YA – Some Kind of Hate

Littman, Sarah Darer. Some Kind of Hate. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-74681-5. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Content Warning: “The contents include white nationalist ideas based on antisemitic conspiracy theories, Islamophobia, racism, misogyny, and violence.”

Declan Taylor is at the top of his game – literally. His school baseball team just won the state tournament, and he was their star pitcher. If Declan just could figure out how to talk to his longtime crush, Megan, he would be set. When an attempt to impress Megan during an end of the school year celebration goes horribly wrong, Declan’s summer plans derail. No more baseball means no future for Declan, at least not the future he was envisioning. Drowning in self-pity while the rest of his family is working long hours, Declan spends most of his day gaming. His baseball friends, including his best friend and longtime teammate Jake, are too busy with summer league and don’t understand Declan’s situation or his anger. Plus Jake seems to be spending more time with his friends from synagogue than worrying about how Declan is doing. With their family’s finances crumbling, Declan is forced to get a summer job. Now he’s spending more time away from home and with his co-workers. Finn and Charlie introduce Declan to a better way to escape the lack of acceptance from his family and friends. It’s in the game world that Declan is able to avoid reality and find understanding: The world needs to wake up to the globalists who are tipping the scale in their favor and stealing opportunities from families like Declan’s. Though his twin sister and baseball friends question some of the things Declan has been saying, Declan’s anger surfaces and he writes them all off, opting to join his new friends in fighting back. Will Declan lose himself to his anger, or is there hope that he can crawl back and redeem himself?

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters between Declan and Jake, this novel explores how, given the right conditions, one’s hate can blossom. Haunting and at times difficult to read, this story will stay with readers and belongs in every YA collection. It would pair well as a modern tie-in to Night, To Kill a Mockingbird, and other classics that deal with social issues. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid

Wallace, Matt. The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid. Katherine Keagen Books, 2022. 978-0-063-00803-8. 261 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7. 

Max, the main character of this heartbreaking and heartwarming story, is a great kid with one problem; he’s a fat kid, and he endures constant bullying and ostracization at school because of his weight. He and his equally-bullied friend, Luca, spend each day at their new middle school waiting for the next attack from the biggest and most popular bully, Johnny Pro. The situation seems hopeless until Max decides to reach out to Master Plan, a notorious supervillain who was recently put in jail because of his villainous deeds. Through letters between Max and Master Plan, Max learns confidence as the older supervillain teaches him to dress well and defend himself, but when Max gets a great opportunity to appear in a popular TV baking show, he begins to wonder who is really helping who in their unusual mentoring relationship. Eventually Max decides that Master Plan did help embrace his good qualities and improve his friendships, but that he, not his supervillain hero, must take responsibility for his own happiness and success.

THOUGHTS: The body-positivity and anti-bullying messages in this book are skillfully incorporated into a funny, charming and thought-provoking tale about a kid who has to deal with a bully. The dialogue and action in this story is realistic, and students who enjoy hero-and-villain tales will appreciate the way Master Plan mentors Max and helps him find his own style and his own voice. This is ultimately a light-hearted tale that contains some excellent messages.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – Freddie vs. the Family Curse

Badua, Tracy. Freddie vs. the Family Curse. Clarion, 2022. 978-0-358-61289-6. $16.99. 256 p. Grades 5-8.

Freddie Ruiz–AKA “Faceplant Freddie”–is plagued by the family curse in Freddie vs. the Family Curse. Unlike his talented, popular cousin next door, Sharlene (Sharkey) Mendoza, Freddie cannot bust a move on the Wylde Beast breakdance team, make friends with the other Robo-Warrior card players, or join any sports team because he risks injury or humiliation. His academic career is not filled with high grades and trophies but a collection of embarrassing moments and pratfalls. Just when it seems his luck cannot get much worse, he discovers an amulet while searching for glue to complete a last-minute school project on family trees. Great grandmother, Apong Rosing, calls the coin on a leather strap/cord an anting- anting and explains in a strange mix of spirituality and Filipino superstition that its magic can be unleashed through a priest and recognizes the coin as the one worn by Domingo Agustin (Ingo), her deceased older brother’s best friend. During Mass at Holy Redeemer Academy, the amulet becomes activated. Great Grand Uncle Ramon materializes, visual only to Freddie, Sharkey, and Apong Rosing.When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, seventeen-year-old Uncle Ramon went off to fight in World War II and died from an infected cut on the Bataan Death March. Through the warm and often humorous relationship Freddie develops with his newly found uncle, the seventh grader discovers the source of the curse was Uncle Ramon’s transgression, and the only way to banish the curse and keep Freddie alive is to return the amulet to its rightful owner–within a 13- day timeline! When Sharkey becomes collateral damage for the Ruiz curse, Freddy’s best solution to deliver the amulet is to master his dance moves and fill in at the breakdance championship in Las Vegas. In his chase against time, Uncle Ramon helps Freddie realize he has the talent and cleverness to make his own luck.

THOUGHTS: Author Tracy Badua involves some Filipino history in a heartfelt story of an underdog struggle to believe in himself. Story includes information about the Rescission Act, the unkept promise the U.S. government made to the Filipino soldiers to make monetary recompense. As Freddie works out how to break the curse, the reader finds a close knit Filipino-American family with their customs and folklore. The relationship between Freddie and his great grandmother and uncle forms an opportunity for an intergenerational perspective. In the beginning of the story, the author seems to include many descriptive details as though she were remembering her own family: grandmother wears a purple shawl when she goes for her dialysis, Freddie’s family observes the Filipino custom of not sweeping the floor at night for fear of “sweeping out the fortune.” Lead students who like this book to Erin Estrada Kelly’s Lalani of the Distant Seas for their next choice.

Fantasy (Magic Realism)          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Falling Short

Cisneros, Ernesto. Falling Short. Quill Tree Books, 2022. 978-0-062-88172-4. 292 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Sixth graders, Isaac Castillo and Marco Honeyman, are best friends, next door neighbors, and complete opposites. Isaac is a tall, basketball star who struggles in school; smart as a whip, Marco gets mistaken for a kindergartner because of his short stature. What both of them share is mutual love and care and problematic fathers. Unable to cope with his alcoholism, the loving but troubled Mr. Castillo is estranged from his wife and son. On the other hand, Marco’s parents are divorced, and his father would rather write an alimony check than visit his son. The boys’ warm friendship stands up to the pressure when the pair start Mendez Middle School in California. Marco classifies the different students like fish, some are aggressives and some are community minded. In Falling Short, author Ernesto Cisneros makes a solid case that being community minded is possible and preferable. Having almost failed fifth grade, Latinx Isaac has to prove that he can make the mark, and perhaps ease some of his parents’ stress. Mexican-American and Jewish Marco, too, wishes to impress his neglectful father, a jock, who dismisses Marco’s scholastic achievements. The basketball team is a choice that fits both boys’ needs: Isaac can coach Marco in baller moves; Marco can be Isaac’s loyal study buddy. Determined to escape the taunts of the school bullies–especially basketball eighth grade standout, the looming Byron–Marco takes on becoming a basketball player as an intellectual pursuit. Motivated by Marco’s relentless efforts to learn how to play ball, Isaac disciplines himself to complete all homework assignments. Their bro’mance gets them through their respective feelings of inadequacy in either sports or studies and their family issues. Marco skips an elective course and completes Isaac’s missed homework assignment. Isaac convinces Coach Chavez that Marco will be a valuable player on the team. Told in alternating voices that mix feeling with humor, the story reaches a climax when Isaac’s dad suffers a car accident while driving drunk right before the big basketball tournament. To add to the tension, Marco’s errant dad comes to see him play at the tournament. Reading how these true friends push each other to achieve their goals and affirm themselves in the process imitates the deft moves of a satisfying game and does not fall short.

THOUGHTS: Author Ernesto Cisneros mixes lots of details in Falling Short that cater to the typical middle school student: description of basketball plays, mention of well-known basketball players, team spirit, an explosive farting episode. It also touches on the awkwardness and helplessness kids can feel when dealing with parental flaws. The book includes some nice touches that point to a better world: Coach Chavez throws Byron, the bully, off the team when he finds out Byron humiliated Marco; Marco has a short teacher who can be both self-deprecating and inspirational; there is a girl on the basketball team; some of the other team members also look past Marco’s lack of height and see his kindness. Spanish phrases are scattered throughout the book.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Caprice

Booth, Coe. Caprice. Scholastic, 2022. 978-0-545-93334-6. $17.99. 243 p. Grades 6-8.

Sensitive, poetical Caprice is a rising eighth grader with a big decision: should she grab the opportunity of attending a prestigious boarding school or stick with her friends in Newark, New Jersey? Though she loved her seven-week stint at summer camp at Ainsley School for Girls, she is torn because of her closeness to her best friend, Nicole, a budding romance with Jarrett, and her commitment to the Center, the community place that fosters fun and leadership in her neighborhood. Through her poems and flashbacks, the reader learns of sexual abuse that Caprice keeps buried and secreted from her family. She is considerate of her parents’ precarious financial situation because of their faltering business and is scared that her need to be in Newark keeps her mother and father apart. Her return home a week before school starts corresponds with a call from Baltimore informing the family of her maternal grandmother’s serious illness. Caprice’s mother and grandmother have been estranged since Caprice was four-years-old when her grandmother sent Caprice and her mother away from the family home after a dangerous incident. Only Caprice and her grandmother know the real reason for their banishment, but her mother has lived all these years with hurt and resentment, alienated from her mother and brother, Raymond. The reader meets Caprice over an important week when school, friendships, and soul-searching come to a head. Her sporadic panic attacks increase, and she waffles between closing herself off and speaking up for herself in new ways. In Caprice, Coe Booth tackles a difficult topic by mining the memories and feelings of Caprice as she faces her demons and challenges herself to esteem who she is. Caprice’s immediate family is loving and communicative. Her friendships with both adults and kids at the Center are genuine and nicely developed. Though the confrontation with her abuser at story’s end avoids any expected messiness and description, the emotions Caprice experiences throughout the novel will resonate with many readers dealing with changes in their lives. The students at Ainsley are international: New Zealand, Ghana, Toronto. Race is not mentioned directly in the book; however, Caprice gets her locs done and the book’s cover art displays an African American girl, so there are implications that the other characters are African American.

THOUGHTS: Coe Booth lets Caprice’s voice come through in the narration and the typical middle school dialogue with which readers will relate. The thriving Center Caprice attends is core to the community and helps to shape the kids who participate in the different activities it affords, from a Women’s Club, to film making, to dance. Caprice takes part in some neat poetry activities that readers can replicate. Her leadership qualities come out in her refusal to be treated less than boys and to tolerate snide remarks about her body. The adults surrounding Caprice–even though they know nothing about her abuse at the time–are nurturing and say the right things. Caprice’s pride in her neighborhood and loyalty to her friends are good discussion points.

Realistic Fiction   Bernadette Cooke   School District of Philadelphia

Twelve-year-old Caprice should be having the time of her life. She just finished a seven week summer program at a prestigious school in upstate New York, and she has now been offered a full scholarship through high school. She has a week to make the decision to accept the scholarship. She returns to her home in Newark, NJ and learns that her grandmother is seriously ill. This brings back the memories of the abuse that she endured while living there with her grandmother and uncle. She has remained quiet about this abuse and has told no one. The deadline to commit to Ainsley is coming closer and closer, and Caprice is struggling with her past while trying to make a decision about her future. 

THOUGHTS: This book is a powerful read for a middle schooler. It addresses the issue of child abuse – sexual and emotional. It could have some triggers for some readers.    

Realistic Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Sometimes it’s hard for kids to decide what they want from life, and what they are willing to let go of, until they are faced with some life-changing events. This is certainly true for Caprice, a smart, motivated, and mature 7th grade girl who has just finished an exclusive summer leadership experience at a private school in an affluent part of Washington, D.C. She loved that school, but she also loves her home and friends in urban New Jersey. After she is offered a full scholarship to return to the private school for her 8th grade year, she quickly must decide whether she is willing to give up her familiar home and her best friend in favor of the school opportunity of her dreams. In addition to the stress of her impending education decisions, past childhood trauma and the declining health of a grandmother she hasn’t seen in years add to her troubles. Will Caprice be able to navigate her painful past, her complicated family, and her new and old friendships to see her way to a brighter future?

THOUGHTS: Caprice and her family are warmly drawn, and her friendships feel so real! This book deals with difficult topics including childhood abuse, family secrets, divorce, adolescent feelings, and confusion about the direction and meaning of one’s life, but everything is dealt with a sensitive and graceful hand that still makes the book a pleasure to read and recommend to students.

Realistic Fiction        Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

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

MG – Muddle School

Whamond, Dave. Muddle School. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30486-6. $15.99. 144 p. Grades 5-8.

This semi-autobiographical graphic novel follows Dave, a self-proclaimed nerd, through an eventful year of his “Muddle School” journey. Dave’s school experiences swing from the lowest lows, including getting pushed into mud by bullies on the first day of school, to the highest highs, as he kisses his crush at the end-of-the-year dance. He and his lab partner Chad even design a time machine for the science fair, which Daniel tries to use to go back and redo his disastrous first few months of typical middle school blunders. Throughout the book, Dave learns that being authentic, standing up for others and taking risks are the best ways to survive Muddle School.

THOUGHTS: The illustrations, jokes and silly situations that appear in this book are a wonderful glimpse into the mind of a middle school boy. Dave shows true fondness for his family, hates bullies but feels helpless against them, and uses his love of drawing to help himself process his feelings; everything feels authentic, if a little sanitized, to the school experiences of teen and tween-agers today. In the brief back-matter pages, it is delightful to find out that many of the things the author includes in the story actually happened! Many middle school students will be able to relate to this book and find humor and comfort in the life of another awkward boy just trying to make his way through Muddle School.

Graphic Novel          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – I Will! A Book of Promises

Medina Juana. I Will! A Book of Promises. Versify, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. 978-0-358-55559-9. Unpaged. $14.99. PreK-1.

In this uplifting, beautifully illustrated book, readers will make promises to make the world a better place through a variety of actions, such as being kind, helping others, and taking care of nature. Bright, bold illustrations feature racially and physically diverse characters, and the short, simple text makes this an incredibly accessible, straightforward guide for young readers who want to build a better world for themselves and others.

THOUGHTS: This would be a great book to share with preschool and Kindergarten students who are just beginning to interact with each other and the world. It would help spark important discussions about how they can show compassion towards themselves and others. It would also make an excellent gift for high school and college graduates, serving as a gentle reminder to be compassionate citizens as they go forward.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

YA – you don’t have to be everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves

Whitney, Diana. you don’t have to be everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves. Workman Publishing, 2021. 978-1-523-51099-3. 165 p. $14.95. Grades 9-12. 

I want this book on my coffee table, but I also want it on my nightstand. And I also want it in my office, and maybe in my car. It’s beautiful and consumable and has something for any woman, in any moment. Whitney’s subtitle is “poems for girls becoming themselves,” but I think many women never got the chance to be themselves. The collection is organized by eight themes: seeking, loneliness, attitude, rage, longing, shame, sadness, and belonging. There is something in this small book for everyone, they just have to be willing to let the poetry awaken their heart and the affirmation of who they are and how they feel will be present. 

THOUGHTS: If your high school students are as hungry for poetry as mine are, add this to your collection. The art and design make the work of legends like Angelou and Oliver as accessible as their modern day counterparts like Gorman, Acevedo, and Baer. At the very least, get this book to just have in your office and hand out the poems like candy on Halloween, but every day. 

Poetry         Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

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