Elem. – Star the Elephant

Lai, Remy. Star the Elephant. Henry Holt and Co., 2022. 978-1-250-78499-5. 112 p. $13.99. Grades 2-5.

Author/illustrator Remy Lai opens a new series, Surviving the Wild, with the tale of Star the Elephant. Five-year old Star is growing up under the watchful eyes of his mother, aunt (the matriarch), and extended herd. When food becomes scarce, Star’s mom and auntie decide to search for a new home. After a long swim they reach an island with plenty to eat but also the troubling presence of humans. While attempting to escape from two men, Star becomes separated from his family. Fortunately for Star, these humans are working diligently to make the world safer for elephants, and the story ends on a hopeful note. “The True Story Behind Star’s Adventure,” which closes out this early reader graphic novel, includes tips to help protect elephants’ habitat from deforestation. Remy Lai fills every page with colored pencil lines depicting equatorial foliage, a handful of people, and (of course) the incredible elephants!

THOUGHTS: The Surviving the Wild series continues with Rainbow the Koala and Sunny the Shark (both 2022). Between the adorable animals and their sometimes fraught adventures, readers will tear through these!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Thunder and Cluck: The Brave Friend Leads the Way

Esbaum, Jill. Thunder and Cluck: The Brave Friend Leads the Way. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-534-48655-3. 64 p. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Meet Thunder and Cluck, two unlikely friends that are prehistoric dinosaurs. The Brave Friend Leads the Way is the second book in the Ready to Read Graphics Thunder and Cluck series written by Jill Esbaum. In this graphic novel, it is a hot miserable day. Thunder and Cluck find a dark and cool cave that could provide relief from the heat. The question is, which friend will be brave enough to lead the way inside the cool, yet mysterious cave? Thunder and Cluck are goofy and lovable and make the perfect friends to adventure together. This beginner graphic novel is vibrant, attractive, and fun to read!

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel series is perfect for early readers. Each book has an introduction message for the readers that teaches and explains how to read a graphic novel. The easy-to-follow panels, the speech bubbles, and the accessible vocabulary is genuinely spot-on with a relatable storyline. Love this collection! I hope there are more in the series in the future! 

Graphic Novel          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – The Not-So-Tiny Tales of Simon Seahorse (Series Fiction)

Reef, Cora. The Not-So-Tiny Tales of Simon Seahorse. Little Simon, 2021. $17.99 ea. 118 p. Grades K-3. 

Simon Says. 978-1-665-90368-4.
I Spy…a Shark! 978-1-665-90371-4.
Don’t Pop the Bubble Ball! 978-1-665-90374-5.

This new chapter book series for elementary readers features ocean dwelling protagonist Simon Seahorse. Simon lives with his family (Dad, Mom, and 11 brothers and sisters) near the ocean town of Coral Grove. When not attending Coral Grove Elementary, he enjoys hanging out with his best friend Olive Octopus, telling stories and going on adventures. In Simon Says, Simon takes one of his treasured possessions, a lucky pearl, with him to school for “sea and tell.” Naturally, being a storyteller, he enjoys embellishing the story of his pearl a bit when it’s his turn. After he arrives home from school, he realizes that the pearl has gone missing! Together with his friend Olive, and some help from Mr. Green, the turtle trolley, he goes on a journey to Shipwreck Station (aka the ocean’s lost and found) in the hopes of locating his pearl. In I Spy…a Shark!, Simon and his friends are afraid of sharks (they’re worried about being eaten). So, when Simon and Olive spy a shark while working on a school project in Coral Jungle, they are understandably frightened. But Zelda the shark doesn’t want to eat them; she is there to pick a bouquet of coral for her mother’s birthday. Simon and Olive help her choose the best coral for her bouquet and in return she invites them to Shark Point to attend her mother’s birthday party. As a result, they have another amazing story to tell their classmates. The text in each volume is accompanied by digital B&W illustrations on each page.

THOUGHTS: This early chapter series is sure to be popular with readers. Though Simon is a seahorse, many of the situations he finds himself in will be relatable to elementary students. After all, who hasn’t panicked when they think they have lost a treasured possession? Or realized that the preconceived ideas they had about someone were incorrect? 

Early Chapter Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA – Once Upon A Broken Heart

Garber, Stephanie. Once Upon A Broken Heart. Hodder and Stoughton, 2021. 978-1-529-38044-6. 403 pg. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Evangeline believes in true love; however, life throws a wrench in her plans when the love of her life is going to marry someone else. In a desperate moment, Evangeline makes a deal with the Prince of Hearts; however, that does not go as planned! As she goes through with his deal she learns there is more to the Prince than meets the eye. She learns more about herself and what she wants out of life and love as she goes. This is set in the same world as Stephanie Garber’s Caraval series; however, the reader does not need to read that series to understand this one.

THOUGHTS: This was a delightful little book! This was a fun, fast-paced read that will leave the reader craving the next book.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Evangeline Fox grew up in her father’s curiosity shop believing in magic, fairy tales, and true love. When her stepmother announces that her stepsister will marry the man Evangeline loves, she desperately tracks down the Prince of Hearts, Jacks, and asks him to stop the wedding. The price: Three kisses at the time of his choosing. Confident that she made the right choice, she discovers that Jacks turned the wedding party to stone. Feeling guilty, she volunteers to take their place. Luckily, her time as a statue is short lived, and through some miscommunication, she’s hailed a hero since no one, except for Jacks, knew that she was the cause of the disastrous wedding. When Evangeline is given the chance to journey to the north, she accepts and brings her stepsister, hoping it will make up for her ruined wedding and the rumor that she’s a cursed bride. When they arrive at the court of Prince Apollo, who is looking for a wife, Evangeline’s world is turned upside down when Jacks, who is at the ball as well, begins cashing in on their bargain. She fears that her secret will be revealed, realizes that making a bargain with a fate was a huge mistake, and starts to question if true love is worth fighting for after all.

THOUGHTS: Stephanie Garber’s fantastical world, first introduced to readers in Caraval, is filled with eccentric characters, unique fashions, whimsical parties, fairy tale castles, delectable sweets, and curiosities beyond our imaginations. The vivid descriptions will make readers wish they could fall into the pages to experience the magic and wonder for themselves.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley 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

Elem. – King & Kayla and the Case of the Gold Ring

Butler, Dori Hillestad. King & Kayla and the Case of the Gold Ring. Peachtree, 2021. 978-1-68263-208-6. 47 p. $6.99. Grades K-2. 

The King & Kayla mystery/detective series for young readers is back with another enjoyable installment. As the story opens, narrator King (a dog) and Kayla (his human) are playing outside in the snow when they are joined by some friends. Kayla’s friend Asia shows the group the special ring she is wearing that used to belong to her grandmother. After they finish playing, the group goes inside Kayla’s house, where they dry off, eat a snack, and settle down to watch some television. Suddenly Asia realizes her ring is missing! Working together the youngsters (and King) embark on a search for the ring. In order to solve the mystery, they must employ skills including teamwork, gathering facts, and analyzing clues. The text is accompanied by numerous pencil and digital illustrations by Nancy Myers.

THOUGHTS: This delightful early chapter book will hold great appeal for readers. It serves as an excellent gateway to mystery/detective stories and could also be used in lessons about problem solving. The book also incorporates humor through the character of King, who can be somewhat excitable and is always ready to enjoy a snack. Recommended.

Early Chapter Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – Ali Cross Like Father, Like Son

Patterson, James. Ali Cross Like Father, Like Son. Little, Brown, 2021. 978-0-316-50013-5. 294 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Ali Cross, son of Patterson’s famous literary detective, Alex Cross, is back in the second book of the series. Ali loves his father’s work, and when his friends are in trouble, he jumps into the situation, determined to use his own talents to solve the problem. Ali and his best friends are at a local D.C. music festival, waiting to see their friend Zoe’s mom perform, when gunshots ring out. Ali races to see if Zoe is OK. He eventually finds her in the backstage maze of semi trucks, RVs and trailers, only to realize she has been shot. Ali rallies his investigative team to discover what happened, but they run into a roadblock in Zoe, who seems determined to keep Ali from finding out the truth. Ali Cross is a delightful upper middle grade and middle school series. Ali is one of the most realistic characters in tween detective fiction. He lies to his Nana Mama and gets in trouble (then lies again). He feels guilty, he makes mistakes, and he loves his family. The plot embraces current issues such as homelessness, police violence, and the proliferation of black shooting victims, balanced with Ali’s personal experience with police work. Ali and Zoe are Black, and other friends are diverse.

THOUGHTS: A well-crafted story from a master storyteller. Patterson is the king of pacing, and the story will keep even reluctant readers engaged. Topical issues add some depth to the book. Mystery fans should enjoy the series, which will lead them to Alex Cross books when they’re older.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Realm Breaker

Aveyard, Victoria. Realm Breaker. Harper Teen, 2021. 978-0-062-87262-3. 563 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Aveyard returns with a lush new fantasy series that feels like a cross between King Arthur and Game of Thrones. A new player has come to the Ward, a man with the power to open Spindles, portals between realms. Spindles have not been opened for generations, not since the Immortals traveled into the Ward and found themselves stranded, unable to return to their home. But now Taristan has stolen the sword to create spindles, and begun releasing monsters and undead creatures into the world. Those knights who survived the initial battle between good and evil realize what Taristan is unleashing, yet few rulers care to believe them. The Immortal Domacridhan knows what it will take to stop Taristan – an individual with Corblood, and a Spindlesword – and he sets out to locate 17-year-old Corayne, an illegitimate daughter of the Cor lineage, who yearns for adventures her pirate mother refuses to grant her. The group gradually enlarges to seven unique characters, including a squire who lost his Lord at the first battle; a forger; a bounty hunter; a witch; and Sorasa, an assassin who steals the story. With no support from the monarchs of the Ward, the ragtag group proceeds to try to close the spindles before their world is set ablaze. This first book in the series has a great deal of scene setting to accomplish, and Aveyard evokes a fascinating world of exotic lands and characters of all ethnicities and skin tones. A detailed map on the endpapers assists readers in keeping track of the sprawling territory, and at times the proliferation of characters, locales, and realms can be overwhelming, but the story is gripping and delightfully satisfying. While Corayne seems to be set up as the main character, the story rotates between all the voices, and each character is a well-developed personality: Andry, the 17-year-old squire has nobility ingrained in him, but slowly develops the ruthlessness needed to survive their quest; Dom, the Immortal, does not quite understand mortals; and Sorasa, the female assassin, just might have a heart under her tough persona. There is no shortage of action, battles, monsters, daring escapes, and breathtaking betrayals.

THOUGHTS: Fantasy lovers should flock to this new series and be waiting on the edge of their seats for the sequel.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Corayne an-Amarat is the daughter of a pirate, but she hasn’t had any adventures of her own. When she discovers that she’s the last of an ancient line, her world is changed forever. Corayne begins a journey along with Domacridhan of Iona, an immortal sworn to protect her, the assassin Sorasa Sarn, squire Andry Trelland, the forger Charlon Armont, bounty hunter Sigil of the Temurijon, and a witch named Valtik. Together, this fellowship sets out to stop Erida of Galland, the queen who chose to ally with villainous Taristan of Old Cor from using spindle magic to tear a rip between worlds, and save the Allward realm from their destruction.

THOUGHTS: This book reminds me of Game of Thrones but for a YA audience. The story is told through the perspective of a large cast of characters. Some of the characters are good and set out to defend their world while others, hungry for power, make questionable decisions that will determine the course of the future. Within the fantastical world of Realm Breaker, readers will experience action, adventure, and ancient magic along with pirates, assassins, and monsters. This also would be a great book recommendation for readers who aren’t looking for a strong love story, and it’s perfect for any fan of the high fantasy genre.

Fantasy           Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – Hotel Flamingo

Milway, Alex. Hotel Flamingo. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-684-64126-0. 192 p. $5.99. Grades 1-3. 

Anna has her work cut out for her when she inherits the Hotel Flamingo from her great-aunt Mathilde. The once successful hotel is now a former shell of itself, run-down with only a few employees. Anna is determined to bring the hotel back to life and make it the best hotel on Animal Boulevard. Though Anna is a young girl, the rest of the characters populating this charming book are animals! Anna soon has a complete staff helping her to get the hotel up and running including T. Bear the doorman, Madame Le Pig (chef), Stella Giraffe (handywoman) and Squeak the mouse (bellboy), among others. Their goal–to make Hotel Flamingo the sunniest and most welcoming hotel in the area. Soon, a variety of guests arrive, including a family of cockroaches, a tortoise, and even flamingoes. Anna soon realizes that running a successful hotel catering to a menagerie of guests will require staff teamwork, creative thinking and a can-do spirit. Will Hotel Flamingo succeed?

THOUGHTS: This charming story is perfect for beginning chapter book readers who will no doubt appreciate both the heart and humor present throughout the plot. As the hotel staff work to restore Hotel Flamingo, characteristics such as teamwork, cooperation, and ingenuity are woven into the storyline. What really elevates this title is the inclusion of illustrations (drawn by the author) that help to bring the animals and their unique characteristics to life. Hotel Flamingo is the first volume in a four volume series–I can’t wait to read more about these characters!

Fantasy (Animal)            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – Lux: The New Girl

Woodfolk, Ashley. Lux: The New Girl. Penguin Workshop. 2020. 978-0-593-09602-4. 139 pp. $15.99. Grades 6-9.

Lux Ruby Lawson has had a default setting – pissed – ever since her dad left. She was kicked out of her old school for fighting, and her mom has put her on notice: if she messes up again, she’ll have to go live with the father who walked out on her, the same father who just welcomed a new baby girl. Lux wants to stay out of trouble, but when a classmate pushes her too far the ensuing scuffle is captured on multiple cell phone cameras. Lux is expelled and relocated to her dad’s apartment. Through a connection and a strong interview, she’s accepted at Augusta Savage School of the Arts in Harlem, to pursue her interest in photography. She makes friends with the “Flyy Girls,” Noelle, Tobyn, and Micah (each of whom takes center stage in subsequent installments of the Flyy Girls series). But Lux worries about what will happen if the videos of the fight resurface and her new friends discover the past she’s kept hidden. Ashley Woodfolk packs a lot into just 141 pages: family dynamics, friend drama, mild romance, school pranks, and even a photography assignment for the school paper. Each character’s personality is vibrant and distinct, and Lux is believably flawed. Her evolution, from a girl who settles scores with a punch to a more mature friend and daughter, is the endearing core of the novel.

THOUGHTS: Lux: The New Girl is an excellent hi-lo series starter to add to school library collections, and more importantly to read and discuss with students. It would pair well with Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence by Joel Christian Gill for a professional book study.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD