MG/YA – Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield

Jarrow, Gail. Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield. Calkins Creek, 2021. 978-1-684-37814-2. Grades 5-12

Author Gail Jarrow (Blood and Germs, Poison Eaters) is back with another top notch medical-related non-fiction title for secondary students. This time, she has turned her focus to the assignation of President James Garfield. Garfield was a respected former college president, Civil War general, and Congressman who was elected President in 1880. On July 2, 1881, Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled office seeker, shot Garfield shortly after he entered a train station. Though medical professionals in Europe had been advancing theories regarding germs and the importance of treating wounds with antiseptics, these ideas found little acceptance in America. Therefore, when Garfield was examined, his doctors probed his wound with dirty fingers and instruments. Garfield lingered for months, slowly wasting away as infection ravaged his body. The country united together, in hopes that Garfield would survive, but he passed away on September 19, 1881. Jarrow makes extensive use of primary documents, including diary entries and other communications to relate Garfield’s story. Numerous photographs, paintings, and illustrations enhance the text. Backmatter includes a glossary, timeline, and list of additional resources. 

THOUGHTS: Since Garfield’s presidency was short, he is little remembered today, which is unfortunate. He had an amazing life story, which Jarrow outlines in the beginning of this engaging title. Even though he was in constant pain following being shot, he remained in good spirits and never complained, even while undergoing painful (and as the reader learns, unsanitary) treatments. Readers will gain an appreciation for Garfield and an appreciation for how far medical knowledge and treatment has advanced. Highly recommended.

973.84 American History        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem./MG – Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride

Lantos, Jeff. Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-58089-933-8. 134 p. $18.99. Grades 3-8. 

“Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the most famous poems written by an American poet. Memorized by thousands of children (and adults) since its publication in 1860, the poem popularized Paul Revere and the story of the events on April 18 & 19, 1775, when riders traveled the countryside around Boston to warn citizens that British troops were on the move. While the average reader may accept the poem as fact, in actuality Longfellow took some artistic license in his retelling. Author Jeff Lantos examines the poem stanza by stanza, comparing the text of the poem to primary source accounts of the events. Readers will learn reasons Longfellow strayed from the historical record is his retelling, including the need to maintain pacing in the poem, removing details that might detract from the main storyline, and the need to give the poem a sense of drama. Numerous sidebars highlight historical facts and figures, and the text is enhanced by the inclusion of maps, photographs, paintings, and drawings. 

THOUGHTS: This fantastic title is a combination history lesson and literary analysis. The author is a retired teacher and has an engaging conversational tone that is sure to keep readers turning the page. An excellent choice for casual readers or those researching the events surrounding the beginning of the American Revolution, this title deserves a spot on library shelves.

811 Poetry          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MS/HS Nonfiction – Every Falling Star; Coral Reefs; Uncovering the Past


Lee, Sungju and Susan McClelland.  Every Falling Star. New York: Amulet Books, 2016.  978-1-4197-2132-8. $16.95. 320p. Gr. 5 and up.

Every Falling Star is the story of Sungju Lee’s privileged life as the son of a high ranking army official during North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung’s, reign.  Sungju lives in a luxurious apartment, takes Taekwondo lessons at a top school, and dotes on his rare purebred dog.  Shortly after the leader dies, the family’s fortunes change under the leadership of Kim Jong-il.   Sungju’s father announces that the family will be going on an extended “holiday” near the sea (in reality, his parents were being deported).  North Korea experienced severe famine during the 1990’s and each of his parents ultimately left to find food for the family.  With his parents missing, Sungju must fend for himself on the streets.  He forms a “gang” (partnership) with friends from school in order to survive.  Lee’s stories of survival are harrowing: violence, substance abuse, constant hunger, and death surround him as he travels from place to place.  Fortunately, Sungju Lee’s story ends happily, although he mourns dead and missing friends/family to this day.  THOUGHTS:  Lee wrote this story with Susan McClelland, the author who worked with Mariatu Kamatu to write The Bite of the Mango.  Much of the success of this story can be attributed to McClelland, who edited Sungju’s story to make it emotionally affecting without too many “adult” details.  This is an action-packed story that provides a rare inside peek at life in North Korea, and I would purchase it for middle and high school libraries.

Every Falling Star reads like a work of fiction,  The narrative moves along quickly, and the boys in the “gang” lead a life of adventure which would seem fun if it weren’t true.  The seven boys in the gang refer to themselves as brothers, and the relationship between the boys is heartfelt.  The fact that Sungju’s story is written in an autobiographical format reassures the reader that all ends well for him, but we wonder what has happened to the other people in the story (and how widespread these stories are in North Korea).  This book would be an excellent addition to any study of North Korea or Asia because it helps the reader have empathy for those living under communist regimes.  This book is highly recommended.

950 or 92 (Memoir)        Susan Fox, Washington Park School



Wicks, Maris. Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean. New York: First Second, 2016. 978-1-62672-145-6. $19.99. Gr. 5-8.

Maris Wicks, author of the wonderful Human Body Theater, explores the underwater world of coral reefs in this vibrant, descriptive, and entertaining graphic novel. Readers are guided through the coral reef’s vast ecosystem by a small, bespeckled yellow-prawn goby, who covers an array of topics from biodiversity to pollution, making a few corny jokes along the way. Illustrations are extremely detailed, especially when showing plant and aquatic life within the reef. Wicks does an excellent job of making somewhat scary creatures seem friendly; weary readers won’t need to shy away. A glossary, list of additional resources, and bibliography are provided and help aid younger readers or those wishing to learn more about coral reefs. This title is part of a broader series, Science Comics, which includes Dinosaurs and Volcanoes, and more volumes to come! THOUGHTS: For anyone looking to expand their nonfiction graphic novel section, this is a great addition that will attract many readers through it’s impressive, easy to read text and colorful illustrations.

577 Ecology    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School



Uncovering the Past: Analyzing Primary Sources. New York: Crabtree, 2016. $31.32 ea. $313.20 set of 10. 48 pp. Gr. 6 and up.
Hyde Natalie. Black Tuesday and the Great Depression. 9780778717089.
Hyde, Natalie. The Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. 9780778725701.
Peppas, Lynn. The Displacement of Native Peoples. 9780778725718.
Peppas, Lynn. Women’s Suffrage. 9780778717201.
This eye-catching series offers a fresh spin on both analyzing sources and evaluating pivotal historical events using primary sources specifically. The first half of each book covers the importance of studying history, identifying primary and secondary sources, and analyzing evidence with an eye toward bias and context. The second half delves into the event itself, revisits evidence to explore different viewpoints, and wraps up with modern examples that seem to repeat/parallel history. The timeline and glossary are especially strong components of each volume’s back matter. These titles provide a solid middle-grade introduction to identifying, evaluating, and interpreting elements of the historical record: photos, magazine articles, political cartoons, speeches, and more. THOUGHTS: Though not a series students will gravitate to for enjoyment reading, it fills a need in most collections for current, balanced coverage of key historical events. The focus on types and quality of sources distinguishes it from other strong series such as Compass Point’s Snapshots in History.
COMMENTARY: Pages 12-13 of The Displacement of Native Peoples discusses evaluating the reliability of both primary and secondary sources. “The best primary or secondary sources,” author Lynn Peppas states, “are those created closest tin time to the historical event under consideration.” I disagree with her example that posits James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans as a “better secondary source” than Michael Blake’s 1988 novel, Dances with Wolves. As a general rule, a secondary source created closer to the time of a historical event may be more reliable, but evaluating fiction in this way (or even using fiction as a historical source) seems ill-advised, especially for young researchers.
900 (various historical topics)    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

YA Series Nonfiction – Cutting Edge: Science & Technology; Uncovering the Past


Cutting Edge: Science and Technology. Minneapolis: ABDO, 2016. 112 p. $24.95. Gr. 9 and up.

Abramovitz, Melissa. Brain Science. 978-1-62403-914-0.

Hand, Carol. Sustainable Agriculture. 978-1-62403-919-5.

Hulick, Kathryn. Artificial Intelligence. 978-1-68077-006-3.

Hulick, Kathryn. Energy Technology. 978-1-62403-915-7.

Kruesi, Liz. Astronomy. 978-1-62403-913-3.

Kruesi, Liz. Space Exploration. 978-1-62403-918-8.

Morris, Alexandra. Medical Research+Technology. 978-1-62403-916-4.

Slingerland, Janet. Nanotechnology. 978-1-62403-917-1.

Cutting Edge: Science and Technology is a very visual series, designed to draw readers in to explore multifaceted topics.  Each colorful book has ample eye-catching photos and sidebars on important people and events.  Well-drawn graphics explain scientific concepts simply.  The back of the book is chock full of helpful features such as an index, glossary, source notes, additional resources, and “essential facts.”  The text, while informative, is broken up with frequent subheadings, making research easier.  The books not only cover the history of each topic but also speculate on the future, prompting the reader to consider possible developments. THOUGHTS:  This series would be a fantastic resource for research, but few students would be likely to check them out based on general interest, except maybe space exploration. Purchase if there is a need for information about these topics for class assignments.

Science & Technology     Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School



Uncovering the Past: Analyzing Primary Sources (series). New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2015. 48 p. $23.54 ea. Gr. 6-12.

Flatt, Lizann. Immigration. 978-0-7787-1550-4.

Hyde, Natalie. The Underground Railroad. 978-0-7787-1551-1.

Peppas, Lynn Leslie. The Holocaust. 978-0-7787-1548-1.

Staton, Hilarie. Civil Rights. 978-0-7787-1549-8.

This stellar series examines key events in American history through various primary sources. Readers are given a clear, concrete definition of primary and secondary sources, with guiding text along the way. With each subject, the author finely guides students through the process of contextualizing, analyzing, and interpreting documents such as photographs, advertisements, receipts, diary entries, maps, paintings and more. Readers can also interact with media clips, such as songs or other voice clips, which are linked to in certain volumes. All volumes end with a fantastic timeline to help fully visualize the context of the topic examined. In addition to exploring the history of the event, readers will also find a section focused on recent findings, as well as a glossary of terms, an internet guidelines and analysis section, and additional online resources for more information.. THOUGHTS: A worthy addition to any school library collection, as titles focus on state standards in analyzing and interpreting primary and secondary sources for critical thinking.

304.8 (Immigration); 973.7115 (Underground Railroad); 323.119 (Civil Rights); 940.5318 (Holocaust)   Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

The Prisoners of Breendonk – New Narrative NF for Teens


Deem, James M. The Prisoners of Breendonk: Personal histories from a WWII concentration camp. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 978-0-544-09664-6. 340 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 & up.

Breendonk was never officially designated a concentration camp by the Nazis, but its status made it no less horrifying for its prisoners.  At first, Jews and non-Jews who had committed petty crimes were held in this Belgian prison, forced to perform mindless, backbreaking labor on starvation rations.  Later in the war, resistance members were brought here for brutal torture and executions.  Except for the testimony and writings of former prisoners, little was known about Breendonk until the author began researching its history.  Deen presents a thorough account of prison life and delves into the backgrounds of many of the prisoners.  Background information about the Belgian resistance movement gives context.  The book is interspersed with valuable primary sources, such as photos, letters and drawings.  An afterword tells readers what happened to many of the prisoners featured in the book.  THOUGHTS:  This would be a solid addition to any library with high interest in the Holocaust or where curriculums delve into this subject.  The sketches by an artist imprisoned at Breendonk are most fascinating; I’ve never seen any Holocaust resource with anything so unique.

Holocaust         Kristen Rowe, Plum Senior High School