Elem. – How to Be a Pirate

Fitzgerald, Isaac. How to Be a Pirate. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-681-19778-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

On the first endpages, freckle-faced and pigtailed Cece is told she can’t be a pirate. Muted colors reflect her mood as she visits her grandfather who she suspects might know a thing or two about pirates. As it turns out, Grandpa’s tattoos show Cece characteristics of a good pirate. She must be brave, be quick, have fun, be independent, and have love. With each character trait, Cece and Grandpa go on and adventure, and the story becomes more lively and colorful. With a new awareness of what it takes to be what she wants, Cece returns to the boys and their pirate treehouse – now full of confidence that she has exactly what it takes to be a pirate.

THOUGHTS: This adventurous story shows children that fitting a role is about more than what one may assume. Breaking down gender stereotypes in an age appropriate way, Fitzgerald’s How to Be a Pirate is sure to be a much loved addition to any elementary library.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton 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

Upper Elem. FIC – According to Aggie; Evil Emperor Penguin; Danger Gang…; Smarty Marty…

Beaumont, Mary Richards et al. According to Aggie. American Girl Publishing, 2017.  9781683370109. 115 p. $9.99. Gr. 3-5.

This graphic novel tells the story of Aggie Winters Frye, who deals with friendship issues in an elementary school setting.  The story is relevant to any girl who finds that her relationship with a childhood friend is changing.  Aggie’s friend Fiona begins avoiding Aggie and no longer wishes to join her on Friday Fun Day after school or go to the Ice-stravaganza.  At first, Aggie believes that she will be “unfriendable”, but she eventually becomes friends with a new student.  This is not a new story, but one that is meaningful to the intended audience who will easily relate to Aggie’s story. The graphic novel format is very appealing and the characters are from diverse backgrounds.  A short holiday story is included as well and readers can read more about Aggie in the American Girl magazine.  THOUGHTS: While this book is slight, the storyline and format will appeal to elementary students.

Graphic Novel; Realistic Fiction       Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

Anderson, Laura Ellen. Evil Emperor Penguin. David Fickling Books, 2017. 978-1-338-13274-8. 64 pp. $8.99. Gr. 2-5.

Evil Emperor Penguin, or EEP for short, is determined to rule the world.  With his sidekick, Number 8, and his minion, Eugene, he quests for world domination, but nothing ever seems to go quite right.  From “freezing” world leaders (but instead knitting them sweaters) to fear gas (that brings EEP images of his mother), nothing goes quite as planned, and everything goes awry when Evil Cat, EEP’s archnemesis arrives.  THOUGHTS:  This first book in a new graphic novel series is an elementary crowd pleaser.  Reminiscent of Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb, EEP is hilarious in his desire for world domination.  This is a fabulous addition to elementary graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel     Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

Bramucci, Stephen. The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978-1-61963-692-7.  375p. $16.99.  Gr. 4 and up.

Ronald Zupan is a master adventurer, the son of the famous Helen and Francisco Zupan. The only problem is that his parents have not let him come on any of their adventures. On the morning of his 12th birthday, his parents do not appear, and Ronald knows they are in trouble. He teams up with the family butler, the girl who beat him in a fencing tournament, and a pet boa constrictor, to go find them in Borneo. Much adventure ensues.  THOUGHTS: Written mostly in Ronald’s bold and exaggerated voice, interspersed with more realistic details from the butler, this tale is quite funny. It seems like it could be an annoying children’s book, but all three main characters grow and learn from their experiences. This would be a good book for 4th graders on up who like action, adventure, or funny stories

Action/Adventure; Humor     Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Gutierrez, Amy. Smarty Marty Steps up Her Game. Cameron Kids, 2017. 978-1944903084. $13.95. Gr. 2-4.

Marty, who loves baseball, is the score-keeper for her younger brother’s little-league team. Having taught him all she knows (which is more than most grown-ups) about her favorite sport, Marty is there to cheer him on! At one game the announcer doesn’t show up, and Marty has the chance to make her announcing dream come true. Some people don’t like the fact that a girl is announcing the game.  What will Marty do? THOUGHTS: This book is written by The San Francisco Giants in-game reporter Amy Gutierrez. The author knows what she’s talking about both in terms of baseball lingo, and what it’s like to be a woman expert in a male-dominated sport.

Sports              Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School