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

Elem. – The Little Red Fort; Jack B. Ninja; Pink Is For Boys; If You’re Going to a March; Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World; Little White Fish; Ocean Meets Sky; The Lighthouse Family; Elle of the Ball

Maier, Brenda. The Little Red Fort. Scholastic Press, 2018: ISBN 978-0-545-85919-6. 40pp. $17.99. Gr K-3.

Inspired by the folktale of The Little Red Hen, this is the story of Ruby, a spunky girl with a mind full of big ideas. After discovering a pile of old boards, Ruby sets out to build something. She asks her three brothers for help, but they are too busy with their own activities. They also point out that she has no experience building anything. Ruby is undeterred by her brothers’ lack of faith in her. Although they proclaim that she doesn’t know how to build, sketch plans, gather supplies, saw, or hammer, Ruby proves them wrong every step of the way. When she finishes building her fort and asks who wants to play, all three boys change their tunes and are eager to join in the fun. But, Ruby turns them away, deciding to play by herself instead. While she’s inside the fort, her brothers finally chip in by building a mailbox, planting some flowers, and painting the fort bright red. That night, Ruby invites them all to a fort-warming party, and they all chow down on a plate of freshly-baked cookies. This fresh retelling shines thanks to a cast of diverse characters and bright, splashy illustrations.

THOUGHTS: This retelling will be a good fit for STEM-inspired story times, and it effectively underscores the idea that children, and in particular, girls, can do anything they set their minds to. It would also work well for a compare and contrast folktale unit.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


McCanna, Tim. Jack B. Ninja. Orchard Books, 2018: ISBN 978-0-545-91728-5. 32 p. $16.99. Gr K-3.

This fractured nursery rhyme, set in Japan, features Ninja Jack who is on a secret mission. He leaps over bamboo sticks, scales high walls, dives into garden pools, and breaks into a bandit cave. In the cave, he recovers the stolen treasure chest but must fight off the bandits with his grappling hook and rope. After escaping, it’s revealed that the bandits are actually his family in disguise, and the stolen chest contains a birthday cake! The entire family frolics on the rooftops in their ninja gear until the sun rises and they disappear to begin their next mission. The story’s rhymed couplets are fast-paced, and their bold, white text stands out against the large-scale, full-bleed illustrations.

THOUGHTS: Hand this to ninja fans, or to anyone looking for an action-packed read-aloud. This will also be a good fit for units featuring stories that have been retold or for nursery rhyme story times.

Picture Book. Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Pearlman, Robb, and Eda Kaban. Pink Is For Boys. New York, NY: Running Press Kids. 2018. 978-0-762-46247-6. $17.99. Unpaged. Grades K-2.

Even though this title would seem to draw in debate, Pink Is For Boys is all about gender and color equality for everyone. With a basic pattern of alternating boys and girls first, we go through the crayon box from pink to blue and down to black and white. There is a brief action statement attached to each color which is also accessible to boys and girls. For example, “BLUE is for girls. And boys. And uniforms on a team.” There is imagination and variety to Eda Kaban’s colorful illustrations which can lead to further discussions, or maybe just end the controversy over color designations for genders once and for all! As the ending suggests, “And all the colors are for EVERYONE. Girls and boys.”

THOUGHTS: While this binary format does not include gender neutral options, I do think that all children could feel represented from this book. It helps to break down stereotypes and creatively shows gender harmony in the roles that children can play. I would pair it with other primary books like They She He Me by Maya & Matthew to give a balanced picture of identity.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Freeman, Martha, and Violet Kim. If You’re Going to a March. New York, NY: Sterling Children’s Books. 2018. 978-1-4549-2993-2. $16.95. Unpaged. Grades K-3.

As social activism becomes a meaningful part of children’s lives, Martha Freeman’s newest book provides some valuable advice. Going to a march or protest can be in turns invigorating, exhausting, joyful, and fearful. Hearing simple advice addressed directly to young readers can help alleviate worries and prepare the participants. Freeman goes through basics- from signage to outfits to emotions- and keeps the advice specific enough to be useful but general enough to apply to various marches. Likewise, the artwork from Violet Kim keeps the diverse students at the forefront while showing many of the realistic operations happening in the background. Advice for recognizing officers, reporters, and even counter-protestors is succinct and relevant for children heading into these situations. Most importantly, Freeman wants readers to know that their voice matters, their ideas can help make a difference, and a little protest can march our country in the right direction!

THOUGHTS: Even students who may not be heading into a march will find value in the concept of this book and the insight that it provides. There are plenty of subjects that students feel passionate about, and this gives them one outlet for sharing their opinions respectfully and sincerely. Knowing what to look for in advance can go a long way toward creating a positive experience.

300, Social Sciences          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Hood, Susan. Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World. New York, NY: HarperCollins. 2018. 978-0-06-269945-9. $18.99. 40 pages. Grades 3-6.

“If you want to do it, you can do it!” Nellie Bly’s straight-forward message is at the heart of this poetry collection about 14 brave and interesting females who pursue their passions. Across careers from artist to astronaut to activist, Susan Hood chose girls and women who were willing to step into the light and make history. Her poems are one page for each entry, including a quote and bios mixed with a variety of poetic forms. The illustrations are from 13 different female artist, so that further highlights a mosaic of styles and interests. Perhaps future female firefighters (Molly Williams), librarians (Pura Belpre) and scientists (Angela Zhang) will find inspiration to shake things up themselves!

THOUGHTS: The variety of this book appeals to me, from the art to the poetry to the choices of women both famous and less well known. Certainly, further research about any of these subjects would be beneficial. Likewise, discussing the traits such as grit, persistence, and process along with the quotes provided would make for lessons that go way beyond Women’s History Month.

811, Poetry          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Van Genechten, Guido. Little White Fish. Clavis Publishing. 2018. 978-1-605-37430-7. $12.95. 11 p. Birth-K.

Little White Fish is lost and looking for his mother! As he searches the sea, he finds a lot of sea animals of many colors, but none that match him. Follow Little White Fish as he tries to find his mother, who looks just like him!

THOUGHTS: Little White Fish is a birth-Kindergarten book that is great for developing readers, especially those may need assistance with some basic skills. This book provides young readers with the chance to practice their color and matching skills. While designed for colors and matching, this book does provide insight to some of the sea creatures of the world, opening additional doors and exploratory areas for young readers. A beginner book for young children. Note: This book is now being republished as a board book.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Fan, Terry, and Eric Fan. Ocean Meets Sky. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 978-1-481-47037-7. Unpaged.  K-3. $17.99

This is a beautiful and imaginative book that tells the story of a young boy who is searching for the place where “the ocean meets the sky,” as described in the tales told to him by his late grandfather. Readers see an illustration of the boy listening to his grandfather in his workshop, which contains many artifacts and curiosities. The boy decides to seek out this special place and builds a boat. After a short nap, the boy awakens to find himself on a sea voyage, where he encounters a giant golden fish with a moustache who resembles his grandfather. During the voyage, he sees clouds in the shape of an elephant, a pipe, a whale, and bird, and as night falls, he sees moon jellyfish floating in the sky. Later the boy meets a large whale and finds himself floating in the sky where he sees a moon with his grandfather’s face on it. His mother awakens him, and the boy stands there looking at the moon, thinking about how it indeed was a “good day for sailing.” The illustrations are done in graphite and enhanced digitally with color, which adds a dreamy quality to the book. Young readers will enjoy poring over the details in the drawings and will be delighted to find objects in the workshop reappearing in the sky and ocean during the boy’s voyage. This story deals with the theme of the loss of a loved one, but this message may be missed by young readers.  

THOUGHTS: This is a contemplative book best shared one on one and would be a good choice when a book on grief and loss is needed.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD


Rylant, Cynthia. The Lighthouse Family: The Bear. Beach Lane Books, 2018. 978-1-481-46028-6. 48 p. $15.99. Grades K-3. (The Lighthouse Family series)

          The Sea Lion.  978-1-48146-025-5
         
The Storm. 978-0-689-84880-3
          The Otter. 978-1-48146-045-3
         
The Whale.  978-0-689-84881-0
          The Eagle. 978-0-689-86243-4
         
The Turtle.  978-0-689-86244-1
         
The Octopus.  978-0-689-86246-5

In her latest offering in “The Lighthouse Family” series, Rylant tells the story of a bear called Thomas who comes out early from hibernation. While visiting his neighbors, the Lighthouse family, he eats a large number of pancakes and then goes to sleep on the family’s hammock for another 43 days. In the beginning of the book, the author explains how the Lighthouse family came together. They represent a diverse group with a female cat acting as mother, a fluffy dog acting as father, and three young mice who appeared on the island after being found drifting on the sea in a teacup. The family occupation is to “keep the lights burning” in the lighthouse so that boats will avoid the rocks near the island. The illustrations by McDaniels are done in graphite and appear full bleed on the chapter heading pages. While this book looks like an easy reader at first glance, the word length is a little longer than found in the Henry and Mudge series and is at a higher reading level. 

THOUGHTS: Purchase where this Rylant series is popular.

Fiction          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD


Donne, Elena Delle. Elle of the Ball.  Simon and Schuster, 2018. 978-1-534-41231-6. 16.99. 148 p. Gr. 3-5.

Seventh grader Elle feels like a freak. At 6 feet tall, she towers over her classmates, as well as many of her teachers. Luckily for Elle, she actually does like basketball, but her sudden growth spurt has left her feeling awkward on the court as well as at school. Her misery is compounded by the upcoming school cotillion, where Elle and her two large left feet will have to dance, with a boy, in front of the school and assembled parents. Can life get any more humiliating? Written by WNBA and Olympic gold medalist Donne, this apparently autobiographical book is entertaining, sure to be enjoyed by any student who ever felt out of place. However, Donne has difficulty  differentiating between her childhood and that of her fictional character, resulting in several annoying anachronisms. But it is likely students will either not catch these or not be bothered by them.

THOUGHTS:  A nice addition to middle grade collections, particularly where sports books with female leads will be welcomed.  

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy; Love, Hate and Other Filters; Sadie; What I Leave Behind; Save the Date

Lee, Mackenzi. The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. 978-0-062-79532-8. 464 p. $18.99. Gr 9-12.

After an exciting (if unplanned) tour of Europe with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague is living in Edinburgh, making ends meet working in a pastry shop. Her free time is spent appealing to local medical schools, determined to enroll and study – even if, at the time, women are not allowed to be doctors. After repeated rejections and an unwelcome and unwanted marriage proposal, Felicity finds herself in Germany on the heels of her idol, the radical physician Alexander Platt. But winning over Platt means winning over his fiance Johanna, who also happens to be Felicity’s former childhood best friend. Felicity is reluctant to see Johanna again, but when she hears Platt is in need of research assistants, she knows reconnecting with Johanna is her only hope to pursue medicine. And complicating things is Sim, Felicity’s mysterious companion who agreed to pay for her travel expenses to Germany in exchange for entrance to Johanna’s house. Like last year’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Lee breathes life into this spunky Montague sibling, and readers will love Felicity’s determination, spirit, and adventures across the globe.

THOUGHTS: A lovely and refreshing look at gender roles in historical Europe, featuring an ace – or asexual – protagonist. Give this to any teen or adult looking for witty, spirited and LGBTQ+ friendly historical fiction.

Historical Fiction          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Ahmed, Samira. Love, Hate & Other Filters. Soho Teen, 2018. 978-1-616-95847-3. 281 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Illinois high school senior Maya Aziz is caught between two very different worlds. Her Indian American parents are very traditional and expect her to go to college close to home, study law or medicine, then marry a nice Muslim boy.  She, however, is more interested in attending NYU to study film and dating Phil, her white classmate and longtime crush. Just when she has worked up the courage to tell her parents her plan, a heinous crime is committed, presumably by a terrorist with the same last name as Maya.  This act is foreshadowed by the thoughts of a disturbed young man that precede each chapter of the book. The backlash experienced by her family after this act of terror causes her parents to tighten their rules even more. Readers will empathize with Maya as she struggles to chase her own dreams while simultaneously trying not to disappoint her parents.  

THOUGHTS: There are so many lessons about prejudice and tolerance to be learned from this title. Not only is Maya targeted and bullied at school because of her Muslim Indian background, but her parents’ livelihood is even threatened in an act of hatred. In addition to terrorism and bigotry, this book could spark discussions about interracial couples and/or Muslim Indian culture and tradition. Pair it with Gloria Chao’s American Panda for readers who want more stories about defying tradition or with Tanaz Bhathena’s A Girl Like That for those who want to learn more about race, religion, and the Muslim culture. However it is used, this timely and thought-provoking novel definitely deserves a place in all high school library collections.

Realistic Fiction          Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD


Summers, Courtney. Sadie. Wednesday Books, 2018. 978-1-250-10571-4. 311 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

About a year before the opening of Courtney Summers’ latest novel, Sadie’s younger sister, 13-year old Mattie, disappeared and was later found murdered. Now, Sadie has also disappeared, her car and few belongings found abandoned hundreds of miles away from her hometown of Cold Creek, Colorado. Chapters alternate between Sadie’s first-person quest to deliver justice to the man she believes killed Mattie, and transcripts of The Girls, a podcast that chronicles the mysteries surrounding Sadie and her sister. The podcast, set just a few months later, follows in Sadie’s footsteps. Both the show and Sadie’s narrative reveal layer upon layer of abuse, neglect, and fierce sisterly love. Sadie, who speaks with a stutter, is a gritty anti-heroine. She both endures violence and threatens violence against others in her single-minded mission.

THOUGHTS: The novel’s unique format and tough-as-nails main character make this an appealing choice for a variety of readers. The ending leaves a few plot threads and at least one central question unresolved, which may prompt discussion with some readers but frustrate others. The full-cast audiobook (and accompanying 6-episode podcast) enhance the novel’s accessibility.

Fiction (Mystery)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

After her sister Mattie is murdered, Sadie Hunters disappears into the cold Colorado night, hellbent on vengeance. After both Mattie’s murder and Sadie’s disappearance go cold, May Beth – the girls surrogate grandmother – contacts popular New York podcast host West McCray, begging for help in finding Sadie. McCray becomes absorbed in the case, and begins a serial podcast called The Girls, detailing Mattie’s murder and Sadie’s disappearance. As McCray chases leads, Sadie hunts for revenge, and finds that the truth about her sister’s murder and its link to her past is both unnerving and disturbing. Alternating between episode transcripts of the podcast and Sadie’s brutal, violent hunt for justice, readers are thrust into the bleak poverty of small town America and the haunting aftermath of the murder, all building to a crescendo as McCray and Sadie unmask and confront the killer.

THOUGHTS: Teens familiar with true-crime shows like Serial and The Staircase will keep this book in constant circulation. The unique format helps this stand out from other YA books out there, but strong violence, sexual abuse, and language make this one for older teens.

Mystery          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


McGhee, Alison. What I Leave Behind. Atheneum, 2018. 978-1-481-47656-0. $17.99. 199 p. Gr 7+.

Will walks – to and from school, to his job at the dollar store, and many more miles as needed to put his grief and fears behind. Will started walking three years ago, after his father committed suicide. While he walks, he thinks, remembers, and observes. He observes the people in his neighborhood: Little Butterfly Dude, the young boy who waits every afternoon for the butterflies to come; Superman, an apparently homeless individual. He remembers his father and his father’s cornbread which Will tries to replicate. And he thinks about his old friend Playa, who was gang-raped at a party. Can walking be enough for Will to recover from all his grief? This is a quiet, but stunning book. Will is a strong, thoughtful character who deals with life as best he can, with an assist from David Bowie.

THOUGHTS: Just like feet hitting the pavement, Will drives this book with the warmth of his personality. The gritty plot and light text (one hundred words of text on every other page, complemented by a Chinese character on the verso) make it a great offering for reluctant readers as well.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Matson, Morgan. Save the Date. Simon & Schuster, 2018. 978-1-4814-0457-0. 417 p. Gr. 9-12.

Charlie Grant’s life is full of upheaval – her parents are selling the family home, her mother’s long-running comic strip is coming to an end, one of her older brothers is currently estranged from the family, she needs to make a decision about college and her future, and her crush may finally be showing an interest in her. And this weekend is her sister’s wedding! Charlie is determined that the wedding weekend be perfect. After all, it will be last time the whole family is together in the family home. It doesn’t take long for the best laid plans to turn to chaos. Unexpected guests, a malfunctioning house alarm, a disappearing wedding planner, and a wedding band that only plays Journey covers are just a few of the disasters the Grant family encounters over the course of the weekend. Along the way, Charlie must confront the fact that she has developed a romanticized and nostalgic view of her family when the truth is they are complex individuals with both positive and negative attributes.

THOUGHTS: This enjoyable and laugh out loud (some of the wedding-related disasters are pretty humorous) title will appeal to fans of realistic fiction. While there are some romantic elements to the story, the focus of the story is the Grant family–their strong bonds, family dynamic, etc. Fans of Matson’s earlier works will not be disappointed.

Realistic Fiction          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem – Hey-Ho to Mars We’ll Go!, Old Hat, Dear Substitute, Sometimes You Fly, The Funniest Man in Baseball, Bolivar, The Boo-boos that Changed the World, The Two Mutch Sisters, Every Month Is a New Year, Pinocchio, Rodent Rascals

Lendroth, Susan. Hey-Ho to Mars We’ll Go!: A Space Age Version of Farmer in the Dell. Charlesbridge, 2018. 978-1-580-89744-0. Unpaged. $16.99. K-3.

Lendroth has written space age lyrics to the well-known children’s song “Farmer in the Dell” in this engaging text. The book tells the story of four children who are on an exploratory trip to the planet Mars. The text consists of four lines mimicking the cadence of the original song, and it chronicles their trip from Earth until they land and explore the red planet. On each page, the song lyrics are written in a large font size, and there is accompanying smaller font which gives factual information about the topic discussed. For instance, when the spacecraft lands, the author writes, “Lock helmets into place…” and then explains about the air quality on Mars and the necessity for special equipment.  The illustrations are done on a large scale and were created using a computer. The book design adds to the understanding of the text. The text is placed sideways when traveling in space and even upside down when talking about the lack of gravity in the spacecraft. In the back matter, the author has included information about what is needed for a mission to Mars, and it is contained in a drawing of a red planet.  

THOUGHTS: While not a first purchase, this book will make a great read aloud, and children will enjoy joining in the refrain “Hey-Ho to Mars, we’ll go…” Music teachers will enjoy using this variant in their units on vocal music.

629.45  Space Flight          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD


Gravett, Emily. Old Hat. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018: ISBN 978-1-534-40917-0. 24 p. $17.99. Gr K-3.

Harbet is a dog whose favorite hat is the one his Nana knitted when he was just a pup. It’s warm and keeps his ears toasty. He proudly wears it all around until his peers mock him, taunting “Old Hat!” Harbet tries to keep up with fashion trends, purchasing the latest hat styles. But, no sooner has he donned his new headwear than something more up-to-date hits the stores. From construction cones to sailing ships to cookware, Harbet always seems to be one beat behind. Finally, Harbet gives up and does something daring – something no one has done before: Harbet takes off his hat. When his peers see what Harbet has been hiding beneath his many caps, the tables are turned, and they are the ones racing to keep pace with him. In this whimsical story about finding the courage to march to your own drum, brightly colored pencil, watercolor, and acrylic illustrations pop against solid white pages, making the variety of hats Harbet tries even more visually stunning.

THOUGHTS: Young readers will enjoy examining Harbet’s many new hats, making this a perfect choice for a read-aloud. Teachers and librarians can extend the story, discussing the themes of peer pressure and also the idea of being yourself and doing what makes you happy.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Scanlon, Liz Garton, and Audrey Vernick. Dear Substitute. Disney Hyperion, 2018. 978-1-484-75022-3. 35 p. $17.99. Gr K-3.

Life in Room 102 is turned upside down when Mrs. Giordano calls in sick, and Miss Pelly shows up to substitute for the day. Miss Pelly mixes everything up: she mispronounces names during attendance, doesn’t collect the homework, skips library time, and doesn’t clean the turtle tank, even though it’s Tank Tuesday. Instead of reading from the chapter book they’ve started, Miss Pelly reads funny poems about crocodiles and underwear, and she laughs all the time. The day’s events are narrated by a brown-haired girl with two ponytails. Each double-page spread features an epistolary poem describing the day’s events from her perspective. By the end of the story, she’s changed her mind about Miss Pelly after realizing poetry isn’t so bad, and she comes to the conclusion that sometimes you’ve got to mix things up a little. Caldecott-winner Chris Raschka’s vibrant watercolor illustrations capture the range of emotions the narrator experiences throughout the day, and his loose, whimsical style perfectly communicates her changing feelings.

THOUGHTS: This book will be perfect to share with students before an anticipated absence, and its reassuring message that things will be alright even though the daily routine is different will resonate with young readers. This title could also be used in conjunction with poetry units as it celebrates epistolary poems as well as poetry in general.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Applegate, Katherine. Sometimes You Fly. Clarion Books, 2018: ISBN 978-0-547-63390-9. 40 p. $17.99. Gr K-3.

This text, composed of rhyming couplets, celebrates perseverance and resilience by reminding readers that oftentimes, the thrill of success is preceded by flops and mistakes. Each couplet begins by showing someone struggling with a new or difficult task such as baking a cake, learning to swim, trying to read, learning to drive, or studying for an exam. Page turns are used effectively to show the same person experiencing success with the task on the back side of the page. The idea that mistakes and challenges ultimately make our accomplishments even more memorable is underscored by lively ink and watercolor illustrations depicting a diverse array of children both succeeding and failing at their pursuits.

THOUGHTS: This title naturally lends itself to character trait lessons since it underscores the ideas that making mistakes is okay as long as you learn from them and use the experience to grow and persevere. It highlights the idea that nobody is perfect and celebrates that sometimes life’s greatest challenges can also lead to its sweetest moments.

Picture Book Biography          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County


Vernick, Audrey. The Funniest Man in Baseball: The True Story of Max Patkin. Clarion Books, 2018: ISBN 978-0-544-81377-9. 40 p. $17.99. Gr 2-4.

As a boy growing up in Philadelphia, Max Patkin dreamed of a career in professional baseball. His goal was to become a pitcher, but while playing in the Minor Leagues, an arm injury sidelined him. Although his pitching career was over, Max found another way to make his mark on the game: as a baseball clown. For five decades, and more than 4,000 games, Max entertained crowds of fans by goofing around on the field with players, dancing around the baselines, playing hopscotch in the dirt, and doing anything he could to coax a laugh from the crowd. This picture book biography introduces readers to baseball’s most memorable clown, and the lighthearted text and whimsical illustrations spotlight some of his best-loved comic routines.

THOUGHTS: This title could accompany lessons and discussions about perseverance, since Max Patkin didn’t let his arm injury end his baseball career: instead, he embraced the different direction his career took. This will also be popular with sports fans, particularly those interested in historical tidbits.

Picture Book Biography          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County


Rubin, Sean. Bolivar. Archaia, 2018. 978-1-68415-069-6. unpaged. $29.99. Grades 2-5.

Bolivar is the last dinosaur left alive anywhere! He doesn’t like attention, so he lives in New York City, where no one takes the time to notice much of anything. Only young Sybil knows that her next-door neighbor is a dinosaur (even if she can’t prove it … yet). Bolivar is perfectly happy to hide in plain sight, until a case of mistaken identity leads him to City Hall and then to the Natural History Museum to deliver a speech about the new dinosaur exhibit. Even busy New Yorkers notice the dinosaur at the podium, and the chase is on! Can Bolivar elude capture and return to his quiet life? Framed as Sybil’s assigned essay on a “person” in her neighborhood, Bolivar is a delightfully illustrated urban adventure. Sean Rubin’s crosshatched artwork rewards repeated readings as details emerge in action-packed cityscapes and expressive faces. Adult readers will especially appreciate the winks to Indiana Jones and Where’s Waldo.

THOUGHTS: This beautiful, heartfelt homage to childhood imagination (and the importance of slowing down to take in the world around us) will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Picture Book/Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Wittenstein, Barry. Illustrated by Chris Hsu. The Boo-Boos that Changed the World: A True Story about an Accidental Invention.  Charlesbridge, 2018. 978-1-580-89745-7. $16.99. Grades K-3.

Wittenstein recounts the true story  of how Earle Dickson developed the now ubiquitous BandAid to help his accident prone wife, who seemed to have injured herself at home on a daily basis. Earle, as a buyer for the Johnson and Johnson company, was in a unique position to develop this product that has become an absolute necessity of life. This humorous picture book with charming illustrations cleverly points out that necessity is truly the mother of invention, but also shows the stops and starts on the way to Earle’s and the BandAid’s success. Includes  a timeline of the inventor’s life, a timeline of important medical discoveries and links to sites with more information on the product recognized and used the whole world over.

THOUGHTS: A humorous, nonfiction choice to add to your collection on inventions.

617.1 Medical Innovations          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Brendler, Carol. Illustrated by Lisa Brown. The Two Mutch Sisters. Clarion Books. 2018. 978-0-544-43074-7. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Twin siblings, Violet and Ruby Mutch,  must absolutely have a copy of every collected item for each of them. Living together for their entire lives, the silly siblings have collected all sorts of strange objects including glockenspiels, gargoyles, snorkels, and spittoons. As the years pass, the sisters run out of room in their crowded house, and Violet decides to move out.

THOUGHTS: A lighthearted and humorous tale of how loved ones can stick together, even if everyone needs their own space.  

Picture Book          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Singer, Marilyn, and Susan Roth. Every Month Is a New Year. New York: Lee & Low Books. 2018. 978-1-630-14162-5. $20.95. Unpaged. Grades 2-5.

New years start all the time, not just on January 1st. Whether school years or sports seasons, we have traditions that go with our calendars. The informative poetry book Every Month Is a New Year takes readers around the world as the months turn to show how people celebrate their new year traditions. Singer’s short poems capture the essence of the holiday through a child’s first person viewpoint. The traditions range from water battles to fire cleansing, from food celebrations to dancing, and several ways to cleanse their souls and start anew. The detailed fabric collage that Roth weaves adds color and imagination to the mix, and the format of a full calendar that reads like it should be hung on your wall helps set the book apart. Informative text about the calendar systems through history and further descriptions, pronunciation, and sources for each new year are included toward the end. And since every end is a new beginning, readers may just want to turn the calendar and start anew!

THOUGHTS: This book would be an excellent addition to a poetry collection, and the diversity of people and places helps open the eyes of readers to unfamiliar traditions. They may be left with more questions after reading the poem and the description, so further inquiry should be expected.

811 Poetry          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Morpurgo, Michael. Pinocchio: In His Own Words. Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark. Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2018 (this edition). 266 p.  978-000835769-9 $17.99 Grades 3-6.

Pinocchio–that misunderstood puppet-boy who is somehow always compelled to choose fun over obedience–tells his story here, his way.  He’ll tell you about how poor Signor Gepetto crafted him for his sad wife, and how he should have gone to school but was repeatedly tempted away by other, more fun activities.  This is a long, winding tale of mishaps and misfortune, at times humorous and at times groan-worthy, as when Pinocchio says of himself, “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, don’t do it, Pinocchio!…Well, I’m sorry to say I believed what I wanted to believe; I fell for it hook, line and sinker.  When I look back on it now, I can’t believe how stupid I was!” (82) or “I hate work. It’s hard. It’s difficult” (172). Pinocchio encounters a variety of creatures in his travels, including a Talking Cricket, a Lame Fox and Blind Cat (swindlers who much later prove repentant), his ‘dear sister,’ the Good Fairy with sea-blue hair (who acts as his conscience) and Lampwick, a boy who entices him to go to the Land of Toys (whereupon both boys become donkeys destined to work until death).   Pinocchio always intends to return home and make his poor mother and father happy again, but something always distracts him.  Only in one story does his nose grow as he lies–and the Good Fairy is there to help–with woodpeckers.  A moralistic story where nothing truly bad happens to a boy who behaves badly but is excruciatingly slowly learning kindness.  Finally, the story comes full circle and by the end, “I’m not quite such a ‘wooden-head’ as I was–or I hope I’m not. My Good Fairy still whispers to me from time to time, drops gentle hints to remind me that everyone matters, reminds me always to be kind” (266).   

THOUGHTS: For upper elementary, this could be a humorous read-aloud. It is certainly a more interesting telling of the original Pinocchio tale, accompanied by appealing illustrations.

Fantasy, Fairy Tale          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Munro, Roxie. Rodent Rascals. Holiday House, 2018. 978-0-823-43860-0. 32 p. $17.95. Grades 2-5.

This book provides the reader with a fascinating look into the world of the rodent.  In the introduction, Munro explains that these animals are the “largest order of mammals” and discusses how they are useful to humans. Drawings are done to actual size, so the entire rodent is not shown in all cases, like the capybara. Even so, Munro plays with the book design by showing the capybara’s back leg on one page followed by a drawing of its face on the next page.  One rodent is featured per one or two page spread, except for the smaller ones like the pygmy jerboa. The animals appear in order from smallest to largest in the book. The pictures are accompanied by text that gives interesting facts unique to that creature, like how a muskrat eats on a table-like pile of mud and how one rat has been trained to find minefields. The illustrations are done in India ink and colored acrylic ink and make even the notorious Norway rat seem appealing. The endpapers contain simple line drawings of every rodent discussed in the book. In the back matter, the reader can learn more about the physical description and habitat of the animal. The author lists her sources and presents a number of websites for more information. After reading Munro’s work, even those readers who cringe at the thought of rodents might find themselves looking at these mammals in a different light.

THOUGHTS: Children will enjoy reading this text for personal interest, especially since some of the animals are well-known pets, like the guinea pig and gerbil. It is unusual to see a book entirely about rodents, so elementary libraries will want to add this unique work to their collections.

599.35  Rodents          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

YA FIC – Legendary, Nine, The Opposite of Here, Tradition, The Way You Make Me Feel

Garber, Stephanie. Legendary. New York: Flatiron, 2018. 978-1-2500-9531-2. 464 p. $18.99. Gr. 7-12.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval, the grandest show by land or by sea… Sisters Tella and Scarlett barely survived the last Caraval, an extravagant, surreal show that blurred the lines between fantasy and reality. After Tella plunged to her death, Scarlett used her winning wish to bring her back to life. And the two should live happily ever after, free of their abusive father and Scarlett’s disastrous arranged marriage. But Tella’s initial deal with Caraval’s mysterious Master Legend comes with a few strings attached, and she ended up making a seemingly impossible deal with a criminal in order to find the whereabouts of her missing mother. Tella is given the five nights of the next Caraval to discover Legend’s real name, and if she doesn’t, she could lose everything – and everyone – she loves. Before Caraval, Tella is warned that this time, the game is real, and with death courting her once more, she soon finds herself falling deeply into a twisted game, and maybe even deeply into love.

THOUGHTS: An excellent follow-up to last year’s Caraval, this series is a unique blend of mystery, fantasy and folklore. Recommend this series to readers too young for The Night Circus or Water for Elephants.

Fantasy          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Hines, Zach. Nine. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-0-062-56726-0. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Enter a futuristic world that is eerily similar to our own except for one major difference – humans have nine lives. As they burn through their lives on a government sanctioned schedule, humans are reborn into new bodies with physical and mental upgrades. Burning through lives too quickly, though, can cause rebirth sickness (most similar to dementia). After seeing his own mother become unrecognizable with rebirth sickness, Julian is not interested in burning; in fact, he’s one of the oldest ones in his school. With pressures from his peers and a desire to help his family, Julian joins the Burners, the schools secret suicide club that makes a mockery of burning through lives in an ostentatious manner. Not all is as it seems, though, and as Julian advances through lives, he begins to question the society in which he lives, determined to protect his family and find answers about what happened to his mom.

THOUGHTS: This standalone will be great for fans of dystopians, looking at a unique new approach. Trigger warning: Group suicide is explicitly described (and encouraged) throughout this book. Specific, often graphic, and attention-getting methods are used, making this a mature high school read.

Dystopian          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Altebrando, Tara. The Opposite of Here. Bloomsbury YA, 2018. 978-1-681-19706-7. 256 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

After losing her boyfriend to a tragic accident, Natalie’s parents take her and her three best friends on a “sail-a-bration” cruise to distract her and help her move on. Not feeling the party vibe, Natalie takes a break on deck and meets someone, but she doesn’t catch his name before losing track of him. When rumors about someone going overboard surface, Natalie worries she knows who it was. Caught up in her feelings and what happened to the mystery guy, Natalie can’t enjoy herself until she knows the truth.

THOUGHTS: Readers will want to know the outcome and find out who Natalie’s mystery guy is and if he’s okay. The premise of the “sail-a-bration” cruise and the lack of transparency with the passengers seems far-fetched. An additional purchase where mysteries are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Kiely, Brendan. Tradition. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-481-48034-5. 352 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Fed up with Fullbrook Academy, legacy student Jules just wants to finish her senior year and move on from her ex and her ex friends. Transfer student Jamie doesn’t feel like he belongs right from the start. A fresh chance to play ice hockey where nobody knows his past is the break his family has been waiting for.

Through a mutual distaste for Fullbrook’s traditions and a shared desire to stay somewhat under the radar, Jules and Jamie become friends. Living with the pressure to perform in an intense academic environment isn’t always easy. When school traditions hit close to home, Jules and Jamie have to decide where they stand and in what they believe.

THOUGHTS: With unique perspectives on double standards in our society (and how they’re encouraged at a young age), Kiely challenges traditions, whether at a private prep school or in society in general. Having read several prep school and assault books recently, Tradition is a powerful addition with strong characters – both male and female – who take a stand. Casual sex, assault, drinking, and drug use make this suitable for mature readers.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Goo, Maurene. The Way You Make Me Feel. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books, 2018. 978-0-374-30408-9. 352 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

With a young father who feels very chill and never follows through on punishments, Clara is known for pulling off epic pranks. When one goes too far and Adrian is called into the principal’s office with other parents, he’s ready to lay down the law. Instead of roaming free for the summer, Clara will spend it working on the KoBra, Adrian’s food truck. To make matters worse, Clara’s arch nemesis Rose will be joining her. If things don’t go well, Clara can kiss her end of summer trip to visit her mom in Tulum, Mexico goodbye.

Forced to work together in a confined space, Clara begins to see that Rose might not be so bad. Does being friendly with Rose mean she can’t be friends with Felix and Patrick, and what about the coffee cart guy Hamlet? He’s not Clara’s type – at all!

THOUGHTS: Readers will be hungry for LA’s food truck cuisine after devouring this one. The Way You Make Me Feel is a fun and lighthearted summer read about growing up and features a great father-daughter relationship. With older characters and references to prom, it will be a hit in high schools, but it could be appropriate for younger readers too.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA FIC – Girl Made of Stars, Before I Let Go, Winner Take All, The Last to Let Go, This is Not a Love Letter

Blake, Ashley Herring. Girl Made of Stars. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-328-77823-9. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Though they each have their own lives, twins Mara and Owen have always been close. Never having any reason to doubt each other, their happy family is shattered when Hannah, Owen’s girlfriend and one of Mara’s best friends, accuses Owen of rape. Being close with both, Mara is torn. While she wants nothing more than to believe her twin, Mara has a nagging feeling that Hannah would never lie about something like this. While their parents support and defend “golden boy” Owen (clearly Hannah must be exaggerating), Mara grapples with her unique position.

Meanwhile, Mara has been dealing with her own breakup with Charlie – her best friend turned girlfriend – and feels lost without her two voices of reason. She can’t even find solace in the feminist magazine she founded at school, since she’s “too close” to the issue of consent they’re now discussing. Mara has buried demons of her own that she must face in order to move forward.

THOUGHTS: Girl Made of Stars packs a powerful punch and will grab readers from the onset, forcing them to think about a variety of issues including consent. Charlie’s status as genderqueer, not yet out to her parents, is also discussed in regards to her relationship with Mara. Readers of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith will appreciate how Ashley Herring Blake emphasizes the lasting impact of sexual assault. This is an essential addition for high school/young adult collections where realistic, intense, character driven books are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-64228-2. 368 p. $17.15. Gr. 10 and up.

Returning to Lost Creek, Alaska for her best friend’s funeral after moving away several months ago, Corey is devastated. She never found the words to tell Kyra that there was a great big world outside of Lost, and now she’ll never have the opportunity. Guilt-ridden over never responding to Kyra’s letters, Corey doesn’t know what to expect in Lost.

Lost isn’t what she remembers, and neither are the people that live there. The town that she once loved and that loved her seems like it’s hiding something. Determined to uncover the truth about Kyra’s death, Corey sets out on her own. Desperate to find answers before her return to Winnipeg and terrified for her safety, Corey races against the clock before her flight departs. Told in present tense, letters sent and unsent, and flashback narratives written in play format, Corey’s and Kyra’s stories unfold as Lost fights to keep its secrets.

THOUGHTS: The remote Alaskan wilderness amps up the creepy factor in this mystery. Through the emphasis on Kyra’s storytelling, readers will be compelled to learn what actually happened to her, but they may not feel fully invested in the novel, as the characters lack depth. Though identity and mental health issues are addressed, they are not at the center of the story. Before I Let Go is a good read for mystery fans and those interested in exploring the ways mental illness affects one’s life and experiences.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Devore, Laurie. Winner Take All. Imprint, 2018. 978-1-250-08288-6. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Nell is determined to be the best. Being a scholarship student, she’s always felt like she has something to prove. She is at the top of her school, the top of her volleyball game, and she’s going to be one of few “top girls” in her long standing, male dominated prep school.

Jackson Hart epitomizes everything Nell hates. He’s wealthy, has the teachers wrapped around his finger, and gets everything he wants, especially a rise out of annoying Nell. No matter how much he bothers her, Jackson Hart will not stand in Nell’s way.

Bitter rivalry brings them together, and Nell and Jackson’s relationship is toxic in everyone else’s eyes. Can two opposites make it work, or will winning be everything?

THOUGHTS: Taking on societal stereotypes about male vs. female treatment, Devore gives readers two very unlikable characters. At times, though, readers will feel sorry for both Nell and Jackson. They will be compelled to read through the mess that becomes their lives and desperate to see if their situation resolves without catastrophic disaster. Mature relationships, underage drinking, and drug use make this suitable for older readers.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Smith, Amber. The Last to Let Go. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-481-48073-4. 384 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Brooke does not live the idyllic life she portrays on the outside. At home, her family has been plagued by an abusive husband/father. Brooke’s older brother Aaron couldn’t take it and moved out. While Brooke does her best to shield her younger sister Callie, she’s also planning her own way out by transferring schools. Brooke doesn’t count on her mom being on trial for killing Brooke’s father. Of course it was self defense, right?

Brooke’s plan to transfer schools gives her the opportunity to take more advanced placement classes, thus getting a jump start on college. On the outside Brooke seems to have figured things out, but on the inside her shell is cracking, and Brooke isn’t holding things together as well as she used to. As Brooke struggles to keep her siblings and life together, her demanding course schedule is catching up with her, and Brooke can only keep her secrets for so long.

THOUGHTS: Right from the beginning, readers know that Brooke’s dad is dead, and her mom is responsible. Readers will root for Brooke as she bravely navigates this year without her parents, experiences her first love, and struggles to hold everything together. A must read for those who like intense, character-driven novels.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Purcell, Kim. This Is Not a Love Letter. Disney-Hyperion, 2018. 978-1-484-79834-8. 368 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

All Jesse wanted was a one week break to figure out where her life is going. Chris is pressuring her to follow him and his ticket out with a baseball full-scholarship, but Jesse knows Chris is too good for her. After all, it’s why they’ve been fighting so much recently.

After Chris goes missing while out for a run, Jesse desperately tries to prove something is amiss. Being one of the only black kids in their prejudice-filled small town, Jesse fears someone was out to get Chris. When she makes these claims publicly, Jesse becomes a target herself. The police seem to think Chris ran away or worse, but Jesse knows Chris, and knows that’s not possible.

While the search seems to give few clues, Jesse faces many of her own demons and her guilt over how she treated Chris. His love for her was always obvious through the weekly notes he wrote and his small gestures, but maybe Chris doesn’t know how much Jesse loves him. Determined to tell him, Jesse writes Chris letters, updating him on what he’s been missing, and begging for her love to be enough to bring him home safely.

THOUGHTS: This love story/mystery dragged a bit in the middle, but readers who stick with it will be rewarded with the truth about Chris and Jesse’s love story. Things aren’t always as they seem, and Jesse didn’t know everything she thought she did about Chris. Family dynamics, personal/relationship insecurities, and mature teen relationships are all issues approached in this novel.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD