YA – Nothing More to Tell

McManus, Karen M. Nothing More to Tell. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-17590-3. 356 p. $19.99. Grades 7-12.

After her school newspaper account was hacked, and pornographic pictures posted under her byline, senior Brynn left her Chicago area high school in disgrace while her family relocated back to her hometown of Sturgis, Massachusetts. Her life and her journalistic reputation in tatters, Brynn interviews for an internship with a true crime show, hoping to pad her college applications, as well as to convince the show to research the unsolved murder of Mr. Larkin, her favorite middle school teacher. To her surprise, she is awarded the position, and hooks the show’s host with her crime story proposal. Re-enrolled in the private school she attended at the time of the crime, Brynn reconnects with old friends and puts her tenacious investigative reporter skills to work. But Brynn eventually realizes that playing reporter is more than fun and games when it becomes obvious someone does not want her digging up the past. In typical McManus style, the suspense rarely lets up, as the narrative alternates between Brynn and Tripp, her former best friend, and one the students who discovered the body of  Mr. Larkin four years ago. Red herrings abound as the threads of the complex plot slowly coalesce. All four main characters cue white, but minor characters are diverse. 

THOUGHTS: McManus presents a challenging mystery with fine character development. A first purchase where her other books are in demand and mysteries are popular. 

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – That’s Not My Name

Syed, Anoosha. That’s Not My Name. Viking, 2022. 978-0-593-40517-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

In That’s Not My Name readers meet Mirha who is extremely excited for her first day of school, but it doesn’t turn out the way that she thought it would. No one can pronounce her name, and she is too shy and unsure to correct anyone. Mirha thinks maybe she should change her name into something that everyone can pronounce, and she goes home and tells her mom that she wants to do just that. Her mother teaches Mirha where her name comes from and tells her that she should be proud of her name, and Mirha decides that she will correct everyone at school the next day. Mirha ends up making a new friend, and learning how to tell people who pronounce her name incorrectly, “that’s not my name,” and learning about her classmates and what their names mean.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful read aloud for the first week of school to teach students about empathy. This would also be a great read aloud before an ice-breaker type activity. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Drawing Outdoors

Buitrago, Jairo. Drawing Outdoors. Greystone Kids. 2022. 978-1-771-64847-9. $18.95. Grades K-3.

In many places, schools may have a gym, library, computers, and a playground. Deep in the mountains, however, is an extraordinary school that is a little bit different. It does not have the items a typical school would have. It does have an amazing teacher who leads the class outside on a drawing adventure. What will they draw? Why dinosaurs of course!

THOUGHTS: A unique book about a drawing adventure! What student would not want to go outdoors to draw dinosaurs? A fun story that young dinosaur lovers will enjoy.

Picture Book            Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

MG – Attack of the Black Rectangles

King, Amy Sarig. Attack of the Black Rectangles. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-68052-2. 258 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Mac Delaney is excited to start 6th grade even though his teacher Ms. Sett is known around their small town for enforcing rather strict rules, such as a curfew for teenagers and no pizza delivery after a certain time of night. She even got the town to give up trick-or-treating at Halloween! Mac does not let her rules bother him; after all, he has his hands full trying to understand his dad who is struggling with an unnamed mental illness. When his class starts literature circles, Mac and his friends pick Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic. However, he is horrified to find that there are certain words and sentences covered in black rectangles, specifically words in the scene where the main character Hannah enters the shower at the concentration camp she is forced to go to. He buys the book from the local bookstore to compare the copies and finds that those black rectangles were put there by someone else in order to censor parts of the story. After finding out that Ms. Sett did indeed censor the book’s shower scenes because “some boys might giggle,” Mac is furious. Mac’s father does not understand what the big deal is, but Mac knows censorship is wrong. He and his friends decide they need to take action, and in doing so they find more people willing to fight against censorship than he ever thought possible.

THOUGHTS: A.S. King’s book shows the harm that censorship can have on a small community while handling the topic fairly. She clearly thinks highly of young adults as the young characters in this book are whip-smart and fully aware of the social issues that plague the world. This timely novel takes place in a famously small town in Lancaster, PA; local readers will enjoy seeing their favorite establishments pop up in the book as the backdrop to Mac’s story.

Realistic Fiction         Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Creepy Crayons

Reynolds, Aaron. Creepy Crayons. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-668-87995-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Jasper Rabbit is struggling to pass math and spelling in school. He knows he needs to study more, but he has trouble focusing. On the way home from school one day, he finds a purple crayon in the gutter. Intrigued by how happy the crayon seems to see him, Jasper picks it up and brings it home. That night, even though he knows he should be studying for his spelling test, Jasper spends the evening watching TV before falling asleep. The next day, he decides to use the purple crayon on the spelling test. Shockingly, when he gets his test back, he has aced it! At home, his father asks him to complete his math homework. But when he picks up his math textbook, he finds a strange message written on the cover in purple: “Who needs math when you have Bunny Brawl 3?” Truer words were never spoken for Jasper, and he settles in to play the video game. The next day, Jasper uses his purple crayon on his pop quiz in math and  – surprise! – he gets every problem correct. He starts noticing other messages left by the crayon, such as “Jasper + Crayon 4ever! on his backpack and “Don’t ignore me!” on his table. Suddenly, Jasper realizes that even though he loves getting As on his schoolwork, this crayon is too creepy to keep around. Jasper has to find a way to discard the crayon for good before it makes a big mess of his life.

THOUGHTS: Jasper already has survived Creepy Carrots and Creepy Pair of Underwear and in doing so, he has become a favorite character among students in grades K-3. Young readers will love revisiting Jasper and reading about the chaos the crayon causes in his life. The creepy carrots make an appearance in this book as they did in Creepy Pair of Underwear, and illustrator Peter Brown’s signature black and white is punctuated with a powerful purple in this third creepy installment.

Picture Book         Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – One Thursday Afternoon

DiLorenzo, Barbara. One Thursday Afternoon. Flyaway Books, 2022. 978-1-974-88837-1. $18.00. 40 p. Grades K-3.

When Granddad picks Ava up after school on Thursday, she just wants to go home. She is having a bad day and would just like to be alone. Granddad suggests the two go for a picnic and to the woods to paint together. He promises not to talk so that the two can be alone together. Granddad drives to a nature trail, where he and Ava have a quick snack and then set up to paint. Granddad encourages Ava to use all of her senses before she uses her paintbrush. Ava takes time to be aware of the smells, sights, and sounds of the woods, and she finds herself suddenly overcome with emotion. She explains to Granddad that she is upset because her school practiced a lockdown drill today. Granddad listens patiently, gently acknowledges Ava’s feelings, and admits that he too was scared of emergency drills when he was in school. As the two continue to paint and talk, Ava begins to feel better. Talking helped, as did being in nature, concentrating on her senses, and creating art. Throughout, Granddad provides an excellent example of how to be a good listener and how to approach discussing difficult and scary topics with young children. 

THOUGHTS: Simple and straightforward, this is a beautiful picture book that will be an excellent addition for school library Social-Emotional Learning collections. DiLorenzo is careful never to detail the specifics of the lockdown drill or the reasons schools have to practice them. Granddad only promises to listen and be present for Ava. A well-crafted story that models active listening and provides an excellent example of how to handle tough conversations with children who are anxious. 

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Brave Every Day

Ludwig, Trudy. Brave Every Day. Alfred A. Knopf, 2022. 978-0-593-30637-6. $24.99. 40 p. Grades PK-2.

Camila worries all the time. When she worries, she likes to hide. Her world is filled with what ifs and can’t. Classmates make fun of Camila. Her teacher doesn’t seem to understand or notice how anxious she is. When a field trip to an aquarium overwhelms Camila, she tries to hide behind a potted plant. She isn’t alone. Kai, who loves everything about the ocean and its inhabitants, is also overwhelmed by the crowd, the noise, and the opportunity to touch a real live stingray. Kai begs Camila to go with him to the Sea Friends Meet & Greet exhibit. Camila is nervous, but realizes helping her friend makes her want to try to overcome her own fear. Camila steps out of her comfort zone and enters the exhibit with Kai. Here she learns about a sea creature who hides to protect itself: the octopus. Camilla returns to school eager to share what she has learned, and encouraged to try to be brave when she has the urge to hide. End notes include questions for discussion, and a recommended reading list.

THOUGHTS: Many children bravely face challenges big and small at school every day. This social-emotional book can provide comfort for children with anxiety, with simple language to use when feeling worried or overwhelmed. The book can also help to educate peers on the difficulties their classmates encounter and the bravery they show every day in many small ways. Beautifully illustrated in cool, layered, aquarium tones by Patrice Barton.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – I Forgive Alex: A Simple Story About Understanding

Kerascoët. I Forgive Alex: A Simple Story About Understanding. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-0-593-38150-2. $17.99. 32 p. Grades PK-3.

This is a wordless picture book with a simple, but powerful message. As the story begins, a school age child eagerly approaches the school yard, excited to show his friends something in his backpack. An art portfolio is revealed, and several friends spread the pages across a bench to admire the artwork. Alex, with a splash of bright red hair, dashes past the bench. Alex is taunting two students, playing keep-away with a basketball. When Alex tosses the basketball high over the heads of his dismayed schoolmates, the ball lands on the bench covered in artwork. The artwork falls in a puddle and is ruined. Classmates are incensed and rally behind the young artist, quickly trying to comfort him. Their sense of righteous indignation is palpable as they march en masse toward an adult standing at the door to the school. The next several pages depict scenes alternating between friends comforting the artist, and intentionally ostracizing Alex. At the end of the school day Alex offers a simple wave to the artist across the playground. The artist accepts this invitation to talk, and the two boys eventually shake hands. Alex tosses the basketball to the artist, and everyone joins in the game. The next day Alex makes amends, offering the artist a piece of art showing the artist dunking a basket while Alex cheers. End notes include questions for discussion, vocabulary words, and lesson suggestions.

THOUGHTS: A delightfully illustrated story that does not need words to convey the plot and meaning. School age children will immediately recognize this situation. The discussion questions and lesson suggestions make this a perfect book for social-emotional learning.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

YA – Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman

Lee, Kristen R. Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman. Crown, 2022. 978-0-593-30915-5. $18.99. 326 p. Grades 9-12.

Savannah Howard is the golden girl of her poor Memphis neighborhood. Through hard work and focus, she earned a full scholarship to Wooddale, a prestigious Ivy League college. As one of the few Black students on campus, she makes friends quickly with upperclass students Natasha (Tasha) Carmichael, a light-skinned, well to do fashionista and aspiring lawyer; and Benjamin (Benji) Harrington, a local wealthy “high yellow” young man. Benji is a childhood friend of fellow student, Lucas Cunningham, a walking epitome of white privilege. One of the first incidents on campus Savannah witnesses is the vandalism of a statue of the only African American past presidents of the college. The non reaction of the university leaders to the blatant act of racism motivates Savannah to put in motion a campaign on social media, the school newspaper, and student forums to bring down the instigator and perpetrator of this racist behavior, Lucas Cunningham. Though she enlists the support of one of her African American professors as well as Tasha and Benji, the daily grind of uncovering the truth, being harassed – and even assaulted – by Lucas and his crew, and being snubbed by other classmates is exhausting. She grapples with Benji’s romantic attentions and his sometimes ambivalent actions toward her nemesis and, perhaps more importantly, with her decision to go to a predominantly white institution. The novel by Kristen R. Lee spans Savannah’s freshman year recounted with her own authentic voice. After she gives an interview on her professor’s podcast relating the injustices prevalent on campus and accusing the Cunninghams of manipulating the college admission process, she moves off campus to a toney neighborhood to board with the elderly widow, Mrs. Flowers, a self made entrepreneur. Lured back by students from a historically Black college to lead a peaceful protest, Savannah comes full circle, confident that she has stood for what is important and acknowledged by the university’s African American woman president. Her goal being reached, Savannah makes a critical decision for her future.

THOUGHTS: This novel takes on white privilege, racism, and microaggressions with which students of color can identify and white students can gain perspective. Author Kristen R. Lee has created a strong, female character who speaks her mind because she sees no alternative. She is ambitious and savvy, yet vulnerable and often scared. Her friends and the people who support her are all African American, but it is a small circle. The white students she forms acquaintances with turn out to be druggies, self-serving, deceitful, or racist (or any combination of those negative qualities). Save for Dr. Santos (the African American professor), the college’s administrators are weak, not enough, or oblivious. At the end of the book, Savannah gets called to Wooddale College president’s Architectural Digest-worthy home. The president is a Black woman; she informs Savannah she will be honored, and all the racist and unjust acts that happened during the year will be properly addressed. Savannah asks why the president didn’t come out earlier and confides her desire to leave Wooddale to attend a historically Black college. The president tells her that she has had to make some concessions to achieve what she has. That answer falls flat with the idealistic Savannah. Reading this book as a white person is uncomfortable–not a bad thing. To quote an old phrase, Lee “tells it like it is,” a truth to be embraced by every reader.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke School District of Philadelphia

MG – Aviva vs. the Dybbuk

Lowe, Mari. Aviva vs. the Dybbuk. Levine Querido, 2022. 978-1-646-14125-8. $17.99. 176 p. Grades 5-8.

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk takes on an unusual theme in a not frequently used setting. Sixth grader Aviva Jacobs is an orthodox Jewish girl plagued by a dybbuk (“a ghost of a deceased person who returns to complete a certain task”). Aviva’s family unit–she and her mother–is not doing well. The reader knows that Abba has died in an unnamed accident five years prior. Since then, Aviva’s life is off kilter. Through the kindness of their close knit community, her mother manages the mikvah (“pool used for religious immersion”) and lives in the apartment above it. The reader also sees that Ema is depressed, but Aviva just views the disappearance of her vibrant, soft-spoken mother into a scared, nervous agoraphob. Aviva, too, has become an outsider from her classmates and estranged from her best friend, Kayla. Instead, her constant companion is the mischievous dybbuk who only she can see. The dybbuk soaps the floor in the mikvah, unplugs the refrigerator, rips up checks, and generally haunts Aviva. Moreover, the mikvah and the shul are under attack: A swastika is on the sidewalk outside the shul. In the midst of this disruption, Aviva and Kayla–both talented players– get into an altercation at the machanayim, “a ball game played in some Jewish schools and camps.” The consequence of their action is having to plan the annual Bas Mitzvah Bash at the arcade. The planning sessions reignite Aviva’s and Kayla’s friendship in the weeks before the event and seem to have a positive effect on Ema as well. The dybbuk, also, is in high gear with wild shenanigans that Aviva attempts to stop. As Kayla and Aviva grow closer, and the caring community rallies around Ema, anti-semitism rears its ugly head, forcing Aviva to recall her father’s death and recognize the effect of that trauma. Lowe’s fluidity with language makes this compact story a smooth read. The emotions displayed in Aviva vs. the Dybbuk coupled with the engaging story give it universal appeal. Includes glossary (excerpted definitions in quotes above).

THOUGHTS: You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate Aviva’s situation. Lowe presents the story through Aviva’s eyes which may make it more relatable to students: The distant mother, the struggle to be independent and act like everything is fine, the alienation from classmates. Lead readers who like this book to Lilliam Rivera’s young adult novel, Never Look Back. The dybbuk goading Aviva parallels the mysterious creature named Ato who haunts the main character. This well-written, compelling story offers an opportunity for non-Jewish readers to learn about different aspects of the Jewish religion in a non-polemic way. Any way books can open us up to be more tolerant, understanding people is a good thing. 

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia