MG – Air

Roe, Monica. Air. Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-374-38865-2. 267 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Air is about a fiercely independent girl who finds confidence, independence, and friendship while living in a community that needs serious upgrades to handicapped accessibility and efforts at inclusion. Emmie and her best friend Alejandra are lively, interesting characters who both have big dreams and work together to help make those dreams a reality; Emmie’s dream is to participate in the WCMX games for wheelchair athletes, and Alejandra aspires to be a master beekeeper. Unfortunately, after an accident at school with her wheelchair, Emmie discovers that not everyone who wants to help her achieve her athletic dreams has pure intentions, and she needs to make a hard decision about who she is, what she wants, and what she must sacrifice to accomplish her goals.

THOUGHTS: Emmie is surrounded by so many supportive people in this book; her friends, her family, and even the wheelchair-bound customer she corresponds with online really help her understand what she needs to do to be successful, and they allow her to explore and make mistakes in a way that is touching and inspiring. This story is definitely a wonderful example to illustrate the idea that disability is not the only way to define a person while simultaneously showing that accessibility, accommodation and understanding are crucial pieces to the success of students and of whole communities. Fans of Wonder, Fish in a Tree and Out of My Mind will love this book too!

Realistic Fiction        Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – My City Speaks

Lebeuf, Darren. My City Speaks. Illustrated by Ashley Barron. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30414-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-3.

A young girl takes readers through a day of exploring her city the way she experiences it – through sound. Though readers may not notice the narrator’s visual impairments, the intricate illustrations – a combination of cut-paper collage, watercolor, acrylic, and pencil crayon, with some digital assembly – show her using a white cane and yellow tactile paving at a crosswalk. Sounds from the city help highlight things one may not notice with so many beautiful sights – “hasty honks, impatient beeps, distant chimes, reliable rumbles, speedy sirens and urgent clangs.” A fun pre-reading activity would be to ask students to close their eyes and identify sounds they hear then compare what they hear with what they see.

THOUGHTS: This title is an opportunity to discuss diverse abilities and show children how similar people’s experiences may be, regardless of ability. Highly recommended for picture book collections, especially those seeking representation.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem./MG – Set Me Free

LaZotte, Ann Clare. Set Me Free.  Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-74249-7  $18.99. 288 p. Grades 4-6.

Mary Lambert, a deaf girl living on Martha’s Vineyard in the late 1700’s, went through an unimaginable and traumatic ordeal when she was kidnapped years ago to be studied to determine the reason for her deafness. Settled back into her life on the Vineyard, Mary is longing for a more meaningful life. When a friend from years ago sends Mary a letter asking for her assistance helping a young deaf girl to learn to communicate, Mary is hesitant but excited for this new opportunity. However, when Mary arrives on the mainland to teach the girl, she finds that her new charge is imprisoned in the attic and treated horribly! Mary must muster up the courage and support to help free this girl from her circumstances. 

THOUGHTS: For those that loved Show Me a Sign, this is a must purchase. I did not love this installment as much as the first, but the history behind this time period is fascinating. Mary is truly a feminist and has no problem sharing her beliefs. She is a wonderful female literary icon.

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Abington SD

Mary Lambert, the deaf heroine from the fascinating early 1800’s island community of Martha’s Vineyard in Show Me A Sign, returns in this historical fiction book that is also rich with mystery and intrigue. Mary is eager to find her way in life and become a teacher, following in the footsteps of her own beloved teacher Mrs. Pye, but she is restless in her home community and feels as though she might have a calling in the wider world. Then, she receives a letter from Nora, a friend who helped her escape captors in her previous adventure, and decides to travel to Boston and help a young deaf girl who needs help learning to communicate through sign language. When she arrives, she finds the girl living in terribly cruel conditions and vows to help her not only learn to communicate, but also to return to her rightful family. With the help of friends both old and new, Mary bravely stands up for the rights of her young charge and demonstrates her conviction that people of all abilities deserve respect, dignity and opportunity in life.

THOUGHTS: This book is a wonderful testament to people with diverse abilities overcoming obstacles, especially those who deal with discrimination based on race, disability, gender, or for any other reason. Fans of Helen Keller’s story will also love this tale of a relationship that develops between a brave teacher and her bright but misunderstood student.

Historical Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – The Chance to Fly

Stroker, Ali, and Davidowitz, Stacy. The Chance to Fly. Amulet Books, 2021. 978-1-419-74393-1. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

After moving across the country and leaving her best friend Chloe behind, Natalie Beacon feels a little lost. She finds some solace in belting Broadway showtunes and hanging with her dog, Warbucks. Her father believes that getting her back on a wheelchair racing team will make her feel better, and it might have…until Nat sees a flyer advertising open auditions for a teenage production of Wicked! Without her parents’ permission or knowledge, Nat auditions with the hope of playing Nessarose, the only Broadway character that is in a wheelchair. Yet even if she makes it into the show, Nat knows she will constantly worry about how her wheelchair might get in the way: what if backstage isn’t wheelchair accessible? What if the dance moves are too complicated for her? What if her parents don’t think she is capable of doing something on her own without their help? Determined and eager, Nat sets out to prove to everyone that she is not defined by her wheelchair.

THOUGHTS: Ali Stroker, co-author of this book, knows firsthand about Nat’s predicament. She is the first actress in a wheelchair to appear on a Broadway stage AND win a Tony Award, Broadway’s highest honor. This middle grade novel is packed with show tune lyrics and Broadway references. Readers will be charmed by (and also relate to) Nat and her friends. Her story is proof that no one should give up on their dreams.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Show Me a Sign

LeZotte, Ann Clare. Show Me a Sign. Scholastic Press, 2020. 269 p.  978-1-338-25581-2. $ 18.99. Grades 4-7.

Part Historical Fiction and part Thriller, this story is set in 1805 Martha’s Vineyard and follows 11 year old Mary. Mary is one of the many deaf inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard who descended from a small town in England. This genetic abnormality passes over some, yet inflicts others. However, life on the island is normal for the deaf and hearing alike. Most inhabitants speak their own form of island sign language as well as English. Life is normal until a young scientist from Boston comes to the island to study this abnormality. In trying to uncover the cause of deafness, Andrew captures Mary as his specimen and absconds with her to mainland Boston. Tortured by her captor, and realizing that she is different for the first time, Mary must find a way to escape and return to her family. Follow Mary as she escapes with the help of some Vineyard friends and finds her way home to her family and friends. The afterword includes a short history of deafness on Martha’s Vineyard, Sign Language, and the Wampanoag Tribe.

THOUGHTS: Such an interesting and unforgettable story that is rooted in history. LeZotte is deaf herself and does a fantastic job of bringing you into the world of Mary.

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

Tags: Deafness, Kidnapping, Sign Language