MG – The Daredevils

Buyea, Rob. The Daredevils. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-37614-0 231 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Author of the popular series, Because of Mr. Terupt, has written a tale of one summer for twins- Waylon and Loretta. The two are strongly bonded, and Loretta is her brother’s keeper. Waylon was born smaller and has had his fair share of bullies. This is the summer before they enter middle school, and their parents are determined to send them on separate paths in order to prepare them for the coming year. Waylon is sent to robotics day camp while Loretta attends a sports day camp. However, the two are determined to spend their nights together after they discover an old cigar box with a quest inside. Along the way, they meet up with a mysterious boy named Louie, and the three of them will embark on a summer to remember. 

THOUGHTS: Rob Buyea has a way to tell a beautiful and poignant story through the eyes of the rocky middle school years. This is another perfect example.

Realistic Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD
Novel in Verse

YA – The Ivory Key

Raman, Akshaya. The Ivory Key. Clarion Books, 2022. 978-0-358-46833-2. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 7-12.

Magic in Ashoka is running out. Vira, the young maharani, is desperate to keep this secret from the rest of the country. Her only hope is to find the Ivory Key and live up to her mother’s legacy. Legend says the key will lead to a new source of magic. However, Vira cannot find the key on her own, and she isn’t the only one who is after it. Vira’s siblings, Ronak, Kaleb, and Riya, embark on this adventure with her, but the siblings have their own plans for the key. For Kalab, his knowledge of the key freed him from his prison cell, and his involvement isn’t so much as a choice as it is a path to freedom. For Ronak, he sees it as his escape from his royal duties and knows others who would pay handsomely for it, and although Riya has returned to her siblings, she believes that all of the people of Ashoka deserve this magic and longs to return to her new family of thieves fighting against the royal family. Four siblings, and one key. If they find it, will this new magic be enough to save both their country and their family?

THOUGHTS: In this Indian inspired fantasy, readers will enjoy the adventure that the four conflicting siblings embark on together as well as the mystery, traps, and puzzles surrounding the ivory key. The surprise ending should leave readers impatiently waiting for the final book in this duology. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – My Brother Is Away

Greenwood, Sara. My Brother Is Away. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-0-593-12716-2. Unpaged. Grades K-3. $18.99.

Drawing from her own family background, Greenwood has penned a story which will resonate with children experiencing feelings of loss and abandonment due to the incarceration of a family member. The unnamed narrator is a young girl who is sad that her brother no longer lives with her and her parents. She misses his storytelling and remembers when they would fly kites or when he carried her on his shoulders as they gazed at the stars. Her classmates and the neighborhood children ask where he is, but the only answer she gives is that he is busy, even though she would like to say that he is at a job or with friends. One day a student reveals to everyone on the school playground that the “brother did something bad,” and the young girl goes through the emotions of embarrassment and then anger directed at her brother. Her parents comfort her and explain that they will visit her brother soon. After a long trip, the family arrives at a “building ringed with silver fences,”-a prison. The siblings reunite, and the girl understands that even though he is not at home he still loves her. As she sees the other family visitors, she realizes she is not alone in this situation. In the author’s note, Greenwood reveals that her own brother was incarcerated for eight years when she was a child. Just like the narrator in this story, the author felt alone and was comforted by seeing other visitors at the prison. Uribe’s illustrations are done in Photoshop. The colors are soft and muted, which help create a melancholy, but reassuring, tone.

THOUGHTS: This picture book handles a sensitive topic in a way that is accessible to young children and will be appreciated by families and guidance counselors. A touching story that is a must-have for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, PSLA Member, Retired

Elem. – The Year We Learned to Fly

Woodson, Jacqueline. The Year We Learned to Fly. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022. 978-0-399-54553-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Stuck inside on a rainy day, an African American brother and sister follow their grandmother’s advice to let their imaginations take them away to another place. Soon, they are able to use their minds to fly away from all of the challenges life throws at them. When they’re mad, they fly away from the anger. When they move away and their new neighbors look at them funny, they fly away from the judgment and skepticism. Their grandmother tells them this ability to free their beautiful, brilliant minds and rise above adversity comes from their ancestors who, many years ago, overcame the challenges of slavery in a similar manner. 

THOUGHTS: This is a remarkable story about strength, resiliency, and the power of one’s imagination. An author’s note honors the ancestors who suffered through the horrors of enslavement and acknowledges the influence of Virginia Hamilton in this story (and other stories). This would make an excellent introduction to a unit on slavery, or it could be paired with Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985). It can also be given to children who lack confidence to encourage them to believe in the power of their dreams. An uplifting and inspiring story, this book belongs in every elementary library.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Swim, Jim!

Windness, Kaz. Swim, Jim! Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-534-48343-9. $18.99. Grades K-3

Jim is a crocodile who cannot swim! Well, as he states, it is that he is scared… not scared of swimming, but scared of sinking. After his sisters make fun of him, Jim decides to leave to find a small swamp, one that isn’t too dark and deep like his own, to learn how to swim. Jim leaves and is able to find the perfect little swamp full of floaties to help him learn how to swim!

THOUGHTS: An adorable book about overcoming fear to learn something important… swimming! This book is full of encouragement that young readers will enjoy as Jim learns to swim.

Picture Book                    Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – My Life Begins!

MacLachlan, Patricia. My Life Begins! Katherine Tegen Books, 2022. 978-0-063-11601-6. $16.99. 119 p. Grades 3-6.

Jacob is 9 years old. His greatest wish is to have a puppy, perhaps even a whole litter of puppies. Puppies are not in Jacob’s immediate future, however. Jacob’s mother is having triplets. Jacob refers to his newborn siblings as The Trips. The Trips don’t do much at first. The family must dress them each in different colors to keep track of which is which. Jacob watches his exhausted parents as they feed, dress, and rock the triplets to sleep. When a school research project is assigned, Jacob decides to study the changes in the lives of the newborns as they grow and mature. He titles the project “A Litter of Trips – from Birth On” and begins to keep notes on their development. The early journal entries claim The Trips do nothing and are all the same. Then, one night Jacob is awakened by a crying baby. Knowing his parents could use a rest, Jacob realizes he can change and feed her himself. As he comforts Lizzie, he is rewarded with her first smile. Suddenly Jacob realizes that his newborn sisters each have a distinct personality. The Trips all have favorite ways to get attention. Char, the quiet one, will wave her hands excitedly when Jacob passes, Kath, the bold one, will make vocal noises, and Lizzie will smile and take Jacob’s hand. As The Trips grow, so too does Jacob. He begins to realize he no longer thinks of the triplets as The Trips, but he is not sure exactly what to call them. When Mom returns to work, the family hires Mimi, an experienced mother of five, to help out. Mimi, who is adored by the entire family, sees Jacob’s kind, caring nature. Mimi helps Jacob to understand “the girls” and himself. Jacob finishes his school report with an in class visit by the triplets, who he now refers to as his “sisters.” Jacob comes to realize that as we mature our lives begin again and again with new experiences, new people, new skills and interests. Told partly in journal entries, and partly through narrative, this is a delightful look at the first year of life through the eyes of an older brother. Illustrated with great care by Daniel Miyares. 

THOUGHTS: An utterly delightful read that will resonate with children and adults alike. 

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

MG – Smaller Sister

Willis, Maggie Edkins. Smaller Sister. Roaring Brook Press, 2022. 978-1-250-76741-7. 312 p. $22.99. Grades 4-7.

Lucy and her older sister, Olivia, are just twenty months apart. While close as can be in their youngest years, the sisters grow apart when Olivia becomes more concerned with her looks and her weight than spending time with Lucy. Things keep changing when Olivia is diagnosed with an eating disorder, followed by a family move from Indiana to Massachusetts. As Lucy moves into middle school and deals with some (really) mean girls, she too becomes excessively focused on her appearance. She needs her sister’s guidance more than ever, but Olivia – and their parents – remain focused on her fragile recovery. Will Olivia be able to reprise her role as supportive big sister when Lucy needs her most? Author/illustrator Maggie Edkins Willis portrays this story of a serious topic with plenty of humor and heart. Her digital artwork and gentle color palette wonderfully depict how the sisters grow and mature over the course of several indelible years. The book’s back matter includes a note on how Willis’s own preteen years inspired this story and resources for readers who struggle with disordered eating.

THOUGHTS: Smaller Sister is an excellent choice for fans of middle grade graphic novels, sibling stories, and the fabulous works of Lucy Knisley!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Twin Cities

Pimienta, Jose. Twin Cities. RH Graphic, 2022. 978-0-593-18062-4. 248 p. $12.99. Grades 4-7.

Sibling dynamics are at the heart of Jose Pimienta’s cleverly titled middle grade graphic novel, Twin Cities. Fraternal “Lu-Lu” twins Louisa Teresa and Luis Fernando Sosa opt to attend different middle schools, on different sides of the U.S. / Mexico border that divides Mexicali and Calexico. Teresa, who is very focused on her education and future opportunities, gets up extra early and spends long hours on homework in order to succeed at her Catholic school in Calexico, California. Fernando prefers the familiarity of his local school in Mexicali. The siblings grow apart as Teresa establishes her own identity with a new set of school friends. Fernando, meanwhile, is befriended by another boy who may lead him down a dangerous path of dealing illegal drugs. Bickering between siblings gets serious when Teresa discovers her brother’s secret, and he accuses her of being a “pocha” (abandoning her culture to assimilate on the U.S. side). Author/illustrator Pimienta employs side-by-side page spreads to portray the daily experiences of each twin. It’s also a great tool for depicting the varying characteristics of a city divided by an international border. Pimienta’s “Notes on a Particular Word” provide background on their decision to use the pejorative term “pocha” in the book.

THOUGHTS: Twin Cities is full of vibrant colors, authentic details, and relatable sibling tension. It’s one of many recent, outstanding graphic novels for middle grade readers that is not to be missed!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Dead Girls Can’t Tell Secrets

Ichaso, Chelsea. Dead Girls Can’t Tell Secrets. Sourcebooks, 2022. 978-1-728-25597-2. 328 p. $10.99. Grades 7-12.

Savannah has been consumed by guilt ever since her younger sister, Piper, fell – or jumped – off a popular scenic overlook on a nearby mountain. Savannah believes a fight the girls had is responsible for the accident that left her sister in a coma. Until she borrows a sweater from her sister’s school locker and finds a note from the Survival Club, luring Piper up to the mountain the day of her fall. Savannah never did understand why her brilliant, non-athletic sister signed up for the hard-core hiking club in high school, but now she has a place to begin unraveling what happened to her sister. Joining the club herself, Savannah heads up the mountain with the group for a weekend camping trip, determined to unearth who was out to get Piper, and why. But it won’t be easy, when everyone, from the club’s faculty advisor, to each member, including Savannah’s boyfriend, has secrets to hide, and framing each other for Piper’s fall becomes the weekend activity. As Savannah probes each of the club members, the backstory of the sisters’ last days also unfolds, revealing deep sibling rivalry as well as Savannah’s frustrating relationship with her parents. Suspense is high until the last pages, proving a satisfying conclusion to the book. Many of the characters, including Piper and Savannah, are white, while Grant, Savannah’s boyfriend, has brown skin, and another character presents Latina.

THOUGHTS: This is a solid, highly entertaining middle school and up mystery in the vein of Karen M. McManus. The mystery, along with the high school drama, should make this a popular book. 

Mystery          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Love Radio

LaDelle, Ebony. Love Radio. Simon & Schuster, 2022. 978-1-665-90815-3. $19.99. 310 p. Grades 9-12.

Danielle Ford’s romantic mother has a big wish for her only child, to experience a great love story. That wish struggles to come true in Ebony LaDelle’s, Love Radio, a debut novel that is as much a homage to the great city of Detroit as it is to first love. High-achieving senior, Dani has been shut off from her friends and dating after a traumatizing sexual encounter with a college boy the previous summer. Keeping this secret from her besties and devoted parents, she buries herself in writing the perfect college essay to get into her dream school, New York University (NYU). When she has an awkward meeting in the library with classmate, Prince Jones, a popular teen disc jockey and local radio personality (DJLove Jones) who mixes love advice with music, she makes an assumption she regrets and wants to rectify. Told in alternating voices, the romance between Prince and Dani is enchanting. Prince shows a maturity beyond his years, perhaps because he has accepted much of the responsibility of taking care of his seven-year-old brother Mookie and household duties since his single mother received her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Prince has fallen hard for the guarded Dani and is determined to make her fall in love with him in five dates. After inviting himself over to her comfortable home to take out her braids, he plans two movie-worthy dates to a roller rink and bookstore. Dani starts to open up, reconnect with her friends, and dissolve her writer’s block. When she reciprocates with one equally perfect date to the Motown Museum, though, their intimacy triggers bad memories and she breaks it off with Prince. As Dani faces her trauma, she has the support of loving parents and patient friends as well as the therapy of writing unsent letters to her literary idols, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Prince, too, acknowledges his need to suppress his dreams because of his home obligations and, with help, makes a plan for his future. Both characters come to realize that they are surrounded by a network of loving people who will support and help them achieve their goals. Characters are African-American.

THOUGHTS: Students in the mood for a dreamy romance will eat up this book. The author has an ear for teen dialogue and is from Michigan. Any readers familiar with Detroit will recognize the branding of different places (if I am ever in Detroit, I’m heading for that Dutch Girl Donuts) and the description of the neighborhoods. Dani and Prince are so wise; the thoughtful dates are out of this world; the child to parent relationships are so close. Though the romance doesn’t play out physically much, Dani’s traumatic encounter occurs when she a friend takes her to a frat house where she barely escapes date rape. After several dates, Dani leads Prince to her bedroom and encourages a sexual encounter, but Prince is reluctant to proceed. The portrayal of family is warm and loving, especially the way Prince helps out his sick mother. Though the letters to literary idols seem to be a critical link to Dani’s recovery from trauma, the book names Dani’s idols as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Roxane Gay, Jesmyn Ward in the beginning chapter, but she only focuses on Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. One of Dani’s friends is sick of appropriation and plans a hair fashion show. Lots of references to music. Some bad language. For those who are sticklers, the timeline is a little wonky: would college kids be on campus in the summer? (maybe).

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia