MG – Golden Arm

Deuker, Carl. Golden Arm. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. $17.99. 978-0-358-01242-9 . Grades 5-8.

Sixteen-year-old Laz Weathers may be slow, but he sees his future baseball prospects pretty clearly. His solid pitching gets no real training and won’t get noticed in his small, poor district. His own weak academics, his stutter, and his ‘tics’ in response to anxiety don’t do him any favors, either. It’s Laz’s younger half-brother, Alberto, who people respond to, and who will speak up when Laz can’t or won’t. But this summer, Alberto’s father has returned and moved in with their mom in their trailer park, causing initial resentment and adjustment by both boys. Laz convinces Alberto to stick with the scrappy baseball team led by Coach L—, who coaxes and cajoles thirteen youths to join the team, then badgers coaches of established teams to compete. Thanks to Laz’s pitching, they often win, which gets him noticed. Laz learns that his family must move (the trailer park will be razed for a high-rise) and that his district will eliminate baseball for his senior year. This allows Laz to join another team, if they’ll have him. A coach who noticed his “golden arm” will give Laz a chance, but can he leave when Alberto is being drawn into drug dealing? Just when Laz has the perfect chance to shine in a championship game, Laz learns his brother is in serious danger from his drug-abusing friends, and it doesn’t matter if Alberto has used, sold, or not–he’s the immediate target. Laz’s choices show his character and alter everything for his future.

THOUGHTS: Deuker shines with baseball scenes and infuses each interaction with tension and a sense of doom. This is hard to put down and will pull in baseball fans and non-fans (the sports writing is that superb). Readers will root for Laz, even as they see everything stacked against him. When the novel ends, I found myself wondering about a sequel showing Laz’s choices in a tough environment over the next 5-10 years, and how his integrity will be tested. This powerful, timeless novel melds baseball with the pressures of class status, mixes dreams with hard reality, and the result is a first-choice novel not to be missed.

Sports Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel

Currie, Rob. Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel. Tyndale House, 2020. $14.99 253 p. 978-1-496-44034-1  Grades 4-8.

In late 1944, 13-year-old Dirk’s father has gone into hiding as a leader of the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. The chase begins immediately; in chapter one, Dirk learns via a neighbor that his older sister Els has been captured by the Gestapo, to question and torture for information, and to encourage their father’s cooperation. Dirk knows his next move must be to escape with his younger sister, six-year-old Anna, to their grandparents’ home, but questions and worries bombard his mind. Chapter two reveals Els’s perspective as she is starved; questioned; threatened; and worries for her father, brother, and sister.  Most of the story is Dirk’s, but returns to Els’s point-of-view in the final chapters. This tense novel reveals the strength of the Dutch people during what became known as the “Hongerwinter” when Nazi control of resources led to daily food rations of a mere 320 calories per person. Dirk must call upon memories of his father’s instructions and strength to guide him through difficult decisions on his journey, while shielding Anna from the brutal realities of war as best he can.

THOUGHTS: This is a middle-grade novel a step up in complexity and danger for readers who loved Number the Stars and The Devil’s Arithmetic. It will expand readers’ knowledge of Nazi tactics and brave Dutch resistance. An inspiring read.

Historical Fiction; World War II in Netherlands  Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Echo Mountain

Wolk, Lauren. Echo Mountain. Dutton Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-525-55556-8. 356 p. $17.99. Grades 6-8.

Like her award-winning novel, Wolf Hollow, Lauren Wolk repeats her lyrical style in the historical fiction work, Echo Mountain. Ellie, the twelve-year-old narrator, and her family have moved to a remote part of Maine when the Great Depression hits. With his able middle child at his side, Ellie’s father builds their cabin. Her mother, a music teacher, puts down her mandolin and picks up the ceaseless household chores that come from being poor and living off the land–tasks older sister Esther endures but detests. The little brother, Sam, is impetuous and lively; the mountain is the only home he remembers. When the novel opens, Ellie’s father has been in a coma for months. While clearing land, he is felled by a tree. The details of this accident form Ellie’s dilemma and burden. A thoughtful girl, Ellie keeps still and accepts the blame for her father’s injury while always searching for natural remedies that will jolt him from his oh too silent sleep. While on these scavenger hunts, Ellie is surprised by tiny carvings of animals where she walks and believes someone is leaving them for her. These tokens are more meaningful for Ellie because they make her feel noticed, something she needs since her father’s accident. Of necessity, she’s a loner on the edge of childhood, and the story that ensues brings her to the brink of young adulthood. One day, a matted-haired dog appears at the edge of Ellie’s property, and she follows it to the other side of the mountain where the more established folks live. There she discovers the cabin of Echo Mountain’s legendary “hag,” feverish in her bed, in a room with carving tools and jars of herbs and medicinal cures. With the guidance of the hag–who is a healer– and the help of Larkin, the woman’s grandson, Ellie shows extraordinary resourcefulness in doctoring the old woman and her own father. The situation weaves the threads of the story tightly together with the kind of coincidences that deliver a wondrous tale. This quiet story of resilience during difficult times tells of a family who, in Ellie’s words, “…went looking for a way to survive until the world tipped back to well.”

THOUGHTS: This book concentrates on personal issues, rather than global ideas. Sensitive middle school students who like to wrap themselves in multi-faceted characters will gravitate to Ellie. It also provides a study of the dynamics of relationships: how Ellie relates to her mother and sister; how the different neighbors either share or refrain from sharing; how rumor feeds the negative attitude of the mountain people toward the hag; how humans deal with guilt and remorse. Similar to books like The Line Tender by Kate Allen and The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bryant.

Historical Fiction (Great Depression, 1930’s)          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

YA – Infinity Son; All Your Twisted Secrets; The Kingdom of Back; The Between; The Upside of Falling; This is My Brain in Love

Silvera, Adam. Infinity Son. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-98378-7. 353 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Twin brothers Emil and Brighton grew up idolizing Spell Walkers, the Celestials who use their powers to maintain order. But now that they’re turning 18, Emil thinks his brother needs to put the hero-worship aside and face the future realistically. But Brighton thrives on subscribers and likes on his Celestials of New York YouTube channel, and he wants fame so bad he can taste it. When the pair are attacked by a Spector, one who drank Celestial blood to acquire powers, mild mannered Emil erupts in rare Phoenix Fire, to his amazement and Brighton’s cold envy. The family is brought to a Spell Walker compound for protection, and Emil is convinced to join the unit, even though he is an introverted pacifist who isn’t sure the Spell Walkers always use their powers for good. As Emil reluctantly assists in missions, Brighton becomes the team’s public relations director, while his jealousy of his brother, and his disgust with Emil’s pacifism, continue to degrade the one invincible bond between them. Silvera adds another dimension to the superhero genre with his action-packed book. Emil’s reluctance to be a hero contrasts sharply with Brighton’s driven need for fame and power. The Celestials are morally ambiguous, even though they believe their actions are done for the greater good. There are no clear heroes and villains here, and Emil illustrates the danger of having powers others desire. Several big reveals later in the book set the stage for an eagerly awaited sequel.

THOUGHTS: Well developed characters paired with action and suspense make this book a winner. Hand this to fans of Marissa Meyer’s Renegades series or other superhero readers.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Urban, Diana. All Your Twisted Secrets. HarperTeen, 2020. 978-0-062-90821-6. 390 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

The beginning of the book starts off so tritely: six stereotypical high school students are notified they have won a prestigious scholarship. The music nerd, the jock, the alpha cheerleader, the stoner, the valedictorian, and the genius loner all show up at the restaurant for the dinner/scholarship presentation, only to find out something is horribly wrong. Then the addictive wild ride begins. Narrated by Amber, the music nerd, the six find themselves locked in a basement dining room, with a ticking bomb, a loaded hypodermic needle, and a note that warns the students that within an hour, one of them must be killed with the poison loaded hypodermic, or the bomb will explode and they all will die. Flashbacks fill in the back story, as the minutes tick down and the frantic teens turn on each other in order to survive. As the plot unfolds, the relationships between the six are uncovered, and true feelings ruthlessly rise to the surface. Subtly woven throughout is the backstory of Amber’s brilliant older sister who committed suicide due to cyberbulling.The suspense is top notch, and you cannot put the book down until its shocking, gut wrenching conclusion.

THOUGHTS: This cross between Karen McManus’ One of Us is Lying and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is sure to fly off the shelf. The ending scarred me for weeks.

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Lu, Marie. The Kingdom of Back. Putnam, 2020. 978-1-524-73901-0. 313 p. $18.99. Grade. 7-12.

Once upon a time there was an extraordinarily talented pianist who was also a gifted composer, by the name of Mozart. Nannerl Mozart. The older sister of the Mozart still adored the world over, Nannerl knows from a young age that, as a woman, her moment in the spotlight will be fleeting. Her father constantly tells her so. He values her musical ability as a means to earn money and recognition for the family, but once she reaches marriageable age, her public performances will end. As for her compositions, well, don’t be ridiculous. Women don’t compose. Lu takes the bare bones of what is known about Mozart’s sister, and weaves an enchanting historical fantasy that pulses with the frustrations Nannerl must have felt being a gifted woman in a society who had no need of such a person. As the siblings toured Europe, performing for royalty and earning the fame and fortune their father desired, they amused themselves by inventing the kingdom of Back. It is this magical realm that drives Lu’s story. In the kingdom, Nannerl is offered the opportunity of lasting fame, to have her name and her music remembered through the ages, but it may be a bargain too costly to make. Lu skillfully crafts the loving relationship between the siblings, and how Nannerl chafes under her father’s restrictions. She tantalizingly creates a scenario where young Mozart is influenced by Nannerl’s compositions, seeks her help with his own compositions, and even has her compositions published under his own name, all the more intriguing  because the world will never know how much Nannerl truly did influence her brother. This unique blend of fact and fantasy creates a world the reader will remember, as well as brings to light a talented woman too long lost to history.

THOUGHTS: This gorgeously written, uniquely plotted book may take some booktalking, but readers will be enthralled once they read a few pages.

Fantasy (Historical)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Hofmeyr, David. The Between. Delacorte, 2020. 978-0-385-74475-1. 376 p. $17.99. Grades 7+.

One moment Ana Moon is a normal high school girl, sneaking out to meet her best friend, Bea. The next, the train they’re riding on freezes in place and time, and a monstrous creature snatches Bea and takes off. When a shocked Ana makes it back to her dad’s flat, everything has changed. Dad is different; the flat is slightly different; and, most disturbingly, when Ana calls Bea, she is told that Bea died a year ago. By the time Malik, a cute guy Ana had been flirting with on the train, shows up at her bedroom window in the middle of the night, it barely registers as odd. Malik explains to Ana that she is no longer in the world she knows. She is a Pathfinder who can fall between the seven worlds. Bea has been taken by a reaper, and Ana must trust Malik, a fellow Pathfinder, if she hopes to find Bea. Ana enters a society she can barely comprehend, joining Malik’s clan and working with him and his team. As Ana is indoctrinated into her new reality, it becomes evident that she is not just a new Pathfinder, but perhaps the one Pathfinder who is the key to the mystical Seventh Gate. She may be the one to stop the war between the Pathfinders and the brutal Order. Hofmeyr compacts what might have been a seven volume series into one energetic, action packed story. Ana is a dynamic heroine, who plausibly grows into her new role while traversing continuously shifting ground. Her single minded goal of rescuing Bea, is never forgotten, and is a rare display of a literary friendship that is not overshadowed by romance. While there is an attraction between Malik and Ana, Bea remains her focus.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: action, friendship, romance, betrayal. It should find a home with Sci Fi readers as well as action/adventure fans who appreciate a few battle scenes in their books.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Light, Alex. The Upside of Falling. Harperteen, 2020. 978-0-062-91805-5. 279 p. $17.99. Grades 8+.

Reclusive, bookish Becca flat out does not believe in true love. Not after her parents’ messy, painful divorce. But, aggravated by her former best friend’s taunting about Becca’s lack of a lovelife, Becca spontaneously declares she is in a relationship. This might have fallen flat seconds after it came out of her mouth had not high school hunk Brett Wells come over, thrown his arm around her and confirmed that they are secretly dating. It turns out he is in need of a girlfriend to satisfy his good-old-boy father. So begins a relationship born of mutual convenience, that turns into a needed friendship for both of them. And could it even end up in love? This Wattpad romance doesn’t cover any new territory, but it is light, sweet, fun, and just the sort of addictive story that will be devoured by dedicated romance readers. Sadly, 10 pages from the end, the book loses continuity. While young readers most likely will not notice or care, it reveals the need for an editor’s hand.

THOUGHTS:  I adored this book for 269 pages. Then the characters acknowledge their love by immediately having (off page) sex, despite the fact that Brett’s mother had him when she was 17, and his father repeatedly discusses how he had to give up on his college plans and football future to stay home and help raise Brett. (And despite the fact that a few weeks ago Becca had never even kissed a boy.) This likely will not bother most readers, who will thoroughly enjoy the dreamy romance.  

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Gregorio, I. W. This is My Brain in Love. Little, Brown, 2020. 978-0-316-42382-3. 367 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

Jocelyn is stunned when her father announces that the family’s restaurant, A-Plus Chinese Garden, is floundering and he may move the family back to New York City from Utica, NY. Will is crushed when he fails to garner a plum editorial position on the school newspaper. Jocelyn convinces her father to hire a social media consultant to improve the restaurant’s visibility. Will finds himself needing a summer job. Jocelyn hires Will. The pair bring a boatload of baggage to the table from the start. Will, of mixed Nigerian and American heritage, filters the world through the lens of an African American male teenager, and suffers with anxiety. Jocelyn is almost crippled by her family’s emotionally reticent Asian culture. The pair click and begin dragging the restaurant into the digital era. Not unexpectedly, sparks fly, only to meet the disapproval of Jocelyn’s strict, racially prejudiced parents. But what seems like a trope-fulfilling romance veers off into a thoughtful exploration of mental health when Jocelyn’s erratic mood swings begin to trigger Will’s anxiety. Will, who has been in therapy for years, notices that Jocelyn may have some undiagnosed issues herself, but knows broaching the topic could cause a rift in their nascent relationship. As Jocelyn struggles to confront her depression, she finds an unexpected ally in her mother, who reveals she has been taking depression medication for years. Told from the alternating perspectives of Will and Jocelyn, the story maintains its relationship-cute vibe while honestly exploring mental health issues in teens, including the pros and cons of taking medication. A subplot involving Will tutoring Jocelyn’s younger brother, who clearly suffers from ADHD, as well as a reference to a friend with autism, may feel like a few issues too many  but does not detract from the story and might pique recognition in a reader.

THOUGHTS:  This book is a winner. An adorable romance exploring racial issues as well as mental health topics, it should fly off the shelf. Purchase multiple copies.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Jackpot; Last True Poets of the Sea; Wicked Fox; Red at the Bone; Hungry Hearts; Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens; One of Us Is Next; What We Buried; Opioid Crisis; #MeToo Movement; The Plastic Problem; Full Disclosure; All We Could Have Been; The Hand on the Wall

Stone, Nic. Jackpot: All Bets Are Off. Crown, 2019. 978-1-984-82962-7. $17.99 343 p. Grades 8+.

Rico Danger (yes that’s her name, pronounced) is a high school senior working at a convenience store to support her struggling family. She learns that a 100 million-dollar lottery ticket has been sold there on Christmas Eve while she was working and when no one steps up to claim it, she recalls a sweet older lady who visited that night. Believing that woman may be the holder of the winning ticket, Rico sets out on a quest to find her and hopefully get a tiny share of the payout. Rico finds an unlikely helper in her popular and super wealthy classmate, Zan. As they work together to try to find the lotto ticket holder, they realize they have a lot in common despite their family circumstances. Though the book does take on the serious topics of poverty, sacrifice, and family issues, it is overall a lighthearted read with a slowly building romance between opposites.

THOUGHTS: Nic Stone is another solid, up and coming African American author to follow. With popular titles in the last two years – Odd Man Out and the exceptional Dear Martin, Stone’s latest book should be popular with high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Drake, Julia. Last True Poets of the Sea. Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-04808-8. $17.99. 391 p. Grades 9 and up.

After her brother attempts suicide, Violet’s family is torn apart. Her parents retreat in their grief at home in New York City; her brother is in a treatment center; and Violet, a sixteen-year-old wild child, is sent off to live with her uncle in her mother’s hometown on the coast of Maine. While there she is determined to isolate herself, but she is sent to volunteer at the aquarium where she meets Orion, a local teen with a unique circle of friends. The story follows Violet as she faces her own trauma over her strained relationship with her brother and his mental illness. Woven in is her new quest to investigate her family’s strange history, including the mystery of the famous shipwreck that her great great grandmother survived. Another element is a love triangle that develops between Violet, Orion, and Liv. With parallels to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, this is a sweet and thoughtful novel with lovely prose, an enchanting setting, and vivid characters.

THOUGHTS: A lovely coming of age tale that addresses mental illness, family dynamics, sexual orientation, and first romance. Recommended for fans of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Cho, Kat. Wicked Fox. Putnam, 2019. 978-1-984-81234-6. 420 p. $18.99. Grades 8 and up. 

The gumiho, seductive foxes masquerading as women who eat the livers of men to survive are just myths, right? Jihoon has grown up hearing the stories of the gumiho from his grandmother, his halmeoni, but he knows that they are just scary stories, ones meant to keep children from the woods at night. That is until an otherworldly encounter in the forest brings all those stories to life. Miyoung, a gumiho, manages to save innocent bystander Jihoon when a dokkaebi, a goblin, attacks although she loses her fox bead in the process. Without the bead Miyoung is unable to hold the energy, the gi, she sucks from humans to survive, making it necessary to feed more often and making her more dangerous. But when their worlds collide in another life or death situation, Miyoung is faced with a choice she never thought possible: save herself or the life of a human.

THOUGHTS: Set in modern-day Seoul, this mythical love story paints a vivid picture of a world unseen, where monsters live alongside men and the stories that you grew up to discredit just may be the thing that saves your life.

Fantasy (Mythology)           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Woodson, Jacqueline. Red at the Bone. Riverhead Books, 2019. 978-0-525-53527-0. 208 p. $26.00. Grades 10+.

Woodson knows how to tug at your heartstrings. Whether you’re a mother or not, this book so sharply addresses the complicated relationship of mothers, daughters, and extended relatives. The novel is told in a back and forth, switching from the perspective of a mother at age sixteen and her sixteen year old daughter as she gets ready to participate in her debut to society. Each character was authentic in their own way, making the story relatable to most readers. Woodson touches on themes of race, legacy, social class, parenting, coming of age, and family dynamics. The narratives toggle back and forth between 2001 and 1985, when Iris and her daughter were both sixteen, respectively. The family history allows Woodson to mention historical events such as the race riots in the early part of the 20th century as well as the attacks on September 11, 2001.

THOUGHTS: There are some heavy topics covered in this title that some young and immature readers might not be able to digest on their own including teenage pregnancy, dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships, drug abuse, 9/11, and sexuality. This book should be on the shelves of all high school libraries for mature readers.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Chapman, Elsie. Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-42185-1. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

A true collaboration between best-selling authors that are interconnected by not only location, but by a few characters as well. The thirteen stories include various different genres and tackle topics that are easier to handle with a sweet confection or a magic soup dumpling. Not only is the collection diverse in genre types, but also with characters including nontraditional families, gang violence, bi-racial families, people of color, and a lot of the author’s #ownvoices. My favorite story in the collection is the final tale: “Panadería ~ Pastelería.” The protagonist shows up in many other stories with a unique and handcrafted pastry at moments when characters didn’t know they needed it more than anything in the world. This concluding story includes topics of generational differences and coming of age all while focusing on the moral of the story: do what’s right, and you get to choose what is right.

THOUGHTS: This anthology would be a good addition to high school libraries that supply content for contemporary fiction. This title can be recommended to reluctant readers to provide a feeling of accomplishment in finishing one or two tales, but can also serve as exposure to a variety of genres for readers who are looking to branch out.

Short Stories          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Boteju, Tanya. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-43065-5. 384 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Small town? Check. Bored teen? Check. Bi-racial queer protagonist? CHECK! Drag kings and queens and #ownvoices? Check! CHECK! CHECK! After spending time with her nerdy best friend at the town carnival, Nima stumbles into a drag show that leaves her with more questions than answers about herself and her world. Luckily, Deidre, a drag queen with flair, takes on Nima as a side project and not only serves as her mentor but another adult to trust when she isn’t even sure where her mom is. As Nima muddles through discovering secrets about her mom, working through a crush, and getting on stage to finally participate in a show, there are quite a few subplots with different characters including her hippie dad, a gay family friend, and even a childhood friend who isn’t sure of his place in the world. Written by a queer author who has knowledge about the drag community makes the story authentic and provides a true depiction for a reader who hasn’t had exposure to drag.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to any library that needs more diversity, a better LGBTQ+ representation, or an example of a novel written with attention to precise detail or pronoun usage and hope. The storyline is a bit jumbled, but tells a hopeful story with a cast of diverse characters.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


McManus, Karen. One of Us is Next. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-0-525-70796-7. 384 p. $19.99. Grade. 8-12.

The sequel to One of Us is Lying has the same thrill, but it’s missing some of the avant-garde pieces of the first book. Many of the main characters in the second book were featured in some manner during the debut. Mauve, Phoebe, and Knox take center stage in the newest mystery at Bayview High. Per McManus’ classic whodunit writing format, the mystery of who is behind the deadly game of truth or dare keeps readers on the edge of their seat. A game of truth or dare via text message has all of Bayview High constantly checking their phones for updates. Truths are escaping that confuse even the sluethy-est among the characters, and the dares are getting lethal. The pacing is perfect, and the ending will be sure to shock even the most astute readers.

THOUGHTS: A book that should sit right beside its counterpart on every high school shelf but can just as easily stand alone. This is another great answer for a psychological thriller on a school library shelf to fit the craving many teens have from some of the trending adult novels of the same genre.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

A year after the Bayview Four are exonerated in the death of Simon Kelleher, several copycats have appeared, but not until a viral game of Truth or Dare begins has anyone taken the copycats seriously. Now, students are choosing to complete a Dare or have a Truth about them revealed. But, not everyone wants to play. Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox are all targets of the game who refuse to participate, opening themselves up to a horrible Truth being revealed. As they dig into the chatroom used by Simon during his revenge plot, they meet Darkestmind and begin investigating who is behind the viral Truth or Dare. When tragedy strikes and a student ends up dead, their inquiry into Darkestmind becomes a full investigation into him (or her), their dead peer, and the past, individually and in relation to others. As more tragedy strikes Bayview, will Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox be able to uncover Darkestmind before it’s too late, or is revenge the new norm in Bayview?

THOUGHTS: Personally, I think One of Us is Lying is a fine stand-alone that didn’t need a sequel. That being said, One of Us is Next is in high demand. It lacks some mystery because it is more predictable than the first, and I found it difficult to keep all of the minor characters straight and their connections to the others. It felt like more of a realistic fiction read for the majority of the text over a mystery read. I did not like the connection in the end to the characters and story; it was both predictable and disjointed. This text felt forced in comparison to McManus’s previous two novels. It is still highly recommended, though, for YA collections.

Mystery        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Boorman, Kate. What We Buried. Henry Holt and Co., 2019. 978-1-250-19167-0. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.  

What We Buried is a twisty mystery that constantly had me second guessing myself and my ability to keep characters, timelines, and realistic events in order. Liv, a former child pageant star and reality TV star, doesn’t have a great track record with her brother, Jory. As a court case for emancipation nears a gritty end between Liv and her parents, Jory is sitting back and watching how the media and Liv’s followers react to the news. Before the hearing, their parents disappear, and Liv and Jory are left to find out what happened to them in the desert of Nevada. There is never a clear sense of time or perception as the narration toggles back and forth between Liv and Jory. The time the siblings are forced to spend together makes them travel back to places from their childhood to reconsider their life choices so far.

THOUGHTS: A must have for any high school library looking to add to their thriller collection with a young adult perspective. The characters are hard to like, but the tension and sense of confusion encourage curious readers to not put the book down. The unreliable narrator can be a challenging concept for some readers.

Mystery          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Hyde, Natalie. Opioid Crisis. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74973-8. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

This six chapter book focuses on what a responsible citizen can do to understand, inform, and take action on the epidemic that has “affected every community, class, ethnic group, industry, and age group.” The first chapter defines the crisis and some of the key terms. In addition, there is a glossary in the back of the book. Although the second chapter uses the perspective of the opioid crisis to frame how to find quality and reliable information, most of the information could be applied to any general research project. Chapter three dives into the recreational and street use of opioids and how the crisis developed. Chapter four focuses on the effects the opioid epidemic has had on families, work society, and individuals. The last two chapters offer statistics on where the crisis stands and a look toward the future, including initiatives from the government. Each page includes color photographs, and there are many graphical representations and pop out text boxes.

THOUGHTS: Neatly packaged, this title should be in all middle and high school libraries to provide concise and accurate information on a very emotional and pervasive topic. Two chapters include valuable research and reliable information checks that can be helpful across topics.

362.29 Drugs          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Hudak, Heather. #MeToo Movement. Crabtree, 2019. 978-0-778-74971-4. 48 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Organized in six chapters focusing on the definition and international issues of sexual harassment and abuse, #MeToo Movement covers the major points of the movement including a glossary and further reading suggestions. Each chapter ranges from four to twelve pages and many pages have multiple photographs, graphs, and other pop outs that make this current issue accessible to readers as middle grades. The history, including dates and information about the founder of the movement, Tarana Burke, provide context to readers who may be lucky enough to not have experienced sexual harassment or assault within their social circles. The last two chapters focus on the reader and provide ways to stay informed and ways to influence the future of the #MeToo movement.

THOUGHTS: This succinct nonfiction title should be on shelves in middle and high school libraries to provide resources on a topic that is current and pervasive across ages, races, and social economic classes. The inclusion of ways to encourage the reader to become active within the movement is particularly insightful as many students are not looking for resources just for an assignment, but to help shape their perspective and discover ways to make change.

Nonfiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Salt, Rachel. The Plastic Problem. Firefly Books, 2019. 978-0-228-10231-1. 80 p. $9.95. Grades 7-10. 

Full of disturbing pictures and data on the plastic problem that is plaguing the globe. Each page has full color photos with enough text to get the information across to the reader, but not too much to make the work feel like a textbook or peer-reviewed journal article. Although it’s not arranged in chapters, there is a table of contents that provides the reader the opportunity to focus on a specific topic. There is also a glossary and index in the back of the book. The flow of The Plastic Problem begins with definitions and some foundational knowledge about plastic and the plastic industry, including how humans use plastic and where it ends up. It continues into problems at the micro and macro level of producing, using, and discarding too much plastic and ends with suggestions for solutions that can be accomplished on local, small levels.

THOUGHTS: This book doesn’t do a deep dive on any of the problems or solutions for the plastic problem, but provides enough information for a curious reader to get started. The title would be good for middle grade and possibly high school shelves, but should be accompanied by more in depth books to provide a more comprehensive study of a specific plastic problem.

363.72 Environment          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Garrett, Camryn. Full Disclosure. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-82996-2. 320 p. $21.99. Grades 10-12.

Not many contemporary novels take a full dive into the world of HIV-positive main characters, especially based in current day. Starting at new high school is daunting, but when you’re a teen who isn’t sure about her sexuality and is HIV-positive, the task is that much more daunting. Simone finds herself at home with the drama kids and two other friends and even becomes comfortable enough to start a relationship with someone, but now she has to decide whether or not to disclose her medical history with Miles. Her dads don’t make the potential for Simone to discuss it with her doctor any easier.

THOUGHTS: This book covers a lot of representation including LGBTQ+, HIV-positive, and African American (#ownvoice). It even hits on topics that most teens have to deal with like bullying and sexuality while layering on perspective and information about HIV that most teens might not remember from health class. This is a well-written debut novel that deserves space in a collection lacking diversity.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Carter,T. E. All We Could Have Been. Feiwel & Friends, 2019. 978-1-250-17296-9. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Lexie’s brother committed murder when he was 15 years old. Her brother has been locked away since the day of the murders. Despite having nothing to do with her brother’s actions, Lexie has been treated like a criminal ever since. She has standing appointments with her therapist and finds control in her life by wearing the same color each day of the week. At the fifth school since she was 12, Lexie finds comfort in a neighbor and a peer in the drama club. She decides to try and control a bit more of her life and her friendships, but the results have rippling effects and leave her questioning every aspect of her life so far.

THOUGHTS: Carter represents mental illness and even a bit of asexuality, but in a dark and twisty way that isn’t relatable to most readers. The lesson that is brought to life through the characters about not making assumptions about who someone is or believes is something that teens of all backgrounds can benefit from. Like much of her other work, this book is highly emotional and targets mature readers who have an understanding of grief, PTSD, and the uneasy terrain of high school gossip and drama (outside the actual drama club).

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Johnson, Maureen. The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious Book 3). Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-33811-2. 368 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Following the death of Stevie’s mentor, Dr. Fenton, Stevie uses information from Dr. Fenton, along with the clues she has figured out, to solve the mystery of the Truly Devious letter from 1936 and the kidnapping of Iris and Alice Ellingham. But, unsure of the current climate at Ellingham and who she can and cannot trust, Stevie decides to maintain secrecy about what she has learned and continue her investigation before revealing her findings. As a blizzard approaches, Ellingham is shut down and students are sent home, but for the students of Minerva, who follow the bright-idea of David and hide in order to remain behind. As David convinces them to investigate his father, Senator King, Stevie continues her own Ellingham investigation and soon learns of secrets hidden in the walls that confirm her initial discoveries and unveil the truth behind Truly Devious and the Ellingham murders of 1936.

THOUGHTS: Johnson masterfully concludes this trilogy with an ending that keeps readers on edge. Her intersection of present mystery with the 1930s Ellingham mystery keeps the reader rooted in each mystery and the connection between the two. This is a must-read trilogy for mystery lovers.

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – The Giver; Teen Guide to Mental Health; All American Muslim Girl; Loki; Feed Your Mind

Russell, P. Craig. The Giver. Based on the Novel by Lois Lowry. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2019. 978-0-544-15788-0. 176 p. $22.99 Grades 5-8. 

A powerful adaptation of the classic YA novel. Jonas lives in a community of perfect harmony in which the people face no hardships or concerns in their daily lives, and every decision is carefully made for each citizen by the elders. At his Age Twelve ceremony, Jonas is assigned to the unique role of Receiver of Memory, chosen to take on the memories, both good and bad, of a society who is shielded from them. With every day that passes, Jonas learns and experiences more and begins to realize the harsh truths that keep the society in order. The story remains faithful to Lowry’s original dystopian tale. The panels of beautifully illustrated pictures change from muted grays to vibrant colors as Jonas’ understanding of life experiences expands.

THOUGHTS: Suggest this title to provide a struggling reader or English Language Learner support for a novel which is required reading in many schools.

Graphic Novel          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Nardo, Don. Teen Guide to Mental Health. Reference Point Press., 2020. 978-1-682-82753-6. 80 p. $30.95. Grades 6+. 

The prolific Don Nardo has another nonfiction title for the K-12 audience. This slim volume focuses on the stressors and common mental health issues facing today’s teens such as body image issues, depression, and divorce in the family. Most pages have pop out quotes from mental health professionals or people who have faced difficult issues.  The book only touches briefly on many of the mental health concerns mentioned but includes a valuable resource list of websites and mental health organizations for students, parents, or teachers seeking information or help.

THOUGHTS: An optional purchase for a junior or senior high collection.

618.92 Mental Health          Nancy Summers  Abington SD


Courtney, Nadine Jolie. All American Muslim Girl. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2019. 978-0-374-30952-7.  336 p. $17.99. Grades 7+. 

Allie Abraham is the only daughter of an immigrant professor in search of a tenure track position and an American mother, who have recently settled in yet another new town just outside of Atlanta. Allie once again sets about fitting in with her new community, finding a group of friends, and even beginning a relationship with a kindhearted new boyfriend. Though her extended family from Jordan and elsewhere in the States are practicing Muslims, Allie’s parents have given up most of the practices of Islam in an effort to keep their family safe from suspicion in a post 9/11 world. Ally can easily pass as an all American girl with her light complexion; she nevertheless feels left out as she is the only one of her extended network of cousins who does not practice the faith or speak Arabic. After finding a young women’s prayer and Koran study group, she begins to explore her religion in earnest. The book follows Allie as she comes to terms with the many layers of her life as a typical American teen while trying to reconcile her American culture with her growing Islamic faith.

THOUGHTS: The book is enlightening, revealing many of the tenets and rituals of Islam and shedding a positive light on a religion which unfortunately is sometimes misunderstood and feared.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Lee, Mackenzi. Loki: Where Mischief Lies. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2019. 978-0-544-15788-0. 176 p. $17.99 Grades 6+.  

A fun and witty origin tale for Loki, the trickster from Norse mythology and the Marvel Universe. Loki, the younger son of Odin, King of Asgard, has always felt inferior to his more favored and less quick witted elder brother Thor. The sibling rivalry between the brothers is explored, and the dialogue between the two of them is hilarious. Since Loki does not possess the physical strength of his brother, he experiments at an early age with his magic, a gift inherited from his mother which is not welcomed by his father. Loki finds a companion in his childhood friend Amora, a sorceress in training. At the Feast of Gullveig, Odin sees a prophecy in the Godseye Mirror of one his sons leading an army of the dead against Asgard. When the sacred Mirror is destroyed, Amora is banished to Midgard (Earth) where magic does not exist. Loki is left alone again, struggling to prove that the prophecy does not point to him. He gets a chance to serve his father when he is sent to Midgard to investigate a series of magic-related murders with SHARP, a secret society of mortals in Victorian London. On Midgard, Loki finds himself drawn to Theo, a key member of SHARP and encounters Amora once again. The book delves into LGBTQ issues in London, with Theo suspected and isolated as a homosexual. Theo is awed by Loki’s open gender fluidity and his descriptions of  Asgard’s open mindedness about gender and sexuality. The ending comes as Loki must choose his own path – to be a loyal prince of Asgard or the villain everyone believes him to be.

THOUGHTS: A recommended next step for fans of Rick Riordan’s mythology series. This title will also appeal to Marvel fans and for fans of Lee’s period adventures in the Montague Siblings books.

Fantasy Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Bryant, Jen. Feed Your Mind: A Story of August Wilson. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-419-73653-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 4-6.

Bryant’s brilliant picture book biography of the African-American playwright from Pittsburgh is truly unconventional. It is written in two acts, not unlike Wilson’s plays, and is done in free verse. She concentrates more on Wilson’s early life in Pittsburgh’s Hill District rather than focusing on details of his plays and later life. Frederick August Kittel, his birth name, was able to read from age four, and this was encouraged by his mother, who said, “If you can read, you can do anything.” The author describes the boy as a good student who dropped out of school due to prejudice and bullying, not only by students, but also by a teacher who believed that August plagiarized a term paper. He then spent his days in the Carnegie Library and educated himself by reading. While working a series of service jobs, August Wilson, as he was then known, began to write poetry and soon presented them at poetry readings. In listening to people in his hometown speak about their experiences, he acquired subject matter for his works. On the urging of a friend, Wilson began writing plays, which lead to an award winning career as a playwright whose works focused on the lives of African American men in Pittsburgh. The full page illustrations by Chapman are done in a variety of media and are symbolic in some cases. There is a striking drawing of Kittel as a teenager walking between rows of books at the library. Superimposed on the rows of books are rows of corn stalks. In the text, Bryant tells us that his mother also left school and went to work in the cornfields with her family. On the back cover, young August is pictured reading at a fancy dining table on which are platters and bowls full of books, which relates to the title. The back matter contains a timeline of this famous African American’s life.

THOUGHTS: This book is a wonderful example of creative nonfiction. The author chose to write this text in a style that echoes the poetic and dramatic works of the man about whom she was writing. The book is lengthy for a picture book biography, and the text contains two instances of a pejorative word for African Americans, so students would need some background and preparation if this is used in the classroom. Readers will be inspired by the accomplishments of this self-made man and will understand how the power of books and words can change our lives.

Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD


MG – Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas; Twinchantment; A Talent for Trouble; Mean; The Friendship Lie

Lashner, William. Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas. Disney/Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-04128-7. 310 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

If Elizabeth Webster was unprepared when middle school celebrity Henry Harrison asked her to tutor him in math, she was thoroughly speechless when she discovers he really needs help dealing with a headless ghost who appears in his bedroom. Angry teenage spirit Beatrice Long has requested Lizzie’s help, telling her, “Save me, save him”. While Lizzie wants no part of exorcising Beatrice, she guesses her long absent father is somehow involved, and sets out to find him. When she learns he works for the law firm Webster & Son, Attorneys for the Damned, awkward pieces begin to fall into place. But with her father missing, Lizzie is on her own to placate Beatrice, solve the mystery of her death (and find her head), as well as rescue her father. And, apparently, take her place as a litigator before the Court of Uncommon Pleas. Lucky for Lizzie, she has the support of her best friend, Natalie, and her long despised stepfather (maybe she was wrong about him?), as well as several new friends who enthusiastically help her polish her litigation skills. How did Lizzie go from fly-under-the-radar middle schooler to Elizabeth Webster, barrister, facing down the fallen angel Abezethibou? Part mystery, part ghost story, and totally fun, Elizabeth Webster and the Court of Uncommon Pleas touches on family relationships as well as being willing to trust and to extend yourself.

THOUGHTS: Hand this rollicking good time to readers looking for a humorous book, as well as those who enjoy a light mystery or a spooky book.

Realistic Fantasy (Paranormal)           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Allen, Elise. Twinchantment. Roaring Brook, 2019. 978-1-534-13288-7. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Being a princess means you can do whatever you want, and everyone has to listen to you, right? Normally in stories this is true, but for Flisarra her very existence is technically illegal. You see, the princess known as Flisarah is actually twins Sarah and Flissa, and in their kingdom being a twin is illegal as is anything else seen as magical. A long time ago magic was common and used everywhere. When one Mange tried to use dark magic to take over the kingdom, rules were created and only chosen mange are allowed magic for the protection of the kingdom. Flissa and Sarah must be very careful and never be seen together. That all changes when their mother is sick, and they believe it is because of a curse. The princesses now must sneak across their kingdom and enter the magical realm to bring back the very mange who tried to take over the kingdom. As they travel they discover life and what they have been taught may not always be what it seems.

THOUGHTS: This book would be great for students who like the fantasy genre and books like Harry Potter. The way the girls work together and build friendships throughout the book makes it a great middle grades read.

 Fantasy          Arryn Cumpston Crawford Central SD


Farrant, Natasha. A Talent for Trouble. Clarion, 2019 (US Edition).  978-1-328-58078-8. 258 p. $16.99. Gr. 5-7.

Alice Mistlethwaite has been sent off to Stormy Loch, a boarding school in Scotland, by her Aunt Patience and her father, Barney. Aunt Patience hopes that this will be a new start for the whole family who is grieving over the death of Alice’s mother. Naturally a shy child who loves to write fantasy stories, Alice is apprehensive and lonely, and despite evidence to the contrary, she is devoted to her father. On the train ride to school she meets Jesse, another lonely child who feels lost and is worried about living up to the reputation of his older brothers. Then there is Fergus Mackenzie, who is very bright, plays mean pranks, and doesn’t know how to focus his gifts. Major Fortescue, the headmaster is reminiscent of Dumbledore. Seemingly formidable he, as the reader will discover, knows just how to get his charges on the right path to self-understanding. The three students are assigned team for the Year Sevens’ orienteering challenge in the hills of Scotland. This leads to perilous adventures through the rough terrain. Not only must they survive the trek, but they also escape some villainous characters who are after Alice because of her father.

THOUGHTS: The unidentified narrator really involves the reader and draws us into the story. The ending is not what most would expect – a grand reunion of father and daughter. It is so very difficult to realize that your parent is not the hero and that you have misplaced trust in your dead-beat dad. Life’s lesson can be hard, but Alice is much stronger as are the others.

Realistic Fiction          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Sayre, Justin. Mean. Penguin Workshop, 2019. 978-1-524-78795-0. 232 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8. 

Set in the same world as his other novels, Husky and Pretty, Justin Sayre delivers a poignant look at what it means to find yourself when you don’t know where to start. Ellen was once told she gets one adjective to describe herself when she gets to high school, and it turns out she’s mean. She doesn’t try to be; she just has trouble holding back her opinions because why should she have to? Together with best friends Ducks and Sophie, Ellen experiences regular school and, on her own, Hebrew school while preparing for her bat mitzvah. At school, everything is changing. Girls are starting to become boy crazy and change who they are. At Hebrew school, is she starting to become boy crazy herself? And what does that mean? Does she now have to change who she is? Throughout the novel Ellen navigates life’s ups and downs with friends and family all while trying to answer the one essential question: on the day she becomes a woman, what kind of woman does she want to be?

THOUGHTS: Mean was a charming read about what it takes to grow into who you are meant to be and the people who help you along the way.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Donnelly, Rebecca. The Friendship Lie. Capstone Editions, 2019. 978-1-684-46061-8. 267 p. $15.95. Grades 4-6.

Cora Davis’s parents know all about garbage, literally. They study where garbage goes after we toss it, and Cora has spent many an afternoon digging through garbage and sorting it. Lately, Cora feels like her life has been thrown in the trash when she and her best friend Sybella stop talking. 5th grade is not turning out the way that Cora wanted it to be. Woven throughout the book are also diary excerpts from a diary of a girl named Penny Ellen Chambord. The diary plays a large part in the friendship between the two girls and causes them to be able to see things from the other person’s perspective. There is also a family element, as Cora’s parents are separated, and that is causing tension in the family. Cora is a twin, and the relationship she has with her brother, who is the complete opposite of her, plays a rather large role. While Cora’s friendship is falling apart, her parents’ marriage is falling apart. Her mother is away for most of the book, and Cora ‘calls’ her and leaves her voicemails, which are a great insight into how Cora is feeling, both about her parents’ relationship as well as her former friendship with Sybella.

THOUGHTS: There is a major focus on garbage and the science of garbage, so that might turn some readers off. However, at the heart of the book is a sweet story about two friends who have to work at their friendship and learn that friendships change and grow. Overall, I think this book is a great representation of what it’s like for girls and boys to deal with friendships.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy

YA – Opposite of Always; Rebel; The Girl in the White Van; I Am a Feminist; The Revolution of Birdie Randolph; Slay; Frankly in Love; Hack Your Cupboard; All Eyes on Us; The Grief Keeper

Reynolds, Justin A. Opposite of Always. Katherine Tegen, 2019. 978-0-062-74837-9. $17.99. 457 p. Grades 9 and up. 

Jack King has spent most of his life on the sidelines – figuratively and literally. He attends his high school’s sporting events but only to cheer on his best friend Franny from the stands. Jack also is on the figurative sideline in his friend group. Though he had a major crush on Jillian during freshman year, she started dating Franny before he could tell her how he felt. He has spent much of high school content with being their 3rd wheel, supporting them through their family struggles. During senior year on a visit to a nearby college the trio of friends is hoping to attend, Jack meets Kate on a dingy stairwell, and he feels as though he finally has a chance at getting off the sidelines. Jack feels that he is falling in love with Kate, and she seems to return his feelings, but she keeps secrets and fails to commit completely to a relationship. When Kate suddenly falls ill and dies, Jack inexplicably time travels back to the moment they met on the stairwell and relives it all again… and again… Armed with knowledge of Kate’s future and the future in general, can Jack change the course of events and save Kate’s life? Can he fix his friends’ problems, too? Opposite of Always tells a mostly realistic but also slightly fantastical story that explores the concepts of time, priorities, relationships of all kinds, and what really matters. 

THOUGHTS: Contemporary YA romance meets Groundhog’s Day probably best describes Opposite of Always. As a result, the plot – by nature – is a bit repetitive. However, Jack’s self-deprecating humor makes him an easy character to root for, so with each iteration of the plot, the more he tries, the more readers will want to see him succeed. Though the narration is often heavy in dialogue, that’s okay because the snappy banter between Jack/Kate or Jack/Jillian is delightfully laugh-out-loud funny. Any YA book with a relatable male narrator gets my recommendation, but add the fact that Jack and his friends are black, and that makes this an excellent addition to any collection, especially one where students demand books with diverse characters. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Lu, Marie. Rebel. Roaring Book Press, 2019. 978-1-250-22170-4. $18.99. 376 p. Grades 7 and up.

One decade ago Eden’s older brother Daniel – better know by the nickname Day – took the Republic of America by storm, rising above poverty to become the nation’s most notorious criminal and later the rebellion’s hero. Now settled into Ross City, Antarctica, Eden is a top university student, and Daniel works for AIS, the Antarctican Intelligence System. The leveling system of Antarctica ensures the boys are living comfortably on the Sky Floors – but what neither boy realizes is how unhappy they both are. Alternating narratives show Daniel as an overprotective, older brother and Eden as an independent, frustrated younger brother. While the boys live together, they’re beginning to drift apart, and both feel frustrated by their relationship. Tired of living in his brother’s shadow, Eden is ready to make a name for himself, even it if takes him into the dark and dangerous Undercity. With friend Pressa by his side, Eden is ready to test his skills in a big way – an illegal way – entering Undercity drone race. When Eden’s invention catches the eye of Daniel’s and AIS’s target, life becomes more dangerous. This of course is right around the same time June and the President of the Republic of America are scheduled to arrive in Ross City. What follows is a fast-paced story about brothers and what it means to look out for each other while becoming who you were born to be.

THOUGHTS: Fans of Marie Lu’s writing will rejoice with this new installment to the Legend series. Though Lu takes a new approach with narrators in this fourth book, there is still enough of June’s character to satisfy earlier readers. References to previous events (and Daniel’s struggle to remember them) make this most suited for readers of the series; however, new readers can follow along as a new cast of characters surround the main conflict. Highly recommended for secondary libraries, especially where dystopian or sci-fi books are popular.

Dystopian Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Henry, April. The Girl in the White Van. Henry Holt & Company, 2020. 978-1-250-15759-1. $17.99. 224 p. Grades 7-12.

About 7 months ago Savannah and her mom relocated to Portland to live with her mother’s newest boyfriend. Tim isn’t exactly what his online dating profile promised. Though Savannah is trying to make the best of life in Portland, she hasn’t really found her place except in the Kung Fu dojo. There she finds solace, and she’s working on building her strength and her confidence. With her mom working nights Savannah is forced to spend some time with Tim. Luckily, Kung Fu gets her out of the house for a bit most nights. When Tim threatens to take away Kung Fu, Savannah runs out of the house and loses herself in that night’s class. Daniel, a fellow student, notices that Savannah seems distracted. Afraid to get too close to anyone only to move away again (they’ve lived in many different towns and states throughout Savannah’s life), Savannah doesn’t let herself get too tied to Portland. Distracted on her walk home and trying to figure out how to apologize to Tim, Savannah doesn’t notice she’s not alone. All of her Kung Fu lessons can’t save her from Sir, who overpowers Savannah and kidnaps her. Savannah isn’t alone in the RV, though. She’ll need to rely on her determination and convince Jenny that life is still worth living if they have any hope of getting free.

THOUGHTS: With fast-paced, compelling stories and characters readers will root for, it is no wonder why April Henry’s books are popular in my high school library. The Girl in the White Van is no different and is a must have for secondary libraries where mysteries or other books by Henry are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Orca Issues. Orca Book Publishers, 2019. $21.41 ea. $64.23 set of 4. 175 p. Grades 9 and up.

Polak, Monique. I Am a Feminist: Claiming the F-Word in Turbulent Times. 978-1-459-81892-7.
Siebert, Melanie. Heads Up – Changing Minds on Mental Health. 978-1-459-81911-5. (2020)

Stevenson, Robin. My Body My Choice: The Fight for Abortion Rights. 978-1-459-81712-8.
Tate, Nikki. Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die: The Complexities of Assisted Dying. 978-1-459-81889-7.

Polak’s narrative explores multiple aspects of feminism starting with a chapter on its history from the suffragists of the early 20th century up to the current movement including the Women’s Marches in 2017. The book covers feminism around the world, highlighting many issues girls and women on this continent do not typically have to deal with like lack of access to education and genital mutilation. It looks at feminism in the workplace, feminism as it relates to love and relationships, rape culture, body image, issues of diversity and sexuality, and more. Finally, Polak discusses the toxic masculinity that exists in our culture and offers suggestions for readers to support men in becoming feminists, too. The book contains colorful photos and illustrations on nearly every page. Sidebars highlight specific news stories, individuals making a difference, or unique products that support the movement like, for example, a nail polish that changes color when it comes in contact with a date rape drug. The book also contains a very thorough glossary and list of resources at the back. Though Polak is from Canada and many of her references and examples come from that country, she also cites people, studies, and stories from the United States, so readers from the US do not feel like the book is irrelevant.

THOUGHTS: This book is an excellent resource for students doing a research project on feminism or simply seeking personal awareness on the topic. A relatively quick read, it could be read cover-to-cover, but could also be easily searched for a single specific topic using the index. While the lexile suggests the writing is at a high 9th grade reading level, Polak’s style is simple and conversational enough that it is accessible for a wide range of readers. Polak points out on several occasions that equal treatment for all is the aim of feminism, whether a woman wants to subscribe to traditional gender roles or not. As her title suggests, her purpose is to have all readers proclaim that they are feminists and shed the word’s negative connotation it has gained in recent years.

305.42 Feminism          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Colbert, Brandy. The Revolution of Birdie Randolph. Little Brown, 2019. 978-0-316-44856-7. 336 p. $17.99 Grades 8 +. 

A sweet and empathetic coming of age story about a sixteen-year-old growing up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago. Dove Randoph, affectionately called Birdy by her family, has led a sheltered life kept away from trouble and temptation by her protective parents. The unexpected arrival of a new boyfriend and her long lost Aunt Carlene shows Birdie a different view of life away from the high expectations and straight lines drawn by her loving but controlling parents. These two new individuals in Birdie’s life both have checkered pasts. Carlene is in recovery, overcoming years of drug addiction and life on the streets and Booker has spent some time in juvenile detention, which definitely marks him as unsuitable in the eyes of Birdy’s parents. But both Carly and Booker expose Birdy to a new way of experiencing life, and this adds spark and adventure to her sedate existence. These new experiences and conversations open Birdy’s eyes and lead her down a path of her own choosing, rather than that of her parents’. This touching novel shows a teen figuring out how to live life on her own terms, walking the line between her loyalty to her family and following her own heart. Colbert expertly weaves together so many interesting and important themes, rebellion, family, addiction, rehabilitation. She gives an empathetic portrayal of the troubled Carlene and Booker and shows the potential for redemption every person may have inside of them.

THOUGHTS: With several of the author’s previous books on bestseller and awards lists, this novel is sure to be a teen favorite.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers Abington SD


Morris, Brittney. Slay. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-44542-0. 321 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Kiera Johnson lives a double life. By day she is one of four African American students at Jefferson Academy. She excels academically and works hard to fit in, never wanting to be seen as an outlier. But by night, Kiera lives in a world she has created, one in which she can truly be herself, the world of SLAY. An underground game that requires a passcode to get in, SLAY caters to the black community all over the world. More than 500,000 gamers use SLAY as a sanctuary from the real world, and Kiera, along with her developer Cicada, gives them all a safe place to be themselves. Known only as Emerald within the game, Kiera keeps her double life a secret from even her closest friends and family. But when an unexpected tragedy thrusts the game, and Emerald, into the limelight, Kiera must fight to keep her world and her online community safe from intruders.

THOUGHTS: Slay was an incredibly fun read. Morris explored the deeply important ideas of community and belonging in a way that was fresh. An empowering read.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Yoon, David. Frankly in Love. Putnam, 2019. 978-1-984-81220-9. 406 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Frank Li knows his parents are racist. They look down on anyone who isn’t Korean, so much so that when his sister married a black man she was disowned. As Frank tries to cope with senior year and the girls that come with it, he finds himself in a cultural conundrum. His parents would like nothing more than for him to date a nice Korean-American girl, but Frank Li only has eyes for Brit Means, a white girl who is definitively not Korean. Joy Song, a close family friend, finds herself in a similar situation prompting the teenagers to make the obvious choice, pretend to date each other so neither their parents nor their significant others ever find out that there is an issue. What follows is a whirlwind story that will take the reader on a journey to explore race, relationships, and what it takes to be true to yourself.

THOUGHTS: Frank Li’s story will resonate with anyone who has ever felt their choices would never be supported by their parents and has had to deal with the emotional fallout of that thought.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Wiegand, Alyssa, and Carla Carreon. Hack Your Cupboard: Make Great Food with What You’ve Got. Zest Books, 2019. 978-1-942-18607-6. 168 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Let’s face it: grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen are three big components of “adulting” that must all master eventually. Hack Your Cupboard is here to guide the way from cereal-for-dinner to a fancy date-night dinner with minimal kitchen catastrophes. Authors Alyssa Wiegand and Carla Carreon have organized their collaborative cookbook into four sections: Your First Kitchen, Dorm Room Dining, First Apartment Dining, and First Solo Kitchen. Within each section are tips on stocking your pantry, food storage, selecting kitchen equipment, and mastering kitchen techniques from beginner (basic vinaigrette) to intermediate (caramelizing onions) to advanced (deep frying). The cookbook’s signature element is the concept of “hacking” recipes by using what’s on hand to improve each dish or tailor it to your personal tastes. Recipe pages are liberally peppered with gourmet, spicy, budget, healthy, and hearty hacks: incorporating nuts or fresh herbs, adding protein like chicken or shrimp, marinating veggies for more flavor, and preparing part of the recipe in advance to maximize prep time. 

THOUGHTS: The cookbook benefits from the authors’ “you’ve got this!” tone and beautiful, full-color photographs of each prepared recipe. Ramen noodles topped with shredded rotisserie chicken and red peppers have never looked so delicious! Hack Your Cupboard is a worthy addition to every library’s cookbook section, and it will appeal to cooking novices or anyone looking for ways to rejuvenate their worn-out recipes.

641.5 Cooking          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Frick, Kit. All Eyes on Us. Margaret K. Elderry, 2019. 978-1-534-40440-3. 374 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Logansville’s elite girl Amanda Kelly has it all: she’s pretty, she’s popular, she’s rich, and she’s witty to boot. To top it all off her boyfriend is none other than Carter Shaw, of Shaw Realty, and together they make the perfect power couple, the new generation that will take over the town. But Amanda’s life isn’t as perfect as it seems; Carter’s been cheating on her, slumming it with Rosalie from Culver Ridge. Rosalie, for whom going out with Carter is nothing more than a convenient cover, has no intentions of keeping Carter around once high school is over. She plans to move into an apartment with her girlfriend. All is well for both Amanda and Rosalie as long as no one knows. But when a Private number begins sending the girls threatening messages and ultimatums attempting to expose their secrets to their families and communities, will they choose to work together to save their futures?

THOUGHTS: A fun, fast-paced mystery that will keep you guessing until the end!

Mystery          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

 


Villasante, Alexandra. The Grief Keeper. Putnam, 2019. 978-0-525-51402-2. 310 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up. 

How much would you give up to ensure your safety? Your family’s? Marisol and her little sister Gabi have fled El Salvador and purchased illegal passage into the United States. Their family, torn apart by gang violence, is no longer safe. The sole future the girls have is to be granted asylum. Trapped in a Pennsylvania immigrant detainment center, the only hope for the girls is their ability to prove their need to stay in the asylum interview. When the interview does not appear to go as Marisol had hoped, she and her sister flee the center at the first chance they get. Unexpectedly, an opportunity presents itself that seems to be too good to be true, take part in an experiment that will potentially treat the grief of others for one month, and they will be allowed to stay legally. Marisol jumps at the chance but the toll is one she never imagined. How much can one person be expected to endure?

THOUGHTS: Touching on immigration and exploitation, The Grief Keeper is a thought-provoking novel that brings to light the plight, hopes, and fears of those who have nowhere left to go.

Realistic Fiction           Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

Elem. – The Shortest Day; Shine; Saturday; Sofia Valdez, Future Prez; Just Like My Brother; I Am Not a Fish; Little Tigers; The Little Green Girl; Home in the Woods; No Place Like Home; Spencer’s New Pet; The Cook and the King; Motor Mouse; Max and Marla Are Flying Together; Pokko and the Drum; All in a Drop; You Loves Ewe

Cooper, Susan. The Shortest Day. Candlewick Press, 2019. 978-0-763-68698-7.  Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

“So the shortest day came…and everywhere down the centuries came people…to drive the dark away.” In simple lyrical text, Cooper explains the significance of the winter solstice to humans from prehistoric through modern times. As the winter darkness descended over the land, those living in the earlier times feared it would remain and attempted to drive it away by lighting torches, putting candles in trees and hanging evergreens in their homes. They also gathered together to dance and sing to dispel the blackness. Today, this tradition continues during the Yule season, as people continue to decorate Christmas trees with lights and to assemble with friends and family to sing carols and celebrate. In the back matter, Cooper explains why not only the seasons, but especially the equinoxes and solstices, were so meaningful to early man. The author also puts all the text on one page in the back, so that the reader can read or perform it in its true poetic form. The illustrations by Ellis are done in gouache and have a folk art appearance. The sun is pictured as a giant with the sun for a head and is seen walking until he disappears behind the mountain to bring on the darkness. These drawings, which capture the winter bleakness in Northern Europe, help show how these traditions carry on today with three illustrations depicting the same scene in both past and modern times. For instance, five children who appear to be from medieval or early modern times are seen dancing and holding torches and evergreens as they exit a house. A few pages later, there is a similar image of children in modern dress posed the same way.

THOUGHTS: This title is a great addition to elementary collections. Although there are other books on the winter solstice, this one is exemplary in that it conveys the human aspect of this event, rather than just an astronomical one. A good choice for a winter themed storytime.

Easy          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD


Grabenstein, J.J., and Chris Grabenstein. Shine! Random House Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-524-71769-8. 210 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6. 

Piper Milly is a seventh grader who believes she was meant to blend in rather than to shine. When her father lands a new teaching job at the local prep school, complete with full tuition for Piper, she leaves public school mid-year and enters a world where every student is trying to excel. When the school announces the creation of a new award that will be given to the student who most exhibits overall excellence, Piper thinks she has no shot of winning. Ultimately, she discovers there are many different ways of shining, including being kind, demonstrating empathy, and valuing friendship. 

THOUGHTS: Piper is a well-rounded character, and students will relate to her struggles with leaving her old school and friends and starting over at a new school. She also finds herself in relatable situations, such as being the target of the class “mean girl,” and doubting her own abilities. The idea that kindness and empathy outweigh material things like awards and money will prompt discussions about ways students can focus on these traits in their own lives. 

Realistic Fiction          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Mora, Oge. Saturday. Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 978-0-316-43127-9. 36 p. $18.99. Gr K-3. 

Ava and her mother look forward to Saturdays because they get to spend the whole day together. But, this Saturday, nothing goes as planned. They arrive at the library only to learn that storytime is cancelled. They get their hair done but step out of the salon just as a car splashes a huge puddle of water at them. And, they arrive at the park only to find a large crowd of like minded people also trying to take in the sunny afternoon. After each disappointment, the pair repeat their mantra: “Don’t worry. Today will be special. Today will be splendid. Today is Saturday!” But, when they arrive at their final destination – a one-night only puppet show – only to discover that mom left the tickets at home, their patience is truly tested. Mom crumples with guilt, apologizing for ruining Saturday. But it is Ava who demonstrates resilience, reflecting that the day was still special and splendid because they spent it together. 

THOUGHTS: This story about going with the flow and taking life in stride, even when plans change, will be a good fit for morning meeting discussions. It will also be a good conversation starter for students to share what routines or traditions they have with their own families on weekends. The beautiful collage illustrations will draw students back for multiple readings.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Beaty, Andrea. Sofia Valdez, Future Prez. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-4141-973704-6. Unpaged. $18.99.  Grades K-3.

Sofia Valdez is a spunky girl who always has helped others through the influence of her abuelo. The phrase, “Most people like good, but Sofia liked better” captures the essence and farseeing vision of Sofia. When she and abuelo come across a dangerous landfill, they hope to make a community park. Like the Little Red Hen story, everyone agrees with Sofia, but no one steps up to help. Sofia is on her own. She is nervous and goes to City Hall where she is shuttled from department to department.  Finally a friendly clerk takes her side and helps. Sofia gets an audience with the mayor and pleads her case. She starts a petition. The neighbors finally rally around her. Citizens’ Park is created! What a feat for a second grader! She has a bright future. Andrea Beaty’s snappy verse, and David Roberts lively pictures have a brilliant, encouraging message.

THOUGHTS: This inspirational and empowering book shows young readers the importance of their community, working together, and most importantly believing in yourself. Sofia displays a great deal of courage and determination when she approaches “City Hall”  for the benefit of her community.

Picture Book       Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Marino, Gianna. Just Like My Brother. Viking, 2019. 978-0-425-29060-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Beautiful, bright watercolor illustrations take readers on a journey to the African plains where they meet a cast of animals. Little giraffe is searching for her older brother during a game of hide and seek. Describing various features of her older brother, little giraffe asks each animal if they’ve seen him. Sometimes the other animal’s perspective shows what little giraffe cannot recognize, like when turtle says, “You’re tall.” Observant readers will notice that big brother isn’t the only animal hiding, as anticipation and excitement build throughout the story.

THOUGHTS: Young readers will delight in this picture book which can be a simple read aloud or an introduction to characteristics of animals and types of animals around the world. This book can also be used as an introduction to the concept of compare and contrast.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 


Raymundo, Peter. I Am Not a Fish! Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-525-55459-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Edgar is frustrated with being called a fish. Being a jellyfish Edgar doesn’t feel like the word fish belongs in his name (and has even been accused of “overthinking things”). After meeting a group of starfish who empathize with his frustration, Edgar is able to talk through his feelings. By identifying many other sea creatures and looking at their names, Edgar realizes he likes being himself, even if fish is in his name. This delightful, colorful underwater adventure is perfect for STEM lessons involving the ocean or ocean creatures. At one point, Edgar says, “I look more like a plastic bag than a fish” which is an opportunity to discuss the topic of ocean pollution.

THOUGHTS: There are many great lesson ideas for this fun, light-hearted text, and it would make a humorous read aloud, especially if the reader gets into Edgar’s character. From ocean connections to serving as a mentor text for starfish or sea horse parodies, this book will encourage students to think about names and identity in an age appropriate manner.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Weaver, Jo. Little Tigers. Peachtree, 2019. 978-1-682-63110-2. 32 p. $17.95. Grades K-4. 

For tiger cubs Puli and Sera, searching for a new home is an adventure but Mother Tiger is restless after hearing men and their dogs in the jungle. The little tigers provide plenty of comic relief with their kitten-like antics and tender moments.  Diversity among rainforest habitats is highlighted as the small family travels through thick old forest, waterfalls, river crossings, and caves to find just the right spot. Just before nightfall, Mother Tiger leads her little tigers into ruins for shelter. Unique charcoal and digitally colored illustrations accent the shadows of the jungle while also providing stunning two page spreads. A brief note after the story discusses the endangered status of Bengal tigers along with suggested links to wildlife organizations.

THOUGHTS: The artwork in this picture book illustrates the tiger’s coloring as camouflage in their natural environment. The playfulness of the cubs paired with captivating illustrations and familiar searching-for-home tale make this a good read aloud option. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Anchin, Lisa. The Little Green Girl. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-735-23073-6. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-4. 

Unexpectedly floating into Mr. Aster’s garden on the wind one day, the little green girl quickly takes root and thrives under his care. Her fierce curiosity about the world is fueled by tales from her garden friends. After a visit from the birds, she decides it is time to begin her own adventures. Despite urging from her caretaker to stay put in the beautiful, safe garden where she is planted, the little green girl is determined to explore beyond the gate. Her persistence finally persuades the kind gardener to venture out into the “wide world” where they discover that home can be found in even exotic new places. The illustrations are bright and hopeful, filling the page with both the cozy home garden and travel vignettes. Notes from a gardener’s journal add interest to the end paper. The Little Green Girl is a  heartwarming tale about blooming where you are planted while also encouraging a love of adventure. 

THOUGHTS: A great title to add to the school library, this book will make a great read aloud and also has potential curriculum connections to introduce lessons about plants and gardening in various habitats. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Wheeler, Eliza. Home in the Woods. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019. 978-0-399-16290-9. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-5. 

A young widow packs up her large family and carries their meager possessions to live in a ramshackle house in the woods during the Great Depression. Arriving in the summer, the family gets right to work making repairs and planning for their survival in the year to come. At first it doesn’t seem like much, but as the family settles they begin to find happiness in the abundance of the forest. As fall comes around, it’s all hands on deck to preserve enough food to make it through the winter. Even with all of their hard work, the family still struggles to make ends meet. Still, they spend their days making the best of the situation and bonding with each other even in the depths of winter. When spring finally arrives, readers will rejoice in the light airy feeling of accomplishment and hope. The watercolor illustrations stunningly convey the mood of each season. An author’s note at the end explains in further detail the historical significance of this story. 

THOUGHTS: A good book to introduce a unit on the Great Depression to upper elementary students. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Gosh, Ronojoy. No Place Like Home. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 978-0-8028-5522-0. 32 p. $17.00. Grades K-2. 

George the polar bear cannot find joy living in the city. Ice cream and butterflies don’t bring a smile to his furry face. His house is way too small, and he can’t stand being in a crowd. So, George decides to take action, traveling far and wide to find where he belongs. It turns out that the city isn’t the only place a polar bear doesn’t belong. George is also dissatisfied with life in the jungle, dessert, and in the mountains before finally finding his way to the arctic. The text is sparse but meaningful with only a sentence or two per page. The whimsical illustrations add depth and feeling to this beautiful and captivating story about finding home and happiness – perfect for younger readers.

THOUGHTS: This short and sweet story will make a great versatile addition to the school library. Not only is this book a great stand alone read-aloud for a wintry story time, it also offers opportunities for curriculum connection. George’s tale of finding just the right place to call home is a great way to introduce a unit on habitats. Discussions about mindfulness and perseverance can also be supported by this book. It’s noteworthy that while George clearly feels isolated, he is rarely alone in the illustrations, opening the door to discuss sadness, depression, and mental health to young audiences. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Sima, Jessie. Spencer’s New Pet. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-41877-6. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

When your best friend is a balloon, danger seems to be lurking around every corner. A routine visit to the vet could risk a run-in with a hedgehog. A day at the park seems like a good idea at first, but the myriad of pointy obstacles is overwhelming – and hilarious! Spencer and his pet spend their afternoon dodging teeth, talons, and tropical fruit (Not to mention other dangers!). Things get really interesting when the pair stumbles upon a birthday party and gets separated. When disaster finally strikes, a hilarious plot twist is revealed. Clever black and white illustrations with a touch of red effectively evoke the feeling of early cinema with excellent attention to detail, including a countdown, chapter headings, and credits. This book is sure to be loved by all, especially those who have loved (and lost) a prized balloon animal.

THOUGHTS: Everything about this book is fun. Students will never see the twist coming. Even older elementary audiences might enjoy the slapstick humor, especially as an intro to early cinema. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Donaldson, Julia. The Cook and the King. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-419-73757-2. 32 p. $16.99.Grades K-3.

When the King searches for a new cook, he finally settles on Wobbly Bob who sees danger in the most mundane situations and constantly worries about ruining his attire. Eventually, the hungry king must take matters into his own hands, completing all of the tasks required to catch and prepare his own fish and chips. Turns out that Wobbly Bob isn’t too timid to join in the feast. Comical illustrations add to the humor in this tale that feels like a classic fairytale with a modern twist. 

THOUGHTS: Rhyming text, repeating verse, and many tall hats will make this book a read aloud hit. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

 

 


Rylant, Cynthia. Motor Mouse. Beach Lane Books, 2019. 978-1-4814-9126-6. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Motor Mouse is a trio of short endearing tales about a speedy little mouse and his friends finding the bright side in a variety of situations. When there is no cake for Cake Friday, Motor Mouse and his best friend Telly bravely decide to try pie. Tired of driving others around town, Motor Mouse decides to hire a car on his day off. He takes a trip down memory lane but finds that making new friends is just as much fun as remembering old ones. Motor Mouse and brother Valentino learn a valuable lesson about compromise with a trip to the movies, featuring the biggest bucket of popcorn. Bright, cartoony watercolor illustrations add to the tales. 

THOUGHTS: Another great title from familiar, prolific author/illustrator pair Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard. Students will love this title just as much. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

 


Boiger, Alexandra. Max and Marla Are Flying Together. Philomel Books, 2019. 978-0-525-51566-1. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Max and his best friend Marla, a young snowy owl, have a ton of fun together. But Max knows that Marla is born to fly, and he is determined to help her realize her own potential. Marla, on the other wing, is perfectly happy to have both of her feet on the ground. When Marla gets swept up in the wind on a blustery fall day, Max’s gentle coaching helps her realize that she really was made to fly. The next day, Marla is leading the charge to continue her flying lessons. A lovely, gentle tale about love and friendship. The warm watercolor illustrations bring the autumnal setting to life. 

THOUGHTS: A great book to share with students about being patient with oneself and waiting for a time to shine. A nice title for fall themed story time. Would be fun to pair with a wind unit or kite flying activities. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

 


Forsythe, Matthew. Pokko and the Drum. Simon and SchusterBooks for Young Readers. 978-1-481-48039-0. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Pokko’s quiet, toadstool dwelling parents meant well when they gave her a drum, but they immediately discovered that it was a big mistake. Even bigger than the other mistakes they made before (including gifting Pokko a llama and a slingshot). Pokko immediately takes to the drum, playing day and night. To appease her parents she heads out to the forest to play quietly. But quiet doesn’t suit Pokko, and it isn’t long before her talent draws others from the woods to join in. It is clear that Pokko is a natural leader. Even the fox is put in his place by her stern (but fair) leadership. 

THOUGHTS: Every library needs a copy of this book. Spunky Pokko is such a relatable and strong female character that she is sure to become an instant favorite character with boys and girls alike. There are so many opportunities to expand on in this text including integrity, leadership, art, and marching to the beat of your own drum.  

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Alexander, Lori. All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-1-328-88420-6. 93 p. $17.99. Grades 3-5.

This fascinating chapter book biography discusses the life and accomplishments of the man known as the “Father of Microbiology.” Alexander begins with van Leeuwenhoek’s early life in Delft, Netherlands and how his occupation as a clothing vendor got him interested in lenses. Always a curious person, Antony developed superior magnifying glasses and used them to examine objects other than clothing. Alexander includes a list of all the objects that van Leeuwenhoek was “first to see” under the microscopic lens. While studying samples of water and dental plaque with his lenses, he saw small animals that were invisible to the human eye, which he called diertgens. Even though he was never trained in the sciences, this draper’s findings were published in the journal of the Royal Society in London. The author uses a narrative style to make the story more interesting and accessible. She also creates sections within the text that go into detail about certain topics, like the bubonic plague and the quality and types of lenses. The back matter contains a timeline, glossary, source notes, and recommended readings. Mildenberger’s whimsical illustrations, present on nearly every two page spread, are done in colored pencil, watercolor, and pastel. Readers will enjoy poring over the drawings for interesting details, including the Delft tiles on the endpapers.

THOUGHTS: This is a must-have for all collections. There are not many books written about this man who was the first to see microscopic life, and this is arguably the most attractive and engaging for elementary school readers.                                                        

579.092 Natural history of microorganisms, fungi, algae          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
92, 921 Biography


Bell, Cece. You Loves Ewe. Clarion, 2019. 978-1-328-52611-3. Unpaged.  $17.99. PreK-3.

Cece Bell makes learning grammar fun. If you loved her book, I Yam a Donkey (Clarion, 2015), You Loves Ewe is sure to tickle your funny bone. Like the first book, this has elements of Abbot and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” skit. This time Yam introduces Donkey to Ewe. Donkey mistakenly thinks Yam is talking about him being cute and fluffy. Back and forth they discuss ewe and you and other homonyms. Or are they talking about “hummanums?’ So much hilarious confusion! As a read aloud it will be hysterical. Children may be confused at first, but Bell’s pictures make it all crystal clear. Children will laugh heartily once they realize that there are homonyms involved. This should lead to a lively discussion.

THOUGHTS: Older children will enjoy this wordplay as well. It is a bit reminiscent of Fred Gwynne’s books such as The King Who Rained, A Little Pigeon Toad, and A Chocolate Moose for Dinner. All of these books are a great way to introduce homonyms and homophones. Students probably will want to share more as they come across them. Perhaps they will be inspired to write a book of their own.

Picture Book          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired

YA – Blanca and Roja; Hey, Kiddo; Sawkill Girls; My Whole Truth; Little White Lies; How She Died, How I Lived

McLemore, Anna-Marie.  Blanca & Roja. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2018. 9781250162717. 375 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Everyone knows the del Cisne sisters – beautiful, blond, selfless, compliant Blanca, and small, dark, manipulative, witchy Roja – and everyone knows that one of them will be transformed into a swan; that’s just how it has been for generations of del Cisne girls – there are always two daughters born, and one of those daughters, after the youngest turns fifteen, is always transformed into a swan. Both Blanca and Roja have spent their childhoods believing that Roja will be taken, and they decide to outsmart the swans by becoming so much alike, the swans won’t be able to tell them apart. However, as readers of fairy tales know, there’s no outrunning a curse. When the swans do come, two boys who are trying to outrun their pasts also arrive on the del Cisne doorstep – blue-eyed, blue-blooded Barclay Holt, and his best friend, awkward yet charming, Page Ashby. The lives and destinies of these four teens become inextricably intertwined; Roja believes that Barclay, whom she calls Yearling (for reasons too complicated to reveal here) is the key to saving herself from the swans, and Blanca, who should be focusing her energies on saving her sister, can’t stop thinking about Page. Due to a catastrophic failure in communication, Roja is convinced that Blanca is trying desperately to save herself, when really, Blanca, without disclosing any of her plans to Roja, is secretly scheming to get herself taken, rather than Roja. McLemore’s characters usually have an entire cadre of familial supporters behind them, but in this story, Blanca and Roja are entirely on their own, which provides a deep tension and sense of urgency to their predicament. Similarly, Barclay and Page choose to be on their own, believing, for very different reasons, that it’s far better than being with their families. There is a complex web connecting all of these stories together, with family secrets galore, and the balance if sometimes off-center, leaving more questions than answers. Blanca and Roja are not as well developed as some of McLemore’s characters, leaving the readers less attached than they might want to be.  However, the writing is what we’ve come to expect from McLemore – beautiful, whimsical, precise, and spell-binding.

THOUGHTS: The secondary female characters – namely Page and Barclay’s grandmothers – are perhaps the most memorable, the most fierce, and the most likeable of all of the characters in the book. They provide much needed guidance and no-nonsense attitudes to the sometimes melodramatic situations in this book.

Fantasy          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction. Graphix, 2018. 978-0-545-90248-9. 320 p. $14.99. Grades 8+.

As a child, Jarrett “Ja” Krosoczka was taken in by his grandparents because his single mom, a heroin addict, was unable to care for him. Over the years, Jarrett would occasionally see his mother, Leslie, but she was usually absent from birthdays and special occasions as she moved in and out of jail, rehab, and halfway homes. His true support system was his grandparents (the very colorful Joe and Shirl), aunts and uncles, and a handful of close friends. When his father reaches out via a letter, Jarrett must decide whether or not to pursue a relationship with the man who has always been just a name on his birth certificate. Through it all, Joe and Shirl are stalwart, loving guardians who support their grandson’s interest in art and comics. Krosoczka’s artwork is rendered in shades of burnt orange, grey, and brown. Soft lines and shading lend a nostalgic mood to memories both cherished and painful. Actual letters from Jarrett’s parents, his childhood drawings, and other family artifacts make this graphic memoir especially personal.

THOUGHTS: Readers will embrace Ja’s journey from confused little boy to teenager finding his voice through art. Don’t skip the Author’s Note, which provides further context and an epilogue of sorts. Also check out the book trailer and Krosoczka’s 2013 TED talk for even more insights into how addiction and art have impacted his life.

92, Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Full of heart and heartbreak, this biographical graphic memoir tells the author’s story of growing up in a family of addition. Taken from his mother at a young age, Jarrett “Ja” Krosoczka is raised by his grandparents (who struggle with addition issues of their own). Seeing his mother sporadically throughout his life leaves Jarrett full of unanswered questions about who he is. Jarrett’s only solace is in his art, and his grandparents recognize and encourage this through his life by ensuring Jarrett is enrolled in a variety of art courses and camps. This love is demonstrated even more by the inclusion of original art and letters spanning Jarrett’s life. 


THOUGHTS: Hand this one to readers looking to be inspired by one man’s struggle to overcome his situation. Krosoczka’s honesty will change the way readers define family and view addiction. A National Book Award Finalist, this graphic memoir is a must-have for high schools. Middle school libraries should preview due to language and mature situations. 

 92, Graphic Memoir          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Jarrett J. Krosoczka was adopted and raised by his grandparents because his heroin addicted mother could not care for him. This graphic memoir explores his childhood with his grandparents, his search for his biological father, and his relationship with his mother, who weaves in and out of his life like a fever during the flu. His complicated relationship with his grandparents is riddled with verbal abuse, alcoholism, and crime. Jarrett’s one outlet during this time is art, and he incorporates actual drawings done from preschool through graduation into the memoir. The artwork is often somber, colored in dark greys and black, reflecting the ripple effect that his families addiction can have.

THOUGHTS: This is a stunning, vulnerable look at addiction. The authors choice to create a graphic memoir will appeal to teens, and should not be overlooked. Recommended for older teens due to drug use and violence.

Memoir          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Legrand, Claire. Sawkill Girls. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. 978-0-062-69660-1. 447 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Something strange and sinister is afoot on Sawkill Rock. For years, girls have vanished without a trace in the night, but life continues apace among the staid citizens of Sawkill. As always, someone knows something … and maybe the time has come for three girls to banish Sawkill’s unseen menace. “Queen Bee” Val Mortimer, a lifelong resident of Sawkill Rock, is part of the influential and untouchable line of Mortimer women. Zoey Harlow, the police chief’s daughter, is still mourning the loss of her best friend, first to Val’s circle of mean girls and then to the island’s “Collector.” Finally, the arrival of Marion Althouse and her sister Charlotte — eventful from the first moment — stirs something deep within Sawkill Rock itself. The girls are initially adversaries, then tentative allies, then soldiers-in-arms (and more) as they battle demons both internal and quite real. Claire Legrand puts a feminist spin on classic horror conventions, including hidden rooms, a book of Latin incantations, a secret society dedicated to eradicating the Collector, and imperiled girls walking home through the woods.

THOUGHTS: This is a very solid teen horror selection. In an essay for Bookish.com, Legrand herself described Sawkill Girls as an “angry, queer, feminist YA horror novel.” It is these things, and a pageturner with some truly scary moments as well. I read this book with my 9th grade book club, a group of about 20 girls. It was the perfect choice for the Halloween / dark-at-4:30 season. The atmosphere of Sawkill Rock, the horses, and some of the creepy elements reminded me of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, one of my all-time favorites.

Horror Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Thrace, Mischa. My Whole Truth. Flux, 2018. 978-1-635-83024-8. 256 p. $11.99. Grades 9-12.

“I need help,” seventeen year old Seelie Stanton whispers to the 911 operator after escaping her attacker. Brutally attacked while alone at work, Seelie saves herself and in the process kills Shane Mayfield, son of a well-connected family. When she wakes up in the hospital and is questioned by officers, Seelie isn’t even sure if Shane is living. All she knows is that she had to save herself. While one officer seems to empathize with Seelie, the other twists her words. Upon Seelie’s release from the hospital, she’s arrested and is being charged as an adult for murder. Seelie thought the loft of the barn was her worst nightmare, but really it was only the beginning. 

THOUGHTS: Fans of thrillers will appreciate the mystery that the title implies. Clearly, readers do not have the whole truth from the beginning. Due to the graphic nature of her attack, this is recommended for mature high school readers. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. Little White Lies. Freeform, 2018. 978-1-368-01413-7. 400 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

The hardworking daughter of a flighty single mom, eighteen year old Sawyer Taft does not expect to become a member of high society. When her estranged grandmother makes an offer she cannot refuse, Sawyer steps into her mother’s former world to participate in debutante season. Initially caught up in the life she hasn’t had, Sawyer eventually realizes that there is more than meets the eye. If she wants to get the answers she’s looking for, Sawyer will have to join the others and play dirty. 

THOUGHTS: Readers will adore and root for Sawyer, respecting her search for the truth about her family origins. The complex and twisted friendships and family ties will leave readers unsuspecting of the eventual outcome and highly anticipating its sequel. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Sawyer Taft knows little about luxury and even less about her family.  So when Lillian Taft, her grandmother, appears and offers her half-a-million dollars to come live with her and fulfill a debutante contract, Sawyer can’t refuse.  Soon she finds herself in a new world, full of debutantes, wealth, Southern hospitality, and family secrets that was only 45-minutes away her entire life. As Sawyer befriends her cousin, Lily, and her friends, she also learns secrets that lead to blackmail, arrest, and enemies coming together for a common good.  But with secrets, comes curiosity too. Sawyer knows her mother left this life when she got pregnant during her debutante year, and one of four men must be her father. With the help of a friend, she begins to eliminate potential dads until she unleashes a secret that could tear apart her new life and her new-found family.  

THOUGHTS:  Told through first-person narration and alternating between present and past events, Little White Lies is an entertaining romp through secrets, wealth, Southern hospitality, and debutantes.  

Mystery          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Crockett, Mary. How She Died, How I Lived. Little, Brown Books, 2018. 978-0-316-52381-3. 416 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

“Want to hang out this afternoon?” One simple message has an irrevocable ripple effect; five girls received it, and only the one who responded – beautiful, sweet, innocent Jamie – was brutally murdered. Coming up on the sentencing hearing one year later, each girl is (or isn’t) coping in her own way. Though readers know the other survivor’s names, the narrator remains anonymous. Through her eyes readers are taken on a journey of pain, grief, and survivor’s guilt, as she tries to make sense of the senseless and move on from this tragedy. Together with Charlie, Jamie’s boyfriend at the time of her death, and Lindsey, another of the targeted girls, these teens process their emotions and the role this event has played in their lives while trying to figure out how to live. 

THOUGHTS: The unique point of view of this novel helps readers understand how trauma survivors (and friends and family of those impacted by trauma) cope, process their emotions, and learn how to live. The author’s note adds some insight into how Crockett was inspired by a violent act in her own community and used writing to process her own anger (listen to this podcast for more). Recommended for fans of character driven, realistic novels. 

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD