MG – When You Trap a Tiger

Keller, Tae. When You Trap a Tiger. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-524-71570-0. 287 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Lily, known as Lily Bean to her mom, and Eggi in her Halmoni’s stories, and her family suddenly pack up and move to Washington one rain soaked evening. They are moving in with her Halmoni, a storyteller, and the story she shares with Lily from many years ago is about how she stole the stars from the sky and bottled up the bad stories which angered a tiger. Lily is intrigued by her story, and when a tiger suddenly appears in the middle of the road one rainy night, Lily is convinced everything is real. But time is of the essence, as Halmoni is showing signs of illness – could it be a consequence of her stealing the stars? With the help of Ricky, a boy Lily meets at the library across the street, the two devise a “hypothetical” tiger trap. Little did Lily know that the Tiger would make her an offer that can help her Halmoni, but with consequences. Lily wants answers and to find a way to help her Halmoni before it’s too late. But can a QAG, short for quiet Asian girl, really find the truth? Can she rescue her family before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will not be disappointed with the characters in this book – they are full of heart, determination, love, and curiosity, even if one of them is a tiger. This title is perfect to add to your collection of diverse books, as it shows the struggle of an Asian family and how their history and heritage affect their lives today. I truly enjoyed reading this story and believe it is the perfect story to capture how storytelling and reading books can truly be art.

Fantasy          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Change is happening in Lily’s life. With little notice, her mother has uprooted her daughters from their California home to their halmoni’s (grandmother’s) home in Sunbeam, Washington. Lily does her best to be the invisible, accommodating, “QAG” (quiet Asian girl) while her older sister, Sam, finds every reason to voice her displeasure to their mother and often rebukes Lily. Lily both chafes under and finds comfort in her invisibility. Lily’s many worries worsen when she (and only she) sees a tiger in the road as they approach their halmoni’s home. Her grandmother has shared countless Korean folktales with Lily and Sam, often with a dangerous tiger involved. When Lily discovers that her grandmother is ill and facing death, she’s determined to convince the tiger to use its magic to cure her grandmother, despite admonitions from her mother and sister that dissuade her from believing the “silly” stories have any power in their lives. The library across the street provides hope and friendship for Lily, who teams up with Ricky to build a tiger trap in her grandmother’s basement. Can she convince the tiger to help, and can she convince her family that the stories are real and useful?  Will the stories save her grandmother and her family?

THOUGHTS: This is a tale of a young girl growing up and deciding who she will be, while she comes to terms with death. The targeted age level seems to increase through the story as Lily matures, and this may not quite work for readers. The grief, anger at moving, and the sister difficulties between Lily and Sam smooth a bit too perfectly by the story’s end. I found myself wishing for more scenes with the interesting, enigmatic tiger.

Magical Realism          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Korean Folktales

YA – Nowhere on Earth

Lake, Nick. Nowhere on Earth. Alfred A. Knopf, 2020. 978-1-984-89644-5. 292 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Emily would do anything to protect her little brother, Aiden, even stowing away on a bush plane when the men in black start following him around town. But crashing in the Alaskan wilderness wasn’t in the plan. However, the rapid arrival of men with guns, shooting at them, propels Emily into action. She, Aiden, and Bob, the injured pilot, head out across the dangerous landscape, trying to put distance between themselves and the hunters, making their way towards safety. The book opens with the plane crash and the adrenaline doesn’t let down. Emily’s and Aiden’s backstories are revealed as the story unfolds, including Emily’s tempestuous relationship with her parents. Emily does come to appreciate the myriad survival lessons her ex-special-ops father taught her, as well as the beauty of the Alaskan territory, but deeply resents her parents for moving from Minneapolis and forcing her to leave behind her beloved ballet. The book begins as an adventure-survival tale, but then evolves into so much more, including a massive plot-twist and several thought provoking ethical issues. A few threads could have been more fully developed, including a hint that the plane crashed due to sabotage, but readers will be forgiving.

THOUGHTS: This hard to pigeon hole book should find a home with a wide variety of readers. Perfect for those who prefer a book that grabs you from the first page, but also gives satisfaction to readers looking for some depth.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – You Should See Me in a Crown

Johnson, Leah. You Should See Me in a Crown. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-50326-5. $17.99. 324 p. Grades 9 and up.

This is not your average prom court story. From Liz Lighty’s motivation to run for queen to her underdog status and even the hype surrounding this rural Indiana town’s epic prom season traditions, this prom plot is anything but trite. When Liz finds out she did not get the scholarship she needs to afford Pennington College, the school of her dreams, she does the only thing she can think of that could quickly replace that money, and it’s the last thing she ever imagined herself doing. Prom in Campbell County, Indiana is an institution, and the king and queen win $10,000 scholarships – exactly the amount of money she needs to make Pennington happen. Now, Liz – who has purposely stayed under the radar her entire high school career – throws herself into the month-long campaign for a spot on the prom court by doing volunteer work and getting as much positive attention as she can on the school’s gossipy social media app: Campbell Confidential. Being an outsider – an unpopular band kid who is one of only a few Black girls at her school – is just one of many hurdles she’ll have to overcome if she wants that crown and scholarship. Aside from her few close friends, no one at school knows that Liz is queer. When a new girl unexpectedly shows up at the first prom campaign meeting, Liz finds herself immediately crushing on this skateboard-riding underdog. Dating Mack – who is also now her competition –  is exactly the type of publicity Liz does NOT want if she’s going to win that scholarship in this very conservative town, forcing her to choose which to listen to: her head or her heart.

THOUGHTS: Leah Johson’s debut novel is laugh-out-loud funny and gosh darn adorable. Novels that tackle serious issues faced by BIPOC/LGBTQ characters are extremely important, but it’s also important to see these characters experience joy in their everyday lives. That’s not to say this book lacks serious moments because it does have them. (Liz’s brother’s health and close-minded faculty/students, for example, make for some weighty scenes). It is a feel-good story overall though with a romance full of “aww”-worthy moments, an amazing supporting cast of friends and family (Liz’s grandparents and her friend Stone are particularly fun), and it is definitely a great addition to any teen collection.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Liz Lighty dreams of leaving the small town of Campbell, Indiana behind to attend her mother’s alma mater Pennington College and become a doctor. Liz has worked hard to secure financial aid and is devastated to learn that she isn’t getting it. An excellent student and musician, Liz refuses to give up on her dream and put her grandparents into financial troubles. Liz is determined to find another way to Pennington when she is reminded of the annual prom court competition (and $10,000 scholarship for the king and queen). Terrified of the added attention (Liz has anxiety), Liz decides prom court is her best opportunity. Liz isn’t openly out which has never been a problem for her close friends, but Campbell has strict rules for potential prom court members that are steeped in tradition. Adding all of the expected volunteer events to her busy schedule isn’t easy, but spending time with new girl – and fellow prom court competition – Mack is worth it. With the help of her friends, Liz is slowly climbing the Campbell Confidential (social media app) prom court rankings and might actually stand a chance. But falling for Mack might jeopardize everything Liz has worked hard to achieve. Liz knows she’ll find her place at Pennington if she can earn this scholarship, but is getting to Pennington worth not being true to herself?

THOUGHTS: This debut tackles tough topics in a way that will appeal widely to high school readers. Liz has been through a lot in her life, and readers will root for her from the beginning. Highly recommended, this one is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Dear Justyce

Stone, Nic. Dear Justyce. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-984829-67-2. 288 p. $21.99. Grade 8+.

In a sequel to the Morris Award winning Dear Martin, Vernell Laquan Banks Jr., is writing letters to Justyce McAllister from his cell in juvenile detention while he awaits his sentencing for the murder of a police officer. Quan and Justyce, two bright boys from the same rough Atlanta neighborhood and just two years apart in age, have had drastically different trajectories for their lives. Justyce had the life changing benefits of a supportive family that pushed him towards excellence, while Quan’s family was mired in the cycle of poverty, domestic abuse, and incarceration. Reading  through the scenes of Quan’s experiences,  it is clear how crucial a support system is, and lacking that, how Quan made the choices he did which landed him in his current position. Justyce and Quan, who met on a playground as children, reconnect when Justyce hears of Quan’s incarceration and decides to visit his friend in jail. Justyce, who is now a pre-law student at Yale, hears Quan’s story and marshals the help of a lawyer, his girlfriend’s mother, to re-examine the case in the hopes of setting Quan free. This novel looks at the unjust treatment that African Americans deal with daily, shedding light on the harsh realities of life for inner city children and families with no safety net, particularly the educational and legal systems that fail to support or serve the communities they are supposed to.

THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for libraries serving teens, an extremely relevant and topical read.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Vernell Laquan Banks Jr. (Quan) writes letters from a detention center to Justyce McAllister (Dear Martin) while awaiting his trial for a police officer’s murder. Quan and Justyce both held promise as young students in Atlanta, but Justyce now is off at a fancy college and Quan took quite a different path. While both were good young students, Justyce had support at home while Quan lacked a present male role model (one flashback depicts the arrest of his father while Quan watches). Quan’s path is presented to readers though a series of alternating chapters about his childhood and letters he sends to Justyce, the only person on the outside that he feels will listen to him. To his credit, Justyce reads those letters and is firmly by Quan’s side. On the outside, people will judge Quan for one bad decision after another. Many would say there is no hope for a kid like him. A closer look reveals that Quan’s decisions, however, are made in an effort to support his young siblings and a mother who is stuck in a violent relationship. Is the deck so stacked against Quan that he has no hope?

THOUGHTS: Stone’s novel carefully examines the inequities, especially for minorities, of the education and legal systems that are in place. A must have for secondary libraries and fans of Stone’s other books as well as books by Tiffany Jackson, Jason Reynolds, and Angie Thomas.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Clap When You Land

Acevedo, Elizabeth. Clap When You Land. Quill Tree Books, 2020. 978-0-062-88276-9. 432 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Because of a terrible tragedy, two sixteen year old girls suffer an unimaginable loss. Though they’re half sisters, Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios have never met; they don’t even know of the other’s existence. When Camino arrives at an airport in the Dominican Republic to pick up her Papi for the summer, she sees a crowd of people in tears. The plane he was on went down over the ocean, and Camino’s future plans of attending medical school in the US vanish in an instant. Despite the utter hole her Papi’s disappearance leaves in Camino’s life, she holds onto hope that he will be found alive. Who else will protect her from El Cero, a local pimp who starts hanging around and following her. In New York Yahaira suffers a similar loss, though her grief is overshadowed by guilt and anger. Because she learned one of her Papi’s secrets, Yahaira gave up playing chess and rarely spoke to her father for the past year. Yahaira struggles to see her Papi as the man she grew up idolizing, as the man her local Dominican community in New York sees. Her mother is also experiencing similar mixed emotions, and she is adamant that Yahaira’s father be returned to the states, though his wishes were to be in the Dominican. As Yahaira learns more about her father and his time away from her, she becomes more determined to know more.

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters of verse, do not miss out on this newest Acevedo book! It is a must have for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Admission

 Buxbaum, Julie. Admission. Delacorte Press, 2020. 978-1-984-89362-8. 304 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Chloe Berringer is the daughter of beloved sitcom star, Joy Fields, whose classic show is now in production for a new season. Chloe’s parents send her and her younger sister to Wood Valley School, a prestigious and expensive private school in Los Angeles, the setting of Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things. Among the academic elite at Wood Valley are Chloe’s crush, Levi, and her best friend, Shola, a Nigerian American. Levi and Shola both have high aspirations for Ivy League colleges, but Chloe is just an average student. When her mom and her venture capitalist dad hire an admissions counselor to help her get into the selective Southern California College, Chloe is happy for the assist. But before long, the college admission cheating scandal blows up and Chloe and her mom are at the forefront. Seemingly taken directly from the Lori Laughlin case, the story feels a bit derivative. As the story begins neither Chloe or her mother are very sympathetic characters, they are both supremely entitled, clueless and a bit unlikeable. Though white privilege, wealth and educational inequality, drug addiction and undocumented immigrants are all mentioned, the novel seems to gloss over them lightly with the peripheral characters serving as a way to highlight those issues. Chloe and her family do eventually experience the consequences of their actions which allows them to make significant adjustments to their thinking and behavior as the story unfolds.

THOUGHTS: Admission is a quick and easy read that seems more suited for a summer beach read than a hard look at some of the substantive issues that are presented. But I do believe that this will be a popular title with high school students on their own path to college admissions. I will certainly be adding this title to my school’s collection.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

Daughter of a beloved sitcom star, Chloe Wynn Berringer has lead a privileged life. At best an average student at prestigious private school Wood Valley, Chloe (and her parents) has her heart set on attending a selective southern California college. Her counselor advises Chloe to consider other options that aren’t such a reach, but to keep up appearances Chloe’s mom hires a private admissions counselor that guarantees his work. Chloe isn’t totally sure she needs that much help, but she’s nervous, so she gladly obliges with his sometimes seemingly outlandish requests. Told in reverse Chloe’s story begins with a knock on her door. The FBI is there to arrest her mother for her involvement in a college admissions scandal, and Chloe may face charges too. Shocked, Chloe thinks back to the beginning (these days she has plenty of time to think), filling readers in on how she got to this point. The public outrage and her best friend’s reaction leave Chloe feeling completely alone. Her little sister, who is not the same average student, gives Chloe some advice which helps her accept all that has happened and her life for what it now is.

THOUGHTS: This quick read will have appeal to many high school students who may be on their own college admissions paths. Though tied to the admissions scandal, the isolation that Chloe experiences mirrors the way many teens may feel after suffering consequences of poor decision making. It is difficult to ignore the parallels to the 2019 national college admissions scandal, but high school readers, especially fans of Buxbaum will enjoy this newest novel. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – 96 Miles

Esplin, J.L. 96 Miles. Starscape, 2020. 978-1-250-19230-1. 266 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

96 Miles by J. L. Esplin has the look and feel of an apocalyptic novel. Twelve-year-old John and eleven-year-old Stewart Lockwood are the offspring of single-parent and survivalist, Jim Lockwood. Their father is away on a business trip when a massive power outage strikes their area of the Nevada desert. The boys are unfazed because they have six months’ worth of water and supplies, plus a generator. What they don’t anticipate is the ruthlessness of people as materials grow scarce and the situation drags on. Forced at gunpoint to abandon their property, the narrator John immediately assumes the role of protector, a position his younger brother sometimes resents. He sets out to walk to Brighton Ranch, the home of a close family friend, 96 miles down the highway, in three days. Before long, the brothers are accompanied by two other children, Cleverly Iverson and her little brother, Will. John reluctantly accepts them on their journey at Stew’s urging, and he soon realizes the benefit of their presence, especially Cleverly, a selfless, intelligent girl who is mature beyond her twelve years. Newcomer J. L. Esplin unpacks the plot gradually, feeding the reader a bit of information to put together the puzzle. She transcends the expected blisters, sunburn, and dehydration to make 96 Miles a page-turner full of surprise and suspense that made this reader gasp aloud at least twice. Though the narrative is dire, the author provides the deftly drawn characters with senses of humor and sufficient depth to deem them worthy of their self-named tag, Battle Born. This moniker takes on a significant meaning when it becomes apparent that “survival of the fittest” is an innate impulse even in these likeable characters.

THOUGHTS: This book gives lots of survivalist tips that teachers may be able to incorporate into science lessons. Critical thinking skills are also relevant because John is challenged to make important decisions that effect his life and the lives of his companions. Different times in the story “survival of the fittest” is put to the test causing discomfort or generating discussion. Is there evidence at the end that the Battle Born are willing to let bygones be bygones? Stew and the family friend have diabetes, a factor that lends to the urgency of the quartet’s travels. Reminiscent of Susan Beth Pfieffer’s Last Survivor series and Mike Mullin’s Ashfall.

Action/Adventure          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

YA – Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard

Brown, Echo. Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-30985-3. $17.99. 291 p. Grades 9 and up.

The reader meets the main character of Echo Brown’s Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard at age six in a dangerous situation and follows her until she embarks to college. On the way, Echo is becoming a wizard –not the Hermione Granger kind–but the kind made from determination and desire. Each chapter in this memoir-like novel includes a quality Echo, the Black girl of the title, assumes to realize her true self. Bad things happen as Echo treads that path to her goal: household rife with alcoholism and addiction; molestation; rape; incarceration of her brother; injury to her best friend. But author Brown realizes Echo’s existence is complex. Her mother craves the “white rocks;” but she, too, is a wizard with nurturing powers. Her brothers hang on the corner and drink too much; but they also have dreams and are their sister’s strongest champions. Echo has good friends, mostly Black, but also Jin, a Korean-American gay classmate, and Elena, an Iranian-American gay friend. (Their sexual orientation is irrelevant to the plot.) Her Cleveland neighborhood is supportive and proud of her accomplishments. She has an encouraging teacher, Mrs. Delaney, who takes Echo under her wing to help her attain her college goals. The first time she goes to Mrs. Delaney’s large, suburban home, Echo is shocked to discover her white teacher’s husband is Black. Seventeen and insecure, she senses his restrained and even dismissive opinion of her. The author has an ineffable talent for infusing these important themes of racism, white supremacy, implicit and explicit biases, micro-aggressions, Black versus Black aggression, self image among Black women, and misogyny among Black men seamlessly because she tells them as part of Echo’s story. At times, the author takes a non-linear approach to deliver Echo’s tale, especially when the lessons of wizardry are at work. This technique fits with the book. It is a study in opposites: real but fantastic; lovely but harsh; despairing but hopeful. It is a story of inequity and the innate ability to fight that inequity and succeed, hence the power of wizardry. In truth, the wizards are strong women, overcoming flaws and shortcomings. All of them show Echo how capable and resilient she is.

THOUGHTS: Echo Brown’s writing style is moving. Ms. Brown also differentiates between the main character’s standard English narrative and Ebonics of her family and Cleveland, Ohio, neighbors. Because of some language (the n word), sexual scenes, and the sophistication of the writing, this book may be better suited to older teens and young adults. An outstanding book.

Magic Realism          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

MG – Be Prepared, Breakout, Hurricane Child

Brosgol, Vera. Be Prepared. First Second, 2018. 978-1-626-72444-0. 244 p. $22.99. Grades 5-8.

Vera, whose family moved from Russia to the United States when she was five, has never quite fit in with her American friends. When she learns of a Russian summer camp in Connecticut, she begs her single mom to let her and her younger brother attend. But camp isn’t quite what Vera expects: the older girls are really mean, there’s no running water but plenty of bugs, and worst of all she has “to poop in a hole!” Despite her pleas to return home, two weeks turn into four after Vera’s mother lands a promising job interview overseas. Will Vera find her place at summer camp — and maybe even make a friend — or will the misery continue? Vera Brosgol, author of the well-received Anya’s Ghost (2011), writes in her Author’s Note that she consolidated her two summers at camp into one more eventful story. Her artwork is marvelously expressive, with illustrations in white, black, and olive green that perfectly match the natural surroundings. Behind her oversized round glasses, Vera’s eyes are a window into her roiling preteen emotions.

THOUGHTS: This graphic mostly-memoir is a great read for anyone who has had (or covets) the true summer camp experience: often uncomfortable, sometimes transformative, always memorable.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Readers who have grown to love the heart found in graphic novels from Holm and Tegelmeir are sure to adore Brosgol’s true experiences from summer camp. At home she yearns to fit in, but none of the students relate to her Russian culture. She wishes that she could have opulent parties like students from school. When she learns about the camp at church, she begs her mom to let her attend. The artwork is accented by a green ink color.

THOUGHTS: Be Prepared to have plenty of students borrow this book. Readers can compare experiences in from their summer to the memories shared by the author for a great extension project.

Graphic Novel          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD

Growing up in a somewhat strict Russian family, Vera has always felt like an outsider. Her classmates are sent to the nicest summer camps, but it’s not something her single mother can afford. Then Vera discovers a Russian summer camp and is determined to go. But camping is not the perfect experience Vera imagined. She has to deal with catty bunkmates, terrifying outhouses, and nonstop Russian history lessons. Brosgol’s artwork jumps off the page and will have middle grade readers giggling through Vera’s camping misadventure.

THOUGHTS: Graphic novels rule in my library, and Anya’s Ghost is one of the most popular. Be Prepared is proving the same. Students seem to gravitate to Brosgol’s words and artwork and are excited for the next tale which is teased at the end of this book.

Graphic Novel          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Messner, Kate. Breakout.  Bloomsbury, 2018.  978-1-681-19536-0.  420 p.  $16.99  Gr. 5-8.

Messner’s ripped-from-the-headlines story of a sleepy New York town that suddenly becomes the epicenter of a manhunt when two felons escape from prison is told entirely through documents.  Letters, photographs, poems, text messages, comics, news stories, and even recipes, are all collected and assembled by Nora, a local middle schooler, for the town’s time capsule. Nora, who is White, has always considered her town friendly and welcoming, but when she meets Elidee, a Black girl who has recently moved to the area, she begins to see things from a different perspective. Moreover, for the first time, Nora, whose own father works at the prison, starts to wonder why most of the prison inmates are Black, while nearly all of the prison workers and town residents are White. Elidee, whose brother is one of the inmates, writes poetry to help make sense and meaning of her world, using well-known poets of color as her models and inspiration. Meanwhile, the entire town is constantly under a cloud of fear and worry.  There are police blockades everywhere, the news media has descended on the town like a wolf pack, and alarms–sometimes false, sometimes real–are constantly being sounded.

THOUGHTS: Breakout is part mystery/adventure story, and part social justice discourse. Kids will be drawn in by the unusual format and the exciting plot, but will come away with much more. A must-buy for middle schools.

Realistic Fiction, Mystery Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Summer vacation plans for best friends Lizzie and Nora get derailed when two inmates break out from the local prison, a source of employment for many in the town. The town initially assumes the inmates, one white, one African American, will be caught quickly, but when days go by with no success, the mood of the largely white town subtly (and not no subtly) changes. Lizzie and Nora become more attuned to the racial overtones to the prison break when they attempt to befriend Elidee Jones, an African American classmate who recently moved to town with her mother to be closer to her brother, incarcerated in the prison. The story is told through the alternating voices of the three girls as they write letters to be included in a time capsule. Elidee’s letters, often to her brother, provide a counterpoint to Lizzie’s and Nora’s experiences. Prickly and defensive, Elidee refuses to go along with the culture of the town. As the three girls develop an alliance, working towards a friendship, Lizzie and Nora begin to see their casually racist town through Elidee’s eyes and experiences. In turn, Elidee lets down her defenses a bit to enjoy the friendship Lizzie and Nora offer. The voices of the three girls are clear and true as they chronicle the tense two week period through letters, news articles, texts and recorded conversations. Elidee in particular makes the book shine, as she begins to  experiment with poetry (while reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming) and even throws in some Hamilton inspired raps.

THOUGHTS: A must-purchase. Inspired by real events, this story is a masterpiece at gently pointing out how even well-intentioned people can be casually and thoughtlessly racist,  and how fear can bring out the worst in everyone.

Mystery/Realistic          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Callender, Kheryn. Hurricane Child.  Scholastic, 2018.  978-1-338-12930-4.  214 p.  $17.99  Gr. 4-7.

12-year-old Caroline, who lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands, has every reason to believe that being born during a hurricane is, in fact, unlucky.  Everyone at her school hates her, and her beloved mother left without saying goodbye . . . or why. Prone to fits of anger, and gifted–or cursed–with visions, Caroline is not interested in making friends anyway (or so she tells herself). But when she meets Kalinda, everything changes. Everyone loves Kalinda, and Caroline doesn’t think she has a chance with her, but somehow, they become best friends.  As their friendship deepens, Caroline desperately wants to tell Kalinda how much she loves her, but she is afraid she will destroy their friendship if she does. Additionally, Caroline is determined to find her mother, even if it means abandoning her father . . . and Kalinda.

THOUGHTS:  This beautifully written, moving story of a child unintentionally hurt by a mother with mental illness is realistic fiction with a hint of magical realism woven in.  Would be highly recommended in any case, but the age-appropriate LGBTQ content moves this into the must-buy category.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Elementary NF – Ready, Set…Baby!; Sea Otter Heroes; Beacon to Freedom; Bicycles

Rusch, Elizabeth. Ready, Set…Baby! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 978-0-544-47272-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. PreK-K.

Big siblings Anna and Oliver have a new baby at home, so they’re prepared to offer advice to any kid whose family has a new baby on the way. “Lots of people are probably telling you what to expect, but kids in the know can give you the real deal.” Author Elizabeth Rusch gives practical advice and information for new big siblings as Anna and Oliver tell the story of their sister’s arrival, along with a lot of advice on the days and months that followed. Sections detail “The Big Wait,” “Meet the Conehead”, “The Real Scoop on Baby Poop,” and more. Information is basic yet helpful. “At first, our baby got to stay up later than we did!” (“It’s all that napping…” says Oliver sullenly in a speech bubble, common throughout the story).  Colorful, cartoonish illustrations complement the information, and kids will love the family’s curious brown dog. Extra resources include “More Stuff About Life with a New Baby,” a list of helpful websites and books, and “Tips for Parents on Life with Big Kids and New Babies.” THOUGHTS: A funny and helpful book for new big brothers and sisters who are old enough to appreciate the humor and understand the information.

306.87; Family Structure      Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District

 

Newman, Patricia. Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem. Millbrook Press, 2017.  978-1512426311  $25.95  56 pp. Grades 3-8.                        

“What does a playful sea otter have to do with flowering seagrass that grows underwater?”  In this book, Patricia Newman follows marine biologist Brent Hughes as he works in the intertidal area of Elkhorn Slough in Northern California.  Hughes observed that although the Slough is the recipient of heavy pollution from fertilizer and should be heavily polluted with dead or dying seagrass, the seagrass in the Elkhorn Slough is “healthy and lush and green” (7).  Hughes set out to discover what made this happen.  Newman tracks Hughes’ work and his thinking as Hughes eventually discovered it was: the sea otters.  The sea otters an apex predator reduce the number of sea crabs, which in turn leads to an increase in the sea crabs’ food of choice: the sea hares.  It is the sea hares which rid the seagrass of the algae which would otherwise smother and kill it.  Thus the presence of sea otter influenced the health of the entire Slough.  This book presents the scientific method and the work of marine biologist Hughes in an interesting ‘solve-the-mystery’ light.  The page spreads are colorful and accompanied by full-color photographs and sidebars illustrating important concepts.  Newman also spends a chapter focusing on the full range of Hughes’ education and work, and ends with a doable experiment and ways to positively impact the environment.  Source notes, glossary, bibliography, further reading, and index.  A positive read for middle and high schoolers interested in marine biology and science careers.  Teaching Guide available through Titlewave.  Readers may also be interested in Newman’s post Newman, Patricia. “Giving Readers a Front Row Seat.” Nerdy Book Club Blog.  15 May 2017.  nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/giving-readers-a-front-row-seat-by-patricia-newman/.   THOUGHTS: Newman’s book is an accessible, realistic look at the work of current scientists, and is a fantastic addition to science, career, and STEM collections for middle and high school.         

599.769; Sea Otter    Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

Glatzer, Jenna. Beacon to Freedom: The Story of a Conductor on the Underground Railroad. Capstone, 2017. 978-15157-34963 $21.49  40 pp.   Gr. 3-6.

A short but impactful biography of John Rankin, a reverend and abolitionist who saved over 2,000 lives before the end of the American Civil War.  Raised by religious, abolitionist parents, John believed strongly that no human being should own another.  He set out to talk his Kentucky neighbors into setting their slaves free, but none wanted to let go of their free labor, and so Rankin, his family, and his unsettling talk were compelled to move.  When they settled in a house in Ohio (a free state) along the Ohio River, John placed a lamp in the window each night.  The lamp served as a beacon to tell slaves, “make it to this house—across the river into Ohio—and you will have help”.  Many did.  Many slave-holders suspected the Rankin family’s work, but raids and harsh treatment did not uncover anything nor frighten John and his family.  The digital illustrations show frantic, desperate slaves and often-angry slave owners.  Several stories of escaping slaves make their plight more personal.  The content is suitable for upper elementary.  Afterword, glossary, source notes, index.    THOUGHTS:  An inspiring biography of a man who stood up for others’ rights.

326 Abolitionists; Picture Book Biography     Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

Lakin, Patricia. Bicycles (Made by Hand series). Aladdin, 2017. 978-1-4814-7896-0. $17.99. 32 pp. Gr. 2-5.

With a voice that is conversational and relatable, Patricia Larkin grabs readers and takes them for a ride! Readers soon see not just the joy and history of bikes, but also the dreams of one maker who wanted to build his passion into a business. Along the way, we meet Aaron Dykstra, who has always loved bicycles and decided to start making them for a living. The bulk of the book shows the effort and process that he uses to create the frame of a new bike, including many close up photographs designed as a step-by-step scrapbook of sorts. The challenge at the end to explore STEM concepts and make your own inspirations, as well as the detailed timeline and resource list, should be enough to draw in scientists, makers, and bikers alike. Get ready to ride! THOUGHTS: This narrative nonfiction style is very approachable, and the photos help readers to connect to the text easily. This is part of a new series (Made by Hand) which also includes Skateboards and Steel Drums. I think this would be great for tinkerers and hands on readers to explore and get inspired.

629, Transportation    Dustin Brackbil, State College Area