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.
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
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.
Levithan, David. Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel. Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-05786-8. 138 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.
High school is hard. Jeremy finds it especially hard being an awkward nerd who can’t seem to say the right thing to anyone. He really wants to catch the eye of Christine, a pretty girl he sees every day at play rehearsal. When Jeremy tries to talk to her, he bumbles through his words, and that’s when he realizes he will never be able to charm her… until he hears about the squip. The squip is a supercomputer, compressed into a pill-sized capsule and swallowed. After that, it takes over your brain and helps awkward teens navigate through the complex social hierarchy of high school. Don’t know what cool clothes to buy at the mall? The squip will guide you. Not sure what to say to the most popular girl in school? The squip will tell you. When Jeremy buys one on the black market, he thinks he has squashed his awkward behavior for good. But he very quickly realizes the dark consequences that can come from trying to alter his own biology.
THOUGHTS: This graphic novel, adapted from the hit Broadway musical of the same name, will resonate with any high schooler who struggles to fit in. The art, done mostly in black, white, and blue, shows the differences between dialogue and the squip’s commands, making it easy to follow. High school librarians should add this to their graphic novel collections.
Soukup, Ruth. How Big is Your Brave? ZonderKidz, 2020. $17.99. Unpaged. Grades PreK-2.
Zippy the bunny dreams of traveling to space one day but feels uncertain about trying Space Camp. With some gentle encouragement from her family, Zippy heads to Space Camp even though she’s scared. Mom tells her, “Being brave doesn’t mean you’re never scared…courage means taking an action, even when you feel afraid.” Zippy flourishes at camp, making friends and learning a lot. When an accident derails her plans for Launch Day, Zippy feels ready to give up. Dad reminds her that “You can choose to give up or choose to keep going. It’s all up to you.” When Launch Day arrives, Zippy’s Veggie Vrrrooom wins second place and a special award for most creative design. While the title phrase never features in the story, the message is one that all kids will understand in some way, whether it’s facing scary situations with courage or working through challenges.
THOUGHTS: Zippy’s friendly face and relatable story will win over readers.
Barnes, Derrick. I Am Every Good Thing. Nancy Paulson Books, 2020. 978-0-525-51877-8. 32p. $17.99. Grades K-3.
I Am Every Good Thing is a poem that talks about the resilience, challenge, and beauty of being a child. It demonstrates children doing different activities such as making snowballs, riding a skateboard, swimming, and many other activities that children might do throughout their life. The narrator of this book adds to the feeling of “I can do anything I set my mind to” which is carried over with the illustrations. The illustrations done by Gordon James showcase the poetry beautifully and contribute to the feeling the narrator gives throughout the poem.
THOUGHTS: This is a beautiful book that is a vital addition to every school library collection.
Picture Book Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy