MG – Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City

Heidicker, Christian McKay. Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-25018-144-2. 386 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

O-370 only knows of life on the farm. The elder foxes tell him stories about wild foxes who have adventures beyond anything he can imagine. O-370 and his cousin, R-211 dream of having their own adventures like Mia and Uly, the foxes they hear about in the stories. Even though they want to have adventures, they also know that the farm is a good place for them. All the foxes who live here get food twice a day and have a warm place to sleep. Best of all, when they are done at the farm, they get to go to The Barn, a special place where foxes eat centipedes all day and play with all the foxes that have gone before them. One night, O-370 is desperate for an adventure and slips out of his cage to explore The Barn. What he discovers sends him running into the forest and to the edge of the nearby city. After meeting a group of tough city foxes, O-370 realizes he may not have the skills to survive away from the farm. O-370 decides he must use the strategies in the stories he heard as a young kit to survive in the city.

THOUGHTS: In the follow-up novel to Scary Stories for Young Foxes, author Heidicker follows a similar format. He intersperses the story of O-370 with an older fox storyteller who is relaying O-370’s story to kits. Fans of his first novel will be happy to see previous characters Mia, Uly, Beatrix Potter, and others make appearances throughout the book. This book is a great addition to middle grade libraries, especially for young fans of horror and animal stories.

Horror/Fantasy          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Ground Zero

Gratz, Alan. Ground Zero. Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-24575-2. 336 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Brandon, 9 years old, suspended from school for fighting, is spending the day with his father, who works at the Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. He sneaks away from his dad to run an errand when a plane flies into the building. It is September 11, 2001. Brandon’s life has changed forever. Decades later, and a world away, Reshmina, a young Afghan girl, also lives with the fallout of that horrific day. Life in rural Afghanistan changed drastically when the US armed forces came to push back the Taliban. While no one likes the American soldiers, most Afghans fear the Taliban as well. Alan Gratz’s take on the 9/11, attack follows the two young people, alternating between their stories. While Brandon fights for his life as he tries to escape the burning tower, Reshmina struggles with the burden of Pashtunwali, providing aid to those who request it. Reshmina comes across an American soldier injured during a Taliban ambush. Despite her hatred of the Americans, she cannot leave him to die after he asks for help. The move places her family in danger; her twin brother has begun working with the Taliban and threatens to notify them of the soldier’s presence at their home. It won’t surprise any reader that the soldier is Brandon, 18 years later. There is nothing subtle about this book. Gratz had a point to make, and he hammers it home. The two stories aren’t just parallel, but painfully structured to be identical stories – an event in one story is mirrored by a similar event in the other narrative. And Gratz does not couch his opinion that everything the US did in Afghanistan was wrong and hurtful. While the current generation of readers looks for books set around 9/11, Gratz, a master of historical fiction adventure, who single handedly has converted young readers to historical fiction fans, falls a bit flat with this story. Gratz fans will want to read it, but it will not replace gems like Refugee or Projekt 1065.

THOUGHTS: Purchase where Alan Gratz is popular, but readers may be disappointed.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Concealed

Gonzalez, Christina Diaz. Concealed. Scholastic, 2021. 320 pp. 978-1-338-64720-4 $17.99 Grades 5-8.

Katrina has been on the move with her parents for the past three years, and those three years are the extent of her memories. She cannot remember her early years or even her real name. Her amnesia after an accident convinced her parents of the danger and led them to flee. Her parents, who call themselves “B” and “L,” have explained that it is better she doesn’t remember, and their task now is to keep her safe. With the help of their contact, Agent X, her family has moved at least eleven times in the Witness Protection Program because Katrina’s father angered some influential business partners. But since Katrina is pressing for more answers, her father makes a choice to get passports without Agent X’s help, in an effort for more freedom to tell Katrina the truth.  Their latest location is fairly remote, and Katrina tentatively becomes friends with Parker, a foster kid with few personal connections but exceptional hacking skills. Soon, Katrina’s father and mother are captured separately, and Parker willingly accompanies Katrina to the safe house in Atlanta. And all the facts that don’t add up really begin to topple down. At the safe house, Agent X whisks them to Miami (en route to safety?) as Katrina and Parker doubt him and her parents. The surprising truth comes out as X retrieves Katrina’s father, everyone is in grave danger, and everyone is saved.

THOUGHTS: While not predictable, the surprises are life-changing and resolved too easily, resulting in a lost opportunity to examine major themes of genetic engineering, twins, memory loss, trauma, and the effects of secrecy and lies. Supplemental purchase.

Realistic Fiction            Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Alone

Freeman, Megan E. Alone. Aladdin, 2021. 978-1-534-46756-9. 404 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Maddie, a twelve year old girl, plans the perfect sleepover night at her Grandmas. Unfortunately, her friends cancel, and Maddie spends the night alone – only to wake up to everyone gone. Maddie learns that an “imminent threat” has forced mass evacuations and her divorced parents never knew that Maddie was alone. Maddie must now fend for herself and hope that help comes soon. Maddie visits the empty homes and starts to gather items necessary to survive for the next few weeks. But weeks turn into months, and months into years and Maddie’s only company is a rottweiler named George. On her own Maddie faces looters, tornadoes, a devastating fire, and a flash flood while navigating springtime at her mom’s house and winters at her father’s home. Maddie uses her local library to gain knowledge, and find hope that rescue will soon arrive.

THOUGHTS: A wonderful survival story with a strong female character that will leave you rooting for her. The story is well written, and fans of Life as We Knew It and Hatchet will enjoy this adventure. The author provides a variety of challenges for Maddie to face, while showing how to be brave and creative in overcoming obstacles.

Adventure          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh Middle School

Elem./MG – Wild River

Philbrick, Rodman. Wild River. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-64727-3. $17.99. 189 p. Grades 3-6.

This middle grade adventure follows soon-to-be middle schooler Daniel Redmayne on what is supposed be a fun filled white water rafting trip in Montana for the Project Future Leaders school group. But what is to be a thrilling trip soon turns into a life or death trek through the Montana wilderness! The adult guides were able to save their middle school charges, but could not save themselves when the aptly named Crazy River’s dam broke and flooded the areas surrounding the river. What follows is an exciting journey in which the five survivors, with very limited supplies, need to work together to survive. Dangerous disagreements lead to the group splitting up and a tragic ending for one. Can the group put aside their anger and survive? Includes an Afterword that is a mini wilderness survival guide.

THOUGHTS: A must purchase for reluctant readers! Each short chapter ends with a twist that will keep readers turning the pages.

Adventure          Krista Fitzpatrick, PSLA Member

YA – Playing with Fire

Henry, April. Playing with Fire. Henry Holt & Co., 2021. 978-1-250-23406-3. 225 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

A gorgeous day in Portland. An idyllic waterfall. A boy who is interested in you – what could possibly go wrong? Natalia and coworker Wyatt are just wrapping up an afternoon hike at Basin Falls when a loud pop shatters the peace. Shortly after a man goes running by, and the smell of smoke drifts in the air. In the blink of an eye Natalia’s worst fear is coming true, again. A fire is raging in the forest and now Natalia, Wyatt, and a dozen other people are trapped. Using Wyatt’s map and skills and Natalia’s medical training, the pair help navigate the motley crew through the forest as the fire chases them. As the night progresses, Natalia will face her fears while helping a burn victim, someone having a panic attack, and someone with a dislocated knee. But when a bridge prevents the troop from escape, will Natalia have the courage to overcome her demons and make up for past mistakes?

THOUGHTS: A fast paced read, Henry does not disappoint with this novel! The characters are well developed and the story follows a clear timeline. Readers get a glimpse into Natalia’s past and how her fear of fire plays such a critical role in helping others. Students who enjoy adventure stories like Hatchet will love Playing with Fire!

Adventure Fiction          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Grades 6-12.

Seventeen year old Natalia lives in Portland near beautiful hiking trails, but she’s never been hiking. She was sick – sedated in a hospital – the week of Outdoor School, where most fifth graders stay in cabins in the woods. Her Dairy Barn co-worker Wyatt is determined to right this wrong, and he takes Natalia on a hike up to see a beautiful waterfall overlook. At 6:24 pm they’re on the way down when they hear a loud pop, probably someone firing a rifle in the Gorge, Wyatt explains. Natalia notices the smell of smoke which Wyatt connects to the local Cougar Creek fire as he explains the dangers of the tinder dry woods. Thirty minutes later they approach the bottom of the trail where to their horror the very woods they need to pass through are engulfed in flames. Natalia has avoided even the smallest birthday candle for the past six years. With no cell service and few other options, Natalia and Wyatt begin to hike back up the trail to find a new exit. Warning people to return to the falls on their way back up, Natalia is reminded of her little brother. When a helicopter drops a rock with a note that says, “Fire spreading….Extreme danger.” the group needs to come together to survive. With a variety of personalities and skills and few supplies, will they make it to Sky Bridge before they’re rescued, or will the fire reach them first?

THOUGHTS: Taking a slightly different approach to her typical “missing girl” stories, Henry strikes gold with this fast-paced thriller. A must purchase for middle and high school libraries, especially where Henry books are popular, adventure/thriller fans will zip through and request another.

Adventure Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Cut Off

Finlay, Adrianne. Cut Off. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-358-00645-9. 384 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

A group of teenagers is competing for a one million dollar prize, each with their own reasons for needing it. In order to be accepted onto the new reality show Cut Off, contestants go through a rigorous interview process and psychological evaluation. As readers are introduced to each character throughout the early days of Cut Off, interview segments and details from the evaluations are provided. Contestants need to outlast each other while spread out around a large island jungle. When they have no choice but to work together, the contestants begin to realize they might be more cut off than they thought. Their skym cameras (3D cameras that hover and follow their every move) still work, but the tap out button seems to be malfunctioning. Could something be wrong with the fully immersive reality show? Determined to figure out what’s going on, the contestants work together to survive, being more cut off than they ever thought was possible.

THOUGHTS: This action-packed adventure has three distinct parts. What starts out as serious outdoor survival takes a sharp turn towards science fiction. Readers will want to know who outlasts the others, but those who stick with it may have questions.

Science Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

YA – Aftershocks

Reichardt, Marisa. Aftershocks. Amulet, 2020. 978-1-419-73917-0. 318 p. $18.99. Grades 8+.

Ruby thought her world ended when her mom informed her she was dating Ruby’s high school water polo coach. But she soon finds out what the end of the world, or her world, really looks like. Skipping practice because she’s too embarrassed to face her coach, Ruby is hanging out at a laundromat, looking for someone to buy beer for her, when an earthquake hits. As a native Californian, Ruby is used to earthquakes, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is no minor tremor. “The ground shakes, the walls fall”, and Ruby is trapped under the rubble of the laundromat, with a young man named Charlie, with whom she had just started talking. The ‘Big One’ has hit. A 7.8 magnitude. She and Charlie can’t see each other, but they work desperately to bolster each other’s spirits. Minutes turn to hours as the pair assess their physical condition and tell each other stories and bits of their lives. Hours roll over into another day, and another, and Ruby and Charlie face the very real possibility of not being rescued in time, before their injuries overwhelm them. Unusually, the eventual rescue occurs halfway through the book and, true to the title, the second half deals with the aftershocks of the rescue and the earthquake. The pain and trauma. Ruby desperately needing her mother, but having no way to locate her in a world twisted and ravaged by the quake, bereft of cell service and internet. Ruby needing to make amends to the people she loves. The book is both edge-of-your-seat compelling and lyrically thoughtful. Reichardt’s writing deftly changes from gripping, gruesome descriptions of the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, to heartbreaking, poetic passages as Ruby drifts in and out of consciousness, ready to embrace death. While character descriptions throughout the book are minimal, context clues imply that Ruby and Charlie are white.

THOUGHTS: This can’t-put-down book delivers it all: a compelling disaster story, with a satisfying ‘after’ that most books neglect. It was lovely to close the book knowing “the rest of the story.”

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Outdoor Adventure Guides (Series NF)

Outdoor Adventure Guides. Capstone Press, 2020. $24.04 ea. $96.16 set of 4. 48 p. Grades 3-6.

Bean, Raymond. Backpacking Hacks: Camping Tips for Outdoor Adventures. 978-1-543-59031-9.
Hoena, B.A. Campfire Cooking: Wild Eats for Outdoor Adventures. 978-1-543-59033-3.
Hoena, B.A. Wilderness Survival: Basic Safety for Outdoor Adventures. 978-1-543-59029-6.
Bean, Raymond. Wildlife Watching: Spotting Animals on Outdoor Adventures. 978-1-543-59035-7.

Part of the Outdoor Adventure Guides series, Backpacking Hacks is a valuable resource for both the novice and experienced hiker. Chapter titles include “Preparation and Planning;” “Food, Water, and Shelter;” and “Critters and Fire.” There are thoughtful tips for staying warm, staying cool, and staying dry. The book also includes information on how to pack food and what to pack, how to make your tent more comfortable, and hygiene when you are away from a bathroom. Readers who are using this guide to plan a trip will appreciate the websites listed in the back and the “Hack Your Pack” section that will make all hikers well prepared.

THOUGHTS: This is a thorough guide for planning a backpacking trip. There is so much great information packed into the scant 48 pages. Appropriate for all school libraries, this book should have broad appeal.

796.54 Camping          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

MG – Beyond Me

Donwerth-Chikamatsu, Annie. Beyond Me. Antheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-481-43789-9. 291 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

This novel written in verse is about eleven year old Maya who lives in Japan with her American mother and Japanese father. Follow Maya as she lives through the events of March 11, 2011, the day a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Maya and her family are among the lucky ones who live outside of Tokyo, far enough away from the center of the earthquake, tsunamis, and subsequent radiation leaks. As Maya sits by and watches her family do things to help, Maya feels helpless.  Rescuing a cat that she finds out was abandoned after the quake, planting radiation absorbing sunflowers, and making 1,000 paper cranes with her friend Yuka help to give her a purpose as she waits for the next aftershock to hit.  

THOUGHTS: This book is told from an eleven year old’s point of view and really highlights the stress and worry kids feel when a natural disaster happens. I like that Maya’s mother helps her find ways she can help in a crisis. 

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Upper Dublin SD