Elem. – Colors; Snowmen Live Forever; Flubby Is Not A Good Pet; Flubby Will Not Play with That; Small in the City; The Crayon Man; The Dark Lord Clementine; Count Me In

Rotner, Shelley, and Anne Woodhull. Colors. Holiday House. 2019. 978-0-823-44063-4. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Colors, colors, all around! This informational book introduces colors with vibrant pictures and text. Focusing on your main colors, this book provides a color with a verb. Following the first page are insanely bright and beautiful photographs of items that you may find within this color. While some images are well known to all, there may be some new items for young students to learn about and discuss!

THOUGHTS: A beautifully book with stunning photographs, this simple text informs readers of the items and provides an openness to discussion.

535.6 Colors           Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

 


Dedieu, Thierry. Snowmen Live Forever. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 2019. 978-0-802-85526-8. $17.99. Grades K-3

Squirrel, Hedgehog, Rabbit, and Owl love visiting Snowman. Snowman always has the best stories, games, and adventures to share and perform with his friends, and his friends love hearing about the amazing places and adventures Snowman has been on. But alas! Squirrel discovers one more that Spring is soon on the way. Day by day, Snowman grows weaker until he is gone. The four animal friends learn about where water goes, and begin their own adventure to find Snowman. It isn’t until the end that they realize everything will be OK and that Snowman will return with more adventures to share.

THOUGHTS: With a bit of education thrown in, this 2019 English Translation shares a fun story of friendship and snow. A unique tale of adventure and true friendship.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

 


Morris, J. E. Flubby: Flubby Is Not A Good Pet! Penguin Workshop. 2019. 978-1-524-78776-9. $9.99. Grades PreK-1.

Flubby is Kami’s cat. Flubby is different than all of her friends’ cats, for Flubby does…nothing? Flubby does not sing. He does not catch. He does not jump. So Flubby isn’t really a good pet after all! However, what Flubby can do, is perfect enough. Flubby needs Kami…and Kami needs Flubby.

THOUGHTS: A great addition for early readers about a girl and her cat. This is a story that will make young readers giggle with delight at the silliness of Flubby.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

 

 


Morris, J. E. Flubby: Flubby Will Not Play With That! Penguin Workshop. 2019. 978-1-524-78778-3. $9.99. Grades PreK-1.

Another silly Flubby adventure. This time, Flubby has some new toys that Kami bought him! One rolls, one runs, and one is the most magnificent toy ever! However, Flubby is not interested in any of the toys that Kami brings him. Despite all of this, Flubby finds the best toy around, one that Kami has brought.

THOUGHTS: The ending of this story is sure to bring delight to young readers as they discover what toy Flubby likes best. Another cute Flubby adventure!

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

 

 


Smith, Sydney. Small in the City. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44261-4.  Unpaged. Grades K-3. $18.99.

This is the touching story of a boy in a big city who appears to be in search of someone. The book begins with four pages of wordless illustrations in frames, which show someone riding on a bus during the winter. As the frames develop, it becomes clear that it is a young boy, who is requesting a stop. He gets off the bus and now the words of the story begin, told in first person. The boy has someone in mind as he relates how it feels to be “small in the city,” hearing all the loud noises and being surrounded by so many people. The little boy then goes on to advise which alleys to avoid and which areas to seek out, like a tree to climb on, a vent to nap under, and a fishmonger’s shop to get some food. As the boy continues to travel on foot, more clues about whom he is looking for are revealed, until we see him eventually hang a lost cat poster. As he arrives home, we feel his anguish when he finds out that cat has not returned and says, “You will be all right.” The last illustration leaves the reader with hope. Smith’s illustrations are done in an impressionistic style and he uses ink, watercolor, and gouache to create a wintry atmosphere in the drawings. 

THOUGHTS: This text can be used to demonstrate inference, as readers use the clues to come to the conclusion that a cat had gone missing. Young children will enjoy seeing all the different modes of transportation, and teachers could use this text in social studies units to explain the features of a city habitat. This gem of a book is a must-have for all elementary libraries.

Easy          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD

A small child navigates the city, describing its sights and sounds and offering advice to a nameless character. As the story progresses, readers discover that this nameless character is actually the child’s missing cat. The beautiful juxtaposition of artwork and text leads readers through an intimidating, bustling city all the way back to the comforting warmth of a loving home. Despite all of the scariness of the big city, the final page will leave readers hopeful that the child’s cat will return to its cozy home.

THOUGHTS: The first time I read this book, I thought it was okay. Once I figured out who the narrator was talking to, however, I read through it again. This time, it was outstanding! There are so many clues as to what’s going on that I missed the first time around. The child is hanging up pink signs everywhere. Comments such as “you could curl up below it and have a nap” and “you could perch on the window ledge” are made as the narrator describes familiar places. It would be neat to see if young students, with guidance, could piece together what’s happening. Besides encouraging such critical thinking, teachers in rural and suburban areas could use the book to introduce cities. Students could brainstorm ideas for finding a lost pet. Librarians might include it as part of a display on books about cats. No matter the use, I definitely recommend this title for purchase!

Picture Book           Julie Ritter, PSLA Member


Biebow, Natascha, and Steven Salerno. The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-1-328-86684-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Crayola Crayons are a part of most of our childhoods, but how many of us know about the man who invented them? The Crayon Man is a beautifully illustrated biography that is perfect for a read aloud to a class or for an introduction to an entrepreneur. The book tells the story of Edwin Binney in short paragraph passages with lots of color and large pictures on each page making it a wonderful read aloud. There are some small notes added to pages when students may need more information to help them understand the importance of certain events in the story. The book also includes articles a bibliography at the end to allow students to explore the topic more. 

THOUGHTS: This book would be a great start to a career unit or a biography unit. This could also be used as a part of a STEM unit to show an example of working through problems and recognizing how to use what you know to solve the problem. 

Picture Book          Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD


Horowitz, Sarah Jean. The Dark Lord Clementine. Algonquin: 2019. 978-1-616-20894-3. 329 p. $17.95. Grades 3-6.

Clementine is deeply worried. Her father, Dark Lord Elithor, has been cursed by the Whittling Witch and is slowly dying (or being whittled away), and Clementine must not only try to find a way to reverse the curse, but also maintain everything around the castle (the poisonous apples need picking!). When the Council of Evil Overlords sends Clementine a letter reminding her that her father is currently lacking in evil deeds, she sets off into the woods, accompanied by a talking black sheep, to search for spell ingredients. However, it isn’t long before the Whittling Witch turns the trees of the forest on Clementine. She is helped to safety by two unlikely individuals who soon become, maybe, friends? If a future Dark Lord had friends. As the situation at the castle becomes more dire, Clementine begins to wonder if she is truly is Dark Lord material. But if she isn’t, then who, exactly, is she? Horowitz has crafted a rollicking tale that never slows down. Readers will root for determined Clementine to forge her own path and discover her true talents. The cast of characters is delightful, from the talking sheep and a magical Gricken (chicken/grimoire); to Sebastien, a village youth determined to be Lady Clementine’s knight; and Darka, a huntress with secrets of her own. They too, along with Clementine, must learn to follow their hearts.

THOUGHTS: An extremely entertaining read sure to find fans.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Bajaj, Varsha. Count Me In. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019. 978-0-525-51724-5. 175 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Karina has never liked her neighbor, Chris, since he made fun of her in school for being Indian. But when her beloved grandfather, Papa, begins to tutor Chris in math, he and Karina have an opportunity to start over, and Karina discovers a new friend in Chris.  One day a bigot spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric attacks the three as they walk home from school, badly injuring Papa. Karina and Chris rely on each other as they try to heal and process what happened. Karina, a budding photographer, turns to social media as an outlet for her photos and her feelings. Soon, friends and neighbors are rallying around the family, (although there are still those who mutter “go home”). To Karina’s amazement, her pictures go viral, leaving the two friends bombarded by media. Do they maintain their privacy, or use the platform for advocacy?

THOUGHTS: A well crafted middle grade look at Muslim/immigrant fear. Readers are sure to root for Karina, Chris, and Papa, and the book will leave them thinking.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Bajaj, Varsha. Count Me In. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019. 978-0-525-51724-5. 175 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Count Me In starts as a simple story of two middle school students who are “like separate planets orbiting in the same galaxy.” But while Chris and Karina tell alternating chapters about what each really feels, the reader sees their gravitational pull to becoming friends. Karina’s grandfather, an Indian American who just moved in with the family and loves mathematics, proves to be the connecting force. Count Me In then becomes something much more when one day out of the blue a car pulls up to the three as they walk home, and an ignorant, racist man commits a hate crime which injures Mr. Chopra (the grandfather). How should the new friends react to the monstrous actions and try to move forward? For Karina, a talented photographer, her pictures and social media become an outlet for her emotions and resolve. Count Me In ends as a story of a movement and a discussion about what it means to be an American, a citizen, and a friend. By all means, #CountMeIn!

THOUGHTS: This is a story that takes some sensitive discussion to go with it. Families or classrooms should discuss hate crimes and how to handle them. A relevant discussion about the use of social media and viral posts versus personal privacy are also important. The generational perspectives and immigrant challenges posted here make great conversation starters as well. Wonderful family book club title!

Realistic Fiction        Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

YA – Color Outside the Lines; The Library of Lost Things; Patron Saints of Nothing; I’m Not Dying with You Tonight; Stamped; I Know You Remember; When You Ask Me Where I’m Going; Deadly Little Scandals; The Last to Die; Winterwood

Mandanna, Sangu, editor. Color Outside the Lines: Stories About Love. Soho Teen, 2019. 978-1-641-29046-3. 269 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Color Outside the Lines is an exploration of what it means to love while you’re young, especially when something gets in the way. For some that something is race, for others it’s prejudice, and yet for others it may be superpowers. The stories are wonderfully interspersed with meet-cutes and relationships both normal and fantastical, all exploring different cultures and experiences and the dynamics and challenges that come with them. Readers will encounter mythologies and realities, villages and cities, changing families and stable relationships within the 16 stories included.

THOUGHTS: Color Outside the Lines will strike a chord with many readers who have never before seen themselves in a book. I loved the way the stories were not all what I expected, not everything was about romantic love, and not everything was rooted in reality. It’s a must add to any middle or high school collection.

Mostly Realistic, Some Fantasy Elements        Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


Namey, Laura Taylor. The Library of Lost Things. Inkyard Press, 2019. 978-1-488-05135-7. 384 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

A teen literary prodigy, Darcy spends most of her spare time lost in a favorite book or working in the local independent bookstore. With best friend Marisol by her side, Darcy has found a careful balance in life, amidst her mother’s serious hoarding addiction. Darcy’s safe space has long been the one place her mother cannot set foot, Darcy’s bedroom where she is surrounded by myriad books. When a new property manager begins making cosmetic improvements around the apartment complex, Darcy worries how long she’ll be able to keep the secret of her mother’s “collections.” While her mother is able to work, she can’t control her compulsive shopping. Darcy is supplemented by her grandmother but also has learned to be self reliant. Falling for Asher Fleet isn’t part of Darcy’s plan, but something about him makes her want a real life fairy tale. Darcy is used to the comfort of her books, and real life isn’t so predictable or easy.

THOUGHTS: Avid readers will appreciate all of the literary references, and teens will enjoy the slow burning romance, friendship, and mother-daughter dynamics. Recommended for high school libraries where compelling romances are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Ribay, Randy. Patron Saints of Nothing. Kokila, 2019. 978-0-525-55491-2. 323 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Half Filipino high school senior Jay spends much of his spare time lost in a video game world, not fully aware of what’s going on around the world. Though he’s been accepted to the University of Michigan, he’s only going out of obligation to his family who worked hard, so he could life their American dream. Jay doesn’t really know what he wants, and he’s just going through the motions. When Jay learns more about his cousin Jun’s death (Jun was murdered as part of Philippines President Duterte’s war on drugs), he can’t shake his guild over losing touch with Jun. Jay wonders if he had returned Jun’s letters would have become lost – surely Jun really wasn’t into drugs. But Jay doesn’t really understand life in the Philippines, and he’s determined to learn more. Passing up the new laptop he’s wanted for college (really gaming), Jay convinces his parents to let him travel to the Philippines, promising not to bring up Jun’s death, especially around his Uncle ___. With Jun’s letters in his bag, Jay is determined to learn the truth about Jun’s death and honor his cousin in the way he deserves.

THOUGHTS: Ribay’s novel encourages teens to get out of their comfort zones and become more globally aware. With many issues from family dynamics and grief to international politics, readers will be taken on a journey of healing. Highly recommende3d for high school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Jones, Kimberly, and Gilly Segal. I’m Not Dying with You Tonight. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-67889-2. 249 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

From two very different worlds, Lena and Campbell are forced together inside a Friday night football game concession stand. On the outside Lena appears to be cool and confident, always wearing the “right” clothes and trying to impress her boyfriend Black. Like many girls, though, Lena isn’t as confident as she seems in herself or in her relationship. New to town after her mother takes a job abraod, Campbell is trying to find her place in school and at home with her father, who owns a local hardware store. One teen black, one teen white, Lena and Campbell must learn to work together when chaos erupts all around them. With their lives in danger, the girls must see past their differences in order to survive and get to safety.

THOUGHTS: Written by two authors, this dual narrative intertwines and comes to life. A Big Library Read selection in 2019, this title is sure to be popular with high school readers who have enjoyed other powerhouse YA titles like The Hate You Give, Long Way Down, All American Boys, Dear Martin, and more. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Reynolds, Jason, and Ibram X. Kendi. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-316-45369-1 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

Re-evaluate everything you learned or think you know about history in this text that is “NOT a history book.” Broken down by various time periods, Reynolds adapts Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning for a teen audience. Reynolds explains that everyone fits into a category – racist, antiracists, or assimilationist – often moving from one to another or being associated with one but really fitting into another. Various leaders throughout time are analyzed for their words and actions, causing readers to reconsider what they think they know about history.

THOUGHTS: Teen readers will appreciate Reynolds’ open and honest voice which asks them to question the educational system – what they have been taught, by whom, and why. Instead of accepting what they are told, readers will want to prove their history texts (and teachers) wrong. teachers should appreciate the opportunity to encourage students to rewrite history with a more open, honest, and true version. This is a must have nonfiction title for every secondary library.

305.80 Racial, ethnic, national groups          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Donaldson, Jennifer. I Know You Remember. Razorbill, 2019. 978-1-595-14854-4. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

Three years ago Ruthie and her mother left Anchorage, Alaska hoping for a fresh start away from Ruthie’s alcoholic father. Ruthie tried to keep in touch with her best friend Zahra, but time and distance (not to mention Zahra’s delayed or lack of responses) meant that wasn’t always easy. After a tragic hiking accident kills her mother, Ruthie finds herself on a plane back to Anchorage to live with her now clean father and his new wife and stepdaughter. Before boarding the plane, Ruthie texts Zahra, letting her know she’ll be home soon and hoping they can reconnect. Zahra never receives the message, and Ruthie is devastated to learn that Zahra has gone missing, following an argument at a party with her boyfriend Ben. Ruthie tries to help the search for clues while connecting with Zahra’s new friends. She hopes this will help her understand how Zahra has changed since they were friends. The Zahra that Ruthie knew isn’t the same girl that’s missing, but Ruthie is determined to find her and recover their lost friendship.

THOUGHTS: This twisty mystery is unpredictable, and things aren’t always as they seem. A must have for high school collections where fast-paced dramas are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Kaur, Jasmin. When You Ask Me Where I’m Going. HarperCollins, 2019. 978-0-062-91261-9. 256 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

This debut collection of poetry, prose, and illustrations will cause readers to think and feel deeply about a variety of tough topics such as sexual assault, mental health, and undocumented immigrants, just to name a few. With a strong voice, Kaur is sure to be appreciated by poetry fans.

THOUGHTS: This title will enhance and diversity existing high school poetry collections. Recommended for libraries looking to offer new voices and update poetry pieces.

Poetry          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

 


Barnes, Jennifer Lynn. Deadly Little Scandals. Freeform, 2019. 978-1-368-01517-2. 352 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Sawyer Taft is back with another southern high society debutante drama. This time she spends her time alternating between the family home and their summer lake house. Much more comfortable among her cousin Lily and their fellow debutante friends, Sawyer is still determined to solve the puzzle of her biological father. As she becomes closer with the girls, though, Sawyer must be careful not to upset the balance they have achieved. Drama seems to follow these girls wherever they go, and pledging to a long time debutante, elite, all female secret society may give Sawyer the answers she’s been seeking. Not everyone wants Sawyer to solve the mystery, though.

THOUGHTS: A new cast of characters with some old friends will ensure readers are on the edge of their seats. A must-have for libraries where Little White Lies and mysteries are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Sawyer, Lily, Campbell, and Sadie-Grace are spending the summer trying to relax, forget, and figure out the aftermath of the past year. Together at the lake, Sawyer is trying to figure out how to tell Lily who her father is; Campbell’s family is trying to survive the humiliation of her father’s arrest and save their company; Sadie-Grace is covering up Greer’s “pregnancy,” and Lily is figuring out who she is and what she wants. Of course, a relaxing summer isn’t quite in the picture for these debs, as they pledge the elite and mysterious White Gloves, and learn more about their pasts and present. When things spiral out of control, can the debs survive the scandal and the truth?

THOUGHTS: I love Jennifer Lynn Barnes. She is one of my favorite mystery/thriller authors. Although readers should read the Debutantes series in order because of references made to events from book one, Deadly Little Scandals is easy to follow. Barnes’s use of flashback for the majority of the novel keeps readers focused without confusion and constantly guessing what possibly could come next. Highly recommended for all high school collections.  

Mystery         Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Garrett, Kelly. The Last to Die. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-69844-9. 240 p. $10.99. Grades 9-12. 

Seventeen year old Harper seems to live an idyllic life. She’s a star soccer player at school and on her club team, she has a boyfriend who adores her, and she’s got a great group of friends. Home life, though is a bit more complicated. her older brother is in a second stint of rehab, her mom copes with glasses of wine, and her dad can’t deal or even be bothered to learn how to sign with Maggie, Harper’s little sister who is deaf. A regular visitor to the principal’s office for voicing her mind, Harper isn’t always a star student, but she has plans on getting a soccer scholarship. To entertain themselves friend couples Harper and Gin; Paisley and Benji; and Sara, a rival soccer teammate, and Alex make a game out of burglarizing each other’s houses, with some ground rules, of course. What seems like innocent, though sometimes embarrassing, fun turns deadly. With suspicions on one of their own, the game becomes a race of cat and mouse, and the stakes couldn’t be more serious.

THOUGHTS: Fans of mysteries will enjoy this somewhat predicable read, though the quick ending may be frustrating. Purchase for high school collections where character-driven mysteries are popular. Note: This title was first published by Poisoned Pen Press in 2017 and was republished by Sourcebooks Fire in 2019.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Ernshaw, Shea. Winterwood. Simon Pulse, 2019. 978-1-534-46279-3. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

The Walkers, as legend says, are older than the woods themselves. The Wicker Woods, cursed and dangerous to enter unless it is a full moon. The Walker women do not fear the woods, as they know they sleep during the full moon and not to enter at any other time, for who knows what the woods will do when they are awake and watching…

Nora realizes all of these things, as she is a Walker. Although her nightshade has not yet come to her, she knows she is a witch like those before her. Nora is not afraid of the woods. And yet, one boy is missing and one boy is dead. What happens when Nora comes across the missing boy, alive in the woods 2 weeks after the terrible snow storm? What does this boy know about the boy who is dead? As the mystery unravels, Nora finds herself deeper and deeper in her struggle of learning the truth of this mysterious boy and solving the puzzle that lies within the heart of him.

THOUGHTS: An engaging fantasy that pulls you in as you learn more about Nora’s family and the mystery of the missing boy. This is a book you cannot put down as you hope to find out more about what truly happened on the fateful night when one boy went missing and the other met his death.

Fantasy/Mystery        Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – Down from the Mountain; No More Excuses; Patron Saints of Nothing; Mike; Girls on the Verge; On the Come Up; The Weight of Stars; The Girl King; Coral; Her Royal Highness; Scars Like Wings; We Are the Ghosts; How the Light Gets In; We Set the Dark on Fire; The Lady from the Black Lagoon

Andrews, Bryce. Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-1-328-97245-3. 274 p. $25.00. Gr. 10+.

Bryce Andrews grew up in Seattle and spent a decade ranching outside Missoula, Montana, before joining the nonprofit conservation group People and Carnivores. The group’s purpose is “to mitigate the conflicts that arise when ranchers, farmers, hunters, and recreationists share landscapes with large predators.” As bears gravitate to agricultural crops in Montana’s Mission Valley — especially corn — opportunities for dangerous encounters with people increase. Bryce’s quest to find a solution that protects both people and bears parallels the journey of Millie, a grizzly bear named for Millie’s Woods, and her two female cubs. Down from the Mountain‘s subtitle reveals Millie’s fate. Her story “embodies the violence that mankind inflicts everywhere on wilderness and wild creatures.” It’s a tragic story, to be sure, but one that should be widely read by anyone who cares about nature, wildlife, and the changing American landscape. 

THOUGHTS: Although some sections of Down from the Mountain about building, monitoring, and repairing an electrified fence dragged on, most of the book is both fascinating and eloquently written. Of special, poignant interest is the future of Millie’s cubs when she is unable to care for them.

This would be an excellent choice for an A.P. Biology book club, and could readily be excerpted for a unit on endangered species.

599.7, Grizzly Bears         Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Keyser, Amber. No More Excuses: Dismantling Rape Culture. Twenty-First Century Books, 2019. 144 p. $28.04. 978-1-541-54020-0. Grades 9-12. 

The bold black and white cover of this book parallels its content: a persuasively blunt presentation of the abuse and criminalization of women in our culture and the painful, misleading messages perpetuated about men AND women.

“What is… rape culture?
The belief that men don’t have to listen when a woman says no.
The belief than men can objectify the bodies of women.
The belief that women who like sex are sluts.
The belief that men can’t be expected to control their sexual urges.
The belief that women are responsible for keeping horny men at bay.
The belief that women don’t have a right to decide what they do with their bodies.
The belief that rape isn’t really a big deal.”  (101-102)

Keyser shares individual stories of survivors–both unknown and celebrities, details the birth of the #MeToo movement, tackles pervasive media objectification of women, and examines how even our legal system does little to prevent rape culture. This book could be eye-opening to young people (male or female), who will see themselves in the stories and misunderstandings presented. “Speaking out, standing up” is increasingly an option, and Keyser gives ways that we can stop the abuse. The book closes with rich source notes, glossary, and further information. Students intimidated by the topic will be encouraged by the straightforward and relatively short presentation (144 pages) and the engaging sidebars.

THOUGHTS: This book is an excellent starting point for anyone seeking to understand the current culture and push for change. Strongly recommended for all high school collections. 

362.8 Rape, Sexual Harassment          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Ribay, Randy. Patron Saints of Nothing. Kokila, 2019. 329 p. $17.99. 978-0-525-55491-2. Grades 7-12.  

Filipino-American Jay Reguero edges toward the end of his senior year feeling unsure of future plans and realizing that outside of his parents’ support, he’s pretty alone despite friends and siblings. He spent his first year of life in the Philippines, until his Filipino dad emigrated to the US with his American mom, and they successfully embarked on medical careers and provide well for their three children, of whom Jay is the youngest. Jay has memories of visiting his Filipino family eight years ago and the strong connection with his cousin Jun, about his age. For a while, the two wrote letters (Jun’s more frequent than Jay’s), until news came four years ago that Jun had run away. Now Jay learns that Jun is dead. There is no explanation, and there is to be no funeral. Jay is stunned by the news and heavily burdened by memories of a great cousin and friend that he abandoned. What really happened? All he can learn is that Jun was killed as a drug user or dealer, and these killings are allowed (even welcomed) under President Duterte’s policies to wipe out crime in the Philippines. But under the policies, police and vigilantes kill, largely unquestioned and without recrimination. Jay cannot imagine his caring cousin to have fallen into drug use. Jay finagles a solo 10-day spring break trip, ostensibly to connect with his Filipino heritage, but really to uncover the unraveling of Jun’s life. He takes Jun’s letters, and reads them to remember. These letters offer needed insight into Jun’s way of life, his motivations, and his numerous questions about faith, purpose and more. On Jay’s visit, he is to stay in three relatives’ homes: his Tito Maning (Jun’s father and police chief); Tita Chato and Tita Ines; and his grandparents Lola and Lolo. At Tito Maning’s, no one speaks of Jun; it is as though he never existed. Jun’s letters disappear from Jay’s bag, and Jay also discovers Tito’s harsh control of the family as well as his disregard for Jay’s American beliefs. Through Jun’s sister Grace, he meets Mia, 19-year-old aspiring journalist determined to write the truth of her country, despite the reality of death for those who speak out. Through Mia, he is able to piece together most, but not all, of Jun’s last four years, and he is angry at family secrets, defensive of his cousin’s memory, and grieved again and again by the truths he learns. He returns to the U.S. having stood up to Tito Maning, and determined to delve into his Filipino heritage more fully, reconnecting with his own father on the way.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful story of grief and how to make a difference both from within a country, and from a world away. Ribay has Jay (like the reader) humbly learn of devastating corruption outside of a bubble of American safety, prosperity and ignorance–corruption that controls his own family’s lives. The wonder here is that Ribay suffuses the novel with such hope, through Jun, Mia, Grace, and ultimately, Jay. Masterfully done, eye- and heart-opening, and not to be missed.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Norriss, Andrew. Mike. Scholastic, 2019. 232 p. $17.99. 978-1-338-28536-9. Grades 7-12.

Floyd Beresford is a 15-year-old tennis prodigy.  He began playing at age two, and his parents encourage everything about the sport: daily training (in a backyard court), expensive matches, traveling, anything.  Floyd’s dad’s own tennis career derailed due to injury, and only Floyd’s birth restored his hope. So Floyd plays, and plays well. But then Floyd notices Mike. Mike, who shows up quietly at odd times and says or does unusual things (like holding Floyd’s arm down during a match). And, since no one else can see Mike, Floyd’s parents hire psychiatrist Mr. Pinner, who will figure this out in a few sessions so Floyd can get back to tennis. With the support of Mr. Pinner, who believes Mike has important things to say to Floyd, Floyd begins to pay attention to Mike and to himself. Soon, he faces the fact that he doesn’t like tennis. And he doesn’t want a career in tennis. It’s a major hurdle to tell his parents, but an even more major one to discover just what it is he does want to do. This is a book to encourage young people to listen to their own “Mike” and discover themselves.  

THOUGHTS: A unique book, light-hearted enough to carry what could seem a heavy message of self-determination. Everyone can identify with Floyd, and this book will have readers seeking what their own Mike has to say to them.  

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Waller, Sharon Biggs. Girls on the Verge. Henry Holt & Co., 2019. 978-1-250-15169-8. $17.99. 221 p. Gr. 9 and up.

17-year old Camille has only had sex once, but she finds out she is pregnant as a result. It’s been months, and she has not even spoken to the boy since. She is definitely not ready to have a baby, but while she knows she wants to terminate the pregnancy, getting an abortion in Texas is no easy task. Restrictive laws, fake clinics that turn out to be abortion deterents, and judgemental shamers at every turn force Camille to take matters into her own hands. As a result, she embarks on a road trip to Mexico in search of an abortion with Annabelle – a new friend she barely knows but who supports her decision – and her life-long, very conservative best friend Bea – who does not support her decision but decides to make the trip last-minute nonetheless. Shockingly enough, this story takes place in present day. Though primarily a story meant to reveal the magnitude of shame and struggle women in the US still face when making decisions about their own bodies, Girls on the Verge is also very much a tale of the strength of female friendship as this trio endures trial after trial in this quick-paced compact plot. 

THOUGHTS: Girls on the Verge will not blow anyone away with its character development or prose, but it serves as more proof that contemporary YA fiction should be taken seriously as more than just fluff and sparkly vampires. Biggs Waller tackles a hot button issue head-on, and does it well and even-handedly. While she obviously wants readers to sympathize with Camille, her best friend Bea’s conservative side is also presented fairly on multiple occasions throughout the novel. A good addition to any high school collection but may contain language and themes that are too mature for sensitive readers. 

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Thomas, Angie. On the Come Up. Balzer + Bray, 2019. 978-0-780-40461-8. 447 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Bri Jackson wants to rap.  As the daughter of Lawless, a rapper who’s life was taken too soon, she wants to stand out as her own talent in The Ring and beyond. After an incident at school, Bri uses her words to express her feelings. She records “On the Come Up” and becomes a neighborhood and internet sensation. But with praise, comes criticism: criticism of her representation of police and praise of gang life. Facing poverty at home and a desire to help her family, Bri must decide what life to live and how to remain true to herself. 

THOUGHTS: On the Come Up is a must-have for all high school collections. Angie Thomas is a master craftsman. Her beautiful words and characters evoke so much emotion: anger, laughter, happiness, tears, that the reader becomes entwined in the story. Her authenticity is insightful and leads to understanding, empathy, compassion, and action. The audiobook is superb and brings the story to life with depth and soul.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Bri wants to be a rapper, and she’s good–like really good. She probably got some of her talent from her late father who was a well-known rapper before he was murdered in a gang fight. Obviously, her mother and brother do not want her involved in a lifestyle that could be dangerous. Bri’s aunt, on the other hand, is more than willing to go against her sister’s wishes and help Bri rap in big battles. Bri’s mom is a recovering addict who just lost her job, recently stopped going back to school, and is trying to figure out how to pay rent while Bri’s brother decides to drop out of college to help put food on the table. This story is hard in that it touches on drugs, violence, and racism, and family issues.

THOUGHTS: Read it for the phenomenal raps. I enjoyed Thomas’ second novel even more than The Hate U Give–she can write a rap! I was so into it, and I’m not even a music person. On the Come Up includes more relatable characters for readers to attach to and still manages to touch on big issues that span all demographics.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata


Ancrum, K. The Weight of the Stars.  Imprint, 2019. 978-1-250-10163-1. 378 p. $18.99. Grades 9+.

Ryann Bird is an orphaned teen who takes care of her younger brother and his son Charlie, in a trailer on the wrong side of the tracks. She also serves as protector and friend to a group of delinquents and misfits from her high school. When a troubled new girl moves to town, Ryann’s teacher asks her to reach out to her. Alex Macallough is obsessed with finding out about her mother who was one of the sixteen “Uninauts” chosen to launch out into space for the rest of their lives to record galactic phenomenon. Always obsessed with space herself, Ryann helps the guarded and hostile Alex as she listens for transmissions for her mother’s spaceflight. After a tense start, Alex and Ryann form a tentative friendship which begins to turn into something more. Though much of the plot focuses on the space mission, this book is decidedly not a sci-fi novel, it is very much about friendship and relationships of all sorts. The Weight of the Stars features a very diverse cast of characters: mostly queer, of various ethnicities, with wide disparities in wealth and even a polyamorous parental relationship. Ryann’s squad of misfits is a family- each one a bit troubled and different, yet they all fit together.  

THOUGHTS: An emotional and introspective book that explores some heavy issues such as grief, PTSD, anger, and love. Another solid title with LGBTQ themes and characters for high school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Yu, Mimi. The Girl King. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19889-7. 488 p. $17.99. Grade 9 and up.

Lu is the eldest daughter of the emperor, trained as a warrior and ready to take on the throne when her father steps down. However, in an unexpected move, Lu’s father names her cousin Lord Set as the heir to the throne instead and promises Lu’s hand in marriage to cement the succession. At their betrothal ceremony, Lu challenges her cousin and proposes a competition to determine who is truly fit to rule. But Set has organized an assassination plot against her and her father to ensure his success. Lu escapes and must head to the north to convince the magic wielding lords and warriors to support her claim to the throne. The Girl King is told in the alternating points of view of Lu, her timid younger sister, Min, and Nokhai, an Ashina peasant. As Lu tries to raise an army to oppose her cousin, she is joined by Nok, the last surviving “Gifted,” a shapeshifter whose clan was destroyed by Lu’s father and grandfather. Meanwhile, Min is left behind at court with the ruthless Set when she realizes that she herself possesses some incredible magic. This fast paced novel blends fantasy with Asian history to create a fascinating adventure with complex characters and a richly detailed setting and background story depicting political intrigue and ancient legends. The ending is a terrific setup for the next book in the series, expected next year.

THOUGHTS: Fans of Sabaa Tahir and Renee Adhieh novels will especially appreciate this epic fantasy tale. Because of some graphic scenes of violence, this book is recommended for grades 9 and up. 

Fantasy          Nancy Summers, Abington SD


Ella, Sara. Coral. Thomas Nelson, 2019. 368 p. $18.99. 978-0-785-22445-7. Gr. 8 and up.

Trigger warning: Suicidal acts and death by suicide are discussed and described in detail. 

Mermaids cannot cry. So when Coral discovers that her sister, the Crown Princess, has tears it can only mean one thing: Red Death is coming. Afterward, Coral knows it will not be long before Red Death finds her too. Only Coral’s Grandmother seems to understand Coral’s struggle, but running away from the family curse also means giving up everything she has ever known. On dry land Coral will have to learn who she is all over again. Merrick, son of a wealthy business magnate knows that it’s his responsibility to uphold the family name in front of the paparazzi. When tragedy strikes and tears his family apart, Merrick is forced to take his sister into hiding while searching for his estranged mother. Brooke appears one day in the same coastal California town as if she just walked out of the sea. All three story lines become woven together in a deliciously unexpected twist. Coral is part fairytale, part romance, and part tragedy rolled into one unforgettable story about loss and healing. Mental health is handled in a relatable way as several characters struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal actions. The ripple effect of mental health challenges within families is also a poignant takeaway from this novel. The alternating views from narrators keeps the reader guessing until all of the pieces are beautifully woven together into a modern day fairytale ending. 

THOUGHTS: Although the subject matter is sometimes painful, this book also carries a beautiful message about recovery and self-love. I would definitely recommend this title to mature teen readers. 

Realistic Fiction          Jackie Fulton, PSLA Member


Hawkins, Rachel. Her Royal Highness. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019. 304 p. $17.99. 978-1-524-73826-6. Grades 9+. 

Recently heartbroken by her best friend turned maybe something more, Millie applies for scholarships to ensure that she can attend boarding school in Scotland and avoid a daily reminder of what she can’t have. It was her original plan for senior year before the awkward ending with Jude anyway. Millie is determined to enjoy her time in the Highlands of Scotland as part of the first class of women admitted to Gregorstoun, and it doesn’t seem difficult considering the lush green surroundings. However, Millie has a bit to learn after she insults her roommate, who she later learns is Princess Flora. Tons of teenagers with titles and a lot more money (and freedom away from parents) than a scholarship student proves to be challenging at times in this lighthearted international LGBTQ+ romance. Those who read Royals will be happy with the appearance of some familiar characters, but Millie and Flora and a new cast of high society teens take center stage in this companion.

THOUGHTS: Hand this book to any romance reader who likes learning about royals and their drama. Fans will want more books featuring this royal family!

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Stewart, ErinScars Like Wings. Delacorte Press, 2019. 352 p. $18.99. 978-1-984-84882-6. Grades 9+.

After losing everything how does one move forward? Almost one year ago life as Ava knew it ceased to exist. Of course, she didn’t realize that until months later when she woke from a coma and was given devastating news: the fire that burned over 60% of her body also took the lives of both of her parents and her cousin/best friend Sarah (Ava’s Aunt Cora and Uncle Glenn’s only child). Many painful days of healing later, Ava now lives with Cora and Glenn while struggling with who she is; the old Ava died in the fire. Now as far as Ava is concerned, cyber school and staying hidden away define her existence. The only people who regularly see her are her aunt and uncle and her doctors. When her surgeon and aunt suggest she attend school, Ava begrudgingly agrees to a two week trial period. Though the stares are hard at first, Ava is used to them, and she begins to realize how much she misses having friends. Taken under the wing by Piper, another girl who has scars of her own, Ava begins to define her new normal and adapt to life outside of her comfort zone. Though Ava’s grief is at the heart of this novel, Piper provides some much needed comic relief. Readers will learn that it isn’t just the outside appearance that defines who we are.

THOUGHTS: With plenty of tear-jerking moments, there also are plenty of laugh out loud scenes and musical references (I definitely had a few songs stuck in my head). Hand this book to any fan of a compelling, emotional read or those who will appreciate the healing power of music.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Skinner, Vicky. We Are the Ghosts. Swoon Reads, 2019. 272 p. $17.99. 978-1-250-19535-7. Grades 9+. 

Ellie’s life looked a lot different a year ago. She and her older brother Luke, who their whole school idolized, were best friends, and she was starting to date Cade. Then Luke disappeared, and Ellie’s life came to a screeching halt. Her grades plummeted, and she withdrew into herself, lost without Luke. With no word from her brother in over a year, Ellie is awoken by her parents with news of Luke’s sudden death. Completely devastated again, Ellie looks for answers and reconnects with Luke’s best friend and his ex-girlfriend. Cade and Ellie tentatively reconnect as well. Together the four teens embark on a road trip to get away and find some answers. While Ellie, Wes, and Gwen have questions about Luke, not everything they learn is easy. Ellie must find a way to accept Luke’s death and exist without her brother beside her. Even Cade gets some answers to questions about his own family.

THOUGHTS: This emotional journey leaves readers with a lot of unanswered questions, but the mystery surrounding Luke’s last year will compel readers to the surprising ending. Hand this one to fans of unpredictable plot twists.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Upperman, Katy. How the Light Gets In. Swoon Reads, 2019. 336 p. $18.99. 978-1-250-30567-1. Grades 9+. 

Callie and Chloe spent last summer visiting their recently divorced Aunt Lucy and helping transform her new historical house into a bed and breakfast. Then Chloe died tragically. Callie has spent the past year in a haze – mostly of her own creation – and her dad has had enough. He gives Callie a choice for this summer: go to Montana wilderness camp or spend another summer in Bell Cove, Oregon working with her aunt. It doesn’t seem like much of a choice, so Callie decides to return to Bell Cove, her aunt, and her memories. Unusual dreams and old house sounds are unnerving, but Callie doesn’t seem so far away in Bell Cove. Tucker, a local boy who is working on Lucy’s yard, helps Callie feel again. As Callie works on the house and uncovers some of its history, she learns how to manage her feelings in a productive way. But to move on Callie has to face some harsh truths about Chloe’s death and her part in it, or neither of them will be able to move on. Readers will feel the blanket of guilt and grief that covers Callie’s life and the hope that healing brings.

THOUGHTS: Upperman skillfully combines a subtle mystery with the paranormal and the unbreakable bond between sisters. The sweet romance brings hope and lightens the tone of the novel. Recommended for high school libraries where compelling stories or romance are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Mejia, Tehlor Kay. We Set the Dark on Fire. Katherine Tegen Books, 2019. 978-0-062-69131-6. $17.99. 364 p. Gr. 9+. 

Daniela Vargas is the top Primera of her graduating class at the Medio School for Girls. Primeras are the first wives – the family planners, the socialites, the wives with no emotion and all the logic. The Segundas are the second wives – the childbearers and caretakers. This family system based on an ancient religious tale is how Medio has functioned for thousands of years. By graduating as top Primera, Daneila ensures she will be married off to the richest, most powerful young bachelor on the island, which has been her goal since her parents illegally snuck over the wall and into the capitol city when she was only four years old. No one can find out where she really comes from, though, if she hopes to maintain this life her parents worked so hard for her to have. Upon graduation, she is married off to Mateo Garcia, a young man from a powerful family, and rumor has it he is being groomed for the presidency. It seems Daniela finally reaches her lifelong goal and promise to her parents, but on the night of graduation, Daniela is approached by a rebel group who knows her secret and threatens everything she has worked so hard for unless she cooperates with them. As if that weren’t enough trouble, she also finds out her Segunda, the woman she must share her life with, is Carmen, a gorgeous but venomous rival of hers from school. Politics, forbidden love, and an emerging rebellion collide in this page-turning debut novel.

THOUGHTS: This was one of the more refreshing speculative fiction novels I have personally read in a while (and speculative fiction is my favorite genre). Though the politics of the world are fairly standard – the rich and powerful class maintaining – even strengthening – the divide by suppressing poor outside the city walls, the Latin-based culture and two-wife family structure are what makes it stand apart from other dystopian stories. While there were some plot twists readers might peg early on, it still managed to surprise me, personally, at several turns, making this a very enjoyable, unputdownable read. Highly recommended for students searching for strong Latina and/or LGBTQ characters, and very timely given the political issues presented.

Dystopian          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Outside the walls, people are dying. Daniela Vargas barely escaped that life with her family when she was just a girl, fleeing over the wall to the relative safety on the other side. But just how safe is her new life? With a capital living a life of luxury while people starve, things are bound to get messy. At the Medio School for Girls, young women from prominent families are trained to be one of two wives for the political leaders of Medio and, despite her less than desirable background, Daniela has managed to rise to the top of her class. Graduation is just days away when civil unrest strikes yet again in Medio and if Daniela isn’t careful, she may just lose everything.

THOUGHTS: Set among a background of political unease, Daniela’s struggles to remain true to herself and to her convictions, leading her down a path both frightening and exhilarating. This was an intriguing and entertaining read that will appeal to fans of Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

Fantasy (mythology); Dystopian          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD


O’Meara, Mallory. The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick. Hanover Square Press, 2019. 978-1-335-93780-3. 307 p. $26.99. Gr. 10+.

Mallory O’Meara is a writer, filmmaker, podcaster, and fan of all things horror. With her deep love of monster movies, she is the ideal author to relate the rise, fall, and disheartening obscurity of the woman who created one of cinema’s most iconic monsters: the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Early chapters cover Milicent’s childhood and teen years in (maybe a little too much) detail, particularly the period when her father worked as a construction engineer on the California estate of media magnate William Randolph Hearst. Later, Milicent attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where her work earned her a job offer from Walt Disney; she became one of the first female animators at Disney Studios in 1939. She then spent the next decade working as a freelance artist and professional model, and later as an extra on various movie sets. In 1952, she became the first woman to work in a special effects makeup department (at Universal). There, she designed one of cinema’s all-time most recognizable monsters, eventually going on a national publicity tour to promote The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Sadly, this tour triggered the professional jealousy that would derail her trailblazing career. It’s clear that Mallory O’Meara identifies deeply with her subject and the professional challenges Milicent Patrick faced, especially sexism in the film industry and the experience of being a female in a male-dominated space. Also, not every Hollywood monster wears a rubber suit and a mask.

THOUGHTS: A woman before her time, Milicent Patrick should have been hailed as a hero. But few even recognize her name … until The Lady from the Black Lagoon. It’s a great listen for anyone with an interest in hidden Hollywood history, creature features, the #MeToo movement, and the feminist perspective of the divine Ms. O’Meara. 

777, Motion Picture Industry/Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Cheerful Chick; The Magic of Letters; Hands Up; Nine Months; Bots #1 and #2; What’s that Sound Cinderella; SumoKitty; My Friend; Nobody Hugs a Cactus; Harbor Bound; Gondra’s Treasure

Brockenbrough, Martha. Cheerful Chick. Illustrated by Brian Won. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-13418-6. $17.99. Unpaged. Grades K-3. 

The first of her nest to hatch cheerful chick “came out peeping” in full cheerleading costume reminiscent of mid-20th Century cheerleaders. Determined to fulfill her dream of creating a barnyard team, cheerful chick practices her routine with daisy pom poms. The adult animals have no time for cheerful chick as each is too busy or bothered by her pep. Disheartened after all the animals turn her down, cheerful chick begins to rethink her dreams. When she decides to be who she wants the rest of her nest joins in and a fun cheer closes the story with a now supportive group of barnyard friends. Brokenbrough subtly encourages children to be who they are no matter what others say, while Won’s digital illustrations mixed with paint and pencil enhance the light-hearted, cheery feel of this text.

THOUGHTS: This fun rhyming text would be a great read aloud opportunity to get students up and moving.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Johnston, Tony. The Magic of Letters. Illustrated by Wendell Minor. Neal Porter Books, 2019. 978-0-823-44159-4. $18.99. Unpaged. Grades K-3. 

Led by Minor’s whimsical rabbit, children are told that “Letters hold magic.” Colorful graphite and collage illustrations convey Johnston’s message of the power of letters and words. This text would serve as a great small group read aloud for primary classrooms where children are practicing letter recognition. Older or more skilled students could have fun making their own words or nonsense words with pre-cut magazine letters to mimic the illustrations. Some sentences like “The flibbertigibbet ate an enchanted quesadilla and became an acrobat, who slipped on a trout – clunk!” may be a little daunting for emerging readers. Small group reading will ensure this work helps children experience the magic that letters hold.

THOUGHTS: This entertaining read will show children that they can have fun with letters and words and is a great book to accompany alphabet review or nonsense word units.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


McDaniel, Breanna J. Hands Up! Illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-525-55231-4. $17.99. Unpaged. Grades K-3. 

Throughout her childhood, a young girl raises her hand. From getting ready in the morning and playing with her parents to being excited in class “pick me, Ms. B!” and reaching for a library book on the top shelf, she experiences many positive hand-raising situations. There is also the occasional fall too where she raises her hand for help. Evans’ colorful, textured illustrations enhance the light, cheery feel of the text. Diverse raised hands are reaching for a jump ball and giving high fives before the text ends with a peaceful gathering of various people holding signs like “Black Lives Matter,” “Spread Love,” and “Water = Life,” bringing a subtle social awareness to young children. A note from the author and artist explain their motivation for telling this story in this way, and young readers will see themselves reflected in a positive light as they raise their hands. McDaniel and Evans give power to the words “hands up” and show children (whether they realize it or not) this phrase is not only limited to the police.

THOUGHTS: Some children may miss the subtle message this story conveys, but others do not have that choice. Add this book to elementary libraries looking to diversify their collection or add social justice awareness.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Paul, Miranda. Nine Months: Before a Baby is Born. Neal Porter Books, 2019. 978-0-823-44161-7. 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3.  

A young family comes inside from playing in the snow. A few months later they are gardening, and Mom’s belly has grown. Before long it’s time to build a crib. Meanwhile, the reader gets a sneak peek of a life that is growing behind the scenes. This book expertly captures all of the miraculous changes that take place while one family awaits a new arrival. From fertilized egg to infant, each rhyming two page spread follows as a family of three becomes a family of four. Lifelike and occasionally, life-sized watercolor illustrations of in-utero development during each month in pregnancy are featured on the left of each vignette. On the opposite side, the illustrations follow the family through seasons and milestones as the baby grows. A new baby on the way brings many exciting changes, and this book beautifully captures that feeling.

THOUGHTS: Young children will be mesmerized by this gentle but stunning glimpse of a baby’s development. While this book is sure to become a favorite in any growing family, there is also a lot of teaching potential thanks to the anatomical illustrations of an unborn baby. This book is the perfect balance of science and family to help children understand pregnancy while leaving the door open for a biology-based gentle introduction to sex education. 

613.9 Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, PSLA Member 


Bolts, Russ. Bots #1: The Most Annoying Bots in the Universe. Little Simon, 2019. 978-1-534-43688-6. 124 p. $16.99. Gr K-3. 

What happens when scientists send rockets with cameras inside to find the end of the universe? For a long time…nothing. Until one day, long after everyone (even the scientists) have lost interest the cameras finally reach Mecha Base One where they are undetected by the all-robot inhabitants. Back on earth, humans are rapt when video of the alien planet begin streaming. Hilarity ensues when two blundering besties Rob Ot and Joe Bot encounter the cameras and begin filming their antics for a dedicated following light years away. 

THOUGHTS: Black and white graphics combined with just enough text for beginning readers and a healthy dose of humor make this a great introductory graphic novel for early elementary students or an enticing hi-low selection.

Graphic Novel           Jackie Fulton, PSLA Member


Bolts, Russ. Bots #2: The Good, the Bad, and the Cowbots. Little Simon, 2019. 978-1-534-43691-6. 124 p. $16.99. Gr K-3. 

Rob Ot and Joe Bot are back, and this time they are headed on a field trip to the Wild Robo-West to learn about life in robot frontier towns. Hilarity ensues when the Bots try their best to become real life Cowbots. Spittoon spitting and cattle herding prove to be a bit too advanced, so the tour guide moves right along to stagecoach robbing. Fortunately for the Bots, even the baddest bot in town is no match for Tinny Bot who rides into town just in time to save the beloved Bots from becoming scapegoats to an evil plan. 

THOUGHTS: Black and white graphics combined with just enough text for beginning readers and a healthy dose of humor make  this a great introductory graphic novel for early elementary students or an enticing hi-low selection.

Graphic Novel          Jackie Fulton, PSLA Member


Kingsley Troupe, Thomas. What’s that Sound Cinderella? The Fairy-Tale Physics of Sound. Picture Window Books, 2019. 32 p. $7.95. 978-1-515-82897-6. Grades K-4. 

Kingsley Troupe, Thomas. Keep it Simple, Rapunzel! The Fairytale Physics of Simple Machines. 978-1-515-82895-2.
—. Move on up that Beanstalk, Jack! The Fairy-Tale physics of Forces and Motion. 978-1-515-82894-5.
—. What’s the Matter, Three Little Pigs? The Fairy-Tale Physics of Matter. 978-1-515-82896-9

Modern fairytales meet STEAM inspiration in this classic Cinderella story with a twist. As usual, Cinderella is abused by her nasty stepsisters, but that doesn’t stop Cindy from making scientific observations about the properties of sound. When the stepsisters are loud and clumsy, Cindy notes that sound vibrations can travel through walls and can even be seen in a bucket of mop water. When it’s time for Fairy Godmother to arrive to get ready for the ball, things really get loud! Instead of traveling by coach Cindy, jumps right into her monster truck and learns all about decibels on her way to the palace. When the clock strikes midnight, Cinderella mentally reviews everything Fairy Godmother has taught her and manages to make it home just before the magic ends. When the Prince comes in search of the girl who fits the glass high-top she left behind, it is sound that brings Cindy to his attention. Full color digital illustrations add to the modern feel of this book. It’s refreshing to meet a Cinderella who is distracted by scientific observation rather than romance. Small facts are scattered throughout the text and reviewed in a way that enhances the storyline without disrupting the joy of reading a fairytale. Last pages feature a glossary, extension questions, and additional resources.. 

THOUGHTS: This book is a great addition to any fairytale collection. It’s also a great springboard for STEAM lessons and discussions about the five senses and observation. I really love that this book captures everyday science and makes it relatable for young children.  

534 Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, PSLA Member


Biedrzycki, David. SumoKitty. Charlesbridge, 2019. 978-1-580-89682-5. 48 p. $18.99. Gr. K-3

When a scrawny stray kitty follows a group of rikishi (Japanese Wrestlers) home to their Heya: the place where they sleep, train, and eat, she has a field day eating all the food scraps she can handle, until…she is caught by the manager. About to be put out on her scrawny tail, a cry comes from the grandest wrestler of them all, Kuma, “MOUSE!” Kuma’s fear of mice helps Kitty strike a bargain – she will have all the scraps she wants as long as she keeps the mice away. She has found paradise! As the days pass, the wrestlers train and eat. Kitty eats too. And eats. And eats and…until one day, the mice come back and Kitty is too heavy and lazy to chase them! Kitty is banished. Kuma brings food to her outside and explains that “the cat that does not cry catches the mouse.” and “you can fall down seven times, as long as you get up eight!” From then on, Kitty watches through the doorway, and when Kuma trains, Kitty trains. She works as hard as the rikishi, and the next time a mouse frightens Kuma, Kitty catches him with her best Sumo Kitty moves! The Rikishi are inspired by SumoKitty!

THOUGHTS: Children will delight in these gorgeous pictures, funny characters, and Japanese vocabulary sprinkled throughout the book. Wonderful lesson about not giving up!

Picture Book          Eva Thomas, Unionville-Chadds Ford SD


Amado, Elisa. My Friend. Groundwood Books, 2019. 978-1-554-98939-3. 40 p. $18.95. Grades K-3

What happens when you find a best friend who looks nothing like you?  What happens when no one around understands why you are friends? The main character in My Friend takes children through being friends with someone who is different than them. The main character’s family emigrated to the US from an Asian country. She finds a best friend at school, and the other students don’t understand. Then she invites her friend to her house. This is when she realizes how different they are. The main character is suddenly embarrassed by her family’s loud arguments at the table and the songs they sing together afterwards. When her friend asks to go home early, she is afraid that they are no longer friends. The next day, though she gets to school and her friend is waiting just like always.

THOUGHTS: This is a great book to show how even people who are different can be friends. Perfect for beginning of kindergarten and first grade when students are learning about how to be friends and that not everyone looks and speaks like them.

Picture Book           Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD


Goodrich, Carter. Nobody Hugs a Cactus. Simon & Schuster, 2019. 978-1-534-40090-0. 42 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-3.

Hank the cactus is as prickly on the inside as he is on the outside. He sits in a pot and looks out his window and loves his quiet solitude. As different desert characters come by (a tumbleweed, tortoise, jack rabbit, and coyote), Hank gets more and more upset. He then yells at a cowboy who replies: “it sounds like you need a hug, too bad no one will hug a cactus.” Hank insists he does not want a hug but then starts to think, and realizes that may be a hug wouldn’t be too bad, but who will hug him? Hank realizes for the first time that he is lonely. Hank finds himself in trouble when a cup gets stuck to his face and he can’t get it off. Hank learns a lesson of humility when Rosie the tumbleweed comes and takes it off his face and doesn’t even wait for a thank you. Hank wants to do something for Rosie, so he grows her the prettiest flower. This book is full of amazing desert colored pictures. The style and color fits perfectly into the desert landscape, and the front and back spreads tell the story on their own.

THOUGHTS: I love this book for the multiple lessons that it could be used to teach: This book could be used for the older students to introduce a biome or desert project. It could be used around Earth Day to talk about the garbage that gets stuck to Hank. This book would be a great social story for younger grades for talking about being kind to others, even when they are not kind to you.

Picture Book          Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD


Bailey, Catherine, and Elen Shi. Harbor Bound. Disney/Hyperion, 2019. 40 p. $16.99. 978-1-484-79952-9. Grades K-3.

Bright bold pictures pull you right into this rhythmic poem-like story of stormy seas. With few words on each page, readers are guided through the pictures as you watch the story unfold.  

THOUGHTS: I love how the bold colors in the picture contrast with the calm rhyming words of the poems. The story would be great introduction to poetry or could be used in art to show use of color, line, and shading.

Picture Book          Arryn Cumpston, Crawford Central SD

 


Park, Linda Sue. Gondra’s Treasure. Clarion Books, 2019. 978-0-544-54669-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

East meets West in this charming picture book by Linda Sue Park. Gondra is a little dragon whose parents hail from different parts of the world. Her mother is a Western dragon, which means she has wings and breathes fire, while Dad is from the East and breathes mist and carries a magic pearl. Gondra tells us all about her parents as she tried to understand how she fits in. Does she show more characteristics of a dragon from the East or from the West? She realizes that she has features of both her parents and that just being herself is what makes her special. This dragon family does not need gold or magic pearls because they have each other which is their real treasure. Reinhardt’s illustrations are whimsical and show the uniqueness of each dragon. The drawings of Gondra are adorable, and she is always pictured with her stuffed animal (a cow!) and with her pet Siamese cat. Children will enjoy poring over the illustrations and will chuckle to find that Gondra has brought familiar dragon tales to bed, like My Father’s Dragon. In the back matter, Park discusses some theories about the origin of the dragon myth and possible reasons why cultures on opposite sides of the world developed a similar mythical creature.

THOUGHTS: Young readers who love dragon books will enjoy this one. A worthwhile purchase for elementary collections. 

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD

 

YA – Thicker Than Water; The Sisterhood; White Rose; A Curse so Dark and Lonely; Parkland Speaks; With the Fire on High; Shout; Happy Messy Scary Love; Aurora Rising; Cicada; That Night

Deen, Natasha. Thicker Than Water. Orca, 2009. 978-1-459-82198-9. 128 p. $9.95. Grades 7-12.

Zack is an aspiring criminologist, so the recent disappearance of his friend Ella has him searching for answers. He’s keeping it secret that they had a disagreement that day, and worse, that after they parted, he saw Ella meet with his dad (their school guidance counselor) and get into his dad’s SUV. His dad hasn’t spoken a word, and Zack worries and imagines the worst, trying to piece together the truth while protecting himself and his dad. Zack’s friend Ayo Mohammad repeatedly offers logical perspective, and reminds Zack of his all-too-frequent over-reacting, likely due to crime show binging. Zack is on to something, but it isn’t what he thinks, and he needs a wake-up call in order to set things right. Ayo stands out as a solid friend and necessary voice of reason.

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the Orca Soundings series, this is a realistic story written at 3rd-4th grade level for young adult readers and worth considering for reluctant readers.

Mystery          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Grainger, A.J. The Sisterhood. Simon & Schuster, 2019. 978-1-481-42906-1. 298 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.  

Sixteen-year-old Welsh teenager Lil has withdrawn since the disappearance of her older sister, Mella, four months ago. She devotes most of her time to updating a blog about Mella, questioning her police officer aunt about the case, watching her single mom deteriorate, and having detailed conversations in her head with Mella. While biking one day as a terrible storm approaches, she stumbles upon a young woman who is unconscious and injured in the road. “Alice” is fearful and willing to run if Lil involves authorities, and Lil becomes determined to not let Alice down the way she feels she’s let her sister down. Lil takes Alice home, and she and friend Kiran debate the girl’s odd speech, intense fear, and slow reveal of the Sisterhood, led by the charismatic Moon. Soon it becomes clear that Mella is involved in the dangerous cult, and Lil must walk a fine line between exposing Alice and losing her sister. Lil’s devotion to her clearly difficult sister shows how a strong personality can mold and rule a family; Mella consistently turns the spotlight on herself, erupts in tantrums, and lately, vanishes at will. The secluded atmosphere lends itself to the story, though readers may wish for more details on the cult’s inner workings. Told largely from Lil’s perspective, the novel benefits from occasional slips into Mella’s mind, as well as frequent inside views of Moon and the Sisterhood.

THOUGHTS: This book will find an audience among those who find cults fascinating.

Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Wilson, Kip. White Rose. Versify, 2019. 978-1-328-59443-3. 358 p. $17.99 Grades 5-12.

Sophie Scholl was one of five siblings in a strong, close-knit family who watched as Hitler rose to power in Germany. This novel in verse gives Sophie a strong voice, showing her early teenage years as she and brother Hans were enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth. Their enthusiasm waned, then vanished, as they witnessed increasing restrictions and discrimination. Years passed and as university students in Munich, Sophie and her brother Hans and some like-minded students began the White Rose society, dedicated to spreading anti-Nazi messages. Hans wrote content for the leaflets, and Sophie found duplicating machines and all members found ways to distribute the leaflets. Such treasonous activity as free speech was punishable by death, a fate that she and Hans and friend Christoph Probst met in February 1943 (three other White Rose members were arrested, tried, and killed later the same year). Told primarily from Sophie’s perspective, the novel is strengthened by letters from Hans, boyfriend Fritz’s thoughts, and the clinical coldness of Robert Mohr, Gestapo investigator who tracked down their illegal activity. This book effectively shows Sophie’s steadfast and tenacious desire to make a difference, and her realization that simply remaining silent was akin to endorsement of Nazi beliefs.  

THOUGHTS: This is a suspenseful, powerful novel made richer for the paucity of words per page. Wilson illuminates the steel in Sophie’s mind and soul; her story should be should be widely read and remembered. Recommended for all middle and high school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Kemmerer, Brigid. A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19508-7. $18.99. 477 p. Gr. 8 and up.

Harper’s mother is dying of cancer, and her brother is in trouble with some loan sharks, but these are conflicts only revealed in the opening chapter of this Beauty and the Beast retelling. Life then gets even more complicated for Harper when she is swept from Washington, DC into a parallel fantasy universe, the kingdom of Emberfall. As in the original fairytale, Prince Rhen, heir to the throne, is cursed by an enchantress, a curse that can only be broken by falling in mutual love. Prince Rhen’s beast form only manifests each autumn though, making it seemingly easier to fall in love with him. However, also in a similar fashion to the original, Harper’s worry for her ailing family prevents her from fully committing to life in Emberfall. Likewise, politics and threats from neighboring kingdoms prevent Prince Rhen from wholly throwing himself into wooing Harper to break the curse, not to mention appearances by the enchantress Lilith who cast the curse, Rhen’s handsome and loyal Guard Commander Grey, and Harper’s cerebral palsy. Despite all the hurdles Harper and Prince Rhen face, the struggling kingdom of Emberfall and its people unite them with a common cause that propels this story, which is told in alternating points of view from Harper to Rhen. Harper’s cerebral palsy is almost never mentioned after the opening chapters, which was intentional on the part of the author to prove a point, though sometimes it simply feels forgotten. Regardless, Harper’s character is definitely strong and likable, and the friendships she forges with the people of Emberfall are a bright spot in the slower mid-plot before the book becomes unputdownable in the final 100 pages.

THOUGHTS: Far more violent than the Disney version and with its own very original plot, this fairytale retelling will be enjoyable for fans of both YA speculative AND contemporary fiction as the characters hail from both worlds.

Fantasy (Fairytale)          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area High School


Lerner, Sarah, editor. Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-84999-1. 192 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.   

This collection of poems, photos, essays, and journal entries by students that survived the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida will leave you feeling ripped apart and connected to each student at the same time. The anthology features a scrapbook like feel with handwritten entries, scraps of paper seemingly taped onto the page, as well as both student artwork and photographs. Although some entries are short with little detail, others vividly account what was experienced that day. There are several themes prevalent throughout their poems, stories, and speeches that will resonate with every reader. They include facing grief from the tragic loss of 17 Eagles, anger with the government for change not occurring fast enough, and betrayal that another school shooting resulted in the loss of life. Readers will also find messages of hope, love, and strength threaded throughout their first hand accounts. This book may be difficult for certain individuals who may struggle with the fear and uncertainty that follows a school shooting.

THOUGHTS: The handwritten pieces and images in the text allow you to feel connected to each student who survived the horrific events at MSD High School. The book allows all readers to reflect on the importance of protecting those you love and inspires us to work toward instituting change in our schools to make them safe places for learning.

371.1, Teachers & Teaching          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Acevedo, Elizabeth. With the Fire on High. HarperTeen, 2019. 978-0-062-66283-5. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emoni Santiago loves to cook.  She has a natural connection with spices and flavors that evokes emotion, not just a good taste. Raised by her ‘Buela after her mother’s death and father’s return to Puerto Rico, Emoni has learned to use her passion for food in good times and bad. With her senior year looming and her future not far away, Emoni enrolls in Culinary Arts; it seems like an easy-A, but she soon learns that although she is a natural in the kitchen, she has a lot to learn. Meanwhile, Emoni’s structure begins to unroll with the entrance of new student, Malachi Johnson. With a smile that melts, Emoni’s rule of no dating is challenged. But Emoni has more than just herself to consider; she has her daughter, Emma (Baby Girl), too. On top of it all, Culinary Arts includes an immersion trip to Sevilla, Spain, over spring break. There, Emoni is challenged to find her way while remaining true to her own desires.

THOUGHTS: With the Fire on High shares present day struggles for many students through a universal topic: food. Acevedo takes the familiar and weaves an individual story of wants, desires, and the here-and-now. She looks at the struggles faced by many but does not dwell on any of the struggles. Instead, she gives realistic hope to readers through Emoni and an understanding that each choice one makes connects to their overall story, and one choice does not define a person. This novel is a wonderful addition to high school collections.

As a side-note, I did not love With the Fire on High like I did The Poet X.  Although I greatly enjoyed Fire, Poet X evoked emotions from me that I hadn’t felt in a while. I deeply connected with Xiomara, but not so much with Emoni, although I liked her story. I would have liked Acevedo to delve deeper into the social issues she skims in Fire.  I guess I wanted more.

As a second side-note, I love Acevedo’s audio recordings. The fact that she reads her work adds a layer of intimacy with the text and the characters that reading the words doesn’t give. I hope she continues to read her novels in the future.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elizabeth Acevedo has a hard act to follow:  herself. The Poet X, her debut novel, won an almost impossible trifecta of awards (The Printz Award, the National Book Award For Young People, and the Carnegie Medal).  However, her new release, With The Fire on High, does not disappoint. African-Latina-American Emoni is a senior in a Philadelphia charter high school and the mother of a two-year-old girl, Emma (“Babygirl”), whom she is raising with the help of her Abuela. Babygirl’s father, Tyrone, is a better parent then ex-boyfriend, and Emoni is slow to trust when a boy in her culinary arts class, Malachi, seems too good to be true. Becoming a chef is fiery, fierce Emoni’s dream . . . but she’s not sure what dreams are in her reach. Emoni’s struggles with parenting, families, relationships, school, college applications, and trying to decide what’s best for both her and her daughter’s futures are realistically portrayed in this fast-paced novel with short, snappy chapters. Recipes with more of a literary than culinary purpose are included, but they might work for bold-spirited cooks willing to interpret ambiguous and playful directions.

THOUGHTS: Vivid prose, well developed characters (including Emoni’s best friend, Angelica, who is a lesbian), and a narrative that includes but does not center on romance will have teen readers eating up this book. Highly recommended. 

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

This book made me hungry for Emoni to find success in her life. Despite having multiple roadblocks (becoming a mom as a teen, working while going to school, living with her grandmother who is nursing an injury), she finds a way to constantly strive for what’s best for herself and her daughter. She knows what she wants out of life, and that is to be a chef. She is even in a culinary arts class at school with the possibility of a week long apprenticeship in Spain, not that she can afford it. There is a truth to the balance of Emoni’s struggles at school, at home, and at work all while raising a three-year-old and navigating the balance of an amicable relationship with her daughter’s father and his family. 

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the urban fiction cannon that should be on a high school shelves. Emoni’s positive outlook in a less than desirable environment will motivate the less than inspired students. The addition of recipes and creative descriptions of the food she makes will make the readers hungry for more.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Anderson, Laurie Halse. Shout: A Poetry Memoir. Viking, 2019. 978-0-670-01210-7. 291 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up

Laurie Halse Anderson’s memoir of growing up in a shattered family and surviving a sexual assault at the age of thirteen is heart-wrenching and beautiful. Her father, a World War II veteran, suffered from memories of death and destruction during the war. Her mother, shattered from miscarriage after miscarriage of sons and abuse from her husband, tried to repair the torn family and be the “proper” pastor’s wife. Laurie and her sister were born out of heartache and desire. A desire for something more; a desire to move beyond the past into the present and future, but the past is hard to escape. As the daughter of a pastor, Laurie learned to accept what she had and developed a creativity that helped her through her days. Sharing her torn family life, she sheds light on situations often left undiscussed. As she moves from her shattered family, to her rape and then into her time in Denmark where she saw a family structure different from her own, Anderson highlights the hope within darkness. In Part II of Shout, she looks at the impact of her writing and her school visits. She addresses the censorship she has dealt with along with the numerous stories of assaults shared with her by students. Shout is a beautifully written memoir-in-verse that proves life and hope can grow from tragedy and hardship.  

THOUGHTS: Anderson once again delivers an emotional story of survival. Much like her novels, Shout forces readers to examine what they know (or think they know), and then face reality head on. She does not sugar coat the abuse and hardships of her family or glaze over her own rape at thirteen. Anderson’s overt style, without being in-your-face and vulgar, is breath-taking and much appreciated. This is a must have for all high school collections.

811 Poetry or 92 Memoir          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Written in free verse, Anderson delivers her own story in a powerful memoir. Shout has clear parallels with her first novel, Speak which make reading Anderson’s story that much more painful. She chose to tell her story beginning with an act of assault that she has had to live with, and the rest of the book is the journey Anderson takes to heal. She is fierce and effective at getting her point across in the current climate of our world.

THOUGHTS: This memoir should be required reading for all high school students and staff. It belongs on the shelf of every high school library to allow those who are victims an opportunity to heal and those who are lucky enough not to have been abused or assaulted a glance into the mind of someone who has and survived.  

Memoir          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Konen, Leah. Happy Messy Scary Love. Abrams, 2019. 978-1-419-73489-2. $18.99. 336 p. Gr. 7 and up.

Olivia Knight dreams of attending film school, but procrastinating on writing her horror screenplay is not helping her attain that dream. She’s failed to get into an NYU summer writing program and now must spend her summer in the Catskill Mountains with her parents while her friends have their dream summers. To pass time through her writer’s block, Olivia watches lots of horror films on Netflix and messages Elm, another horror film addict she meets on a discussion board where she goes by the name “Carrie” – after her favorite film, of course. When Elm suggests they exchange photos, self-conscious Olivia panics, especially when he sends his picture, and he’s cute! Assuming they’ll never meet in person anyway, since she’s from Brooklyn and he lives in North Carolina, Olivia sends back a selfie of her best friend Katie who is the traditional definition of attractive. Awkwardness averted… at least until Olivia shows up to her summer part time job in the Catskills to find Elm is working there as well. Though she wants to tell him the truth, the thought of trying to explain herself is more horrifying than her favorite films. As she admits, “Being close to people, being honest with them, not being afraid to fail – that’s the scariest thing of all.” So as Olivia and Elm’s real-life relationship develops, “Carrie” must also maintain their online relationship, all while trying to finish her screenplay and navigate a summer job for which she feels ill-equipped. Some surprises along the way create a Shakespearean comedy-like plot while exploring relevant and important themes for high schoolers such as body image, self-worth, breaking out of one’s comfort zone, and friendship.

THOUGHTS: A delightful summer read, this book will be fun for hardcore horror fans, but it’s not so full of jargon or allusions that non-fans can’t enjoy it.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Kaufman, Amie, and Jay Kristoff.  Aurora Rising. Alfred Knopf, 2019. 978-1-524-72096-4. 480 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up. 

Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have squarely secured their place as scions of young adult science fiction. Their sophomore series, The Aurora Cycle, like the Illuminae Files, propels readers once again into a wild conspiracy featuring a scrappy crew of space cadets, shadowy overlords, a girl who shouldn’t exist, and an intricate spider web of a plot. The crew’s leader is golden boy Tyler Jones, the highest ranked Alpha at Aurora Academy, who is primed to hand-pick his squad from the best of the best. His plan goes completely awry, however, when he discovers not only a generation ship thought to be lost two centuries earlier, but also a surviving passenger – Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley. Now Ty is saddled with a squad he had no say in – though fortunately for him, his twin sister, Scarlett, and his best friend, Cat, both choose loyalty to Ty over ambition – and a girl two centuries old who is much more than she seems. When Ty’s team is sent on their first humanitarian mission, it goes completely wrong, and sets off a chain of events that leave the squad questioning everything they thought they knew about their world, and running from the highest authorities in the galaxy, authorities who are determined to eliminate Ty’s crew, and capture Auri for their own nefarious purposes. Kaufman and Kristoff’s plot is twisty, complex, and fun as all get out. The story is told from multiple perspectives – not an easy feat, given there are seven unique characters – and crew members narrates their own chapter, in their own voice, with their own personalities shining through. This is a page-turning romp through space that will leave readers clamoring for book two.

THOUGHTS: While all of the characters are well-developed, Zila, the crew’s scientist, provides the most interesting perspective – she struggles mightily in social situations and has an underdeveloped sense of empathy, making it almost impossible for her to gauge and understand human emotions and motivations. Her chapters are often very short, very funny, and very poignant.

Science Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Tan, Shaun. Cicada. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-29839-0. Unpaged. $19.99. Gr. 6 and up.

For seventeen years, Cicada has worked in an office where it is mistreated and ignored. Although Cicada works harder than the humans, it cannot use a bathroom in the building (it must go downtown for a bathroom). It cannot afford rent, so it lives at the office. It does not receive any benefits or resources like the humans and is verbally and physically abused by the humans regularly. When Cicada decides to retire, it leaves without fanfare and goes into the unknown; it has no home, no money, and now, no job. At the top of the tall office building, Cicada stands at the edge. Has Cicada’s journey come to an end, or is it just beginning?

Tan’s illustrations are breathtaking. Using oil on canvas and paper, he creates a world of gray for Cicada. The illustrations enhance the abuse and mistreatment faced by Cicada. They evoke emotion from the reader as they intensify the symbolism of Cicada and its dismal life.  

THOUGHTS: Cicada is a timely (2019 is the year of cicada) look into mistreatment and cruelty. By addressing mistreatment, it highlights the spiral of cruelty beyond work into one’s home and personal lives. This YA picture book forces readers to consider social injustices and, through symbolism, dive deeper into the impact of society and how people are treated by governments, economics, and one another. As a minimalist picture book, it is an impactful case study for English and social studies courses into symbolism, human interaction, social justice, law and policy, mental health, discrimination, and more.  Highly recommended for all middle school and high school collections.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Balog, Cyn. That Night. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-67904-2. 320 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up. 

One year ago Hailey’s boyfriend Declan ended his life, and she has lived in a fog ever since. A stay in rehab only blurred her memories of the weeks surrounding Declan’s death. One thing is certain in her mind, though, Hailey knows Declan never would have killed himself. All she wants is to remember. It is Declan’s step-brother Kane, who has been Hailey’s best friend forever, that helps her begin to remember the last year. Kane and Hailey have a complicated relationship, but with the help of a box of Declan’s things, Hailey begins to remember the past as she tries to move on. She can’t understand why Kane’s on again of again girlfriend (and Hailey’s former best friend) won’t even look at her. As she tries to puzzle through her memories, this fast-paced mystery flashes between Hailey’s present grief and the year leading up to Declan’s death. The answers might not be exactly what Hailey was looking for, though.

THOUGHTS: Thriller fans will devour this unpredictable read. Recommended for high schools where mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA NF: Our Stories, Our Voices; I Have the Right To; A Few Red Drops; Unsinkable; Very, Very, Very Dreadful

Reed, Amy, editor. Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real about Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America. Delacorte Press, 2018. 978-1-524-71587-8. 352 p. $10.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Twenty-one writers, including many major young adult authors, tackle what it means to grow up female in America. With pieces on gender, race, religion, and ethnicity, these authors share their stories without fear of discrimination to show a new generation of women how to stand up and be strong. Note: Many authors don’t hold back when discussing their views on the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump.

THOUGHTS: Speaking up and speaking out, these writers will inspire teen girls to stand up for themselves, regardless of identity. In the introduction, specific articles are listed as potential trigger warnings. Due to the nature of the content, this collection is most appropriate for high school readers.

305.42, Social Role and Status of Women          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Prout, Chessy. I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-534-41443-3. 416 p. $10.99. Gr. 9 and up.

A ripped from the headlines story of surviving sexual assault, Prout begins her story by taking readers through what initially brought her to Saint Paul’s boarding school in New Hampshire as a high school freshman. Chessy shares details about life prior to boarding school and during her first year where she sheds light on unique “traditions” at Saint Paul’s. One tradition, the senior salute, has forever changed Chessy’s life. In explicit detail, Chessy describes her assault, the immediate aftermath, the trial that eventually followed, and the years of pain and recovery she faces as she tries to put voice to this crime. While sharing her story, Chessy also discusses how national events like the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump and the women’s marches that followed impacted her on a very personal level and how they empowered her to speak up for women. Though she cautions that each survivor’s story is unique to him or her, Chessy’s narrative is all too real for many survivors. Young women and teen girls especially need to read this story of suffering, resilience, and ultimately hope. 

THOUGHTS: With national attention of the #MeToo movement, and individuals in power being held accountable for their actions, teens will appreciate the honesty of Chessy’s story. Regardless of background, many teens will relate to some experiences Chessy has as a high school student. Readers looking for a raw, emotional, and authentic read will appreciate Chessy’s voice and ability to stand up for what is right. Graphic details of sexual assault make this suitable for mature readers. Note: I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version of this book (which is read by the author)!

362.88, Victims of Assault          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Hartfield, Claire. A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919. Clarion Books, 2018. 198 p. 978-0544-78513-7 $18.99 Grades 7-12.

In the hot summer of 1919 in Chicago, temperatures were high and residents were urged to cool off at the city’s unofficially segregated beaches.  Five black teenagers rafted safely at the (black) Twenty-Sixth street beach, but when they drifted too close to the (white) Twenty-Ninth street beach, they attracted the ire of the white beach-goers angry at the “invasion.”  When a white man began throwing stones at the boys, he accidentally but fatefully caused 17-year-old Eugene Williams to drown. When the white officers failed to arrest the guilty man, word spread quickly. Rumors and hatred few through the city, and riot took hold, taking the lives of 38 people and injuring 537 (two-thirds were black; one-third were white) in the span of one week.  

Also in that hot summer of 1919, the world was emerging from World War I and Chicago was a northern city still highly racially segregated.  Workers in the growing meat-processing plants were fighting for work, fighting for unionization, and fighting between each other; immigrants from Ireland and Eastern Europe faced persecution, as did the black immigrants from the southern states (who were usually the last to be hired).  Though the number of blacks employed grew from a thousand in 1915 to more than ten thousand in 1918, they “particularly resented that they, who were native to American soil, were passed over…in favor of recently arrived immigrants” (104). Locating housing was also painfully limited, for, as a real estate dealer said, “you people are not admitted to our society” (109).  The efforts of journalists and union workers to improve equality helps to tell the full story. Many details are chilling for their reality today, such as, “Just catching a policeman’s attention might well cause a black person’s heart to skip a beat” (113).

THOUGHTS: This is a thorough and detailed presentation of race relations and a changing nation, with bearing on our present.  The first two and the last three chapters are devoted to the riot, but the bulk of the book focuses on the economic, political and social history of Chicago that allowed the riot to occur–and not solely in Chicago. Hartfield explains that in the U.S. that summer, twenty-five riots with racial causes led to the label “Red Summer” for 1919. Chicago leaders could have blamed the poor and turned away from the unrest, but they chose to examine the riot and seek justice for the victims–and since that day “progress has come in fits and starts” (167). A compelling look at the causes and costs of social change.        

305.8 Race Relations, United States          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Long, Jessica, with Hannah Long. Unsinkable: From Russian Orphan to Paralympic Swimming World Champion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 112 p. 978-1328-70725-3 $16.99 Grades 5-12.

Life-changing moments. Nineteen of them, to be exact. That’s what Jessica Long chose to highlight when asked for her story. And she has quite a story to tell, as a congenital double-amputee, born in Siberia, adopted by an American family from an orphanage, and after ten years as a competitive swimmer, the second-most decorated paralympian in world history (with twenty-three medals, thirteen of them gold). Her moments (shared nearly chronologically) include: the moment I discovered water; the moment I failed, the moment I became a professional athlete, the moment I met my Russian family, and so on. Structuring her story in this way (she gives credit and thanks to her sister Hannah Long) is a refreshing change from stock series biographies. The many colorful photographs and page spreads enhance the feeling of reality, joy, and challenge that Long has encountered. Her story–mostly about swimming–is honest about failure, struggle, and anxiety, but also encouraging about the past not holding her back, her Christian faith to guide her future, and enormous support from her family and friends.  

THOUGHTS: At just 112 photo- and color-filled pages, this will be picked up easily by middle and high schoolers seeking insight into competitive athletics and celebrity.

797 Paralympics–Swimming          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Marrin, Albert. Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.  198 p. 978-1-101-93146-2. $21.99.  Grades 5-12.

Marrin expertly, if slowly, leads readers through the horror- and death-laden story of the 1918 influenza pandemic.  “You can’t ignore the 1918 flu–it’s the great-granddaddy of them all,” a specialist notes (1). You can’t ignore it, but you can be sobered by it; be prepared for a truly depressing look at war’s impact on the spread of disease; the hazardous conditions set in place by World War I–for soldiers, health personnel, and civilians–paved an easy street for the 1918 flu to take the lives of an estimated 50-100 million worldwide, after infecting about 500 million. A 1994 World Health Organization report declared that the 1918 pandemic “killed more people in less time than any other disease before or since” (3). Marrin himself admits this is not “a happy story or a pretty one” but we owe it to those who lived and died to use what knowledge we can glean to prevent pandemics that pathologists state will surely happen. Marrin uses a multitude of primary sources, including statistics, soldiers’ and civilian survivors’ memories, songs, literature, advertisements, maps, and numerous black and white photos. Two factors led to the rapid spread of the three waves of influenza that struck over an 18-month period in 1918-19: the “Great War” in combination with the limited research and understanding of the disease (and medicine) of the time. Research since the 1930s has revealed insight into the virus, and Marrin explains attempts of numerous scientists–some attempts that have actually encouraged the disease. The first five chapters are heavy with real-life horror: trenches filled with water, rats and “trench-foot;” Germans so starved by the food shortages that they fought over the remains of dead horses in the streets; the ubiquitous face masks; bodies piled upon bodies as hospitals, then even the mortuaries, filled beyond capacity. A survivor later recalled that as a child, “we were afraid…to have contact of any kind…I remember I was actually afraid to breathe. People were afraid to talk to each other…because you might have the germs that will kill me” (106-7). The sixth and final chapter turns to look at the resulting research–cause, spread, ending, future. The answers have taken years, and the reality is stark: it will happen again. This final chapter is just as riveting and sobering as the earlier chapters.

THOUGHTS: Well-researched, well-written, and a must-have for middle and high school collections.  

614.5 Disease: Influenza          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

 

“Like a mass of intertwined plant roots, the roots of the 1918 outbreak lie deep in the natural world, the history of science, and the sweeping arc of human history” (8). In Very, Very, Very Dreadful, his latest work of nonfiction for teens, Albert Marrin untangles these roots to help readers understand both how the influenza pandemic occurred a century ago and how we can better prepare for a future outbreak. The medical profession made huge strides during the 1800s but in 1918, “war and influenza joined forces to ignite history’s worst-ever health disaster” (32). Millions suffered during the comparatively mild first wave in the spring of 1918, especially on the Western front. By August the virus had mutated into a “mass murderer of humans” and the second wave surged across the planet. During the third wave, the influenza virus would flare up, retreat, and then flare up again, and by mid-1920 the pandemic had ended. The book’s closing chapter, “A Detective Story,” explores the emerging menaces that guarantee job security for virologists … and keep them up at night.

THOUGHTS: It is a pleasure to discover nonfiction that is both rigorously researched and eminently readable. Plagues and pandemics are perennially page-turning topics, and Very, Very, Very Dreadful is highly recommended for readers of Gail Jarrow’s excellent medical nonfiction trilogy: Red Madness, Fatal Fever, and Bubonic Panic.

614.5 Influenza Epidemic, Diseases          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Upper Elem/MS NF – Malala; SportsZone; 1st in Fashion

Frier, Raphaële.  Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education.  Charlesbridge, 2017.  9781632895912. 45pp. $17.99.  Gr. 3-6.

This French import is the biography of Malala Yousafzai and recounts the story of the young education advocate beginning with her life as a child through young adulthood.  Frier tells the story in a factual way and includes the history of the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan in the text. The author’s voice is clear as she discusses how the Taliban used violence to silence the critics of its policies in Pakistan.   Frier focuses on the Taliban’s impact on women’s civil rights, such as access to education, early marriage, and clothing. Aurélia Fronty’s full-bleed illustrations are done in a colorful folk art style, but appear to be flat and static. The illustration of the assassination attempt shows two shadowy figures with guns, while Malala is the focal point circled with yellow rays of light.  The next drawing shows Malala rising above another gun carrying shadow as she is transported via plane to England for medical care. The final page of the story shows Malala holding a bouquet of flowers and books, as the author discusses her honors and accomplishments, including the Nobel Peace Prize. The back matter is quite extensive and includes photographs and a timeline of Malala’s life.  There is also information on the country, a map, and languages as well as more on the accomplishments of Malala, including actual inspiring quotes. As an activist for the education of girls, Malala is an inspiration to middle-grade readers and shows that one person can make a difference. Frier’s text is designed for older readers, unlike Malala’s Magic Pencil, a more literary narrative for younger readers. THOUGHTS:  This biography nicely details the life of this remarkable young women and is a useful resource to begin research for a report. This book is a long read aloud but is a great choice to highlight during Women’s History Month.  Elementary and middle school libraries will want to add this inspiring story to their collections.

92, Biography            Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

NFL’s Top 10. ABDO SportsZone, 2018. 978-1-5321-1137-2. 32 pp. $151.60 set of 8. Gr. 4-8.

NFL’s Top 10 Coaches begins with an introduction and countdowns from the 10th best coach to the first rated coach. Coaches ranked 10-2 have a one-page spread containing paragraphs of facts and at least one photograph. The top-ranked coach, Bill Belichick, has a two-page spread taking a closer look at his development and successes in the NFL. Next is a section for 6 honorable mention coaches. Additional information includes a glossary and further resources. Abdo manages a website that updates web pages to visit related to football. The book concludes with a concise index and an about the author paragraph. THOUGHTS: The book has the potential to spark a lot of conversation with readers. The fact that Chuck Noll, a beloved coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is listed as the fifth best coach will generate a lot of discussion in western PA and readers that identify with the Steeler fan base. The book is sure to find lots of readers!

Football      Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area School District

 

1st in Fashion (series).  ABDO, 2018.  32 p.  $18.95 ea.  Gr. 3-6.

Felix, Rebecca.  Eddie Bauer:  Down Jacket Developer.  9781532110733

Felix, Rebecca.  Louis Reard:  Bikini Designer.  9781532110764

Felix, Rebecca.  Mary Quant:  Miniskirt Maker. 9781532110757

Felix, Rebecca. Sam Foster:  Sunglasses Success.  9781532110740

Felix, Rebecca.  Chuck Taylor:  Sneaker Sensation.  9781532110788

Olson, Elsie.  Levi Strauss:  Blue Jean Genius. 9781532110771

Eddie Bauer: Down Jacket Developer provides straightforward information about outdoor enthusiast and entrepreneur Bauer. The highlight is the story of the near-fatal experience Bauer had with hypothermia that led him to invent a warmer winter jacket. While the text is merely serviceable, the book’s design is engaging, with appealing graphics and abundant photographs throughout.  A timeline, glossary, and index add to the book’s usefulness. THOUGHTS:  Recommended for elementary and middle school libraries where biographies are in demand.  

Biography          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

New MS Realistic Fiction – Chloe in India; Friends for Life; The Closer; Cassidy’s Guide…

chloeinindia

Darnton, Kate. Chloe in India. New York: Delacorte, 2016. 978-0-553-53504-4. 224p. $19.99. Gr. 6-8.

Hoping to show their daughters, 15 year old Anna, 11 year old Chloe and baby Lucy, a different way of life, the Jones family moves from Boston , Massachusetts, to New Delhi, India. Change is difficult for Chloe who is one of the few students with blonde hair.  School is different too, as students sit on the floor more often in classes and report cards are hand delivered once a month with at least 70 different grades. Chloe hopes to be friends with Anvi and be invited to do activities together. A new student, Lakshmi, is called “stinky” by Anvi. Anna, now a uniform monitor, informs the family that Lakshmi is from the EWS, emotional weaker section. While Chloe misses and Skypes her best friend from Boston, it feels like their friendship is weakening to Chloe. Outside of school, Chloe spends time with Lakshmi. Chloe is shocked to learns that families in India would never have three children due to overpopulation. At first her mother is excited to see a revolution as poorer citizens have a chance for first rate education, but her mother is repulsed by the excess wealth that many families have in the area and especially at Aniv’s over the top birthday party. As Annual Day draws closer, Chloe and Lakshmi practice frequently outside of school. Their practice leads to great dancing, and Anvi does not get the lead dance role. In the restroom Chloe tells Anvi that she is not friends with Lakshmi. Shortly later, a bathroom door opens, and Lakshmi walks out having heard the entire conversation. It is her older sister who helps make things right in her friendship with Lakshmi. The sisters learn more about housing and corruption of wealth in the process.  THOUGHTS: Many students experience the uncertainties of moving around the state or throughout the United States. Not as many students are uprooted to another country and this book allows students to see what it might be like to be an outsider experiencing a new culture.  The mother at times is worked up about her writing deadline or concerned about social justice and has a curse word-reaction, once her dad does this as well. Chloe doesn’t like when she hears either parent swear. This book offer a realistic story of a moving, friendship and standing up for social justice.

Realistic Fiction    Beth McGuire, Wendover MS

 

friendsforlife

Norriss, Andrew. Friends for Life. New York: Scholastic, 2015. 978-0-545-85186-2. 234p. $17.99. Gr. 6-8.

Francis is fine eating lunch alone but would prefer that others not talk about his passion of fashion and creation of doll clothes. After a year of being a ghost and having no communication with anyone, Jessica is shocked that Francis can see, hear, and communicate with her.  Then shortly after, new neighbor Andi, “Thug, Thugette,” can see Jessica. The parents of Andi and Francis are shocked that their kids get along.  Andi doesn’t find Francis’ hobby odd as a relative makes a living designing clothes, but she has a hard time being teased regarding her appearance. Previously, Andi got in a lot of fights at school and at the new school she puts a stop to Quintin teasing. Both Francis and Andi wonder how Jessica passed and when they try to learn, Jessica is gone for several days. Any time they bring it up Jessica fades away. Francis is called to motivate a boy to go to school, and he is large in stature. This boy, Roland, can also see and hear Jessica.  Roland discovers the truth that Jessica committed suicide. All of those that can see Jessica seriously contemplate(d) suicide.  At the hospital, Jessica is able to stop a suicide, and she completes her journey. THOUGHTS:  This book reminds readers not to be afraid to talk or listen to one another. Your actions can help or hurt others greatly without your knowledge.

Realistic Fiction   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

 

closer

Ripken, Carl, Jr. and Kevin Cowherd. The Closer. Los Angeles: Disney, 2016. 978-142317868-2. 200p. $16.99. Gr. 6-8.

Danny, going into eighth grade, is having a difficult time finding the correct pitches and stamina to be a consistent pitcher. Mickey, the catcher, is his best friend. His other teammate, Katelyn, confuses him as she invites the entire baseball team to her bowling birthday party. As Danny struggles to find his niche with baseball, his older brother, Joey, is a phenomenal high school senior pitcher with talent, bringing scouts from all over to watch his playing. At home, Danny accidentally breaks the window of his new and octogenarian neighbor, Mr. Spinelli. To his surprise, Mr. Spinelli offers Danny advice and teaches him a eephus pitch. Danny seems to have a handle on the pitch and posts his pitching which goes viral and gets him interviewed by local news outlets. When his special pitch, nicknamed “terminator”, stops working, Mickey asks Elmo for scientific help. Eventually Danny asks Mr. Spinelli for help about baseball and then about art. Relationships highlight the jealousy between siblings that can exist and the friendship that can be developed with others if you just try. THOUGHTS: This book is like The Pigman meets Finding Buck McHenry! Students that enjoy realistic or sport fiction will be sure to like The Closer.

Realistic Fiction; Sports     Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

 

cassidysguide

Stauffacher, Sue. Cassidy’s Guide to Everyday Etiquette (and Obfuscation). New York: Knopf, 2015. 978-0-375-83097-6. 294p. $16.99. Gr. 6-8.

Eleven-year old Cassidy looks forward to summer. She enjoys spending time in nature, making pranks with Jack, and wandering like a hobo. It is just her rotten luck that when her great-grandmother passes her dying wish is for Cassidy to attend etiquette school while her older sister attends a forensic science class. Each chapter has a title and lively place settings, adding to the mood of the story. Cassidy is surprised that Delton, a smart and quiet classmate, is also enrolled in the etiquette course. They both struggle with the lessons providing humor to the readers. As the story progresses, Cassidy misses Jack and wonders why he is working so hard with lawn care and saving money. Etiquette lessons are the last place Cassidy wants to be during her summer, but it a rewarding experience for her. THOUGHTS:  This book is a fun summer read. It demonstrates that sometimes what one thinks will be terrible, such as etiquette lessons during summer, may not turn out that way.

Realistic Fiction   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School