrific foster homes, and sexual assault. The memoir also has a meta-biographic aspect, as Grimes addresses the damage trauma does to memory:  she is left with “scraps of knowing / wedged between blank spaces.” Grimes shares how she reaches out to old friends and family members to fill in some of the gaps, and reconstructs her childhood journal as she imagines the rest. Despite the tough subject matter, the book is sprinkled with wry wit that will appeal to teen readers.  Ultimately, a portrait of a talented young woman who learns to rely primarily on her faith, a few trusted friends, and her own ingenuity, and eager to give back to a world that has given little to her, emerges. The book ends on a hopeful note, with Grimes meeting her soon-to-be first mentor, James Baldwin.

THOUGHTS: The subject matter of the book lends itself to more mature readers; however, Grimes writes sensitively and with as much decorum as ugly topics allow, with the result that the book is accessible to middle as well as high school students. The writing here is really unparalleled. Grimes, the 2017 winner of the Children’s Legacy Award, may have just published her best work to date. An essential purchase, as important a work as Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.

Biography          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley 

MG – Strange Star; Redworld; Bears of Ice; Zap; Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur; All Summer Long; Les Miserables: a Graphic Novel

Carroll, Emma. Strange Star. Delacorte Press. 2018. 978-0-399-55606-7. $16.99. 240 p. Gr. 5 and up.

Strange Star showcases the art of storytelling producing a scary ghost story. The setting is June of 1816. Friends are enjoying company and sharing ghost stories when a stranger appears at their door with a haunting tale to share.

THOUGHTS: The writing and research is solid. Readers will learn about Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont, Dr. John Polidori, and Lord Byron. They will ponder between the blending of fact and fiction in the tale.

Mystery/Horror          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


   

Collins, A.L. Redworld. Illustrated by Tomislav Tikulin. Stone Arch Books,  2018. 978-1-496-55892-3. 40 p. Set of 6 titles. $116.94. 128 p. Gr. 3-8.

Books the review is based upon:

Homestead: A New Life on Mars
Legacy: Relics of Mars

Bella Song is not thrilled when her family moves to Mars to find employment. She is shocked to learn that life is more difficult that she could have imagined. This exciting science fiction series includes a map, crisp illustrations, a glossary, Mars terms, an about the author and illustrator section, and a “What Do You Think” topic perfect for discussion or classroom activities.

THOUGHTS: The books can be used with a planet display including fiction and nonfiction books.

Science Fiction          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Lasky, Kathryn. Bears of the Ice: The Quest of the Cubs. Scholastic, 2018. 978-0-545-68304-3. $16.99. 240 p. Gr 3-8.

On the dreadful day of Tuesday, Svenna, mother polar bear that can read and write, will turn in herself in to spare her bear cubs. She makes a plan for her young cubs First and Second to stay with her sister. Not wanting her cubs to worry about her, Svenna says that she is leaving for a while to be with The Den of Forever Frost. When the cubs see the cruelty in the mother’s cousin, Taaka, they decide to escape. The question is, can the cubs survive?

THOUGHTS: This type of adventure is ideal for fans of Kathryn Lasky in addition to readers of the Spirit Animals and Warrior series.

Adventure          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Freeman, Martha. Zap. Simon and Schuster. 2018. 978-1-534-40557-8. $16.99. 293 p. Gr 4-8.

What would you like to do if school was cancelled due to power outages? At first it seems neat to Luis and his friends when school is cancelled. Then they realize with all of the power out, they can’t play their games or use phones, the novelty wears off. With the help of his friends Carlos and Maura, Luis works to solve the mystery of the power outage. Topics including coding, corruption in politics, retirement benefits, socioeconomic status, and changing dynamics in friendship are addressed.

THOUGHTS: Areas related to science are further discussed in the back matter which also includes a glossary of Spanish words and phrases used throughout the book. The book could work well as a book club selection.

Mystery          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD

Eleven year old Luis Cardenal isn’t too upset when the power goes off one morning in Hampton, New Jersey; he gets the day off from school and figures the power will be back on soon enough. But as the hours tick by, Luis and his friend Maura learn that the outage is growing, and the electric company and local authorities have no idea what caused it – and have no way to restore it. As paranoia deepens, dangerous rumors begin to spread. Luis and Maura are not sure if the outage was an accident or something deliberately done – perhaps a political tactic for the upcoming mayoral election. And is it possible that Maura’s own grandfather is connected to the outage? The two teens get wrapped up on the mystery as their town falls into chaos, and the readers will be left guessing until the very last page.

THOUGHTS: A fun mystery that will hook reluctant readers, this story also explores science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts.

Mystery          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Reeder, Amy, and Brandon Montclare. Illustrated by Natscha Bustos and Tamra Bonvillain. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: BFF #1: Repeat After Me. ABDO. 2018. 978-1-5321-4008-2. $17.95. 24 p. Gr 2-8.

Lunella would rather stay focused on her inventions. She must get ready for school held in the lower east side of Manhattan. When her teacher takes away her Kree-o-neter during dodgeball, a dinosaur takes Lunella away by its mouth. The story will be continued. At this time there are a total of six books in the series.

THOUGHTS: This series provides a diverse cast of character for readers to develop connections. Ideal addition to graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD


Larson, Hope. All Summer Long. Farrar Straus Giroux. 2018. 978-0-374-31071-4. $12.99. 172 p. Gr 5-8.

Summer was a time where Bina and Austin used to spend together. Now Bina and Austin are separated in the summer. Bina wonders if she will ever have fun and tries to make new friends in the summer. The artwork is accented by an orange ink color.

THOUGHTS: Add this to the graphic novel collection for your students. This is a super graphic novel to partner with Be Prepared, since summer activities are key to both novels. It could also be part of a summer reading book display.

Graphic Novel          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD

Graphic novel staple Hope Larson pens another successful coming of age story for middle schoolers. Thirteen year old Brina is excited for her summer. Like previous years, she expects to spend her days with her best Austin. But this summer, Austin is going to soccer camp, and as the summer progresses, he texts Brina less and less. Bored and lonely, Brina ends up spending a lot of time with Austin’s older sister, learning guitar and about herself, too. With subdued colors, this one will have readers nostalgic for warm summer as they sit in their classrooms.

THOUGHTS: As always, Larson’s illustrations and dialogue are relatable and interesting. She has a knack for engaging readers and showcasing realistic moments in tween and teen life. If graphic novels are popular in your library, this is a worthy addition.

Graphic novel          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Saracino, Luciano, et al. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables: a Graphic Novel. Stone Arch Books, a Capstone Imprint, 2018. 978-1-496-56111-4. $20.49. 80 p. Gr. 5-9.

Books in this graphic novel series help introduce readers to classics. The artwork is detailed in full color while dialogue and narration advance the story. The book also contains information about the author, retelling author and illustrator, and a detailed glossary. The back matter includes additional information about revolutions and history during the time frame of the book.

THOUGHTS: While the discussion questions and writing prompts are included, this is more likely information that will help teachers and librarians lead lessons about the book. There is a lot of value not only to have these books serve as an introduction to students, but also as a reference when students read the classic writings.

Graphic Novel          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD

YA FIC – Spill Zone; Skinful of Shadows; Race to the Bottom of the Sea; Starfish

Westerfeld, Scott. Spill Zone. First Second, 2017. 978-1-59643-936-8. 224 p. $22.99. Gr. 9-12.

Addison and her sister Lexa live in the seemingly abandoned town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Lexa hasn’t spoken since her parents disappeared three years earlier, when a strange “spill” occurred and changed the town forever. Not many venture into the spill zone, where nightmarish creatures and cruel manifestations lurk around every corner. But in order to support herself and her sister, Addie illegally ventures into the zone to capture pictures of the otherworldly terrors inside, selling them to curious outside collectors for top dollar. While in the zone, Addie has rules for herself that she refuses to break in order to stay alive – that is, until a collector offers her an incredible sum of money for extremely dangerous photographs. So Addie decides to take the risk, putting her life in danger, but to also hopefully to learn more about the spill – which might not be the only one in the world. A haunting, peculiar story from YA staple Westefeld, with surreal artwork from Alex Puvilland. THOUGHTS: A good addition to any graphic novel collection where post-apocalyptic tales are still popular.

Graphic Novel      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Hardinge, Frances. A Skinful of Shadows. New York: Amulet Books, 2017. 978-1-4197-2572-2. 415 p. $19.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Frances Hardinge writes odd, dark, twisty, and cleverly complicated novels, and her most recent offering, A Skinful of Shadows, is no different. This is the story of Makepeace, a girl raised in a strict Puritan community, who has the ability to house spirits inside of her head. Most of her life, Makepeace fought against these spirits and spent her formative years learning defensive tactics to keep them out. However, after a devastating accident leaves Makepeace orphaned, she unwittingly allows the spirit of a once-captive bear to take up residence in her head. Bear, as she calls him, becomes a fierce ally, and he and Makepeace form an unshakeable bond. Sent to live with her mysterious and aristocratic relatives, the Fellmottes, Makepeace learns some disturbing secrets about this side of her family, so when it becomes clear that her life is in danger, Makepeace flees. The novel is set in England during the reign of King Charles I, amidst great political turmoil and upheaval; the civil war between the Royalists and Parliamentarians plays a large role in the plot, with Makepeace both spying for, and subjugating herself to, both sides. While on the run, Makepeace acquires other spirits; watching the interplay between all of the personalities, including Bear, is what makes this story great and drives the action. Makepeace, who has no cause to trust anyone other than herself and Bear, must learn to come to terms with her abilities, and learn to put herself – literally – into the hands of others.  At the same time, she transforms from a girl with no agency into a fully-fledged, autonomous young woman, who is not afraid to get what she wants.

Historical Fantasy     Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Eager, Lindsay. Race to the Bottom of the Sea. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2017. 978-0-7636-7923-1. 432 p. $17.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Life is a series of oceanic adventures for Fidelia Quail, daughter of two prominent scientists (a marine biologist and a zoologist) in Lindsay Eager’s Race to the Bottom of the Sea. On track to be as brilliant as her parents, and already with several substantial and successful inventions under her belt (including a two-person submersible), Fidelia’s future looks very bright indeed. When disaster strikes, and Dr. and Dr. Quail are tragically lost during a storm, Fidelia is consumed by grief and guilt and is unsure how to move on. Her mourning is rudely interrupted by Merrick the Monstrous, the most fearsome pirate alive, who kidnaps Fidelia with the intent of using her to find his treasure. Merrick, however, has some secrets of his own, and is, perhaps, not as monstrous as everyone things. THOUGHTS:  This book is at once a fast-paced adventure novel of the high seas, while at the same time it’s also a philosophical look at life, death, and sacrifice. The latter at times feels too heavy for middle-grade readers; this, combined with Merrick’s backstory all about his doomed romance (the reader knows who his love interest is, but Fidelia does not), makes this novel less accessible than it should be.  However, Fidelia is such a feisty, whip-smart heroine, who uses both common sense and her scientific mind to think her way out of trouble, and she will definitely resonate with readers of all levels. Her relationship with Merrick, and her growing empathy towards him, is palpable, and serves to move the plot forward. Hand this to readers who enjoy quirky, outside-the-box tales.

Fantasy      Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School

 

Bowman, Akemi Dawn.  Starfish.  Simon Pulse, 2017.  978-1-4814-8772-6. 343 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9 and up.

All her life, Kiko Himura has felt like an outsider.  She suffers from anxiety and wants nothing more than acceptance from her mother, who belittles Kiko’s Japanese descent (which came from her father) as well as her dreams of attending Prism Art School in New York City.  When Kiko receives a rejection letter from Prism, she is devastated.  She cannot stand to live in her house any longer with her emotionally abusive mother and her sexually abusive uncle.  She cannot move in with her father, for he is too preoccupied with his second wife and their newborn twin daughters.  Therefore, when a childhood friend invites her to head to California with him and look at art schools out west, she decide to take advantage of the opportunity.  Once there, Kiko begins to flourish.  Under the mentorship of artist Hiroshi Matsumoto, who befriends her at an art show, Kiko begins to find herself through art, and she finally gains the courage and conviction that had been missing all her life.  A moving story that will speak volumes to any reader who has ever experienced anxiety or self-doubt.  THOUGHTS: Though slow-moving at first, the pace of this novel picks up about halfway through, and readers will find themselves desperately rooting for the realistic and relatable Kiko and hoping that she soon finds her voice.  Besides drawing relatable characters, the author has also interweaved a love story and complicated family dynamics into the novel, creating a narrative that will speak to a variety of readers for different reasons.  A 2018 William C. Morris Award finalist, this novel will have readers anxiously awaiting Bowman’s next release, set to debut in September of 2018.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School