Elem. – Eyes that Speak to the Stars

Ho, Joanna. Eyes that Speak to the Stars. Illustrated by Dung Ho. Harper Collins Childrens, 2022.  978-0-063-05775-3. Unpaged. $18.99.  Grades K-3.

By the same author of Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, Eyes that Speak to the Stars follows a young boy whose friends point out that his eyes are different that theirs, and the family members:  Baba, Agong, and Di-Di who help him embrace this difference and realize that his eyes reflect those he loves. The use of a father, grandfather, and younger brother makes the book multi-generational in words and illustrations and both celebrate the roots and loves shared by the book’s family. Dung Ho’s realistic illustrations are highly accessible to the young audience.  

THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this book. Its illustrations are accessible and beautifully rendered, celebrating a contemporary boy and his family roots. The writing presents strong, positive, and loving male characters to the audience with a rhythm that encourages re-reading and opens discussion between readers.  

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

Realistic Fiction, Diversity, Self-Acceptance, APPI, Imigration, Family, Tradition.

Elem. – Black Boy, Black Boy: Celebrate the Power of You

Kamanda, Ali, and Jorge Redmond. Black Boy, Black Boy: Celebrate the Power of You. Sourcebooks, 2022. 978-1-728-25064-9. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Black Boy, Black Boy is a picture book that showcases many famous inspirational men in Black history. Some of them are ones the reader might be familiar with and some are a little lesser known. This book encourages black boys to dream big and become whoever they want to be. At the end of the book, there are short paragraph biographies about each person who is featured in the book. The illustrations are gorgeously done by Ken Daley who has done many other pictures.

THOUGHTS: This book is a must purchase for any elementary or public library collection. This book introduces the reader to famous people they might not be familiar with which makes this book a great starting off point for doing some further reading.

Picture Book            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – Dear Student

Swartz, Elly. Dear Student. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37412-2. $16.99. 293 p. Grades 6-8.

Starting middle school is difficult for most students, but for sixth-grader Autumn Blake, it’s a lonely, anxious time not only because her friend Prisha has moved to California but also because her father has decided to “seize the day” and grant his lifelong wish to help others by joining the Peace Corps in Ecuador. Now, Autumn, her mom, and her little sister, Pickles, have to move to the apartment above her mother’s veterinary practice, and Autumn has more responsibilities to help with her sister, their home, and the practice. Though she feels like a misfit at school, she responds to her father’s daily advice to challenge herself and applies for the position as the advice columnist for the school newspaper, The Daily Express. As she awaits the decision on the newspaper slot, Autumn is surprised by the attention from popular, confident classmate, Logan. Selected as the anonymous advice columnist, Autumn reveals that under her awkward and self-conscious exterior lies an insightful and wise counselor. She even winds up giving advice to Logan and learning about her new friend’s hidden insecurities and needs. Autumn also balances this friendship with Cooper, a newcomer to her small community, whom Logan says is weird. When she responds to a disturbing accusation about Beautiful You, a cosmetic business in her community that has provided jobs for many, including Cooper’s mother, her reply sparks controversy around suspected animal testing; and when word leaks out that Autumn is the one dispensing advice, both Logan and Cooper turn against her. To make matters worse, her fantasy about her dad returning home for her birthday fizzles. Ultimately, Autumn realizes she is strong enough to grab hold of her Fearless Fred –a nod to a family story–and summon the courage to do what is hard to make things right. The premise of the friendly advice columnist being the introverted character has been done in Lifetime movies, but Elly Schwarz’s middle school take on it is refreshing and unique. Hard to tell what race the characters are, but both Logan and Autumn are white; Autumn refers several times to her Jewish religion.

THOUGHTS: Give this book to the shy student, the one who travels under the radar whom you suspect has something valuable to say. This book may be a good springboard for Social Emotional Learning–after all, Autumn is providing advice and the situations in which she finds herself can be good What if? examples. What if a parent chooses to go away for a long time? What if you need to move because your family’s financial situation changes? What if you are given more responsibilities? What if you make presumptions about how you impress people and how other people appear to you? What if you need to take a stand about something you really believe in and a friend disagrees? What if a situation arises where you need to speak up? Autumn Blake, with her complicated feelings and struggle for confidence, is a character middle school students would like to meet.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Why Not You?

Wilson, Ciara and Russell. Why Not You? Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-37440-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Why Not You? is a picture book that focuses on boosting a child’s confidence and self esteem by encouraging them to go for their dreams, no matter how big they may seem. This book is told through illustrations and words, showing children how they can achieve their dreams because, as the book says, “why not you?” The illustrations show a diverse range of students, as well as showing a wide range of dreams that each student has. The illustrations show the students encouraging each other’s dreams which is a wonderful addition to the story.

THOUGHTS: Overall, this was a lovely picture book with a really great message! This would be a great addition to any elementary classroom, or a great read aloud for guidance lessons. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – You’d Be Home Now

Glasgow, Kathleen. You’d Be Home Now. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-525-70804-9. 400 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

For her whole life Emory’s family has been well-known in the town of Mill Haven. Her great great grandfather founded the mill that employed many of the town’s families for generations. But the mill has been abandoned for some time, and people have very different opinions about what should become of the space. Emory also is the little sister of Joey who overdosed and passed out while his best friend Leonard caused a life altering car accident, one that devastated their small town and Emory’s family. Now Emory is known as someone who was in the car when Candy died. Joey is on his way back from rehab, and their older sister Maddie is away at college. With workaholic parents who aren’t always around, Emory is tasked with keeping an eye on Joey who has been given some pretty serious restrictions to keep him “on the right path.” Always feeling invisible in the shadow of her perfect sister and self-destructive brother, Emory has been a good girl, a rule follower. But Emory needs someone to see her. Next door neighbor Gage, who Emory has had a crush on, shows her attention, though secretly, and it feels good for someone finally to notice her even if not out in the open. Despite some questionable choices, Emory is managing and keeping an eye on Joey. Until she isn’t. Secrets are brought to light, Joey disappears, and Emory loses herself. Will she pick up the pieces and figure out who she wants to be before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Emory and Joey while cringing at some obvious warning signs. Glasgow writes a compelling, character driven novel that shines light on addiction’s impact on family, friends, and community. Teens will appreciate the authentic portrayal of serious issues.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, SD

Elem./MG – Out of My Heart

Draper, Sharon M. Out of My Heart. Atheneum Book for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-665-90216-8. 352 p. $18.99. Grades 5 and up. 

Melody Brooks has cerebral palsy, but that has never stopped her in the past, and it won’t stop her now from achieving her plan of attending camp this summer. After researching camps for kids like her, she convinces her parents to complete the application for Camp Green Glades. At first, Melody’s dream is dashed when she learns the camp does not have any openings this summer, but then, after a cancellation, Melody’s dream comes true. At Camp Green Glades, Melody experiences swimming, ziplining, hiking, horseback riding, and even dancing; all things she never dreamed she could do. Throughout all of her adventures, she finds true friendship and a personal determination and will to do anything.

THOUGHTS: This is a MUST read for all ages. Sharon Draper once again brings to life the voice of those often left silent. This highly anticipated follow up to Out of My Mind (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010) shows readers the potential in not only people with specific needs, but all of us. Melody goes on adventures that I’ve never tried, but definitely want to after reading how Melody felt. Out of My Heart gives hope to all and is another prize for middle-grade (and all) readers. Draper’s ability to bring Melody’s voice to life is amazing; Melody is eloquent and strong and still a soon-to-be-teenager going through all of those “tween” things. Another superb novel from Sharon Draper. 

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Sidenote – I have a nephew with CP. Both of Melody’s stories give me so much hope for him and what he can become. My heart is filled with hope because of Melody. 

Sidenote 2 – I do not recommend the audio of this book. I love audiobooks, but this reader used a very high-pitched voice for Melody that I found to be too childish. It wasn’t Melody’s voice. I switched to just reading the print about a quarter of the way through the book. 

Elem. – Becoming Vanessa

Brantley-Newton, Vanessa. Becoming Vanessa. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-525-58212-0 p. 40. $17.95. Grades K-3. 

The first day of school still gives most of us butterflies in our stomachs. We most likely remember the anticipation, the excitement, and the desire to put our best face forward in making a good impression. Vanessa, the main character in Becoming Vanessa, written by Vanessa Brantley-Hewton, feels all of these emotions on her first day of school as well. Vanessa puts on her fanciest outfit and her best smile for her first day of meeting her new classmates; however, she receives the attention she wasn’t expecting. Vanessa definitely stands out and begins to feel that her clothes are too bright, her boa has too many feathers, and her shoes are too shiny. Her classmates don’t seem to appreciate her bold outfit choice as much as she was hoping. Vanessa’s self-confidence begins to dwindle, and she begins to believe that she should blend in with her classmates and not stand out. 

After a tough day at school, Vanessa has a conversation with her mother that helps rebuild her confidence and gives her a new perspective on how to be herself AND share her fabulous self with others. Becoming Vanesa is inspired by the author’s real childhood and is full of self-love. 

THOUGHTS: Vanessa Brantley- Newton has become a favorite author (and illustrator too!) of mine! She is the author and illustrator of Grandma’s Purse and Just Like Me, two other fabulous picture books for young readers. Her stories burst with positivity by lifting up young girls around the world with her stories and placing girls of color at the center of the story. I cannot wait for more beautiful work from her! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Garlic and the Vampire

Paulsen, Bree. Garlic and the Vampire. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-062-99509-4. 160 p. $22.99. Grades 2-5.

Garlic has overslept again, and she’s late for her shift at Witch Agnes’s Market Day, where all of the local fruits and vegetables sell their harvest. Meanwhile, smoke drifts from the chimney of a distant castle, alerting the garden helpers that the spooky house isn’t vacant anymore. Witch Agnes reluctantly admits that the castle’s new resident is very likely a vampire. Pointing out that garlic wards off vampires, Celery nominates timid Garlic to visit the castle, and even Carrot (her father figure) agrees that she’s the best one for the job. Hoping to prove her bravery – especially to herself – Garlic agrees to confront the vampire, and in the process discovers the beauty of an unexpected friendship. Author/illustrator Bree Paulsen’s digital artwork is rendered in earthy, woodsy tones that match the story’s setting. Each garden helper’s characteristics are delightfully distinctive: smug Celery, paternal Carrot, and endearingly nervous Garlic.

THOUGHTS: This is a fun graphic novel for young readers who like their spooky stories with plenty of depth and heart.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Taking Up Space

Gerber, Alyson. Taking Up Space. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-18602-4. 259 p. $17.99. Grades 5-9.

Sarah has a lot of aspects of her life she really loves: basketball, her best friends Ryan and Emilia, and detective novels. She also has aspects of her life that she wishes would change; for example, she hates that her mother has issues with eating and never has enough food in the house for Sarah to eat. In fact, sometimes her mother forgets to make meals which makes Sarah feel unimportant. How can you matter when the people in your life who are supposed to take care of you forget that you have to eat? Sarah also discovers that as her body is changing in her teen years, so are her basketball skills. She is slower lately, making more mistakes on the court. As a way to take control over her sluggish performances on the court, Sarah starts restricting what she eats, trying to lose excess weight so she can be faster and stronger. This is not a challenge at home, but it does become an issue when Sarah partners up with her crush Benny to compete for a spot on Chef Junior, a televised cooking show holding auditions at Sarah’s school. Eventually, the stress of the competition and diet restrictions catch up to her, and Sarah has to learn for herself how a person becomes physically and mentally healthy.

THOUGHTS: Taking Up Space shines a spotlight on the pressure teenage girls are under to look a certain way. A very unique aspect of this book, however, is that the character’s mother is also struggling with eating, demonstrating to young readers that sometimes adults don’t always have all the answers and have to seek help, too. This book is a must-have for middle grade libraries and could be a thoughtful option for a book club.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Diamond Double Play

Maddox, Jake. Diamond Double Play. Stone Arch, 2020. 978-1-496-58329-1. 64 p. $5.95 (paperback version). Grades 2-3.

Blake Easton is the neighborhood Wiffle ball star, but he has never played organized baseball. When he and his friends spot a poster advertising open tryouts for a local baseball travel team, Blake’s friends encourage him to try out. But Blake is nervous going up against more experienced players, especially when obnoxious Kyle starts taunting Blake as an inexperienced newbie. Luckily, Blake finds a friend in Austin, who shows Blake the ropes. While Blake makes the team, he is disappointed to learn he will be Kyle’s backup at second base. But when Kyle injures himself making a selfish play, Blake finds himself in the starting line up, and serious jitters set in. Is he really good enough to be on the team? This short, beginner chapter book combines authentic sports action with lessons on sportsmanship and confidence. The young characters (ages 11-12) frequently speak with maturity far beyond their ages, but the story will resonate with sports fans and players alike. The characters, as represented by the illustrations, are ethnically diverse; Blake is Black, Kyle is White, with teammates represented variously. A glossary at the end of the book defines baseball terms used in the text.

THOUGHTS:  A solid choice for Easy Fiction collections, where sports books are underrepresented.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD