MG – Taking Up Space

Gerber, Alyson. Taking Up Space. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-18602-4. 259 p. $17.99. Grades 5-9.

Sarah has a lot of aspects of her life she really loves: basketball, her best friends Ryan and Emilia, and detective novels. She also has aspects of her life that she wishes would change; for example, she hates that her mother has issues with eating and never has enough food in the house for Sarah to eat. In fact, sometimes her mother forgets to make meals which makes Sarah feel unimportant. How can you matter when the people in your life who are supposed to take care of you forget that you have to eat? Sarah also discovers that as her body is changing in her teen years, so are her basketball skills. She is slower lately, making more mistakes on the court. As a way to take control over her sluggish performances on the court, Sarah starts restricting what she eats, trying to lose excess weight so she can be faster and stronger. This is not a challenge at home, but it does become an issue when Sarah partners up with her crush Benny to compete for a spot on Chef Junior, a televised cooking show holding auditions at Sarah’s school. Eventually, the stress of the competition and diet restrictions catch up to her, and Sarah has to learn for herself how a person becomes physically and mentally healthy.

THOUGHTS: Taking Up Space shines a spotlight on the pressure teenage girls are under to look a certain way. A very unique aspect of this book, however, is that the character’s mother is also struggling with eating, demonstrating to young readers that sometimes adults don’t always have all the answers and have to seek help, too. This book is a must-have for middle grade libraries and could be a thoughtful option for a book club.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – A New Day

Meltzer, Brad, and Dan Santat. A New Day. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-525-55424-0. unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

That’s it! She quit! Just like that, Sunday decided the weekly grind was too much and she needed to leave the rotation. While she was feeling unappreciated and ready to learn new things, the rest of the crew is left to fill her void, and that means a hiring process. In Brad Meltzer’s first fiction foray, we find a hilarious mix of personalities for each day of the week (Monday is so uptight, but Saturday is soooo chill!) as they work together to replace Sunday. Dan Santat offers up his unique humor to complement the text with endless visual gags and side jokes. The tryout process brings up suggestions like FunDay, RunDay, a running gag of DogDay versus Caturday, and many zany no-way kinda days! In the end, a little thanks and appreciation and teamwork really go a long way to making someone’s day. The simple fact is that every day can be a new day with a little more kindness.

THOUGHTS: Fans of the movie Inside Out will appreciate the personification of abstract concepts like emotions and days, while those looking for silly extensions like naming your own days have a natural writing prompt here. It is tricky as a read-aloud with the many voices and gags, but worthwhile for some classroom team building.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – Diamond Double Play

Maddox, Jake. Diamond Double Play. Stone Arch, 2020. 978-1-496-58329-1. 64 p. $5.95 (paperback version). Grades 2-3.

Blake Easton is the neighborhood Wiffle ball star, but he has never played organized baseball. When he and his friends spot a poster advertising open tryouts for a local baseball travel team, Blake’s friends encourage him to try out. But Blake is nervous going up against more experienced players, especially when obnoxious Kyle starts taunting Blake as an inexperienced newbie. Luckily, Blake finds a friend in Austin, who shows Blake the ropes. While Blake makes the team, he is disappointed to learn he will be Kyle’s backup at second base. But when Kyle injures himself making a selfish play, Blake finds himself in the starting line up, and serious jitters set in. Is he really good enough to be on the team? This short, beginner chapter book combines authentic sports action with lessons on sportsmanship and confidence. The young characters (ages 11-12) frequently speak with maturity far beyond their ages, but the story will resonate with sports fans and players alike. The characters, as represented by the illustrations, are ethnically diverse; Blake is Black, Kyle is White, with teammates represented variously. A glossary at the end of the book defines baseball terms used in the text.

THOUGHTS:  A solid choice for Easy Fiction collections, where sports books are underrepresented.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Boxitects

Smith, Kim. Boxitects. Clarion Books, 2020. 978-1-328-47720-0. Unpaged. $17.99. K-3.

Meg is a talented “boxitect.” She makes all sorts of things out of boxes, from houses to towers to tunnels. When her mother sends her to Maker School, she is very excited to learn all about boxitecture. However, this all changes when Simone shows up. Simone is also a boxitect, and she puts Meg’s work to shame. When Meg and Simone are forced to work together on a group project, their inability to agree results in disaster. In order to salvage their project, the two must learn to compromise and work together. An encouraging story about the power of creativity and teamwork, this book is sure to delight young artists and makers.

THOUGHTS: I absolutely love the incorporation of STEAM elements into this story, and the fact that the protagonist is a female is an added bonus. I could see this being used in the classroom to introduce a STEAM project or experiment, perhaps even one that involves creating something out of cardboard boxes. The back matter even includes an experiment that demonstrates the durability of cardboard, as well as directions for creating both a tunnel and a castle out of boxes. This book would pair nicely with Antoinette Portis’s Not A Box (2006). It would be an excellent addition to any elementary collection.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Swim, Mo, Swim!

Adler, David A. Swim, Mo, Swim! Penguin Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-9848-3678-6. 32 p. $15.99. Grades K-2.

Mo Jackson and his camp friends are ready for Field Day at camp. His team wants to root on each other, but still win the most medals. Coming down to the last race of the day, the swim, and Mo is up to compete. Can Mo win the race and Field Day for his team? With a little help from a curious fish, he can!

THOUGHTS: This Level 2 reader is an adorable story about teamwork and good sportsmanship. A perfect addition to any library along with the other Mo Jackson stories.

Early Chapter Book          Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

MS FIC – The Assassin’s Curse; Lost Kingdom of Bamarre; Not-So-Boring Letters…

Sands, Kevin. The Assassin’s Curse (The Blackthorn Key series #3). Aladdin, 2017. 978-153440-5233. $18.99. 544 pp. Gr. 5-9.

This third installment of The Blackthorn Key series keeps the danger, mystery and humor alive.  Christopher Rowe, apothecary’s apprentice, has managed (in Book 2) with his two friends Tom and Sally to hasten the end of the Plague in London, earning the King’s favor and an invitation (via trustworthy Lord Ashcombe) to a royal party to meet King Charles II himself.  But at that party, Christopher thwarts an assassination and decodes a plot to kill the King’s sister Minette. Apparently an old curse states that if certain nobles are killed, the treasure of the Knights of the Templar will be opened. Minette and others are those nobles in the way of the treasure.  The King sends Christopher and his friends undercover to France, hoping to protect Minette but not arouse courtly suspicion. Christopher takes on the role of Lord Ashcombe’s grandson, with Tom as his servant and Sally as a servant to Minette. The cultural and class differences (including clothing and cleanliness), the lauding of King Louis IV (he’s waking!), and learning to swordfight are perfect backdrops for humorous situations for the three. Christopher visits an old friend of his master Benedict Blackthorn—and learns again and again that his master was more widely known and respected than Christopher realized and that he trusted Christopher to follow in his footsteps.  Sands continues to weave intricate codes into mysteries of greater depth and meaning for Christopher and his friends, while drawing the three closer together in courage, loyalty and friendship. A fantastic closing letter makes clear that their adventures are not over, and Book 4: Call of the Wraith will be published in September 2018.  THOUGHTS: This is a fine example of middle grade suspense fiction and a 2018 Edgar Award nominee.  Highly recommended.

Mystery; Historical Fiction                Melissa Scott, Shenango School District

 

Levine, Gail Carson. The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre. Harper, 2017. 978-0-06-207467-6  384p. $17.89. Gr. 5-8.

Peregrine lives in a world where the brave and noble Lakti have conquered the quiet, gentle people of the Bamarre, who need to be taken care of.  Well, that is what she was told. When a fairy tells Perry that she was actually born a Bamarre and was stolen away from her family by her adoptive mother, her world is upended.  The fairy challenges her to save the Bamarre, but what can one girl do? With some help from some magical objects and some friends and family, Perry discovers that she can make a difference.  THOUGHTS: This fantasy has a strong female character who can save herself.  Middle-grade fantasy readers, especially girls, will enjoy this book.

Fantasy          Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Landis, Matthew. The Not-so-Boring Letters of Private Nobody. Dial, 2018. 978-0735227989 304p. $16.99.  Gr. 3-7.

Oliver loves the Civil War. So much so that he cannot help sharing facts about it with his classmates, none of whom share his passion. All of them find him annoying, to say the least. Now his social studies class is about to study the Civil War, and Oliver cannot wait. What? A group project? His partner is sure to mess it up and does so immediately by picking a private’s name out of the hat rather than anyone important. Ella and Oliver investigate the life of the local private, spending time at historical societies and meeting a cast of interesting characters, some in historical documents, but most of whom are living.   Their friendship challenges both of them to become better people. THOUGHTS: I thoroughly enjoyed reading this ARC.  Get this for your fans of realistic fiction.  You will not regret it.

Realistic Fiction         Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

MS Fiction – Metropolitans; Erth Dragons; Warden’s Daughter; Payback

Goodman, Carol. The Metropolitans. Viking. 2017. 978-1-101-99766-6. $16.99. 355 p. Gr. 4-8.

Madge wanders into the Metropolitan Museum of Art one morning after she is kicked out of her apartment by her aunt. Joe, a Mohawk boy, follows her into the museum after she shares her sandwich with him. In the museum, Madge and Joe meet Walt, a Jewish refugee from France, and Kiko, a Japanese-American girl whose father works at the museum. After the teens witness the theft of a rare Arthurian manuscript, they discover they have had the same foreboding dream, and the manuscript theft is just a catalyst for far larger evil. At first glance, The Metropolitans looks like a classic tween mystery. But the plot covers a lot of territory: Arthurian legend, treatment of Native American children (Joe is forced from his home into a brutal Indian school), and prejudice against Japanese Americans at the start of WWII. Laced with code breaking and channeling characters from Arthurian Legend, this story never slows down, as the four children rush to avoid the bombing of Manhattan.  THOUGHTS:  Of course this book brings to mind The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  This time, however, the venerable museum is at the center of a Nazi plot to bomb Manhattan. The four youths gain a firsthand understanding of war and prejudice as they desperately try to decipher what is happening around them.

Historical Fantasy     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

D’Lacey, Chris. The Erth Dragons: The Wearle. Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-90018-8. $16.99. 284 p. Gr. 4-8.

Hurray! Chris D’Lacey has a new series about dragons. Dragons inhabiting the planet Kimera sent an exploratory group to Earth but lost contact with them. A second group has been sent to determine the fate of the first dragons. This group has established a tenuous cohabitation with the humans in the area they have settled, but after a human who violates the boundary between human and dragon land is killed by the dragons, the humans goad the dragons into war. Ren, a young human boy is fascinated by the dragons and discovers a way to infiltrate dragon territory without being detected by the dragons. Caught in dragon territory when the war begins, Ren befriends Gabriel, a young dragon in disgrace with the colony. Ren discovers he understands the dragon, and the pair set out to discover the source of erratic dragon behavior which is fueling the dragon/homm (human) conflict. THOUGHTS: Fans of the Wings of Fire series will love this complex dragon world.  

Fantasy     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Spinelli, Jerry. The Warden’s Daughter. Alfred A Knopf, 2017. 978-0-375-83199-7. $22.99. 341 p. Gr. 4-8.

Cammie is the warden’s daughter. Her father is the benevolent warden at a women’s prison outside Philadelphia, and she lives with him in an apartment overlooking the exercise yard. Cammie’s mother was killed when she was a baby and living with her father has always been enough. Until the summer of 1959, when Cammie is turning thirteen, and the impact of not having a mother hits home. Cammie decides to make Eloda Pupko, the prison trustee inmate who watches over Cammie and takes care of the apartment, her surrogate mother. The harder Cammie pushes and acts out, desperate to hear words a mother would say, the more Eloda seems determined to keep her distance, until Cammie explodes, and Eloda finally forces the girl to face her mother’s death. Set against a background of rock and roll, American Bandstand, and the finely limned inmates, this story quietly sneaks up on you until the tears are rolling down your cheek. THOUGHTS:  Another masterful book from Spinelli. It may require a thoughtful reader to appreciate the nuances of character, but it is a beautiful story.  Historical Fiction       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Korman, Gordon. Payback (Masterminds series). Balzer & Bray, 2017.  978-0-06-230005-8. 311 p. $17.99. Gr. 3-6.

In the third and final book of the Masterminds trilogy, Eli, Tori, Amber, and Malik are still on the run from the evil Dr. Hammerstrom and their former “parents” of Project Osiris. This project, a science experiment with dubious moral value, intended to answer the nature vs. nurture debate once and for all by cloning child versions of criminal masterminds of all kinds–thieves, terrorists, killers, computer hackers, and more–and raising them in a seemingly perfect community free of influence from the outside world to see if the child clones would turn into productive, honest adults or if they would follow in the footsteps of the people who provided their DNA. It sounds very dark, but Korman does a good job of writing the series at child-appropriate level. The four kids who escaped Project Osiris want to free the rest of the kids who don’t know the truth about their origins, so they travel around the country looking for help and answers from different adults while doing what they need to in order to survive, including living in a GIrl Scout cookie warehouse and stealing a few cars along the way. The series ends with Eli, Tori, Amber, and Malik at a tropical beach resort in a showdown with Dr. Hammerstrom and a satisfying ending. THOUGHTS: A great action adventure series for upper elementary students who can handle and understand the nature vs. nurture concept.

Action/Adventure             Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD