Elem. – The Leather Apron Club: Benjamin Franklin, His Son Billy and America’s First Circulating Library

Yolen, Jane. The Leather Apron Club: Benjamin Franklin, His Son Billy and America’s First Circulating Library. Charlesbridge, 2021. Unpaged.  978-1-580-89719-8. $17.99. Grades 2-4.

This latest offering by Jane Yolen is a picture book biography of Ben Franklin’s oldest child, William. Told in first person by Billy, the story explores his days as an eight year old apprentice, helping his father in their print shop. Although he enjoys the work, Billy would rather be outside playing with his cousin James. Ben has enough of his son’s wild ways and hires a tutor to provide instruction to both boys. At first, they find their schooling boring, until the day the teacher begins reading Homer’s The Odyssey.  Unlike James, William is captivated by the tale and wants to hear more. Soon he begins reading the epic on his own. His father tells his son that there are many other wonderful books like this at the Leather Apron Club. The pair visit the circulating library, the first of its kind, and Billy is amazed at the number of books and their brightly colored covers. Soon he meets other members of the club and participates in discussions with them about politics, history, finance, among other topics. The young Master Franklin observes that “…Books…opened up Worlds once closed to me…” and he vows to “Do More.” to do good in the world. The text is written according to the capitalization rules of the 18th century, meaning that even most common names begin with a capital.  Sprinkled throughout the story are fitting quotations from Poor Richard’s Almanac. Wendell Minor’s watercolor illustrations are done on a large scale and bring the story to life. The back matter contains an author’s note with more information about William’s adult life, the Leather Apron Club, and Franklin’s almanac. Yolen states that she got the idea for this book after hearing a speaker discuss the Leather Apron Club and its lending library at the White House. 

THOUGHTS: Children will enjoy listening to this story of a famous American’s son, although they may be surprised to learn which side he supported during the American Revolution. It works in social studies units as an introduction to Colonial America and will be appreciated by history buffs. Yolen’s picture book is a tribute to the power of libraries and books and is a worthwhile purchase for all elementary collections.

Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
973.30922  Personal Narratives–American Revolution

YA – You Can Go Your Own Way

Smith, Eric. You Can Go Your Own Way. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-40568-5. $18.99. 336 p. Grades 9 and up.

Adam Stillwater’s family pinball arcade, Old City Pinball, is in trouble. Since his father passed away, it’s been just Adam and his mom trying to keep the business afloat, and with the popularity of esports rising, people just aren’t interested in playing the old machines anymore. Adam still has a passion for pinball though, and he spends most of his time maintaining the machines at the arcade and continuing to build a custom Philly-themed machine his father began designing and building before he passed away. Whitney Mitchell runs the social media for an esports café – West Philly esports – owned by her father. As her father looks to expand business, there is talk of him buying Old City Pinball – which would be bad enough on its own but is doubly troubling for Adam since he and Whitney were childhood best friends. Adam’s father’s death and Whitney gravitating towards new friends in high school separated them, but when Whitney’s dad started a rival business, the two of them occasionally sparred on social media, effectively freezing what was once a warm and fuzzy relationship. Now it’s their senior year, and an incident with Whitney’s brother at Old City Pinball bring Adam and Whitney together again. Being forced to interact in the weeks that follow help to thaw their icy feelings for each other, and Whitney finds talking to Adam comforting after her boyfriend breaks up with her and she begins to drift from her toxic friends. Their banter on social media and in person is even bordering on flirtatious, which is confusing given how public their dislike of each other has been for the past several years. Adam can fix a pinball machine, and Whitney can nurse just about any plant back to health, but fixing feelings isn’t quite as simple. They can’t escape trying though as a blizzard overtakes Philadelphia leaving Adam and Whitney trapped inside Old City Pinball for a night.

THOUGHTS: Fitting that the pinball arcade is in the “Old City” section of Philly since the theme of this lighthearted romance is very much about old vs. new, letting go and moving on, and focusing on what’s most important. You can put this book in the hands of any of your regular library patrons as it involves several library-adjacent activities like gaming, makerspaces, and coffee bars, even though it doesn’t actually take place in a library. Set in Philadelphia and full of fun Philly references, this book is geographically relevant for our Pennsylvania readers and makes for a fantastic winter break read. A bonus for readers of Eric Smith’s previous YA novel, Don’t Read the Comments: its main characters make a quick cameo appearance. Final thought – author Eric Smith is also a literary agent, and his website contains some super educational tips and information on the publishing field, an area aspiring writers are often left to figure out on their own.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

MG – The True Definition of Neva Beane

Kendall, Christine. The True Definition of Neva Beane. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-32489-1. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

While Neva Beane’s parents are on a summer singing tour abroad, she and her sixteen-year-old brother, Clay, are staying with their grandparents in West Philadelphia. The new girl across the street, Michelle Overton, is only a year older than Neva, but Michelle’s full figure and bikini outfits has Neva feeling inexperienced and babyish. In addition, Clay is preoccupied with the community organizing Michelle’s father is spearheading, and Neva’s best friend Jamila is busy preparing for her family vacation in Ghana. It’s a hot time in the city this summer, though. People are protesting unfair practices in housing and wages.  Against his grandparents’ orders, Clay is surreptitiously leading the youth branch of the protests. Although they were activists when they were younger, Nana and Grandpa now believe their duty is to protect their grandchildren which means keeping them away from the protests. Neva feels left out, but so does her grandmother—especially when her grandson forges her signature on the permission slip for a protest. Twelve-years-old and on the cusp of being a teen, Neva grapples with many conflicting feelings: she’s intimidated by Michelle but admires her, too; she values her friendship with Jamila, but they seem out of step; she’s homesick for her parents but doesn’t want her selfishness to stop their success; she’s wants to support the good cause but is anxious about protesting. Christine Kendall has produced a middle grade novel that recreates a Black American neighborhood against the backdrop of a tumultuous summer. Not only is the appealing character of Neva well-developed and identifiable to other readers her age, but the other characters are equally as genuine. Neva’s fascination with words is an added bonus to the book. This page-turning book will be a favorite and also boost the reader’s vocabulary!

Realistic Fiction    Bernadette Cooke  School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: With the mention of familiar street names and places and the extremely relatable main character and timely setting, this book will fly off the shelves at my library. This book is an incentive to learn how to use the dictionary and improve one’s vocabulary and spelling. Food for thought in classroom social/emotional discussions is Neva’s processing of social activism.