MG – The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid

Wallace, Matt. The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid. Katherine Keagen Books, 2022. 978-0-063-00803-8. 261 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7. 

Max, the main character of this heartbreaking and heartwarming story, is a great kid with one problem; he’s a fat kid, and he endures constant bullying and ostracization at school because of his weight. He and his equally-bullied friend, Luca, spend each day at their new middle school waiting for the next attack from the biggest and most popular bully, Johnny Pro. The situation seems hopeless until Max decides to reach out to Master Plan, a notorious supervillain who was recently put in jail because of his villainous deeds. Through letters between Max and Master Plan, Max learns confidence as the older supervillain teaches him to dress well and defend himself, but when Max gets a great opportunity to appear in a popular TV baking show, he begins to wonder who is really helping who in their unusual mentoring relationship. Eventually Max decides that Master Plan did help embrace his good qualities and improve his friendships, but that he, not his supervillain hero, must take responsibility for his own happiness and success.

THOUGHTS: The body-positivity and anti-bullying messages in this book are skillfully incorporated into a funny, charming and thought-provoking tale about a kid who has to deal with a bully. The dialogue and action in this story is realistic, and students who enjoy hero-and-villain tales will appreciate the way Master Plan mentors Max and helps him find his own style and his own voice. This is ultimately a light-hearted tale that contains some excellent messages.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – The Blur

Lê, Minh. The Blur. Illustrated by Dan Santat. Alfred A. Knopf, 2022. 978-0-593-37746-8. Unpaged. $18.99. PreK+.

Any parent will tell you, when you have children, the years pass so quickly. In fact, it might be said they go by in a blur. Lê’s book, illustrated by award-winning artist Dan Santat, remembers and celebrates the whirlwind that is childhood. Beginning in infancy, Lê introduces readers to his adorable superhero, The Blur. The Blur’s super powers include supersonic voice, enhanced hearing, propensity to rush into danger, and, of course, ultra-magnetism (everyone is attracted to the cute tot). In the blink of an eye, or the turn of a page, The Blur passes from toddler to youngster to teen, while proud, exhausted, loving parents trail behind, there to celebrate successes, comfort failures, and patch up bruises. Eventually, The Blur graduates from high school and dashes off to college. Santat’s sweet drawings, steeped in warm tones, power the emotional punch of the story. This sentimental book celebrates the joy of watching children grow and mature. While the book will make a fun read aloud between parent and child, its true target audience may be high school graduates (given the conclusion of the book) or new and expecting parents. Children may giggle over the idea they have super powers, but the emotional impact of the book is definitely an adult experience. The featured family is Asian. 

THOUGHTS: A delightful, charming book that may find a better fit with older and adult readers than the very young. 

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Mighty Reader: Makes the Grade

Hillenbrand, Will. Mighty Reader: Makes the Grade. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44499-1. 35 p. $18.99. Grades K-1. 

Lulu is beside herself and oh, so worried about the standardized test that is scheduled to happen in her class at school today. Formatted like a graphic novel, this picture book is full of evil villains like the scary test, pencils, books, and watchful eye but Might Reader comes to save the day with ‘partner power.’ Turns out, Lulu was just having a nightmare, but how was she going to be successful at school without Mighty Reader?

THOUGHTS: The graphic novel formatting may be a bit overwhelming for new readers, but this short story could break the ice for nervous students before big test days. Some of the techniques mentioned could even be tried out in class. Talk about a super power!

Picture Book          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Faith: Greater Heights

Murphy, Julie. Faith: Greater Heights. ‎ Balzer and Bray, 2021. 978-0-062-89968-2. 352 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12. 

Ever a fan of anything Julie Murphy writes, diving into a magical realism book gives pause to some readers. The authentic writing style is descriptive enough to make the reader feel like they’re flying. This  is part two of Faith’s story, and she is fully aware of her superpowers but still not super sure how to deal with her grandmother’s dementia or how to cope with exes. Murphy’s world building and origin story preparation make it pretty clear that we can expect more to come on Faith’s story, with action plugged into scenes when Faith isn’t just trying to figure out normal life.

THOUGHTS: For Julie Murphy fans in general, this book should make its way onto high school shelves as long as book one is already there. While you’re at it, you can make sure you have a few of her other series as well. Murphy has a knack for writing in an inclusive way that feels like how it should’ve always been (spoiler: it should’ve been). Her writing is trustworthy and representative. 

Fantasy           Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Katie the Catsitter

Venable, Colleen A.F. Katie the Catsitter. Random House, 2021. 978-1-984-89563-9. 229 pg. $20.99. Grades 3-5.

Katie is not looking forward to this summer because all of her friends are going away to summer camps. Katie needs to figure out a way to make some money, so she can go to a summer camp. Katie ends up cat-sitting for her upstairs neighbor, who has 217 (yes, you read that right) cats! However, these are not normal cats, and Katie doesn’t think that her neighbor is normal. Will Katie be able to handle all these cats, figure out how to keep her friends, and perhaps solve the city’s mystery? The answer to all those questions might surprise you.

THOUGHTS: This is an extremely fun graphic novel for readers who love the Warriors series. The plot is super fun and ends up going places the reader does not see coming. Highly recommend this book!

Graphic Novel        Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – Ikenga

Okorafor, Nnedi. Ikenga. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11352-3. 227 p. $16.99. Grades 6-7.

Nnamdi is devastated when his father, the police chief of their Nigerian town, is murdered. He vows to get revenge, but a year later, the murder remains unsolved, and Nnamdi is increasingly frustrated as he sees his mother struggling to support them, especially after she is mugged by one of the brazen petty criminals who torment the town. That is when he encounters his father’s spirit, who gives him a small figurine called an Ikenga. Nnamdi soon discovers that the figure imbues him with superpowers like those of his favorite comic book hero, the Hulk, when he becomes enraged. While Nnamdi means to use his powers for good, taking down various local crooks, it soon becomes evident that Nnamdi has to learn how to harness his superpowers before he seriously harms someone. His alternate ego, known as The Man, is garnering much attention in the town and from the press, but not always positively, After nearly injuring his best friend, Chioma, and a classmate, Nnamdi runs away from home and hides, so he cannot endanger anyone else, or himself. However, Chioma, after an interaction with the spirit of Nnamdi’s father, pieces together what is happening and tracks Nnamdi down. With Chioma’s support, Nnamdi learns to control his abilities, unearths who murdered his father, and faces down the local crime boss. Nnamdi is an engaging character with great big flaws to go with his great big heart. Readers will empathize as he makes mistakes along the way, whether it’s jumping to conclusions or being unable to control his rage when he is The Man. Okorafor skillfully places the reader in Nnamdi’s Nigerian town, through use of local dialect and evocative description. One can easily conjure the sounds and smells of the marketplace or Nnamdi’s home. While most of the plot threads are wrapped up by the end of the book, a few loose ends hint at a sequel, which will be eagerly anticipated.

THOUGHTS: Great for fans of myth-based literature, and ties in superbly with Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong series. Unfortunately, the use of profanity may make its placement in an elementary school library problematic, leaving it with a limited audience.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed

Anderson, Laurie Halse, and Leila Del Duca, Illustrator. Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed. DC Comics. 2020. 978-1-4012-8645-3. 207 pp. $16.99. Grades 7-10.

Themyscira, the secret island home of the Amazons, is protected by a barrier that shelters them from the outside world, although global conflict and human suffering weaken the barrier. On Princess Diana’s 16th “Born Day,” she breaks the rules to help refugees stranded at sea, and is trapped beyond the barrier. Days later, she washes ashore in Greece, now a refugee herself. Her skill with languages earns her a student visa to the United States. In New York city, “Diana Prince” learns about social justice issues (racism, income inequality, gentrification) through her feisty foster sister, Raissa. She also discovers that the square where Raissa and her friends practice parkour is an excellent makeshift training facility for an erstwhile Amazon. Through a free lunch program where the girls volunteer, Diana learns of a possible human trafficking ring, and she discovers her true purpose: protecting the most vulnerable. Sunny, high-contrast artwork in shades of turquoise, terra cotta, and blue-black perfectly frame a diverse cast, and especially Diana’s expressive face and body language.

THOUGHTS: Themes of preparing to be a warrior, fighting for what’s right, and forging a “found family” are always appealing to teen readers, and Wonder Woman finds an audience generation after generation. With Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed, Laurie Halse Anderson joins Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, Matt de la Peña, and more top YA authors who are reinventing the superhero origin story. The title is a wink to Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” and its famous line: “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

From Wonder Woman, to US History and Malala Yousafzai…New Nonfiction

wonderwoman

Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 978-0-385-35404-2. 410 p. $29.99. Gr 9+.

Harvard professor and New Yorker writer Lenope digs deep into the history of Wonder Woman, the first female superhero to have her own comic book, and the most popular female superhero of all time- who fights for “peace, justice, and women’s rights”. While not only discovering Wonder Woman’s evolution, Lenope also touches upon how she made and remade feminism, while exploring the history and development of those responsible for her creation, specifically William Moulton Marston. Marston was a freshman at Harvard when he created Wonder Woman, influenced by the woman’s suffrage movement and feminists he knew as a child and by growing up surrounded by feminists. Strongly believing in women’s rights and non-conformity, Marston and his wife lived an extremely non-traditional life while also writing traditional family comics for Family Circle (Marston was a psychologist who invented the lie detector test). One of the couples house-mates, Margaret Sanger, the famous feminist and birth-control pioneer, partially inspired the character, as well as other women Marston loved throughout the years. Marston also strongly felt that women felt powerful from bondage and sexual desire, which is reflected in the original Wonder Woman comic panels spread throughout the book. A solid and substantial volume that comic book fans- specifically fans of origins stories will welcome.

741; Comic Books/Superheroes    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

This book was gifted to us by a kind upper school teacher, and while it hasn’t circulated a ton, it has generated a lot of conversation. We have many upper school students interested in comics and graphic novels, so over the past year we have started to build a graphic novel collection for older students and adults (in addition to the popular graphic novel we have in our middle school reading room).  A lot of students have asked about the Wonder Woman book when it was displayed, which prompted us to mention the graphic novel collection upstairs, which made the items circulate more! Hopefully word of mouth will make it circulate even more.

 

untoldhistory

Stone, Oliver. The Untold History of the United States: Young Readers Edition, 1898-1945, Volume 1. New York: Anthem Books for Young Readers, 2014. 978-1-4814-2173-7. 383 p. $19.99. Gr. 6-12.

This is the first of a planned four volume set born from a somber documentary that examines historical events in a context that differs greatly from traditional textbooks. The volume focuses on 1898-1945, and Stone attempts to answer questions such as, “Why is the gap between the rich and the poor greater in the United States than in any other developed country?” and “Why do African Americans and Latinos still face discrimination?”. Events, such as the building of America’s railroads and Roosevelt’s New Deal reform, are presented with facts that have come to light in recent years after archival footage and declassified information have been made public. Readers will be drawn in by the popular filmmaking author, Oliver Stone, but will stay for the balanced narrative and interesting photos, illustrations and documents that accompany the text, while becoming well-informed readers on United States history, economics and politics.

United States HIstory    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

What an interesting book! The structure is not chronological, like I imagined, but more narrative, which makes it much more approachable (and different from a textbook). Instead of just historical fact- like how Woodrow Wilson premiered a pro-Klu Klux Klan film in the White House- this text goes into the why and how that could happen. It is important to realize that for every event, or historical act that is a story behind even that, and I feel Oliver Stone did a fine job, as did Susan Campbell Bartoletti, who adapted it for young readers.

 

malala

Yousafzai, Malala. I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World – Young Readers Edition. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014. 978-0-316-32793-0. 230 p. $17.00. Gr 6-12.  

Nobel peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s 2013 memoir has been adapted for middle and high school students. Malala and her family- specifically her father, a principal, teacher, and founder of one of the only girls schools in Pakistan- are outspoken advocates for education equality. Readers will enter a world not that different from their own; Malala stays up too late studying, talks about the Twilight series, and argues with her younger brothers, but she soon learns that her village in Pakistan was taken over by the Taliban, a violent Islamic fundamentalist political movement through the Middle East. Malala decided to speak out against the terrorism; writing about it on a blog that would later appear on a BBC blog, appearing on international talk shows, being filmed in a documentary, and founding an organization to help girls receive an education. Her actions prompted many death threats, and one day on the bus from school, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman. In the days that followed, Malala survived, and the shooting received international attention. Upon her recovery, Malala remained dedicated to activism for girls education, and her story is one to inspire youth around the world. A superb addition to any biography collection; Malala is someone who made a difference and fought for equity with compassion and peaceful perseverance. YA edition includes a helpful glossary and timeline of important events.

Biography     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

Last year we had a special assembly about peace, and one teacher spoke about Malala’s amazing story. This was around the time she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was appearing on talk shows like The Daily Show. This prompted us to purchase her memoir, which circulated among teachers and a few students. When we purchased the young readers edition, we had a student check it out, and create a video book review for a project. This was wonderful, as we were able to add it to the catalog record for that title, and other kids who viewed the trailer were then interested in checking it out; we even had a hold list for it!