MG – Other Boys

Alexander, Damian. Other Boys. First Second,  978-1-250-22282-4. 208 p. $21.99. Grades 5-8.

Damian always has felt different from other boys, preferring activities like playing with dolls, reading fairy tales, and sewing to GI Joes and superhero movies. He was teased and bullied relentlessly for being “gay” and a “homo” long before he knew what those words meant. Although it’s not discussed in detail, the reader learns that Damian’s mother was murdered by his father when Damian was a small child. Now, he lives with his brother and grandmother in a small apartment. Tired of being the “dead mom” kid and a target for bullies, Damian stops talking on the first day of 7th grade, after moving to a new town and entering a new school. After months of silence and loneliness, Damian finally shares his feelings with a kind therapist, who helps normalize his crushes on boys. Friendly peers, including a couple of cute boys, begin to draw him out of his protective shell, lending a hopeful note to an often heartbreaking graphic memoir. Inspired by colorful cartoons, funky arcade decor, and VHS tape boxes, Damian Alexander’s artwork is both firmly rooted in his childhood era and as timeless as a child’s secret pain.

THOUGHTS: Other Boys is a heartfelt graphic memoir about the loss of a parent, coming out, bullying, and self-acceptance. It’s an excellent addition to shelves that already include options for slightly older readers, such as Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka and Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson.

Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Raj’s Rule (For the Bathroom at School)

Button, Lana. Raj’s Rule (For the Bathroom at School). Owlkid, 2020. 978-1-771-47340-8. Unpaged. $17.95. Grades PreK-1. 

Young Raj has a rule: He does not use the bathroom at school. Of course, this is a gigantic challenge, and requires a lot of strategy. But he’s happy to share his knowledge: avoid any intake of liquids; avoid the sound of running water; avoid laughing (because you KNOW what might happen then!). But one day, when Raj is desperately holding it, he is undone by an unavoidable sneeze and flees to the bathroom. To his surprise, he successfully completes his mission, and his phobia is gone. Now, his school day is so much fuller, and he gleefully partakes in all the activities he had assiduously avoided, including belly laughing at classmate Kyle’s goofy antics. The story, told via speech bubbles filled with rhyming text, is amplified by Hatem Aly’s vivid cartoon-like illustrations. Raj’s classroom is lively, and his classmates diverse, all drawn with satisfying attention to detail. The topic may address a fear felt by first time school students, but will also be sure to elicit giggles from older students who can sympathize with having to “hold it,” for whatever reason.

THOUGHTS: While not a first purchase, the book will undoubtedly be read by young students who enjoy bathroom humor.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Class Picture

Carlain, Noe, and Herve Le Goff. Class Picture. Kane Miller EDC Publishing, 2020. 978-1-684-64112-3. Unpaged. $12.99. Grades K-2.

The full classroom photo may be a thing of the past, especially in this day and age, but the concept of gathering students to try and pose for a picture will always be a memorable moment. So, replace squirmy Kindergarten kids with beavers, bears, monkeys, snakes, elephants, and more for a real laugh of a book! With some repetitive wording and hilarious visual gags, each class of animals arrives for their moment with the brave and mostly patient photographer. Whether the hippos are bending the bench or the beavers are eating it, there are group and individual personalities that shine, along with some cameos from other animals to keep things interesting. Young readers will enjoy saying cheese to this colorful fun read along!

THOUGHTS: With a dozen animal sets captured in this book, several research or creative writing extensions are naturally available. From adding captions or speech bubbles to the class characters to looking up habitats and group names for each page, learners will find fun ways to keep coming back to this book. Recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – Speak Up, Molly Lou Melon

Lovell, Patty. Speak up, Molly Lou Melon. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 978-0-399-26002-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Molly Lou Melon is back for more adventure with her friends. As she plays with her animal friends, Molly Lou’s mother reminds her to “Be true to yourself;” take responsibility for the things you do, good or bad;” “Accept peple for who they are and listen to their ideas, even if they are different from yours;” and “Use [your strong voice] to speak up for anyone who might need your help.” In the fall when Molly Lou goes to school, she needs to apply these lessons with her friends and the class bully. At every opportunity Molly makes her friends, Ronald Durkin and Gertie; the new kid, Garvin Grape; and even the class bully Bettina Bonklehead feel welcome as she lives the values her mother taught her. Even when owning her mess (alone), Molly Lou finds a way to make cleanup an adventure and remain positive.

THOUGHTS: Elementary libraries will not want to miss this additional title about Molly Lou Melon. Molly Lou is a recognizable and important character in children’s literature, and students will delight in her newest adventures. A must-have for elementary libraries, this title will be great for lessons on friendship, bullying, and making good choices.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard

Brown, Echo. Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-30985-3. $17.99. 291 p. Grades 9 and up.

The reader meets the main character of Echo Brown’s Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard at age six in a dangerous situation and follows her until she embarks to college. On the way, Echo is becoming a wizard –not the Hermione Granger kind–but the kind made from determination and desire. Each chapter in this memoir-like novel includes a quality Echo, the Black girl of the title, assumes to realize her true self. Bad things happen as Echo treads that path to her goal: household rife with alcoholism and addiction; molestation; rape; incarceration of her brother; injury to her best friend. But author Brown realizes Echo’s existence is complex. Her mother craves the “white rocks;” but she, too, is a wizard with nurturing powers. Her brothers hang on the corner and drink too much; but they also have dreams and are their sister’s strongest champions. Echo has good friends, mostly Black, but also Jin, a Korean-American gay classmate, and Elena, an Iranian-American gay friend. (Their sexual orientation is irrelevant to the plot.) Her Cleveland neighborhood is supportive and proud of her accomplishments. She has an encouraging teacher, Mrs. Delaney, who takes Echo under her wing to help her attain her college goals. The first time she goes to Mrs. Delaney’s large, suburban home, Echo is shocked to discover her white teacher’s husband is Black. Seventeen and insecure, she senses his restrained and even dismissive opinion of her. The author has an ineffable talent for infusing these important themes of racism, white supremacy, implicit and explicit biases, micro-aggressions, Black versus Black aggression, self image among Black women, and misogyny among Black men seamlessly because she tells them as part of Echo’s story. At times, the author takes a non-linear approach to deliver Echo’s tale, especially when the lessons of wizardry are at work. This technique fits with the book. It is a study in opposites: real but fantastic; lovely but harsh; despairing but hopeful. It is a story of inequity and the innate ability to fight that inequity and succeed, hence the power of wizardry. In truth, the wizards are strong women, overcoming flaws and shortcomings. All of them show Echo how capable and resilient she is.

THOUGHTS: Echo Brown’s writing style is moving. Ms. Brown also differentiates between the main character’s standard English narrative and Ebonics of her family and Cleveland, Ohio, neighbors. Because of some language (the n word), sexual scenes, and the sophistication of the writing, this book may be better suited to older teens and young adults. An outstanding book.

Magic Realism          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

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


Elementary NF – A New School Year; Thunder Underground

Derby, Sally. A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices. Charlesbridge, 2017. 9781-58089-730-3. $16.99. 48 p. Gr. K-3.

Six children, in grades K-5, anticipate the first day of school. Each child has unique concerns and fears for the coming school year, from insecurity to dealing with a male teacher (“Teachers at my school aren’t called Mr.”) to worrying about hearing aids and feeling racially isolated. Each child voices their fears, concerns, and experiences in bright, evocative poems. The story is divided into four snapshots: “The Night Before”, “In the Morning”, “At School”, and “After School”. Throughout the day, each child’s anxieties are allayed, resulting in positive experiences across the board. Illustrations by Mike Song add to the book. A diverse set of characters, both students and teachers, add to the impact of the volume.  THOUGHTS:  A perfect read-aloud for the beginning of school, or as an introduction to poetry.

Poetry       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Yolen, Jane. Thunder Underground. Wordsong, 2017. 978-1-59078-936-0. 32pp. $17.95. Gr K-3.

This poetry collection encourages young readers to explore the world beneath their feet. From tunneling insects to speeding subways, there’s a whole hidden world below the ground. The poems broadly feature many different underground activities, such as basement treasure hunting, archaeological digging, and spelunking. Brightly colored spreads also feature burrowing moles, bubbling magma pools, and slowly expanding tree roots. There’s plenty to savor in this title’s rich mixed media illustrations, and the pictures extend many of the poems. Observant readers will enjoy spotting tiny ants, dinosaur bones, and buried treasure, and they will enjoy searching for the tiny mole and rabbit that accompany the main characters on many of their underground adventures.  THOUGHTS: Featuring more than 20 underground-themed poems, this poetry collection will pair well with nonfiction titles spotlighting underground creatures such as worms, prairie dogs, or ants. It can also supplement fiction titles as well, such as Denise Fleming’s Underground.

Poetry      Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Middles School – EOD Soldiers; Victoria Torres

Manning, Matthew K. Art by Carlos Furuzana and Dijo Lima. EOD Soldiers. Capstone, 2017. 978-1-4965-3415-6. 40pp. $19.49 ea. Gr. 4-8.

Enter with the U.S. Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal in Afghanistan in this new graphic novel series. In Go Slow, Specialist Rose Campbell is reminded by her protective father to take everything in while being careful throughout the dangers of Afghanistan. In The List, Private Matty Giaconne makes note of experiences in Afghanistan to have answers prepared when he returns and others ask about his service there. He also worries about the disagreements he has had with his wife. Both books show the danger faced and the bravery displayed by those in the EOD. Full color artwork clearly captures the emotion and danger facing our EOD soldiers.  Back matter includes more information about EOD such as schooling or badges, visual questions, and a glossary. THOUGHTS:  This series is excellent for students that love to learn more about the military and those who gravitate towards graphic novels and artwork. The stories will leave an impact on the reader. The books could be included in a lesson as they are not too long, but leave room for discussion and research.

Graphic Novel; War      Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District


Bowe, Julie. Victoria Torres Unfortunately Average. Stone Arch, 2017. 978-1-4965-3800-0. 148p. $19.49 ea. Gr. 4-8.

In Vicka For President!, 6th grade Victoria is inspired to run for class president by her parents, siblings, and closest friends.  At her school, the President is the student receiving the most votes and the person with the second most votes becomes Vice President. Her classmate Annelise is very popular and also is able to spend her parents wealth on tokens and stickers. Henry will also run for president as challenge with a campaign around mud.  Victoria determines her slogan, stump speech, and ways to improve the school with a compost and garden. Will that be enough with all of Annelise’s trinkets and the boys all clamouring for humourous Henry and his campaign of mud?

In So Much Drama, it is time for the big 6th grade Shakespeare play. This year will be Romeo and Juliet. Vicka’s best friend is the director, and Vicka is upset to be cast as Friar Lawrence. Will everything work out in the end?

THOUGHTS: In 2016, the first four books in the series were published. The realistic fiction hooks upper elementary and middle school readers.

Realistic Fiction      Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

Picture Books – Duck, Duck, Porcupine; School’s First Day…; Chicken Lily; We are Growing

Yoon, Salina. Duck, Duck, Porcupine! New York: Bloomsbury, 2016. 978-1-61963-723-8. 64pp. $9.99. Gr K-2.

This easy-reader title contains three short stories: A Perfect Day for a Picnic, I Think I Forgot Something, and The Campout. Each story features Big Duck, her brother Little Duck, and their friend Porcupine. The stories unfold through the back-and-forth dialogue between Big Duck and Porcupine. Little Duck doesn’t speak words yet, but his actions show that he is sometimes more aware of his surroundings than either of his friends. For example, in the first story, the friends prepare for a picnic. Big Duck and Porcupine are so busy gathering supplies that they don’t notice a huge cloud creeping across the sky. Little Duck has been watching the sky closely, though, and when a downpour begins, he is the one who is prepared with an umbrella. Yoon’s bright digitally-colored illustrations stand out against the story’s uncluttered backgrounds, and her heavy outlining further set off her characters.  THOUGHTS: Fans of Elephant and Piggie books will love reading about this trio and their many adventures. This title will also work well as a read-aloud or as a reader’s theatre production since all the text is already in speech bubbles.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County


Rex, Adam. School’s First Day of School. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2016. 978-1-59643-964-1. 32pp. $15.44. Gr K-3.

As a newly built school, Frederick Douglass Elementary isn’t sure what to expect at the beginning of a new school year. It’s been just the school and the janitor all summer, but when the children arrive, everything changes. There’s noisy lockers, splashing water fountains, and spilled nose milk. There’s also brightly colored drawings, lessons about shapes, and new friends to meet. Rex’s gentle text is perfect for reassuring nervous school newcomers, and students will relate to the school’s worries about the unknown. They will also connect to the many familiar activities depicted in illustrator Christian Robinson’s vibrant pictures: exploring the playground with friends, sitting in a circle on the classroom carpet, and filing out of the building during a fire drill.  THOUGHTS: Robinson’s lively illustrations feature a diverse student body, and readers will enjoy pouring over the students’ many activities. This title makes a perfect first-day-of-school read aloud, and it will fast-become a beginning-of-the-year staple.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County


Mortensen, Lori. Chicken Lily. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016. 978-1-62779-120-5. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. K-3.

Chicken Lily is great at many things, but being brave isn’t one of them. She’s cautious and doesn’t like to take chances. Lily’s friends ride their bikes without training wheels, try new foods, and are even excited for the class Grand-Slam Poetry Jam, so they can get up on stage in front of an audience and read their poems. Lily? “Just thinking about reciting a poem in front of everyone sent shivers down her tail feathers.” Luckily, Lily’s friends encourage her to write a poem anyway, and she finds the courage to read it onstage…only to find out that it’s not so bad. Lily may be a chicken, but not all of the time. Lily’s story is certainly not the first about a timid child, but the way Lily’s friends and teacher encourage her is wonderful and worth a read. Adult will appreciate the subtle chicken humor. THOUGHTS: Many children could see a bit of themselves in Chicken Lily, and hopefully will find their own “plucky” spirit like Lily does. Crittenden’s cute cartoon illustrates pair nicely with the story.

Picture Book     Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools


Keller, Laurie. We Are Growing! New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2016. 978-1-48472-635-8. 49pp. $9.99. Gr. K-2.

Elephant and Piggie introduce and conclude this zany easy reader, the first in their new series called Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!  Several blades of grass are growing and each declares that he or she is the tallest, curliest, crunchiest, etc. Walt, the last blade of grass, doesn’t have a clue about what he is until the blades of grass are all given haircuts from a lawnmower, and then Walt, rake in hand, realizes that he’s the neatest! This story is simple and giggle inducing. Speech bubbles highlight the ongoing dialogue that is full of repetition and (mostly) appropriate words for beginning readers. Bright illustrations also help with context clues for tough words. THOUGHTS: Winner of the Theodore Seuss Giesel Award for 2017, We Are Growing! will be a hit with Elephant & Piggie fans or any young reader who likes a good laugh.

Picture book    Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools

Up2U Adventure – The Substitutes


Lay, Kathryn.  The Substitutes (Up2U Adventure).  Minneapolis, MN:  ABDO, 2015.  978-1-62402-095-7.  79p.  $18.95.  Gr. 3-5.

Josh and Jenny’s school is crawling with substitute teachers, and they are unsure where all their classroom teachers have gone.  One day they return from lunch, only to find another new substitute in their classroom.  They decide they must get to the bottom of this before these substitutes take over their school.

Adventure; Choose-Your-Own-Adventure      Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School

Students will enjoy this adventure story.  The story is fast paced and readers are able to choose their own adventure or path for the story.  Place this in the hands of your reluctant readers.