Elem./MG – Your Pal Fred

Rex, Michael. Your Pal Fred. Viking Press, 2022. 978-0-593-20633-2 255p. $12.99. Grades 3-8.

Fred is activated in a post-apocalyptic world after two brothers accidentally discover him in a pile of trash. Fred embarks on a journey over a land that has been destroyed by war, aliens, a comet, and cats. It is now ruled by two opposing characters: Papa Mayhem and Lord Bonkers. Fred is on a quest to bring peace to all. Along the way he makes friends with disgruntled characters who join him to bring kindness to all. Will he be able to convince the two top dogs that peace is the answer and not war? 

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is full of silliness and fun, and how one individual can create a positive chain reaction through one act of kindness at a time.  

Graphic Novel          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

MG – Star Child : A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler

Zoboi, Ibi. Star Child : A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler. Dutton Children’s Books, 2022. 978-0-399-18738-4. $16.99. Grades 6-8

Star Child is a biography that tells about the life of Octavia Estelle Butler, a famous African American science fiction writer told in various forms of storytelling. Ibi Zoboi uses poetry, short nonfiction essays, quotes from Octavia Butler herself, as well as some photographs from Octavia to demonstrate what her life was like growing up. At the end of the biography, Ibi has an essay about her personal connection to Octavia Butler and even includes a picture of when she met her! There is a list of Octavia Butler’s books listed in the back, as well as Ibi’s endnotes showing her research.

THOUGHTS: This was definitely a more unique format, especially as far as biographies go, and it was extremely well done! The author’s genuine love of Octavia Butler, both as a person and as a writer is evident throughout the pages of this book. This is a wonderful introduction to an author that readers might not know a lot about. 

Biography          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – M Is for Monster

Dutton, Talia. M Is for Monster. Abrams ComicArts, 2022. 978-1-4197-5197-4. 224 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Frankenstein’s monster gets a gender-flipped, graphic novel update in Talia Dutton’s M Is for Monster! Innovative scientist Frances Ai lost her younger sister in a laboratory accident six months ago. Frankie cobbled Maura back together and, with the help of a well-timed lightning strike, brought her back to life. However, she isn’t quite … Maura. “M” has no memories from before her resurrection, and she fears that Frankie may take apart and reassemble her over and over again until she gets it right. She finds an unlikely ally in the ghost of Maura, who appears in mirrors and coaches M through interactions with her older sister. This way, M avoids a dismantling and Maura gets to keep living, in a fashion. But the cracks in this arrangement begin to show as M and Maura assert their individuality. Can they both find a path forward, or will Frankie intercept their Cyrano de Bergerac-style ruse? Author and illustrator Talia Dutton uses a green, black, and white color scheme (and plenty of period details) to portray M’s limited but intriguing world. It’s one she desperately wants to continue living in, and readers will feel the same!

THOUGHTS: What first appears to be a straightforward horror novel is also a thought-provoking take on grief and identity.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – It’s the End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit

Reynolds, Justin A. It’s the End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit. 978-1-338-74022-6. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Eddie is rocking summer vacation. He has managed to weasel out of doing his laundry, his agreed-upon summer chore, by methodically wearing every piece of clean clothing until he’s down to his swim trunks. This is when the plan falls apart; mom discovers the odorous closet stuffed with dirty clothes, and grounds Eddie, on the day of the big beach bash. He is home alone with a load of wet clothes in the dryer, and another load in the washing machine when the power goes out. As Eddie pokes around the deserted neighborhood, he encounters four friends and learns not only is their power out, too, but the kids seem to be the only people in their neighborhood. So what do you do when all the grownups are gone? Eat junk food!! But when no one can reach their families at the beach, a frisson of worry interrupts their unsupervised glee. The friends pool their knowledge and come up with a credible plan to stick together (it involves entering neighbors’ homes to search for useful items like flashlights, sleeping bags, food, and deodorant). Reynolds provides a lighthearted dystopian story (that’s probably an oxymoron) that will keep readers wondering what happened until the very last page and its cliffhanger ending. The kids, all Black, are an engaging group who realistically swing between joy at being on their own, and worry for their family and the long-term outlook. The one possible drawback to the book is Reynolds’ unusual choice for narration. Written in first person, from Eddie’s point of view, the story is basically a monologue, with Eddie addressing the reader. While the story feels more natural when the friends are conversing, Eddie is an entertaining, honest narrator who openly discusses his ADHD, thoughts about being in therapy and his new step-dad (whom he calls WBD – Wanna-Be Dad.) 

THOUGHTS: Some readers may be thrown by the lengthy interior monologue, but others may be captivated by the conversational tone of the writing. The lack of resolution and the cliffhanger ending will leave fans anxiously awaiting the sequel. 

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD
Dystopian

YA – All That’s Left in the World

Brown, Erik J. All That’s Left in the World. Balzer + Bray, 2022. 978-0-063-05497-4. 338 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

When 78% of the world’s population has been decimated due to a superflu, and the world has headed in post-apocalyptic terrority, survival takes center stage in the lives of those remaining. Andrew decides that he needs to leave Connecticut on foot in order to settle a debt. He becomes injured and stumbles onto a remote cabin in the Pennsylvanian woods. This is where he meets Jamie. Jamie has been surviving on his own for many months, and he has not made contact with another human during this time. The two form a friendship, and their daily lives fall into a comfortable pattern until their sanctuary is threatened and the two must escape. They spend the next few months discovering just what has happened to the rest of the country.

THOUGHTS: This was a fast read. I thoroughly enjoyed the strong character development of both Jamie and Andrew as they discover their strengths and weaknesses as they fall in love in this broken world.

Science Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

YA – At the End of Everything

Nijkamp, Marieke. At the End of Everything. Sourcebooks Fire, 2022. 978-1-492-67315-6. $18.99. 400 p. Grades 9-12.

Hope Juvenile Treatment Center is a misnomer; there is no hope in this juvenile detention center. When the guards start acting odd and then its residents wake up to no supervision, the teens feel a little celebratory. Though they’ve grown accustomed to living by strict schedules and demands, now they get to make all of the decisions. And one of the first choices is do we leave to find out what’s going on, or do we stay with what we know? The answer splits Hope’s residents in half, only to have the group who leaves discover that a deadly, highly contagious disease is spreading outside of the boundary fence. Armed guards, in fact, are stationed at the gate to keep them in, and they have no words of advice or comfort. When illness breaks out at Hope, the teens must join together to survive. But getting close to and helping others goes against everything they’re used to and puts them at a greater risk of becoming sick. As more people become ill and supplies dwindle, leaders step up to help. But with no rescue or aid in sight, will these teens make it out alive or will the infectious disease take over?

THOUGHTS: Written during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Nijkamp will captivate readers with this sci-fi thriller. Narrated by a diverse group of teens, readers will root for their survival and be amazed at what limits they push themselves to in order to make it out alive. Recommended for high school collections.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The Last Cuentista

Higuera, Donna Barba. The Last Cuentista. Levine Querido, 978-1-646-14089-3. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 5-9.

In the year 2061, a comet has been knocked off course and is hurtling to planet Earth. While the majority of earth’s citizens will die as the comet collides with the planet, a small group of citizens are selected to travel to space and prepare to make a new home on planet Sagan. Petra, her brother Javier, and her scientist parents make the cut, but her beloved grandmother Lita does not. Petra and her grandmother have a special relationship, strengthened by the cuentos, or stories, that Lita tells her. Petra lives for these moments with her grandmother and vows that she will remember every single one of her grandmother’s cuentos so she always has a piece of her to share with others. After boarding the ship that takes them away from Earth, Petra and her family are frozen for 380 years inside stasis pods until they reach Sagan. While frozen, each person receives a brain download that inputs all kinds of knowledge so they are fully educated and ready to colonize a new planet when they arrive at their destination. Hundreds of years later, as Petra is taken out of her stasis, she realizes very quickly that she is the only one that remembers anything about Earth – and the plan for colonization has changed. A group called The Collective has taken over the ship and has plans to erase everything relating to Earth and its human inhabitants. According to them, the humans of Earth have made a lot of mistakes, and they do not intend on repeating (or remembering) those mistakes on their new planet. Petra realizes that if she wants Earth’s cuentos to live on, she must fight The Collective from the inside.

THOUGHTS: This book has received a slew of awards, including this year’s Newbery Medal. The Mexican-American main character is a strong female hero that readers will root for. It is a beautiful story filled with loss and hope, which makes it a perfect cuento. A must-purchase for middle grade libraries.

Science Fiction            Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Hunting by Stars

Dimaline, Cherie. Hunting by Stars. Harry N. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-75347-3. 400 p. $18.99. Grades 11-12. 

In a post-apocalyptic world where few can still dream, the brutal story of French begins. The ability to dream leaves people zombie-like, unable to remain physical or mentally well. The bone marrow of those who can still breathe becomes a commodity that is priceless. French is Indigenous to North America and is still able to dream, as many of his tribe. He has lived on the land for a while, but gets taken into one of the government schools where bone marrow is extracted and harvested. His tribe continues to seek survival in the wild while they work to be united. The story is dark and hopeful, heartbreaking and guttural, gripping, and terrifying. 

THOUGHTS: Technically, this title is a sequel to The Marrow Thieves, so it is an absolute must for libraries with Dimaline’s other novel. It’s a heavy story that has a lot of representation in a genre that has little Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and other representation. There are also many parallels to current events in Canada and the United States regarding mass graves at residential schools that would be an opportunity for discussion and curricular tie-ins.  

Science Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata SD

MG – Inquire and Investigate (Series NF)

Inquire and Investigate. Nomad Press, 2021. $17.95 ea. $71.80 set of 4. 128 p. Grades 6-9.

Danneberg, Julie. The Science of Fashion. 978-1-64741-027-8.
Danneberg, Julie. The Science of Weather and Climate. 978-1-61930-850-3.
Taylor, Daian C. The Science of Natural Disasters. 978-1-61930-858-9.
Wood, Matthew Brendon. The Science of Science Fiction. 978-1-61930-470-3.

Science, especially STEM, is a hot topic in all educational institutions. This set of four books reveals the science behind topics such as fashion, science fiction, and natural disasters. This reviewer had the opportunity to read The Science of Fashion. Each chapter, six in total, is chock full of information, comics, experiments, photos, facts, and timelines. The author makes sure to include the science behind textiles, design, accessories, and even color. Another interesting feature in each chapter is the QR codes leading to primary sources on the topic discussed on the page. Throughout the book, the author prompts thinking and encourages the reader to work through the engineering design process. Perhaps the most interesting chapter explains how fast fashion causes damage to the environment but with science and engineering, sustainable, environment-friendly fashion is possible. Back matter includes a glossary, metric conversions, resources, and an index.

THOUGHTS: The titles in this collection would be a good purchase for a library serving upper middle grade students. These books also would serve as an instructional tool in a science, engineering, or even a consumer science classroom.

746.9 Engineering and Technology           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – The Infinity Courts

Bowman, Akemi Dawn. The Infinity Courts. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-45649-5. 465 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

The Infinity Courts starts with Nami who is sure that her life is finally beginning at the age of eighteen; however, those dreams are halted when she is murdered. When she comes to, she realizes she is in a place called Infinity. Infinity is ruled by a queen called Ophelia who was a virtual assistant to the human race when Nami was alive. Now, Ophelia is determined to eradicate humans, and she is very close to completing that mission. Nami has a choice to join the resistance and help eliminate Ophelia, or just ignore everything and let Ophelia take over and complete her mission.

THOUGHTS: This is a great science fiction book that doesn’t get bogged down in science facts. The pacing is well done, and the main characters have decent character arcs throughout the story. This is the first book in a trilogy, so readers have something to look forward to.

Science Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy