MG – All Four Quarters of the Moon

Marr, Shirley. All Four Quarters of the Moon. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-543-38886-1. $17.99. 247 p. Grades 5-8.

Peijing Guo has a perfectly happy life in China. She is a good student who is popular and well liked at school. She loves living with her extended family. Peijing is care-taker by nature and believes honoring her parents is her duty. She loves to draw. Peijing’s five year old sister, Biju, is a wonderful storyteller. The sisters create a secret “Little World” of handmade paper cutout animals designed from Biju’s imagination and interwoven with bits of Chinese mythology. The sisters spend hours together playing in their imaginary world. When Ba Ba gets a new job, Peijing, Beiju, Ma Ma, and their grandmother Ah Ma immigrate to Australia, where the family quickly begins to fall apart. Newly settled in a gorgeous and large new home, the family begins to change. Ah Ma, who spent her days in China with friends playing games and exercising in the park, now only sits in front of the television. Ma Ma, who was once social and stylish, dresses in sweatpants, and refuses to leave the house or to learn to speak English. The sisters struggle to improve their language skills and do well in a school where everything is completely different from anything they ever experienced in China. Only Ba Ba seems to be happy in Australia. Ba Ba slowly begins to relax and participate in household chores. He seems determined to develop a relationship with his two young daughters. Peijing is confused and miserable until she befriends an outcast classmate named Joanna. Scruffy and tough, Joanna is often hungry, exhausted, and bruised. Peijing, always caring for others before herself, tries to help Joanna. Peijing brings Joanna food, encourages her artistic abilities, and defends her friend from classroom bullies. Joanna helps Peijing understand life in Australia. The two become the best of friends, each bolstering the other’s confidence. When a caring teacher intervenes to help get Joanna out of her abusive home, the two friends fear their friendship will be over. The characters in this middle grade novel are beautifully drawn. The Chinese mythology woven throughout the development of “Little World” provides a gorgeous backdrop to a story about understanding humanity, and the changes we encounter in life. 

THOUGHTS: This is a warm and thoughtful middle grade novel that depicts an immigrant experience with great respect and care. The bond between sisters Peijing and Biju is wonderfully delightful. The inner-conflict Peijing experiences as she becomes a tween trying to assimilate into a culture with different values is both heartbreaking and empowering. Readers will cheer Peijing on as she discovers who she is meant to be and how she can fit into her changing, yet traditional, family. 

Realistic Fiction          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

MG – Falling Short

Cisneros, Ernesto. Falling Short. Quill Tree Books, 2022. 978-0-062-88172-4. 292 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Sixth graders, Isaac Castillo and Marco Honeyman, are best friends, next door neighbors, and complete opposites. Isaac is a tall, basketball star who struggles in school; smart as a whip, Marco gets mistaken for a kindergartner because of his short stature. What both of them share is mutual love and care and problematic fathers. Unable to cope with his alcoholism, the loving but troubled Mr. Castillo is estranged from his wife and son. On the other hand, Marco’s parents are divorced, and his father would rather write an alimony check than visit his son. The boys’ warm friendship stands up to the pressure when the pair start Mendez Middle School in California. Marco classifies the different students like fish, some are aggressives and some are community minded. In Falling Short, author Ernesto Cisneros makes a solid case that being community minded is possible and preferable. Having almost failed fifth grade, Latinx Isaac has to prove that he can make the mark, and perhaps ease some of his parents’ stress. Mexican-American and Jewish Marco, too, wishes to impress his neglectful father, a jock, who dismisses Marco’s scholastic achievements. The basketball team is a choice that fits both boys’ needs: Isaac can coach Marco in baller moves; Marco can be Isaac’s loyal study buddy. Determined to escape the taunts of the school bullies–especially basketball eighth grade standout, the looming Byron–Marco takes on becoming a basketball player as an intellectual pursuit. Motivated by Marco’s relentless efforts to learn how to play ball, Isaac disciplines himself to complete all homework assignments. Their bro’mance gets them through their respective feelings of inadequacy in either sports or studies and their family issues. Marco skips an elective course and completes Isaac’s missed homework assignment. Isaac convinces Coach Chavez that Marco will be a valuable player on the team. Told in alternating voices that mix feeling with humor, the story reaches a climax when Isaac’s dad suffers a car accident while driving drunk right before the big basketball tournament. To add to the tension, Marco’s errant dad comes to see him play at the tournament. Reading how these true friends push each other to achieve their goals and affirm themselves in the process imitates the deft moves of a satisfying game and does not fall short.

THOUGHTS: Author Ernesto Cisneros mixes lots of details in Falling Short that cater to the typical middle school student: description of basketball plays, mention of well-known basketball players, team spirit, an explosive farting episode. It also touches on the awkwardness and helplessness kids can feel when dealing with parental flaws. The book includes some nice touches that point to a better world: Coach Chavez throws Byron, the bully, off the team when he finds out Byron humiliated Marco; Marco has a short teacher who can be both self-deprecating and inspirational; there is a girl on the basketball team; some of the other team members also look past Marco’s lack of height and see his kindness. Spanish phrases are scattered throughout the book.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Lines of Courage

Nielsen, Jennifer A. Lines of Courage. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-62093-1. 388 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

This historical fiction novel takes place during World War I. The story is told through the voices of five children who are experiencing the war from different perspectives. The story starts with the voice of young Felix in Austia-Hungary as he witnesses the assassination of the Archduke which triggers the start of the war. The book is divided into five sections and is told in chronological order through the the voices of the children. Their stories become intertwined as they try to make sense of this war that they have been forced to grow in. The novel comes to a conclusion with Felix as the final storyteller.

THOUGHTS: This book is for students who are drawn to historical fiction. The characters are well-written, and the action is fast-paced. It is good to see a book focused on World War I which does not get as much attention as other historical time periods.

Historical Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Elem. – Fuzzy, Inside & Out: A Story about Small Acts of Kindness and Big Hair

Ohora, Zachariah. Fuzzy, Inside & Out: A Story about Small Acts of Kindness and Big Hair. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-75190-5 p. 40. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Fuzzy Haskins is the best kind of friend. He has a huge heart and spreads cheer and goodwill everywhere he goes in his neighborhood. His community counts on him, and he is loved and adored by his neighbors. Fuzzy is active and fast-thinking, but his one challenge is his unruly hair! It takes two blow dryers to dry completely, and the humidity is most definitely his enemy! Author Zachariah Ohora depicts Fuzzy as the excellent character he is, both inside and out, in his picture book Fuzzy, Inside & Out. When Fuzzy gets into a dilemma of his own, it’s up to the community that relies on him to come through and help him out of his own predicament. As they say, “it takes a village,” and Fuzzy’s village is full of heart and resilience too. 

THOUGHTS: It is always a gem when a story oozes love and big-hearted acts of kindness, but it is even more delicious when the characters exude coolness and confidence. Fuzzy may have excessive hair that gets in the way, but it works for him, as does his everyday acts of generosity towards his friends and community. This adorable picture book is enjoyable to read!  Readers will want a friend like Fuzzy or be inspired to BE a friend like Fuzzy! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem – I am Courage

Verde, Susan. I am Courage. Abrams, 2021. 978-0-711-26145-7. p. 32. $14.99. Grades K-2. 

What is courage? Is it speaking out, believing in ourselves, asking for help, trying new things, and getting back up in challenging situations? It also could mean feeling scared yet facing those things that place fear in our hearts. I am Courage, by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter Reynolds, is a picture book that promotes love and acceptance. The story shows various ways that a person can connect with themselves and others. 

We are strong.
We are capable.
We are important.
We are courage. 

THOUGHTS: I am Courage, the newest addition to Susan Verde and Peter Reynolds I Am series, is a story of empowerment. Readers will be reminded that they can conquer anything and remain strong in their bodies and minds. The yoga and mindfulness exercises at the back of the picture book also will encourage readers to be strong and confident. 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth

Rubin, Sean. This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-250-78850-4 p. 48. $18.99. Grades K-4. 

This is a story about a tree, a survivor tree, to be accurate. But, it is also a story about the resilience of our nation, a tribute to first responders, and the restorative power of humanity. This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth by Sean Rubin is profoundly moving and packs an emotional punch. A Callery pear tree was planted in the 1970’s in New York City between the newly constructed Twin Towers known as the World Trade Center. Over the years, the tree provided shade for tourists, employees of the World Trade Center, and a home for birds. It bloomed beautifully every Spring and stood tall between the two towers for many years. On September 11, 2001, something horrific occurred in New York City. Our Nation was mourning, and the tree’s home was destroyed and buried under rubble. The days that followed were difficult to maneuver, yet a shocking discovery was made after the tragedy–The pear tree had survived and quickly became known as the “Survivor Tree.” The tree was moved to the Bronx to recover, so the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation could nurse it back to health. Finally, almost ten years after the tragedy, the tree returned to its home and was planted in the 9/11 memorial. This Very Tree is told in simple words and illustrated with beautiful pictures that reveal more and more as the reader turns the pages. It shares a story of hope and healing that occurred after an immense tragedy that we experienced as a country. This book is a powerful introduction to this poignant event in our nation’s history. 

THOUGHTS: It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since New York City saw the World Trade Center fall to the ground. Since then, we have seen the literary world write to make sense of that horrific day and the days after that. This particular story, This Very Tree, resonated with me in such a profoundly moving way, and it shares a true story that may not be known to most Americans. Even the dedication will bring tears to the reader’s eyes as well as the hauntingly beautiful words written by author E.B. White in 1949 entitled: Here is New York that is at the beginning of the picture book. As much as this book is indeed emotional and heavy, it can still shine a light on hope and resilience. There is an informational section in the author’s note that explains the events of 9/11 in a sensitive and age-appropriate way. 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight

Muirhead, Margaret. Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight. Charlesbridge. 978-1-580-89880-5. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Toss, glide, catch, repeat! Frisbees are some of the top-selling toys of all time, and this title explores their history. In the 1920s, east-coast college kids began flinging empty pie plates from the Frisbie bakery. The fad soon spread from campus to campus. Around the same time, in California, a high school football player named Fred Morrison began tossing a flat, tin popcorn lid with his girlfriend. They were amazed how the lid hovered, dipped, and glided through the air. When the tin lid became too dented to fly straight, the pair experimented with pie plates and cake pans. When someone offered to buy the cake pan from Fred after seeing him tossing it around on the beach, Fred was hooked with the idea of introducing the fun to others. Over the next several years, Fred tweaked the materials for the flying discs and capitalized on America’s obsession with aliens and flying saucers. Eventually, he sold his design to the Wham-O toy company who helped give the toy national recognition. Full-page retro-style gouache illustrations capture the excitement of a game of frisbee from all angles, making readers feel like they are ready to fling the flying disc themselves. An Author’s Note includes details about other colleges that claim to have invented the game of frisbee as well as additional information about Fred’s persistence and creative energy. 

THOUGHTS: This title will be an asset to units about inventions, and it also highlights STEM concepts, particularly ideas about creating prototypes and perfecting designs. It also can be integrated into social-emotional discussions, particularly those centering on resilience and perseverance. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
796.2 Activities and Games

Elem./MG – A Glasshouse of Stars

Marr, Shirley. A Glasshouse of Stars. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-48883-0. 246 p.  $17.99. Grades 4-6.

Meixing has just arrived in a New Land to live in a New House with her parents. She and her mother and father have traveled from the Old Land to live with First Uncle, but he passed away only weeks before their arrival and now they are adrift in a strange place, not quite speaking the right language and not quite understanding the right customs. When tragedy strikes Meixing’s family, she retreats into the backyard of her new home and discovers a magical world hidden away in a broken down greenhouse where the ghost of First Uncle helps her discover her inner strength. Meixing displays incredible courage in the face of xenophobia in her new school as she tries to learn her place in this New Land, but new friends and an understanding new teacher also help her overcome her family’s difficulties as they begin to build a life in the New Land.

THOUGHTS: This story offers a unique glimpse into the struggles of immigrant children who deal with poverty, discrimination, and cultural miscommunication. The magical realism in this book provides Meixing with a symbolic escape from her troubles and a way to process her feelings with the help of her family, and adds a beautiful, lyrical layer to the storytelling. This story would be an excellent addition to studies about the immigrant experience, and should be added to collections with a focus on immigrant experiences and diverse voices.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – The Little Butterfly That Could

Burach, Ross. The Little Butterfly That Could. Scholastic, Press, 2021. 978-1-338-61500-5 p. 40. $17.99. Grades K-3.

In Ross Burach’s The Very Impatient Caterpillar, we met a very dramatic yet adorable caterpillar-turned-butterfly. The little critter learns the importance of patience in a STEM-friendly picture book that integrates facts on metamorphosis. Fabulous news! Our favorite impatient butterfly is back in Ross Burach’s companion tale titled: The Little Butterfly That Could. In this comical picture book, our adorable butterfly is distressed and anxious as ever as the realization sets in that he must migrate 200 miles away. Lucky for him, he meets a gentle and encouraging whale that helps the butterfly build confidence to start his migration journey. Armed with new tools, the butterfly learns a lesson in perseverance and resilience.

THOUGHTS: Ross Burach’s second tale of this silly caterpillar-turned-butterfly will elicit giggles and laughs with every age reader! Written through dialogue from each character, the story will appeal to Mo Willlem fans while teaching STEM-related themes in science. A great companion to any school or classroom library!

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Sticks and Stones

Polacco, Patricia. Sticks and Stones. Simon & Schuster, 2020. Unpaged. 978-1-534-42622-1. $18.99. Grades 2-4.

In another story based on her childhood, Polacco has created a heartwarming tale about the school year she spent with her father in Michigan. Trisha is eager to start middle school with her summer friends, but they desert her at the front door. She is on her own until a skinny boy with glasses called Thom helps her find her first class. The pair sits with a quiet girl named Ravanne, who is artistic and another outsider. A bully named Billy calls Trisha “Cootie” because of a nervous rash on her face and gives Thom and Ravanne the cruel nicknames “Sissy Boy” and “Her Ugliness.” The trio become fast friends as they deal with taunts from Billy and his gang. The three friends go kite flying with hand painted silk kites made by Ravanne and have a great time on Halloween, until Billy steals their candy. Trisha learns that she and Thom share a love of ballet and that he takes ballet lessons.  His secret is revealed to the other students when Thom easily clears the high jump bar, which Billy just failed to do. Thom shouts out, “See what ballet can do for you!” which is overheard by Billy and the coach. The bully is furious that the coach wants Thom to try out for the team and confronts him on his way home, breaking his glasses. Sick of the bullying, Thom announces that he is going to perform a dance in the talent show. Because he cannot see well with the broken glasses, Ravanne and Trisha help their friend with stage blocking. At the talent show, Thom dances the part of Prince Siegfried from Swan Lake and his classmates are amazed at his “high and powerful” leaps and other athletic moves. Thom’s brave performance earns him respect from his classmates. Polanco’s signature illustrations are done with pencil and acetone markers. The kite flying drawings contain so much movement that the reader can almost feel the wind. In the author’s note, the reader learns what her Michigan friends are doing today.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful story of bullying and resilience. Although the text is wordy, it will still hold interest as a read aloud, because of the dialogue and pictures. It is a good choice for guidance counselors or classroom teachers for character lessons.  A worthwhile purchase and one of Polacco’s better works.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member