Elem. – Chunky

Mercado, Yehudi. Chunky. Katherine Tegan Books, 2021. 978-1-713-75878-5. 199 p. $21.99. Grades 3-6. 

When Hudi was younger he had some health issues which caused him to have his one lung removed. As he gets older, his parents are worried about his health and want him to lose weight and stay healthy, so they set him up with a variety of different sports. These end in Hudi getting injured most of the time. Hudi has a great imagination along with an awesome sense of humor, which help him through most of his sports injuries and endear him to his doctors. Hudi has an imaginary friend that he names Chunky who is his cheerleader throughout the book as Hudi goes through all of these activities.

THOUGHTS: The illustrations are bright and colorful, and the addition of the Spanish is a wonderful addition. There is an author’s note that delves more into the book and explains how some of this book is based on the author’s experiences growing up as a Mexican Jewish child. This is a lovely addition to any middle school collection.

Graphic Novel            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Hudi Mercado doesn’t quite know where he fits in. He is the only Mexican Jewish kid in his neighborhood and, since Hudi suffered a serious medical condition as a child, his parents are always concerned about his health. Or more specifically, his weight. Hudi’s parents push him to try a variety of sports like tennis, soccer, and swimming. Somehow, most of these endeavors end with a trip to the hospital. To help cope, Hudi invents Chunky, an imaginary mascot who is Hudi’s biggest fan. Together, the two of them love drawing and making jokes. With Chunky, Hudi is able to deal with all the demands coming his way from his parents. However, when his dad loses his job and things at home become even more tense, Hudi starts to forget himself and his imaginary cheerleader.

THOUGHTS: Inspired by the author’s childhood, this graphic novel is perfect for middle grade readers who are fans of Jerry Craft. Readers will relate to Hudi’s struggles and laugh alongside him as he finds his place in his world. Expect book 2 two early this summer.

Graphic Novel          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Finish Strong: Seven Marathons, Seven Continents, Seven Days

McGillivray, Dave. Finish Strong: Seven Marathons, Seven Continents, Seven Days.  Nomad Press, 2021. 978-1-647-41039-1. $16.95. 288 p. Grades K-5.

This story about Dave McGillivray, the Race Director for the Boston Marathon, tells the true tale of his World Marathon Challenge: the challenge to complete seven marathons on seven continents in just seven days! Traveling around the world, children will read how he overcame many obstacles to complete this challenge. Includes McGillivray’s “Dream Big Marathon” for kids, which challenges kids to run, read, and perform acts of kindness.   

THOUGHTS: This is an inspiring story and would be enjoyed by students who love track and cross country racing. The Dream Big “Marathon” is a nice way to show students that fitness, reading, and kindness all contribute to making a whole person.

Biography         Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School
Picture Book

Elem./MG – Big Shot

Kinney, Jeff. Big Shot (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). Amulet Books, 2021. 978-1-419-74915-5. 217 p. $13.99. Grades 3-6. 

Greg Heffley’s never been much of a joiner or a kid who enjoys hard work and exercise, but his middle school field day earns the winning homeroom a day off school! Student trading, super pumped lunch ladies, and disastrous trips to the gym with his dad are all part of Greg’s field day, but his mom decides afterwards that Greg could use some experience as part of a real team and encourages him to choose a sport to try. Greg, sensing he’ll easily be cut from the team, chooses basketball. Greg’s worst nightmare happens when another team is formed from all the kids who were cut, and Greg is forced to live out the rest of the basketball season on a series of teams doomed for failure. Somehow, Jeff Kinney continues to make hilarious Greg Heffley adventures.

THOUGHTS: Venturing into the sports world with Greg will be sure to give your readers some good laughs. 

Humor          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem. – She Persisted: Florence Griffith Joyner

Williams-Garcia, Rita. She Persisted: Florence Griffith Joyner. Philomel. 978-0-593-11596-1. 59 p. $5.99. Grades 2-4. 

This chapter book biography shares the life story of Florence Griffith Joyner who is considered one of the fastest women of all time. In 1988, Flo Jo set two world records that still stand today. Her journey to becoming a five-time Olympic medalist was not an easy one, though. This biography chronicles her childhood growing up as one of eleven children in the low-income neighborhood of Watts, California, racing at UCLA, and training hard in pursuit of her Olympic goals. It also includes details about her unique personal style on and off the track, including nontraditional racing suits and long, colorful fingernails. Through short, fast-paced chapters, readers will get a sense of Flo Jo’s dedication, competitive spirit, and commitment to self-expression. Backmatter includes references as well as a section titled “How You Can Persist” which lists ideas such as making healthy choices, engaging in physical activity, expressing your thoughts through journaling or drawing, setting goals, and trying new things. This series was inspired by “She Persisted,” written by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger. More than a dozen additional chapter book biographies in this series include the stories of women like Harriet Tubman, Claudette Colvin, Maria Tallchief, Oprah Winfrey, Nellie Bly, and others. 

THOUGHTS: This biography will hook young readers and inspire them to work hard in pursuit of their own dreams. The narrative nonfiction writing style also makes this a good choice for classroom read-alouds. Share this title with fans of the “Who Was?” biography series. 

Biography          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem./MG – Spectacular Sports (Series NF)

Doeden, Matt. Spectacular Sports. Millbrook Press, 2021. $25.99 each. $208.32 Set of 9. 64 p. Grades 5-8.

Coming Up Clutch: The Greatest Upsets, Comebacks and Finishes in Sports History. 978-1-512-42756-1.
It’s Outta Here! The Might and Majesty of the Home Run. 978-1-728-41716-5.
The College Football Championship: The Fight for the Top Spot. 978-1-467-71897-4.
The Final Four: The Pursuit of College Basketball Glory. 978-1-467-78780-2.
The NBA Playoffs: In Pursuit of Basketball Glory. 978-1-541-54153-5.
The Negro Leagues: Celebrating Baseball’s Unsung Heroes. 978-1-512-42753-0.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Quest for Hockey’s Biggest Prize. 978-1-541-57838-8.
The Super Bowl: Chasing Football Immortality. 978-1-512-42754-7.
The World Cup: Soccer’s Global Championship. 978-1-512-42755-4.

This reviewer read It’s Outta Here! The Might and Majesty of the Home Run in the Spectacular Sports series. This series offers meticulously-researched, well-written information, tons of sports statistics, and interesting full-color illustrations about high-interest sports topics that middle-level readers will be excited to learn more about. Each book in the series addresses a different major event in sports or sports history. The books include short chapters with catchy titles, captioned photos and diagrams, a glossary, and an index.

THOUGHTS: This series contains worthwhile additions for any upper elementary or middle level library that needs to add colorfully-illustrated, high-interest books about popular sports topics to its collection. (Title Reviewed: It’s Outta Here! The Might and Majesty of the Home Run.)

796s Sports          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

MG – Much Ado about Baseball

LaRocca, Rajani. Much Ado About Baseball. Yellow Jacket, 2021. 978-1-499-81101-8. 312 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Trish is annoyed with her mother for making her move again. It’s challenging enough being a girl who plays baseball, without being the new kid too. But she is determined to make what may be her last season of baseball awesome. Until she discovers Ben, the boy she beat in last spring’s regional Math Puzzler competition, is on the team. This could be a complicated problem to solve. Ben, who is reluctantly playing ball this summer, does not need Miss Math Puzzler genius showing him up in baseball, too. So the two 12-year-olds begin the season at odds with each other, despite the efforts of Ben’s pal Abhi, who quickly befriends Trish as well. But when Ben and Trish each receive a puzzle book in the mail, they quickly realize that the team’s sudden success may be tied into their ability to solve the puzzles, and they soon pair up. But the course of true love, whether math or baseball, never did run smooth. And with the machinations of a Puck or two, there is no guarantee of a solution to this Midsummer mess. This companion book to LaRocca’s Midsummer’s Mayhem delightfully pairs baseball, math, and Shakespeare in a lighthearted plot about friendship and family, relationships that are frequently complicated. Ben, Trish, and Abhi all have frustrations with their families, as well as negotiating friendships and self-esteem issues. A community theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream provides the context for a bit of Puckish magic, and a few fey individuals who wish to make the mortals look foolish. Readers who are not familiar with the Bard’s work still will thoroughly enjoy the book, but those with a knowledge of the play will enjoy the subtle (and eventually not so subtle) parallels running through the story. Trish and Abhi are Indian, Ben is white.

THOUGHTS: A blending of math and baseball may not attract all readers, but one does not have to be a fan of either to enjoy the book. LaRocca enthusiastically explains both, so readers may pick up an appreciation by the end of the story.

Fantasy (Magical Realism)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Kneel

Buford, Candace. Kneel. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-40251-6. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Kneel follows Russell who is a talented football player from a small town looking for a full ride scholarship to escape. However, Russell’s teammate and best friend, Marion is unfairly arrested and then benched for the rest of the season, Russell decides to take a stand.  In doing so, Russell sets off a chain of events that he never saw coming and refuses to back down from. In the end, will Russell be able to enact the social change that his community desperately needs, or will he have to pick between social justice and football?

THOUGHTS: This was amazingly written, and felt extremely realistic. I enjoyed that each character felt unique to me, in how they dealt with racism as well as how they interacted with each other. This wasn’t too technical with football, which I appreciated as someone who isn’t familiar with football.  I would highly recommend this for a high school collection, and feel this would also make a great book to teach in a high school literature class.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

When practice runs late, Russell and Marion know that breaking down on the parish line between Monroe (their side of town) and Westmond (the wealthier side of town) is not the best spot to be. A few weeks ago the untimely death of teen Dante Maynard, who was killed by a white police officer for “looking suspicious,” rocked the local black community. The fact that Russell’s car could draw unwanted attention for its condition doesn’t add to his limited options as darkness approaches. Instead of the cops, though, Bradley Simmons, a varsity football player from Westmond, pulls up in a shiny BMW, and he taunts Russell and Marion about last year’s playoff whipping which ended with Marion being seriously injured and jeopardizing his football future. The pent up frustration doesn’t end, and animosity explodes when Monroe meets Westmond at center field for the coin toss. Unfair, one-sided refereeing leaves Russell injured. To make matters even worse, the cop that killed Dante Maynard is on game security, and he takes Marion off the field in cuffs. Though Russell promises Marion he’ll “handle this,” the deck is stacked against the boys, their team, and their community. Due to his pending charges, Marion is benched and barred from the team until his situation is resolved. In an instant, his only way out disappears. Russell realizes the only way to take a stand is to take a knee, and the repercussions of his action are more than he imagined. If the only way out of his situation is through a Division I football scholarship, what lengths will Russell go to in order to earn his spot, and will he have to give up his beliefs to make it happen?

THOUGHTS: Timely and thoughtful, Kneel transports readers right into the racial tensions. Readers will feel for Russell and be angered by the actions and the lack of action from local authorities. A must have for high school collections, this title also would pair well with classics and other contemporary titles dealing with similar topics.

Realistic Fiction         Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG/YA – Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition

Treuer, Anton. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition. Levine Querido. 2021. 978-1-646-14045-9. $18.99. 383 p. Grades: 7-up.

A Native Ojibwe professor of Ojibwe language and culture at the University of Bemidji in northern Minnesota, Anton Treuer has compiled a thorough exploration of Native American history, past and present. Formatted as questions and answers, Dr. Treuer separates the material in essays on the following topics: terminology; history; religion, culture, identity; powwow; tribal languages; politics; economics; education; social activism; perspectives. Among the subjects discussed are how to refer to Native Americans (which term to use), explanation of different customs and ceremonies, justification for reservations, criticism of imposed governmental removals and Indian schools, gender identity, women’s roles, and marriage in Native American community, identification of Native inventions and discoveries, and discussion of incidents connected to Native Americans. The information, albeit short, is noteworthy because of the wide variety covered. Students can use the detailed index to research Native American life; all ages can benefit from educating themselves on the Indigenous people whose home colonizers disrupted. Dr. Treuer writes in a relatable style, often posing his own carefully crafted opinions on some sensitive subjects and providing a personal touch to otherwise expository writing. This guidebook adapted for young readers is an essential purchase for school libraries. In addition to the index, the book includes photographs, recommended readings, and notes.

THOUGHTS: Each section of this book begins with quote(s), and I was surprised to see under the History heading one by Adolph Hitler. Rest assured, Treuer is reinforcing the devastation of Native American history, compared with Hitler’s annihilation of people. Treuer’s father, Robert Treuer, was an Austrian-Jew who escaped the Holocaust because of his mother’s efforts in securing transport to England and then, America. Dr. Treuer is steeped in his own mother’s Ojibwe heritage, and his non-Native father was also an advocate for Native American rights. Easy to use as a reference tool or for cover-to-cover reading, Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, fulfills a need in everyone’s school collection and supports the continuing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work.

970 History of North America          Bernadette Cooke   School District of Philadelphia
908.9 History of Ethnic and National Groups

Elem. – Wait! What? Muhammad Ali Was a Chicken?

Gutman, Dan. Wait! What? Muhammad Ali Was a Chicken? Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01706-6. 112 p. $6.99 (paperback). Grades 3-5.

In a fun, new nonfiction series from Dan Gutman, two kids (Paige and Turner) take turns trying to top themselves with the lesser known (yet still fascinating) facts of famous people. In fact, Muhammad Ali was a chicken when it came to flying, but they also discuss his bravery in the ring and standing up against the Vietnam War and social justice issues. With quotes and stats and illustrations along with the two narrators, the text is broken into curious and quick digestible bits of information. After some basic background, readers learn about the boxer Cassius Clay who changed his name to Ali for religious reasons. The stories about childhood are relatable for students, and the decisions from his fighting to his adulthood are explained in understandable terms without too much sugar coating. Ali was the Greatest for his showmanship and personality as much as his muscle and willpower, and Gutman gets into all those skills with interesting detail. Even teachers and adults will stop as they read to say, “Wait! What?” and want to learn more!

THOUGHTS: More titles are coming in this new series, including Amelia Earhart and Albert Einstein. Fans of the Weird School Fact books and the Who Was? biographies naturally will gravitate towards this nonfiction book.

Biography          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – Sarah and the Big Wave: The True Story of the First Woman to Surf Mavericks

Tsui, Bonnie, and Sophie Diao, illustrator. Sarah and the Big Wave: The True Story of the First Woman to Surf Mavericks. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-250-23948-8. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Sarah Gerhardt grew up surfing little, medium, and big waves (her favorite!) on Oahu’s North Shore, which is famous for its huge waves, some of which top the height of a five-story building. As one of just a few girl surfers, Sarah struggled to find the right size surfboards and wetsuits; luckily, she found a circle of friends that included a surfboard shaper who made boards that were just right for her. She later moved to California, where her new home was near Mavericks, the famous big-wave surf break. With its monster waves, “Mount Everest meets Niagara Falls” was a dangerous place to surf, and no woman had ever done it … until Sarah! Illustrator Sophie Diao captures Sarah’s history-making ride, and its epic scale, in a made-for-storytime flip-up page. Throughout Sarah and the Big Wave, Diao’s digitally rendered artwork beautifully captures the ever-changing colors of the ocean and the power of its biggest waves. A timeline of milestones in the history of women and surfing complete this fantastic picture book biography.

THOUGHTS: This upbeat, inspiring true story is positively swell.

Picture Book Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD