Elem. – Wutaryoo

Magruder, Nilah. Wutaryoo. Versify, 2022.978-0-358-17238-3. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Wutaryoo is a creature that is unlike any other. Being small with a fluffy tail, long ears, and tiny horns, Wutaryoo has always been asked what she is. Wutaryoo does not know what she is, though, or where she came from. She loves listening and learning about all of her friends’ stories, but she wishes she has her own story of where she came from and who her ancestors are. Wutaryoo decides to set off on her own adventure to find out who she is and what her story tells the world.

THOUGHTS: A thoughtful story that highlights the importance of figuring out who you are and what your story is, even if it is different from all of the rest.

Picture Book                    Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Oh, Axie. The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea. Hodder and Stoughton, 2022. 978-1-529-39199-2. 321 p. $16.99. Grades 9-12.

Every year in Mina’s town a maiden is sacrificed to the Sea God hoping to stop all the devastating floods and wars that the townspeople think is due to the Sea God being angry. Mina’s older brother Joon is in love with Shim Cheong, a beautiful girl from their village, and one year it is decided that she will be sacrificed to the Sea God. Joon decides to follow and interfere which Mina knows means that he will die. In a split moment decision, Mina throws herself into the water, saving her brother and hoping that she can be the Sea God’s “true bride” and stop all the devastation that is plaguing her town. But when Mina gets to the Spirit Realm, she finds that the Sea God is trapped in an enchanted sleep. Will Mina be able to wake him up and save her town? Or will she be trapped in the Spirit Realm forever?

THOUGHTS: This was a wonderful fantasy stand alone! There are several twists and turns which just add to the overall feel of the story making the reader need to keep turning the pages to see what happens. This book is a great addition to any high school collection!!

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories

Pimentel, Annette Bay. Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-74941-4. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-2. 

Born in Puerto Rico, Pura Belpré grew up listening to her aubeula’s stories. When, as an adult, Puera left the island to move to New York City, she carried the stories of her aubeula and her homeland with her. In New York, Puera found a job at the 135th Street Library working with children. Belpré loved leading storytimes at the library, but rules said she could only tell stories from printed books. This meant the wonderful stories of her youth told to her by her abuela could not be shared because they were not written down. When she makes her case to her bosses, they agree that she can share her stories. Soon Puera is conducting outreach to the surrounding community, inviting all children to the library where she regularly leads bilingual storytimes, telling cuentos, some from print books, others not. Eventually Belpré wrote her stories down in book form and they were published, reaching an even wider population. Pimentel’s lyrical retelling of Puera Belpré’s story will introduce this important figure in librarianship to new audiences. The text is primarily in English, but Spanish words and phrases are incorporated at various points throughout the story. Magaly Morales’ vibrant digital illustrations capture Belpre’s energy when storytelling and interacting with children. 

THOUGHTS: This engaging biography shines a spotlight on an important figure in librarianship. Belpre was a trailblazer who strove to make public libraries more inclusive and welcoming to all. This title would pair well with Belpre’s story Pérez y Martina, which is referenced several times in Puera’s Cuentos.

921 Biography          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – The Last Cuentista

Higuera, Donna Barba. The Last Cuentista. Levine Querido, 978-1-646-14089-3. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 5-9.

In the year 2061, a comet has been knocked off course and is hurtling to planet Earth. While the majority of earth’s citizens will die as the comet collides with the planet, a small group of citizens are selected to travel to space and prepare to make a new home on planet Sagan. Petra, her brother Javier, and her scientist parents make the cut, but her beloved grandmother Lita does not. Petra and her grandmother have a special relationship, strengthened by the cuentos, or stories, that Lita tells her. Petra lives for these moments with her grandmother and vows that she will remember every single one of her grandmother’s cuentos so she always has a piece of her to share with others. After boarding the ship that takes them away from Earth, Petra and her family are frozen for 380 years inside stasis pods until they reach Sagan. While frozen, each person receives a brain download that inputs all kinds of knowledge so they are fully educated and ready to colonize a new planet when they arrive at their destination. Hundreds of years later, as Petra is taken out of her stasis, she realizes very quickly that she is the only one that remembers anything about Earth – and the plan for colonization has changed. A group called The Collective has taken over the ship and has plans to erase everything relating to Earth and its human inhabitants. According to them, the humans of Earth have made a lot of mistakes, and they do not intend on repeating (or remembering) those mistakes on their new planet. Petra realizes that if she wants Earth’s cuentos to live on, she must fight The Collective from the inside.

THOUGHTS: This book has received a slew of awards, including this year’s Newbery Medal. The Mexican-American main character is a strong female hero that readers will root for. It is a beautiful story filled with loss and hope, which makes it a perfect cuento. A must-purchase for middle grade libraries.

Science Fiction            Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Kaleidoscope

Selznick, Brian. Kaleidoscope. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-77724-6. 208 p. $19.99. Grades 5-8.

Have you ever woken up from a dream and only remembered bits and pieces, like a blur in the back of your memory? Have you ever felt that stories are all loosely connected but not sure exactly how the thread begins or ends? Have you spun a kaleidoscope and wondered about the tiny pieces that get reflected and refracted and turned again and again into patterns of endless combinations? Brian Selznick brings some of those ideas to print in his latest genre twisting novel. Using his classic black and white illustrations, he offers one picture that is in kaleidoscope vision, then a focused image accompanying a short vignette depicting mainly scenes from a narrator’s first person view. Often a character named James shows up for comfort or reminiscing or the narrator is grieving his passing; however, there is not a linear narrative or consistent plot. Instead, the reader is invited to take in each snapshot and interpret for themselves. Themes and objects repeat through the book, much like gems in a kaleidoscope tumble and change focus. The view at the end may surprise and delight some readers and will certainly encourage repeated readings for further meaning.

THOUGHTS: The short stories stand well on their own, but may not help younger readers to keep focused on the arching story. However, classes could easily study literary examples such as setting, narrative, theme, allegory, and allusion throughout. Recommended.

Fantasy          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

A thirteen-year-old narrator wants to find out more about the world around him, so he sets sail with his friend James. The journey takes them to the moon. They find that the moon is at war with the sun because the sun believes no one needs the darkness the moon brings. But James defends the moon’s side, arguing that people need to have the dreams that come about when the moon is high. James is crowned king, and he defends the moon’s honor for years and years to come. In the subsequent chapters, the narrator and James have a bunch of different adventures that transcend time and space. Although the stories are different, there are common threads running throughout, including references to biblical and mythological items that tie the stories together. Much like a kaleidoscope itself, each scene (or in this case, story) is unique but made up of a different combination of the same bits and pieces.

THOUGHTS: Brian Selznick has once again written a fascinating book that children will enjoy. Each chapter is accompanied by his signature black and white drawings, this time of kaleidoscope scenes. This would be a great pick for a book club or class novel as it might be a bit confusing for readers to understand how the stories connect. Overall, Selznick’s story collection should definitely be included in middle grade libraries.

Fantasy/Short Story Collection           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story)

Nayeri, Daniel. Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story). Levine Querido, 2020. 346 p. 978-1-646-14000-8. $17.99.  Grades 7-12.

When Khosrou’s (Daniel’s) physician mother converts to Christianity in the 1980’s, she endangers her life because of the Iranian government’s restrictions on religion. His father, a jovial, loquacious dentist covertly obtains the proper paperwork for escape, then drops off his eight-year-old son and twelve-year-old daughter, Dina, at the airport as his wife starts a journey that will take the threesome to Dubai, Italy, and finally, Oklahoma. Daniel Nayeri’s Printz Award-winning book, Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story), telling how his family turned from comfortable, wealthy land owners to battered, poor refugees can be summed up in these few sentences; but the flow of the chapter-less pages weaves a tale likened to the much admired, Scheherazade of 1,001 Nights. The paragraphs describing memories of Daniel’s (no one in America can pronounce Khosrou!) grandparents’ home and his parents’ relationship spin into beloved Persian legends and myths and wind up next to pages relating the harsher daily existence he experiences in Oklahoma. Daniel is at the center of a maelstrom as the cover depicts, a twelve-year-old boy with different tastes in foods and specific hygienic customs, wanting to fit in yet also wanting to hold on to the Persian culture he cherishes. A son with vivid recollections who longs for the warmth of his biological father, but is resigned to live with his stern, abusive Farsi- speaking step-father whom his mother marries and keeps remarrying for companionship and convenience, despite the beatings she suffers. As Daniel narrates his life tale with casual familiarity, the reader learns of the ancient heritage of Iran and its reverence and love of story, his difficulties adjusting to each stage of the refugee journey, and his impressions of Americans and life here. Most of all, the story is a tribute to the perseverance and unconditional love of his mother, Sima. In the refugee hotel of Italy instead of lolling around all day waiting for the call to emigrate, she makes a connection with a Texan woman living in Rome who home schools her own children and arranges for Daniel and Dina to share in the lessons even though Sima has to spend hours erasing the answers from the host children’s cast-off notebooks so that Daniel and Dina can use them. Her determination and dignity to make life good for her son and daughter are evident in that scene. Told not as a memoir, but as a work of fiction—for as the narrator tells us, it is not so simple to sort out fact from fiction when dealing with one’s memories—Daniel delivers the truth of his life as he remembers it with humor and charm and not a bit of self-pity. Shifting from present to far past to recent past, he shares his varied observations, thus preserving his precious legacy of storytelling, made up or real, or a mixture of both.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: Like the coveted cream puffs described in one of Nayeri’s tales, this book is a treat for those who appreciate a different writing style and matchless imagery. There are bits of scatological references—the unhappy affect of a first-time encounter with Sloppy Joes and negotiating a toilet with a bidet—but the targeted audience may appreciate and even empathize with Daniel’s situations. Written with a truly inimitable voice, this work is unlike any book for middle grade or young adult this reader has encountered. Recommend to students who love words or like to write, to those new to a place, or those needing to understand another perspective.

Elem. – This is the Path the Wolf Took

Farina, Laura. This is the Path the Wolf Took. Kids Can Press, 2020. 978-1-525-30153-7. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Big brother loves reading to his little sister, but the stories he imagines are never quite like the ones mom or dad tell their daughter. Rather than wolves terrorizing little girls, grandmas, and pigs, all the characters make friends and have ice cream. It seems big brother does not do scary. Happy stories are his comfort zone. But his little sister sees BORING where he sees safe. Faced with losing his audience, can he confront his fears and create a story that will entertain his sister? This rollicking tale, complemented by Elina Ellis’s comic illustrations, addresses every young reader who wriggles through suspenseful fairy tales, while sharing a sly wink with older, braver readers. They will recognize the stock staple elements of fairy tales, and giggle over how big brother reimagines each story to his peaceful satisfaction. When big brother finally ups his storytelling game, readers will be surprised at who is left with the feeling that something bad is about to happen.

THOUGHTS: A delightful look at fairy tale story elements, as well as addressing the fears of timid readers. Imaginative text pairs with delightfully humorous illustrations for a winner of a book, recommended for all collections serving young readers.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – One Girl

Beatty, Andrea. One Girl. Abrams, 2020. $16.99. 32 p. 978-1-419-71905-9. Grades K-3. 

One dejected looking little girl sits all alone on the steps of a remote porch underneath a starry sky when a glowing book falls to her feet like a comet. Immediately upon opening it, her world changes into a brightly colored  fantasyland where books grow on trees and pencils sprout from the earth. As the young girl travels through this wondrous land, she witnesses diverse women working independently as artists, scientists, and leaders. The next morning she races to school to share her treasure with an eager and diverse group of students. Shortly after, she picks up a pencil and begins writing while astonished classmates watch the magic spill from her hand. Next, boys and girls alike follow her lead and begin to read, write, and share their unique stories while elements of their stories: a tiger, a grand piano, a helicopter, and hot air balloons float overhead. Later, by the light of the moon another girl sits on the front steps and watches as several new glowing books fall from the sky. Lovely, repetitive prose “One girl glowing/shares her song” reinforces the beauty of a young girl finding her voice yet also allows the reader to be fully immersed in the opportunities she has opened with her love of books. The young girl protagonist along with her supportive teacher present as Asian with medium-beige skin and beautiful dark hair. Classmates all wear the same school uniform but represent a variety of ethnicities among skin and hair colors.

THOUGHTS: One Girl is a loving tribute to the power of reading, writing, and storytelling. In addition to being a lovely read aloud, this title would make a great introduction to a writing unit or a classroom conversation about how words and actions can affect others. Short and repetitive text surrounded by stunning art with some graphic elements make this a nice option for sharing with pre-readers or English language learners who may need a little nudge to find their reading groove. This book has a place in any school library collection, classroom libraries, and beyond.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elem. – Wrong Way Summer

Lang, Heidi. Wrong Way Summer. Amulet Books, 2020. 978-1-419-73693-3. 268 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

“Claire no longer believed her dad.” She used to, and sometimes she still wanted to, but when she discovered what really happened to her mother, that she wasn’t stolen by a troll king, that she wasn’t a pilot on the world’s fastest jet, a scientist working on a new crayon color, or even a secret agent infiltrating a pride of lions, she stopped believing her out-of-work father’s endless supply of tall tales. So when he pulled into the driveway with an old van and declared that this was a summer of adventure, that they would fix up the van and travel the country living the “hashtag vanlife,” Claire knew there was much more to the story. Told from Claire’s point of view as they travel from one city to the next, the reader slowly learns why the family is living in a van, and why Claire’s mother is no longer in the picture.

THOUGHTS:  Nestled underneath the fantastic tales told by Claire’s dad is a story about homelessness and poverty, although it may not be immediately apparent to a reader who doesn’t recognize the subtle clues. The reveal of the whereabouts of Claire’s mother is quick with few details, but it should be enough to satisfy most readers. There are students in our libraries who need to read a story about an unreliable parent and the burden that is felt when the child has to act as the responsible one.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Elem. – Freedom Bird

Nolen, Jerdine. Freedom Bird. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-0-689-87167-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

Brother and sister Millicent and John Wheeler are enslaved children whose parents instilled in them the dream of freedom. One day, while the children are working in the fields of a North Carolina plantation, the overseer takes a whip and hits a large mysterious bird, knocking it to the ground. At night, the children rescue the bird and keep it safe. The siblings learn that John would soon be sold to a farm in Georgia, and the pair realize that now is the time to make their escape. As the children run away from the overseer, the bird takes flight into a storm and heads west. The children hide in the woods during the storm and they eventually escape westward across the Missouri River. On the last page, the author reveals this tale was one that was told by storytellers and utilized the common imagery of the bird’s flight to symbolize freedom. James E. Ransome has created vibrant full bleed illustrations that show the characters on a large scale, like the drawing of the bird taking flight. The images masterfully show motion, and the reader can almost feel a breeze from the bird’s wings.

THOUGHTS: This book completes a trilogy of stories that feature African Americans from the same plantation and their journey to freedom from slavery (Big Jabe and Thunder Rose). This book works well as a mentor text for imagery and metaphor and shows the power of storytelling. A wonderful read aloud for anytime.

Easy Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member