Elem. – Fatima’s Great Outdoors

Tariq, Ambreen. Fatima’s Great Outdoors. Penguin Random House, 2021. 978-1-984-81695-5. 40 p. $17.99. Grades Pre-K-3. 

Fatima Khazi is having a tough week. Her math quiz was challenging, her peers teased her about her accent, her friends wrinkled their noses at her lunch, and a boy pulled her long braid in the hallway. Her mood, however, is lifted while she eagerly awaits with her sister for her parents after school. She is beyond excited about a weekend camping trip to a state park with her family. Ambreen Tariq’s picture book Fatima’s Great Outdoors celebrates an immigrant family’s connection and affection for nature and the outdoors. Fatima, who speaks Urdu and English, slowly builds confidence as she helps her family set up the camping tent, start a campfire, and adventure in a state park. Readers gain insight into Fatima’s family, who has immigrated from India, and will also learn of the family members that still live in India through memories and storytelling. Each memory teaches Fatima a little more about her strength and confidence. At the end of the weekend, Fatima is sad to leave her outdoor space, but her sister reminds her that sharing her experience at school may help keep the memories in her heart until the next adventure.

THOUGHTS: Author Ambreen Tariq is the founder of BrownPeopleCamping, which she launched in August of 2016 to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial. This storytelling initiative, found on Instagram, utilizes personal narratives and digital storytelling to promote diversity in public lands and outdoor communities. Her debut picture book Fatima’s Great Outdoors reads like a love letter to state and national parks that encourage all ethnicities and races to explore and enjoy what nature has to offer.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Ho, Joanna. Eyes that Kiss in the Corners. Harper Collins for Children, 2021. 978-0-062-91562-7 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

This is a heartfelt and breathtaking portrait of a young Asian girl drawing strength from the women in her family. In the story, a girl notices that her eyes seem different from her friends’. Most of the friends have “big round eyes and long lashes”; where she has eyes that “kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” With pride and confidence, the girl shares with the reader that her eyes resemble her mother’s, her amah’s, and her little sister’s! With each turn of the page, the girl (and the reader) learn less about physical appearances and more about the legacy of family, relationships, history, and heritage. Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is a vibrant celebration of self-discovery and love! The brilliant illustrations and poetic words will resonate with readers of any age.

THOUGHTS: Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is a must-have picture book for home, classrooms, and school libraries! I appreciate that there is no bullying, teasing, or conflict with the characters in the story. Instead this title is written as a lyrical celebration with a tender message: to love oneself.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

YA – Love Is a Revolution

Watson, Renee. Love Is a Revolution. Bloomsbury YA, 2021. 978-1-547-60060-1. 304 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up. 

Nala agrees to attend an open mic night with her cousin, not really expecting to find love. She meets Tye Brown, an activist and Nala is… not; Tye wants to spend his summer doing community service, and Nala wants to hang out and try new ice cream flavors. Nala makes the decision to tell a couple white lies to Tye, and that ends up spiraling into something she did not expect. Will Nala come clean to the guy of her dreams or keep the lies going? The best part about this novel is the body positivity and Nala’s friend group. While this is a YA romance, there is a larger message about being true to yourself and loving yourself for who you are.

THOUGHTS: I adored everything about this book and these characters. I loved the way Renee Watson develops her characters, and her writing style makes this book so easy to read. Highly recommended for any high school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Late to the Party

Quindlen, Kelly. Late to the Party. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-250-20913-9. 297 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Codi is comfortable in her bubble, content to do her own thing with the same friends she’s had since elementary school, Maritza and JaKory. That is until her little brother almost has his first kiss before she does. Realizing that she is already seventeen and about to enter her senior year of high school, Codi fears her chance to be a ‘normal’ teenager is slipping away. Hesitant at first, she begins to break out of her comfort zone little by little, meeting new friends, going new places, and even experiencing her first party. All the while tensions with Maritza and JaKory continue to rise. Can Codi be the friend she once was while still discovering new things? Can she be two people, the quiet artistic girl and the social teenager, at once? Will there be room enough in her life for life?

THOUGHTS: Late to the Party is a satisfying exploration of what it means for interests and relationships to grow as you get older, a reflection of an utterly relatable internal conflict.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

Cori’s summer before her senior year of high school starts just like every other summer for the last several years – a trip to the community pool with her two best friends, Maritza and JaKory, followed by movies in her basement. Cori wonders what it must be like to be one of those normal “wild teenagers” and if she and her socially awkward friends will ever actually act like teenagers before they graduate. She and JaKory haven’t even had their first kiss yet, and not being straight makes navigating dating even more tricky for this trio. When they pick up Cori’s younger brother from what looks like a date at the movie theater, the thought of him getting his first kiss before any of them is too pathetic to handle. To remedy this, Maritza and JaKory decide they should crash a party in their neighborhood. Cori, true to her predictably boring norm, decides not to join them. But when Maritza and JaKory get drunk and text her for a ride home, Cori begrudgingly shows up to rescue them. Little does she know, this sets a summer’s worth of events into action. Walking up to the house, Cori catches Ricky – host of the party and “normal” popular jock teenager – kissing a boy behind some bushes. Cori’s promise to Ricky not to tell anyone forges an unlikely friendship that introduces her to a whole new group of friends, “normal” teenager activities, and maybe, hopefully, her first kiss. Cori finally feels like a “normal” teenager… and Maritza and JaKory have no idea it’s happening because Cori never tells them.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: family, friendship, and romance. Readers who identify with Cori’s shyness and insecurities will appreciate her honest, revealing, and authentic voice as she grapples with many internal struggles faced by both gay and straight teens. Speaking of authenticity, it would be difficult to explore typical “wild teenager” behavior without instances of alcohol and marijuana use. While this does occur in Late to the Party, the characters are not typically reckless about it. Cori is not out to her parents, but this is not a coming out story. It’s a story of emotional growing pains and self-discovery, but in a very non-cliche way. This is a must-have for the YA readers looking for LGBTQ+ books.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Elem. – You Matter

Robinson, Christian. You Matter. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-5344-2169-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K – 2.

Christian Robinson’s newest picture book has a straightforward message, even while delivering it through a roundabout story: You Matter! In fact, we are all matter, connected from the formation of the earth to the smallest living creatures. The flow of the story goes from a girl looking into a microscope and then off to several prehistoric creatures, before taking a galactic turn from a space station parent to a cityscape child. However, the message all along is meant to apply to all of us – despite hardships or worries or feelings of loneliness – you matter! The illustrations and their progression are delightful to connect and discuss, while the text hopefully hits home for those young readers who need those two reassuring words in a time of uncertainty.

THOUGHTS: The natural connection with this book would be for students to list things that matter to them, or ways that they matter to the world, and then share it with others. This would make for a great opportunity for building friendships and class identity at the start of a school year. Recommended for grades K – 2.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

MG – Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey

Newman, Magdalena, and Nathaniel Newman. Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-1-328-63183-1. 327 p. $16.99. Grades 7-8.

Nathaniel has always felt normal despite living with Treacher Collins syndrome (TC), a condition diagnosed at birth which causes bones in his face to grow and others not to grow, causing breathing and hearing difficulties. Nathaniel and Magda, Nathaniel’s mother, recount the story of his life from infancy to his teenage years. Throughout his life, Nathaniel had over sixty procedures to correct craniofacial differences caused by TC. Despite the challenges, Magda and her family were determined to give Nathaniel a normal childhood, full of video games, pets, bike riding, and sibling rivalries. When he turned 11, Nathaniel chose to have his largest procedure yet which would eventually allow him to reach a lifetime goal, to swim submerged in water for the first time. Each chapter begins with a black and white cartoon which entices readers to finish the chapter. The story is told from two perspectives, as indicated by different font styles for each narrator, and includes flashbacks to Magda’s life growing up in Poland. Both Nathaniel and Magda teach all children to separate “who someone is from what he looks like.”

THOUGHTS: Readers of R.J Palacio’s Wonder will easily recognize this story and will enjoy learning how the book and movie positively affected the lives of “Wonder Kids” around the world. Middle Grade readers interested in digging deeper into Teachers Collins syndrome or those who enjoy reading books about diverse kids, will enjoy Nathaniel’s and Magda’s story.

617.5 Medicine and Health            Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD
Biography