MG – City of Secrets

Ying, Victoria. City of Secrets. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11448-3. 252 p. $22.99. Grades 5-8.

In the city of Oskar there is a switchboard that connects more than just phone calls. Ever Barnes, an orphan, hides in the switchboard building and protects a secret that not even he knows. When the owner of the switchboard brings his daughter Hannah to see how it works, she discovers Ever and is instantly intrigued. When a secret society threatens to kill Ever and take the secret for themselves, Hannah, Ever and a switchboard worker must go to great lengths to protect the secret and the city.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel delivers a beautiful storyline and will captivate readers who love adventure and spy stories! Both of the children in the story play a vital role, and it is a breath of fresh air to see a girl protagonist. This graphic novel does not disappoint!

Graphic Novel          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

YA – The Loop

Oliver, Ben. The Loop. Chicken House, 2020. 978-1-338-58930-6. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

The Loop. The high-tech prison serving adolescent death-row inmates is a unique hellscape. With torture every night and isolation most of the day, these juveniles are the dregs of society, committers of crimes so unspeakable as to be sentenced to death before they ever turn 18. But one thing can “save” them; choosing a ‘Delay’ extends their sentence by 6 months. Another 6 months to live, but only if they partake in scientific experiments including experimental surgeries, that’s assuming they survive. Everything runs like clockwork, down to the minute the same thing happens every day. Until it doesn’t. Until the rain doesn’t come. Set in a society where the government has the control, even over the weather, what will happen when things go awry, when the people revolt?

THOUGHTS: A thrilling-fast paced dystopia, The Loop will appeal to fans of The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games.

Dystopian          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

MG – The Middler

Applebaum, Kirsty. The Middler. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-31733-9. 262 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Eleven year old Maggie is a middler, nothing special like an eldest, and is mainly ignored and invisible in her town of Fennis Wick. When Maggie meets a “wanderer” who lives outside the boundary, she decides she wants to step up and get noticed by trying to capture her. Once Maggie steps outside her town and into the boundary that has always kept her isolated, everything she has ever known and believed gets turned upside down. Join Maggie in this dystopian adventure that exposes the lies her town has told for years and changes the way of their world forever. Fans of The Giver will love this debut novel!

THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection.

Fantasy          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

YA – Imagine Me

Mafi, Tahereh. Imagine Me. HarperCollins, 2020. 978-0-062-67644-3. $18.99. 464 p. Grades 9-12.

“Imagine me, master of my own universe. I am everything I ever dreamed of.” Juliette Ferrars has survived abandonment, imprisonment, isolation, and loneliness, but she still learned to let people into her life as mentors, companions, and friends. She fell in love, became a leader, and almost lost it all. Although the reestablishment is still a threat, Juliette must now face her past in order to survive her future. Now that Juliette knows about Ella, she’ll need the support of her loved ones to help her understand who she truly is. When Juliette is captured, Warner and Kenji must find a way to bring her back and put an end to the reestablishment once and for all.

THOUGHTS:  Imagine Me is the final book in the Shatter Me series, and this is a series that gets better and better with each book! I wasn’t overly impressed with Shatter Me, but I was hooked after reading Unravel Me and Ignite Me. The series could have ended after Ignite Me; however, there was so much more to all the characters than I could have ever imagined, so I’m glad that Mafi decided to continue the series to tell the rest of their stories. Imagine Me reveals even more secrets, plot twists, and shocking moments that will keep readers on edge until the very end.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Nowhere on Earth

Lake, Nick. Nowhere on Earth. Alfred A. Knopf, 2020. 978-1-984-89644-5. 292 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Emily would do anything to protect her little brother, Aiden, even stowing away on a bush plane when the men in black start following him around town. But crashing in the Alaskan wilderness wasn’t in the plan. However, the rapid arrival of men with guns, shooting at them, propels Emily into action. She, Aiden, and Bob, the injured pilot, head out across the dangerous landscape, trying to put distance between themselves and the hunters, making their way towards safety. The book opens with the plane crash and the adrenaline doesn’t let down. Emily’s and Aiden’s backstories are revealed as the story unfolds, including Emily’s tempestuous relationship with her parents. Emily does come to appreciate the myriad survival lessons her ex-special-ops father taught her, as well as the beauty of the Alaskan territory, but deeply resents her parents for moving from Minneapolis and forcing her to leave behind her beloved ballet. The book begins as an adventure-survival tale, but then evolves into so much more, including a massive plot-twist and several thought provoking ethical issues. A few threads could have been more fully developed, including a hint that the plane crashed due to sabotage, but readers will be forgiving.

THOUGHTS: This hard to pigeon hole book should find a home with a wide variety of readers. Perfect for those who prefer a book that grabs you from the first page, but also gives satisfaction to readers looking for some depth.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Collins, Suzanne. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Scholastic Press, 2020.  978-1-338-63517-1. $24.99. 528 p. Grades 9-12.

The much-anticipated prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy begins 64 years before Katniss Everdeen enters the arena to fight for her life. The Hunger Games are only ten years old and are not yet the spectacle they go on to become. Coriolanus Snow, future president of Panem, along with his cousin and grandmother, have sold almost all of their possessions after the war drains their finances. The Snow name is synonymous with wealth, and they struggle to maintain a wealthy facade. The Snow family motto demands it: snow lands on top. Head gamemaker Dr. Gaul pairs each tribute with a Capitol Academy mentor. Coriolanus is paired with District 12’s Lucy Gray Baird, who immediately becomes a fan favorite due to her songbird voice. Coriolanus falls for her and, upon seeing the horrific conditions where the tributes are kept before the games, arranges for her to have food and medical care, a precursor to tribute treatment in the later books. But he still has strong loyalty to the Capitol. This is much different from his peer, Sejanus. He views The Hunger Games as unjust, and at times, Coriolanus sees his point. As his love for Lucy Gray deepens, he is conflicted. He believes in her but also in the Capitol. Most of all, he believes he needs to make something of himself in order to keep proving that snow always indeed lands on top.

Thoughts: Readers will want to simultaneously empathize and loathe Coriolanus. He wants to make the right decisions, but there are already glimpses of what he will become in later books. Fans of The Hunger Games will love discovering the origins of the trilogy’s most important symbols, such as the mockingjay and Victors’ Village. For those who have never read The Hunger Games, it serves as a good start. Similar to its predecessors’, the book does have a fair amount of blood and violence and is better suited for high school readers who are sure to enjoy this action-packed origin story.

Dystopian Fiction     Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Infinity Son; All Your Twisted Secrets; The Kingdom of Back; The Between; The Upside of Falling; This is My Brain in Love

Silvera, Adam. Infinity Son. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-98378-7. 353 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Twin brothers Emil and Brighton grew up idolizing Spell Walkers, the Celestials who use their powers to maintain order. But now that they’re turning 18, Emil thinks his brother needs to put the hero-worship aside and face the future realistically. But Brighton thrives on subscribers and likes on his Celestials of New York YouTube channel, and he wants fame so bad he can taste it. When the pair are attacked by a Spector, one who drank Celestial blood to acquire powers, mild mannered Emil erupts in rare Phoenix Fire, to his amazement and Brighton’s cold envy. The family is brought to a Spell Walker compound for protection, and Emil is convinced to join the unit, even though he is an introverted pacifist who isn’t sure the Spell Walkers always use their powers for good. As Emil reluctantly assists in missions, Brighton becomes the team’s public relations director, while his jealousy of his brother, and his disgust with Emil’s pacifism, continue to degrade the one invincible bond between them. Silvera adds another dimension to the superhero genre with his action-packed book. Emil’s reluctance to be a hero contrasts sharply with Brighton’s driven need for fame and power. The Celestials are morally ambiguous, even though they believe their actions are done for the greater good. There are no clear heroes and villains here, and Emil illustrates the danger of having powers others desire. Several big reveals later in the book set the stage for an eagerly awaited sequel.

THOUGHTS: Well developed characters paired with action and suspense make this book a winner. Hand this to fans of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades series or other superhero readers.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Urban, Diana. All Your Twisted Secrets. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-90821-6. 390 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

The beginning of the book starts off so tritely: six stereotypical high school students are notified they have won a prestigious scholarship. The music nerd, the jock, the alpha cheerleader, the stoner, the valedictorian, and the genius loner all show up at the restaurant for the dinner/scholarship presentation, only to find out something is horribly wrong. Then the addictive wild ride begins. Narrated by Amber, the music nerd, the six find themselves locked in a basement dining room, with a ticking bomb, a loaded hypodermic needle, and a note that warns the students that within an hour, one of them must be killed with the poison loaded hypodermic, or the bomb will explode and they all will die. Flashbacks fill in the back story, as the minutes tick down and the frantic teens turn on each other in order to survive. As the plot unfolds, the relationships between the six are uncovered, and true feelings ruthlessly rise to the surface. Subtly woven throughout is the backstory of Amber’s brilliant older sister who committed suicide due to cyberbulling.The suspense is top notch, and you cannot put the book down until its shocking, gut wrenching conclusion.

THOUGHTS: This cross between Karen McManus’ One of Us is Lying and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is sure to fly off the shelf. The ending scarred me for weeks.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lu, Marie. The Kingdom of Back. Putnam, 2020. 978-1-524-73901-0. 313 p. $18.99. Grade. 7-12.

Once upon a time there was an extraordinarily talented pianist who was also a gifted composer, by the name of Mozart. Nannerl Mozart. The older sister of the Mozart still adored the world over, Nannerl knows from a young age that, as a woman, her moment in the spotlight will be fleeting. Her father constantly tells her so. He values her musical ability as a means to earn money and recognition for the family, but once she reaches marriageable age, her public performances will end. As for her compositions, well, don’t be ridiculous. Women don’t compose. Lu takes the bare bones of what is known about Mozart’s sister, and weaves an enchanting historical fantasy that pulses with the frustrations Nannerl must have felt being a gifted woman in a society who had no need of such a person. As the siblings toured Europe, performing for royalty and earning the fame and fortune their father desired, they amused themselves by inventing the kingdom of Back. It is this magical realm that drives Lu’s story. In the kingdom, Nannerl is offered the opportunity of lasting fame, to have her name and her music remembered through the ages, but it may be a bargain too costly to make. Lu skillfully crafts the loving relationship between the siblings, and how Nannerl chafes under her father’s restrictions. She tantalizingly creates a scenario where young Mozart is influenced by Nannerl’s compositions, seeks her help with his own compositions, and even has her compositions published under his own name, all the more intriguing  because the world will never know how much Nannerl truly did influence her brother. This unique blend of fact and fantasy creates a world the reader will remember, as well as brings to light a talented woman too long lost to history.

THOUGHTS: This gorgeously written, uniquely plotted book may take some booktalking, but readers will be enthralled once they read a few pages.

Fantasy (Historical)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Hofmeyr, David. The Between. Delacorte, 2020. 978-0-385-74475-1. 376 p. $17.99. Grades 7+.

One moment Ana Moon is a normal high school girl, sneaking out to meet her best friend, Bea. The next, the train they’re riding on freezes in place and time, and a monstrous creature snatches Bea and takes off. When a shocked Ana makes it back to her dad’s flat, everything has changed. Dad is different; the flat is slightly different; and, most disturbingly, when Ana calls Bea, she is told that Bea died a year ago. By the time Malik, a cute guy Ana had been flirting with on the train, shows up at her bedroom window in the middle of the night, it barely registers as odd. Malik explains to Ana that she is no longer in the world she knows. She is a Pathfinder who can fall between the seven worlds. Bea has been taken by a reaper, and Ana must trust Malik, a fellow Pathfinder, if she hopes to find Bea. Ana enters a society she can barely comprehend, joining Malik’s clan and working with him and his team. As Ana is indoctrinated into her new reality, it becomes evident that she is not just a new Pathfinder, but perhaps the one Pathfinder who is the key to the mystical Seventh Gate. She may be the one to stop the war between the Pathfinders and the brutal Order. Hofmeyr compacts what might have been a seven volume series into one energetic, action packed story. Ana is a dynamic heroine, who plausibly grows into her new role while traversing continuously shifting ground. Her single minded goal of rescuing Bea, is never forgotten, and is a rare display of a literary friendship that is not overshadowed by romance. While there is an attraction between Malik and Ana, Bea remains her focus.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: action, friendship, romance, betrayal. It should find a home with Sci Fi readers as well as action/adventure fans who appreciate a few battle scenes in their books.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Light, Alex. The Upside of Falling. Harperteen, 2020. 978-0-062-91805-5. 279 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

Reclusive, bookish Becca flat out does not believe in true love. Not after her parents’ messy, painful divorce. But, aggravated by her former best friend’s taunting about Becca’s lack of a lovelife, Becca spontaneously declares she is in a relationship. This might have fallen flat seconds after it came out of her mouth had not high school hunk Brett Wells come over, thrown his arm around her and confirmed that they are secretly dating. It turns out he is in need of a girlfriend to satisfy his good-old-boy father. So begins a relationship born of mutual convenience, that turns into a needed friendship for both of them. And could it even end up in love? This Wattpad romance doesn’t cover any new territory, but it is light, sweet, fun, and just the sort of addictive story that will be devoured by dedicated romance readers. Sadly, 10 pages from the end, the book loses continuity. While young readers most likely will not notice or care, it reveals the need for an editor’s hand.

THOUGHTS:  I adored this book for 269 pages. Then the characters acknowledge their love by immediately having (off page) sex, despite the fact that Brett’s mother had him when she was 17, and his father repeatedly discusses how he had to give up on his college plans and football future to stay home and help raise Brett. (And despite the fact that a few weeks ago Becca had never even kissed a boy.) This likely will not bother most readers, who will thoroughly enjoy the dreamy romance.  

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gregorio, I. W. This is My Brain in Love. Little, Brown, 2020. 978-0-316-42382-3. 367 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

Jocelyn is stunned when her father announces that the family’s restaurant, A-Plus Chinese Garden, is floundering and he may move the family back to New York City from Utica, NY. Will is crushed when he fails to garner a plum editorial position on the school newspaper. Jocelyn convinces her father to hire a social media consultant to improve the restaurant’s visibility. Will finds himself needing a summer job. Jocelyn hires Will. The pair bring a boatload of baggage to the table from the start. Will, of mixed Nigerian and American heritage, filters the world through the lens of an African American male teenager, and suffers with anxiety. Jocelyn is almost crippled by her family’s emotionally reticent Asian culture. The pair click and begin dragging the restaurant into the digital era. Not unexpectedly, sparks fly, only to meet the disapproval of Jocelyn’s strict, racially prejudiced parents. But what seems like a trope-fulfilling romance veers off into a thoughtful exploration of mental health when Jocelyn’s erratic mood swings begin to trigger Will’s anxiety. Will, who has been in therapy for years, notices that Jocelyn may have some undiagnosed issues herself, but knows broaching the topic could cause a rift in their nascent relationship. As Jocelyn struggles to confront her depression, she finds an unexpected ally in her mother, who reveals she has been taking depression medication for years. Told from the alternating perspectives of Will and Jocelyn, the story maintains its relationship-cute vibe while honestly exploring mental health issues in teens, including the pros and cons of taking medication. A subplot involving Will tutoring Jocelyn’s younger brother, who clearly suffers from ADHD, as well as a reference to a friend with autism, may feel like a few issues too many  but does not detract from the story and might pique recognition in a reader.

THOUGHTS:  This book is a winner. An adorable romance exploring racial issues as well as mental health topics, it should fly off the shelf. Purchase multiple copies.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – My Fourth of July; Ancient Aliens; Goodbye, Friend;

Spinelli, Jerry. My Fourth of July. Neal Porter Books, 2019. 978-0-823-44288-1. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3

My Fourth of July follows an unnamed boy as his family and town get ready for Fourth of July. The activities include a parade, food, fireworks, as well as a town baseball game. The book has a small town America feel to it, with both the story as well as the illustrations done by Larry Day. The dreamy quality to the illustrations adds to the feel of the story and makes the story come alive as you are reading. The plot has a dreamy quality as well, and added with the illustrations, it all comes together to create a book that feels timeless.

THOUGHTS: This book is lovely and would be a wonderful addition to any picture book collection. The illustrations are beautiful, and students will enjoy discovering all the extra items that are included in each illustration.

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Charter Academy


Science Fact or Science Fiction? Checkerboard Library, 2019. $20.00 ea. $120.00 set of 6. 32 p. Grade 4 and up.

Borgot-Spaniol, Megan. Cryptozoology: Can Unexplained Creatures Be Real? 978-1-532-11539-4.
—. ESP: Does a Sixth Sense Exist? 978-1-532-11540-0
—. Time-Travel: Is Visiting the Past and Future Possible? 978-1-532-11541-7
—. UFOs: Are Alien Aircraft Overhead?
Felix, Rebecca. Artificial Intelligence: Could Computers Take over? 978-1-532-11538-7
Thomas, Rachel L. Ancient Aliens: Did Historic Contact Happen?  978-1-532-11537-0

This review is for Ancient Aliens: Did Historic Contact Happen? The book talks all about aliens, different pieces of aliens such as UFOs, artificial intelligence, and more. Each book in the Science Fact or Science Fiction? series contains a table of contents, timeline, glossary, index, as well as some extra resources at the end of each book. The book contains nonfiction textual elements with high interest topics, so this would be a good series to introduce those elements to students. If you have students who are interested in aliens and unexplained phenomenon, this would be a great series to give them.

THOUGHTS: This would be a good series for students to use if they are doing research about aliens or any of the topics contained in the series.

001.942 Ancient Aliens                Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Charter Academy


Doerrfeld, Cori. Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend! Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-525-55423-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1.

Saying goodbye can be very hard, but every goodbye leads to a hello. Charlie is new at school and soon meets a friend who had been lonely from goodbyes.  Now, together, the friends say goodbye to seasons and hello to fun games.  Goodbye to daytime fun in the sun and hello to stars. Goodbye to pets and hello to memories. Goodbye to spectating and hello to joining. Together the friends realize all of the easy goodbyes and fun hellos they experience together. But, when one friend must move, goodbyes become harder until a new family moves in leading to a new “Hello.”

THOUGHTS: Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend! is an excellent picture book exploring how things change in our lives. It helps readers understand that for every goodbye is a hello. It supports positive interactions and positive self-image. This is a wonderful resource for classrooms, libraries, and families.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – Maybe He Just Likes You; Good Enough; Klawde; Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic; The Okay Witch; Over the Moon; Other Words for Home; Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club; Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky; The Story Web; Dragon Pearl

Dee, Barbara. Maybe He Just Likes You. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-43237-6. 283 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

When do you decide enough is enough? Seventh grade Mila is excited to celebrate her friend Omi’s birthday after lunch with a thoughtful gift and a group hug with her other friends Max and Zara. This moment between friends is perfect – that is until the basketball boys come over and hug them too, lingering on Mila. This small moment makes Mila uncomfortable, and it doesn’t stop there. The boys find ways to bump into Mila, make comments, and invade her personal space. Afraid to tell her mom, the principal (who is also the boys basketball coach), or her guidance counselor, Mila’s emotions spiral out of control. Mila tries to tell her friends what is going on, but they shrug it off, saying that’s just how boys are. But when a friend comes to Mila with information about a “scorecard” and another friend steps forward and says it happened to her too, Mila finds the strength to speak up for herself and stop the unwanted attention.

THOUGHTS: This middle grade novel does a perfect job of exploring the #metoo movement and how harassment and innocent “jokes” can end up affecting others. The story will bring you all the feels – joy, anger, shock – and leave you feeling like you may know someone this book is perfect for. The book also explores different relationships between characters and the strength a person has to stand up for themselves.

Realistic Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Petro-Roy, Jen. Good Enough. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-12351-0. 261 p. $16.99. Grades 7-9.

Twelve year old Riley doesn’t think she’s good enough, fast enough, talented enough…the list goes on and on. Tired of being compared to her “golden” younger sister Julia, Riley starts running excessively, skipping meals, and having a bad attitude. And it gets worse! At school she is being picked on for what she looks like and how she eats, which leads Riley down the path to an eating disorder. Riley’s parents decide she needs to be hospitalized in order to find the path to recovery. The story is presented as a journal of Riley’s experiences while hospitalized – her struggle with anxiety, food issues, and her parents’ constant judging and disappointment. The program requires strict meal planning, therapy sessions, group activities, and even counting out loud while you go to the bathroom. Riley meets several girls in the program all while dealing with the loss of her best friend and discovers that she is more than the voice in her head telling her she’s “not enough.” Will Riley’s parents accept her for who she is and not just as someone with a problem? Does Riley have the power to be in control of herself? A must read!

THOUGHTS: Perfection. Petro-Roy does a fantastic job of approaching a delicate subject as she is someone who battled an eating disorder. The journal style of writing allows readers to feel as if they are taking the journey with Riley day by day and makes for a fast read. The story deals with so much more than recovering from an eating disorder and allows readers to see that we all have flaws that make us who we are.

Realistic Fiction         Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Marciano, Johnny, & Emily Chenoweth. Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat: The Spacedog Cometh. Book 3. Penguin Workshop, 2019. 978-1-524-78724-0. $14.99. Grades 4-8.

The third epic adventure of Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat! As Klawde continues to plot his return to his home planet and take over from the tiny evil kitten who has taken command, he is unaware that there are others looking for him: the most loyal beasts of all…dogs! Barx has been given the mission to capture and return Klawde to his home plant to pay dues for blowing up one of their most amazing plants! As Barx travels to Earth, he realizes just how wonderful it is, especially Klawde’s master Raj. While the animals fight and attempt their vengeful missions, Raj is suffering with his own problems. His parents are out of town for a few weeks for a conference vacation, so his Ajji, grandmother, is staying with him. All she cooks is weird, un-American food and decides to throw him a birthday party. How will Raj deal with Ajji, as well as dealing with Klade being…Klawde!

THOUGHTS: I was so excited to see the third book to this hilarious series! The addition of the dog characters brought forth more excitement and perspective to the “dog vs. cat” personality stereotypes. A great third book for the Klawde lovers!

Adventure/Action/Fantasy          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Russo, Kristin J. Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic. Orchard Books, 2019. 978-1-228-18736-6. 48 p. $25.95. Grades 5-8.

In a subseries of Part of the Perspectives Library, Viewpoints and Perspectives takes a look at how various people may have different views about some of the most known events in history. In Viewpoints on the Sinking of the Titanic readers get a look inside the Titanic through the eyes of three very different passengers. Using first person stories inset with facts about the ship and a timeline of the events, this title takes readers through what the sinking of the Titanic was like for a first, second, and third class passenger. This book is a nice mixture of pictures and stories, allowing for students not to be overwhelmed by the amount of text to read. With a mixture of historical black and white, recreated color, and pencil drawings readers get a look back in time. The simplicity of the pages and clear nonfiction text structure lends this book to be a great introduction to text structures including table of context, index, timeline, and captions. The book includes ideas for teachers in the sidebars to help lead research or a lesson on the Titanic.  

THOUGHTS: The unique look into different classes on the Titanic would allow students to see how classes were separated and the prejudice against the lower classes even while evacuating the boat. A book like this could, and others in this series, be used in middle schools to see how prejudices have changed throughout history.

910.9 History, general          Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD


Steinkellner, Emma. The Okay Witch. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-43146-1. 271 p. $20.99. Grades 4-8.

Moth believes she is a typical Halloween loving teenager, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. After studying the history surrounding Founder’s Bluff and the persecution of witches, Moth suddenly discovers that she may have special “powers.” After an incident with the school bullies and a talking cat at home, Moth confronts her mother for the truth. Yes, Moth is from a long line of witches, and with her mother’s diary and her new found powers, she is about to discover the truth. The witches of Founder’s Bluff were real…and they are still alive. Moth learns to navigate middle school (including a new boy who keeps bumping into her), harness her powers against her mother’s wishes, and meet her very ancient grandma. Travel with Moth through past and present as she discovers her heritage and becomes an “okay” witch.

THOUGHTS: This debut graphic novel will delight middle schoolers as Moth discovers who she truly is. The illustrations are whimsical and eye-catching, while the story just flows across the frames through a series of chapters. Graphic novel readers will want to pick this novel up, especially if they enjoy the element of magic.

Graphic Novel            Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Lloyd, Natalie. Over the Moon. Scholastic Press, 2019. 978-1-338-11849-0. 291 p. $14.95. Gr. 4-8.

The Dust has taken away the light from the stars in Coal Top, made the villagers feel hopeless, and forced children to work for measly wages. Mallie cleans the home of a well to do family in the “Down Below.” The work is hard and does not pay enough to help protect her brother from being taken by the Guardians and sent to the mines to work. When a mysterious flyer appears and offers an opportunity for orphan boys to earn riches, Mallie knows this is her chance to save her family. Mallie quickly discovers that the task is to tame and ride a Starbird into the Dust above in order to retrieve gold dust. Up for the challenge, she doesn’t back down and struggles with her disability as well as the others who wish she wasn’t there. With the help of her friend Adam, and her loyal Starbird Leo, Mallie finds she can be successful. But when she discovers the leader, Mortimer, is up to something dark and sinister, Mallie decides she must expose the truth. Risking her life and her family’s, Mallie races against the Dust and Mortimer to prove that the stars really do exist.

THOUGHTS: You can’t help but cheer for Mallie as she struggles to protect her family, discover the truth, and overcome obstacle after obstacle. The characters are well developed and the whimsy of flying horses and dust puppets make the story come to life. Fans of Lloyd will not be disappointed with this title that pulls at your heart strings and reminds you to shoot for the stars.

Science Fiction            Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Warga, Jasmine. Other Words for Home. Balzer and Bray, 2019. 978-0-062-74780-8. $16.99. 352 p. Grades. 4-8.

Jude, young immigrant from Syria adjusts to her new life in Ohio. She had to flee with her pregnant mother, leaving behind her father and older brother. There is so much change living with her uncle, aunt, and cousin who is in the same grade. Although her aunt and uncle are accommodating, her cousin Sarah is a bit jealous of the attention and practically ignores Jude at school. School is a challenge. She thought her English was good in Syria, but in the United States pace of life is so much faster, including the language! Life is definitely not like the American movies she used to watch with her friends. Jude is a resilient girl. She makes friends with others in ESL (English as a Second Language) and meets Layla who is also Muslim. She wants to fit in, and one of her real motivations is the musical. She works really hard to try out, perfecting her English and learning about drama. This annoys Sarah and her friends who Jude thinks of as “SarahMinaHarperStone” (They seem to lack individuality.). Jude is concerned for Amal, her new baby sister. Amal, whose name means Hope, will be an American, not an immigrant. Jude realizes that home is where the people you love and those who love you are. It is where you feel you belong, and Jude works very hard to create a place for herself.

THOUGHTS: Jude voices very real concerns about fitting in, prejudices against Muslims, and the safety of her father and older brother who are still in Syria. The reaction to a bombing in the Middle East and subsequent vandalism of Layla’s family property is both upsetting to the community and an opportunity to bond. Warga’s use of verse to tell the story makes it accessible and poignant as the succinct wording and rhythm evoke emotions and meaning.

Realistic Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Nicherson, Sara. Last Meeting of the Gorilla Club. Dutton Children’s Books, 2019. 978-1-101-99442-9. 240 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Josh is starting fifth grade at a new school, a fresh start, where no one knows of Josh’s multiple invisible friends. Only Josh’s friends are not imaginary; they just can’t be seen by anyone else. But the friends are all gone, buried at his old house. Until Big Brother shows up again on Josh’s first day of school. Big Brother dispenses advice, comfort, and companionship. But Josh is not the only student in his class with an awkward friend. Lucas has an invisible friend, Maxie, and Josh can see her too. While Big Brother gently guides and encourages Josh to be brave and try new experiences, Maxie seems a bit more malevolent. When she engineers a meeting between the two boys, she may be dangerously replaying her sad history. But Lucas and Josh discover real friends are powerful also.

THOUGHTS: A unique look at processing death and maturing. Readers who feel they see the world differently than those around them will definitely relate to Josh and Lucas.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Mbalia, Kwame. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. Rick Riordan Presents, 2019. 978-1-368-03993-2. 482 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

Tristan is having a difficult time recovering from the school bus accident that left his best friend Eddie dead. Frustrated, his mother sends him to spend some time with his grandparents down south in Alabama. Grandma warns Tristan to stay away from the bottle tree, a traditional structure to capture haints, or spirits, at the edge of the forest. Tristan would have gladly done so, but that night he is awoken by a small, sticky figure sneaking in his room. Gum Baby has come to steal Eddie’s journal, and Tristan chases her into the forest, attempting to reclaim his cherished memento. When Tristan punches the bottle tree in frustration, he inadvertently creates a hole in the sky and is pulled into another world, where the stories his grandma used to tell him and Eddie come alive. Another mythology/folklore based adventure from Rick Riordan’s imprint, Tristan Strong brings alive the tales of the deep south, featuring Brer Rabbit, John Henry and, of course, Tristan’s reluctant sidekick Gum Baby. Tristan is sent on a quest to find the trickster god, Anansi, who can weave the sky back together. While Tristan is convinced he cannot save anyone (he broods that he failed to save Eddie), he discovers heroes do not necessarily have to be strong, or even brave, and he is more than capable of saving the world of his new friends from destruction.

THOUGHTS: This lightning fast, rollicking tale will win many fans, as well as introduce them to Black American folklore. Tristan and Gum Baby are a new dynamic duo that provide constant laughs as they attempt to save the day.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Blakemore, Megan Frazer. The Story Web. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19525-4. 321 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7. 

When Alice was little, her magical father would regale her with wondrous stories. But now Alice’s world is broken in so many ways. She no longer socializes with friends, she quit her ice hockey team, and even nature seems out of whack, with forest creatures making their way into town. She believes everything stems back to that something she did that made her father go away. But Alice can no longer maintain her invisible persona. The animals know; Alice’s classmate, frequently bullied Melanie, knows; and her best friend, Lewis, knows. The story web, a fragile creation of spiders, spun to record the stories of man, is broken. If it is not fixed soon, the world will be in peril. Alice’s father had explained the story web to her when she was young, and now Alice must look past her grief and fear to work with Melanie, Lewis, and many caring individuals, to repair it. But when the stories Alice remembers from her father don’t rebuild the web, the children realize they must find their own stories, as painful as they may be. The plot unfolds at a leisurely pace, through various viewpoints, including several animals. Much like spinning a web, individual threads eventually weave together in a breathtaking finale. The storyline of Alice’s father, who is eventually revealed to be suffering from PTSD, also takes time to uncover, and is never explained directly, but rather through oblique comments, reminiscences, and finally a conversation between Alice and her father.

THOUGHTS:  While the climax is riveting, it will take a patient reader to navigate to that point. Hand this lovely, heartwarming story to a reader who enjoys the journey as well as the destination.  

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lee, Yoon Ha. Dragon Pearl. Rick Riordan Presents, 2019. 978-1-368-01335-2. 320 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl, one of the first titles published under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, will delight young readers who like their fantasy informed by the trappings and tropes of science fiction. Lee imagines a world—a thousand worlds, actually—inspired by Korean mythology, and then sends it – them – spinning off into outer space. The young protagonist, Min, is a shape-shifting fox disguised as a human to avoid the persecution her species has long suffered. When her brother disappears, she sets off in search of him, planet-hopping through the universe on a grand and dangerous adventure. The plot moves at a breathless, breakneck pace as Min pilots a rocket ship and has run-ins with ghosts, dragons, and pirates.  

THOUGHTS: A top-notch #own voices entry in the sci-fi/fantasy genre that subtly addresses issues of identity and acceptance.  Highly recommended for middle schools.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

YA – Crying Laughing; Finale; Call Down the Hawk; Supernova; If I’m Being Honest

Rubin, Lance. Crying Laughing. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-525-64467-5. 336 p. $17.99 Grades 7-10.

After a disastrous attempt at stand-up at her own bat mitzvah, Winnie Friedman retired from comedy. But with a little encouragement from her best friend Leili, and cute junior Evan, she steps out of her comfort zone and joins her high school’s Improv Troupe. Winnie enjoys both developing her comedy chops and the attention from Evan, but at home her father’s increasing clumsiness is diagnosed as something much more serious: ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Although Winnie’s tight-knit family unit is unexpectedly vulnerable, her social status is on the rise: getting laughs at Improv, killing it on the morning announcements, and boys sitting at her lunch table. When her dad falls at the supermarket, fellow Improv member Fletcher is clued in to her family secret and friendship – or romance? – may bloom where she least expects it. Lance Rubin (author of Denton Little’s Deathdate, former member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, and obvious proud comedy nerd) excels at mining the tragic for comedic gold. He’s equally adept at depicting life’s most cringe-worthy moments with a gentle touch.

THOUGHTS: Crying Laughing (which, yes, will have readers doing both) is a fantastic ode to pushing beyond your perceived limits while knowing that the people who love you most will provide a soft place to land. Don’t skip over the Acknowledgments, where Rubin talks about his personal connection with ALS. 

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Garber, Stephanie. Finale. Flatiron Books, 2019. 978-1-250-15766-9. 470 p. $19.99. Grades 7-12. 

According to the first page of Finale, every story has four parts: the beginning, the middle, the almost-ending, and the true ending. Legendary was the almost-ending, and Finale, perhaps, is the true-ending to the Caraval series. Donatella gained her ultimate prize for winning Caraval – her mother was returned to her. However, she is still comatose, and Tella has no idea how to wake her. Her sister, Scarlett, has met her true love — or has she? Finale is about how the end is never the end. When the girls lose their mother shortly after she awakens, Tella vows revenge on the Fates, particularly Fallen Star. The newly freed fates are wreaking havoc, and terrorizing the countryside, but the journey to recapture them will cruelly test the sisters, requiring choices and sacrifices beyond their imagination.

THOUGHTS: Fans of the series will clamor for the final volume, but new readers will need to start with Caraval; Garber provides no back story here. 

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Stiefvater, Maggie. Call Down the Hawk. Scholastic, 2019. 978-1-338-18832-5. 468 p. $19.99. Grades 8+.

The exquisite agony of reading a Maggie Stiefvater book: Do you put the pedal to the metal in a crazy race to the finish because the story is so darn intriguing? Or do you crawl along on the side road, knowing the journey is at least as rewarding as the destination? For Call Down the Hawk, I recommend the latter. Stiefvater’s new Dreamer Trilogy expands the world of Ronan Lynch, one of the Raven Boys from her The Raven Cycle series. Ronan can pull objects and people out of his dreams, and in Call Down the Hawk we learn there is a shadow network of dreamers – those who dream, those who hunt dreamers, and those who see the End of the World. The loose premise of CDTH follows Hennessy, a young woman who dreams copies of herself; Carmen Farooq-Lane, a hunter of dreamers trying to atone for the evil her dreamer brother caused; and Visionaries, those who identify and locate dreamers. While The Dreamers Trilogy is meant to be a standalone series, readers of The Raven Cycle will have a much richer experience with Call Down the Hawk. Ronan’s brothers, bit players in The Raven Cycle, become fascinating individuals in their own right now, as story threads weave together into an unnerving tapestry. And the reader knows that if you pull on the wrong thread, every thing, every dream, every life will unravel.

THOUGHTS:  A first purchase where fantasy is popular and ethereal writing is appreciated. 

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Meyer, Marissa. Supernova. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-07838-4. 549 p. $19.99. Grades 7-12. 

Meyer pulls off a unique feat with Supernova. The third book in the Renegades trilogy may be the best one. The story picks up hours after the end of Arch Enemies, as Anarchist Nova attempts to return to her undercover role as a Renegade superhero. Now that her uncle, the infamous Ace Anarchy, has been captured, she needs to devise a plan to release him from prison and finally start the Anarchist rebellion. But, as Nova is learning, nothing is black and white when it comes to Prodigies; some use their power for good, and others for evil, and the dividing line isn’t always Renegades vs Anarchists. As she attempts to embed herself further in the Renegade organization, she finds many of the individuals to be good and kind, while her erstwhile family of Anarchists can shock her with their enthusiasm for destruction and mayhem. Meanwhile, Adrian (aka Sketch) is trying to keep his identity as Sentinel secret. When the final battle between Renegades and Anarchists begins, who will be the heroes, and who will be the villains?

THOUGHTS: Chock full of character development as well as an action filled plot, Supernova is a perfectly breathtaking conclusion (or is it??) to this brilliant series. 

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Wibberley, Emily, and Austin Siegemund-Broka. If I’m Being Honest. Viking, 2019. 978-0-451-48109-2. $17.99. 359 p. Grades 9 and up. 

Cameron Bright is one of the most popular girls in her Los Angeles prep school. She is beautiful, smart, driven, and brutally honest. She has to be in order to make the future she’s been planning for her entire life happen – a future on the opposite coast, finally spending time with her father, attending school in Philadelphia, and working to follow in his footsteps as a successful financier. However, her senior year of high school is not off to a great start. Her mother, a washed-up actress, avoids getting a job, content to live off of support from Cameron’s father, and her plan to solidify her crush Andrew as her boyfriend goes awry at a party when he witnesses her brutal honesty rear its ugly head. While reading The Taming of the Shrew in English class, Cameron comes to realize that while she finds her honesty a virtue, society views it as a vice, so she sets out to tame herself in order to at least make amends with Andrew and win back his affections. For all her list-making and planning, Cameron’s quest to tame herself takes her places she never could have imagined including an incredibly nerdy book store, a video game development competition, a live screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the arms of a lovable group of nerds including Brendan, a boy whose life she ruined in middle school by giving him a horrible nickname.

THOUGHTS: With other contemporary Shrew remakes like the film 10 Things I Hate About You to live up to, this retelling doesn’t disappoint and manages to hold its own. The family dynamic is very different – both parents are present, and their complicated relationship makes for its own strong subplot; plus,there is no Bianca/sister character. Still, it captures the essence of Shakespeare’s original themes: perceptions of women’s behavior and motivation for making changes in our lives. This novel could work well as an independent read or enrichment activity after reading the original play, or as a companion to the play in order for students to analyze how society’s views on women and feminism have changed over the centuries. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD