MG – The Shape of Thunder

Warga, Jasmine. The Shape of Thunder. Balzar & Bray, 2021. 978-0-062-95667-5. $16.99. 275 p. Grades 5-8.

Cora Hamid and Quinn Macauley are next door neighbors and inseparable friends all their twelve years of life–until they are not. Quinn’s older brother, Parker, takes his father’s hunting guns to his high school one November morning and shoots Cora’s sister, Mabel, a teacher, another student, and himself. The two families’ approach to grief could not be more different. Abandoned as a baby by her mother (the reader never discovers why), Lebanese-American and Muslim Cora has the nurturing support of her biologist dad; thoughtful, maternal Gram; and the professional support of a trained therapist. Quinn’s family buries the issue. Told in alternating voices, the reticent and less academic Quinn has difficulty expressing her thoughts and guilty feelings. Her workaholic father is against any outside help to ease the family’s suffering, and her mother hides in the house cooking and baking. Longing to reconnect with Cora, Quinn delivers a box to her doorstep stuffed with articles about time travel and wormholes on Cora’s birthday. She knows Cora well enough to appeal to her scientific nature. Perhaps the two of them could find a wormhole and travel back in time to stop the tragedy of that fateful day. As the pair work through the logistics of approaching a huge tree in the forest for the site of their wormhole/time traveling, they each experience the pain of regret and the insistence on holding fast to the memory of a loved one. While Cora has made new friends on her Junior Quizbowl Team and excels in her studies, Quinn has felt shunned. She longs to be on the soccer team, but is too ashamed to try out. Her art gives her some pleasure, yet not even drawing can remove the heavy weight of a secret she knows about her brother, the possibility that she could have prevented the circumstances. After she confides in the school librarian her remorse, she resolves to confess this awful secret to Cora. Though the revelation breaks their renewed bond, Cora devotes more time to her plan to make the impossible possible. When she questions her father about time travel, she is encouraged and inspired by his answer. He tells her that her absent mother had a theory comparing the shape of time to the shape of thunder: “impossible to map” (p. 213). When both Cora and Quinn are coaxed by different people to attend the traditional Fall Festival at their middle school, the rumble of thunder pulls the two estranged girls to the woods to prove Cora’s theory. The hopeful resolution of the story, despite the sadness surrounding it, gives the reader relief. Quinn’s and Cora’s relationship see-saws throughout realistically. After all, Quinn reminds Cora of the unspeakable thing Parker did. Quinn’s strained home life with her parents who refuse any kind of self-reflection or examination of the devastating action of their son is painful.  Minor situations like the jealousy of Mia, another friend of Cora’s, toward Quinn; the snide remarks of Quinn’s former teammate and friend; the growing crush Cora has with her classmate, Owen (a Japanese-American character), will resonate genuinely with middle school readers. The Shape of Thunder is a tough read, but one that confirms that happiness can co-exist with grief, and friendships can be mended.

THOUGHTS: This novel is full of emotion and rich in language and characterization, but not so intense that a sensitive middle grade student would be put off. Cora is a thinker and an intellectual. Throughout the novel, students will find themselves entertained by the interesting facts Cora spouts (“…cows kill more people than sharks each year…”). The images Warga uses to describe different feelings are unique but spot on (the “fizziness” Cora feels in her tummy when talking to her crush, Owen, etc.). She also makes dialogue very interesting. Quinn has a hard time speaking; her brain freezes and she can’t say the words. When she finally gets angry enough to spill over her feelings to her buttoned up family, it is heartbreaking. The conversations between Cora and her father and grandmother also are authentic and tell the reader so much about the characters. What the reader must conjecture about are Parker’s reason for the shooting and the absence of Cora’s mother since her father seems to have no obvious vices. Ms. Euclid, the school librarian and art teacher, is a heroine for Quinn. This book should be issued with a box of tissues.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Jukebox

Chanani, Nidhi. Jukebox. First Second. 2021. 978-1-250-15636-5. 224 p. $21.99. Grades 6-9.

Twelve-year old Shaheen and her father have always been connected through music, but lately his interest in record-collecting borders on obsession. When he doesn’t come home one evening, Shahi and her teenaged cousin Tannaz sneak into his favorite music shop to look for clues. In the attic, they discover a rare jukebox that plays whole records … and transports the listener to the album’s time period, for just as long as the side plays. A Bessie Smith record sends the girls to the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago. A Nina Simone album takes Tannaz on a solo trip to a women’s march in 1960s D.C. Shahi realizes that her dad may be trapped in another era, unable to return home. But traveling back and forth in their quest to find him has serious consequences, and the girls know they are running out of time to bring everyone home safely. The girls’ slight age difference provides an interesting dynamic, incorporating their unique strengths and insecurities. The author’s depiction of each era’s color palette and fashions are especially engaging. The abundant music references and iconic album covers are complemented by a Playlist at the book’s close, perfect inspiration for budding music lovers!

THOUGHTS: Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina was well-received, and Jukebox displays even greater depth in portraying both adventure and family relationships.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Chanani, Nidhi. Jukebox. First Second. 2021. 978-1-250-15636-5. 224 p. $21.99. Grades 5-8.

Shaheen and her dad have a special bond through music. Her dad is an avid record collector, who is getting a little too lost in his music of late for Shahi. When her dad goes missing, Shahi and her cousin Naz go looking for her dad, starting at the last place he was seen, the record store. It is here that the cousins find a magical jukebox that transports listeners back to a concert of whatever record is playing. Musicians such as Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, and James Brown are featured in these magical concerts. Can Shahi and Naz find her dad and bring him back to the present safely? The end includes a playlist of the music featured in the book and a section that shows an artistic exploration of the character sketches. The process of how the illustrations are colored is also shown.

THOUGHTS: This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is a must read for music lovers! This would be a great addition to any graphic novel section and includes diverse characters throughout the story.

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

Upper Elem/MS – Adventures of John Blake; Good Story Someday; Orphan Island;

Pullman, Phillip. The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship. Scholastic, 2017. 9781338149128. $19.99. 159p. Gr. 3 to 7.

Philip Pullman’s first foray into graphic novels is The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship. The story involves a time-traveling schooner that many people seem to know about and want to find, including the billionaire, Dahlberg, and, Danielle, a young woman who works for a maritime organization in San Francisco. The boat appears mysteriously after an otherworldly storm followed by a dense fog. The story includes a boy that can mysteriously kill you within a month if you look into his eyes, a 3D object related to time travel, an unsolved murder, and a monitoring device called an apparator, that the billionaire uses to keep tabs on everyone in the world who has one (which is most people.) THOUGHTS: I couldn’t wait to read this graphic novel from Philip Pullman since I’m a big fan of the His Dark Materials books. Although I wasn’t in love with the illustrations, they don’t detract from the story. The story itself kept me interested and the book’s characters are diverse: age, sex, and ethnicity are represented in a natural way. This is a an excellent addition to a school library and even though the publisher rates it for ages 8 to 12, older students and even graphic novel reading adults will enjoy this story.  

Graphic Novel      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Levy, Dana Alison. This Would Make a Good Story Someday. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-1101938171.  315 pp. $19.99. Gr. 4-8.

Sara is going into Middle School after the summer and has detailed plans to spend time with her friends and improve herself. But surprise, Mimi (one of Sara’s moms) has won a month long train trip! Mimi is going to write about the trip and their family, college age Laurel, her boyfriend Root, Sara, their other mom, and Li, the little sister. Sara does not want any part of it but is dragged along anyway. To make matters worse, the other prize winner and his family are going to be traveling companions with them.  THOUGHTS: I loved the fact that the two moms are not the central theme of this book. It also brings up some difficult and current topics through Laurel (very granola and political) but don’t force the reader to agree with the character’s views.

Realistic Fiction       Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School


Snyder, Laurel. Orphan Island.  Walden Pond Press, 2017.  978-0062443410.  288 p.  $16.99  Gr. 4-7.

Each year, a new child mysteriously arrives in a green boat on an island where nine orphans live on their own, with no adults to care for them. Then, the eldest must leave because of a rhyme that has been passed down for as long as anyone can remember: Nine on an island, orphans all/ Any more–the sky might fall.”  When little Ess arrives, and Deen leaves, Jinny becomes the eldest, and she is haunted with the knowledge that her days on her beloved island are now numbered. The island is a safe, almost magical place, with gorgeous sunrises, snakes that don’t bite, and cliffs that are impossible to fall off. Only the water is dangerous, and no one knows where the new orphans come from or where the eldest orphans are headed.  There are not a lot of rules to follow, but when rules are broken, there are consequences.  “Never pick the last of anything” is a rule that was broken once, and as a result, there are no more curlyferns on the island.  Jinny does not want to leave, and so, when a new orphan arrives, she simply refuses to get in the boat.  When terrible things start happening, Jinny fears that her choice to break the most important Island rule is wreaking havoc on the only home she can remember.  THOUGHTS: Orphan Island is an allegory about the transition from childhood to adulthood. The fact that it offers far more questions than answers might be frustrating to some readers. However, it is a beautifully written and thought-provoking book that rewards those who enjoy participating in the creative process of making meaning.  A must-buy for upper elementary and middle school libraries.  This book will stand the test of time.

Fantasy                  Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

New YA from Alexandra Bracken and Don Calame


Bracken, Alexandra. Passenger. Los Angeles: Hyperion, 2016. 978-148471577-2. 486 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Etta Spencer’s world revolves around her budding violin career, until the night of a high-stakes performance at the Met when she is unexpectedly thrust into a portal that delivers her to 1776, aboard a ship that has recently been seized by pirates, no less. Etta is descended from a long line of time travelers, and while she receives a crash course in temporal passages from her fellow traveler Sophie, she is also instantly drawn to the dashing pirate (and freed slave) Nicholas. Etta soon learns that her mother Rose has been taken hostage by the Grand Master of travelers, Cyrus Ironwood. In order to rescue Rose, Etta must go on a scavenger hunt of sorts to London, Paris, Cambodia, and Damascas — across various timelines — to locate a coveted astrolabe that can actually create new passages through time. Nicholas accompanies her as a protector, partner, and love interest. Though the premise is stellar, the book is oddly slow-paced at times. Several long chapters could easily be summarized in just a sentence or two because Bracken includes too much exposition and too little forward momentum as she sets up the second installment in the duology; Wayfarer is due in 2017. THOUGHTS: Despite the novel’s inconsistent pacing, it has a lot going for it. Lush historical settings, feminist commentary, unsettling racist comments, and a swoon-worthy romance all practically overflow from its pages and will hold readers’ interest until the cliffhanger ending.

I was very excited to read Passenger as part of the January “Booksplosion” online book club with some of my favorite BookTubers. I would not recommend the audiobook version, which would have been far stronger with a male narrator for Nicholas’ chapters.

Historical Fantasy    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School
Calame, Don. Dan Versus Nature. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2016. 978-0-7636-7071-9. 384 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.
As a long-time fan of Don Calame’s Swim the Fly series, I was thrilled to discover that he had a new book slated to arrive in 2016, and Dan Versus Nature does not disappoint! Calame brings his signature brand of cringe-inducing hilarity to the story of Dan Weekes. Dan spends his time working on his graphic novel, crushing on Erin, hanging out with his germaphobic best friend Charlie, and avoiding getting stomped by the wrestling team. He is horrified to learn that his mom has gotten engaged to outdoorsy dentist Hank, and even more horrified when he finds out that she has booked her “two favorite men” on a one-week wilderness survival adventure. With the help of Charlie (and Calame’s unflagging willingness to play his protagonist’s biological functions for laughs), Dan uses the week in the woods to launch a campaign of annoyance, pranks, and embarrassing heart-to-hearts in an attempt to scare Hank away for good. The presence of cute Veronica on the trip complicates both Dan’s pranking agenda and his loyalty to Erin. A bush plane with a failing engine, a relentlessly curious bear, angry wasps, and syrup of ipecac will keep readers giggling and turning the pages. THOUGHTS: Dan Versus Nature is fast-paced, funny, and perfect for booktalking with 9th graders!
Realistic Fiction; Humor            Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School

No True Echo


Jones, Gareth P. No True Echo. New York: Amulet, 2015. 978-1-4197-0784-1. 288 p. $16.95. Gr. 8-12.

Eddie Dane has always thought he lived in the most boring town in England.  Life in Wellcome Valley is predictable, until the day that Scarlett White arrives in town.  Scarlett is enigmatic.  Though she reveals little about herself, she seems wise beyond her years and exhibits an unusual curiosity in the town and its residents.  Enamored (and curious), Eddie follows Scarlett one morning to the farmhouse of a reclusive scientist where he witnesses a murder.  The next time he opens his eyes, Eddie finds himself back on the school bus the day Scarlett first arrived in town.  Eddie soon discovers he is stuck in a time loop in which he regularly “echo jumps” back to the day Scarlett arrived in town.  Each iteration of the loop is somewhat different, and Eddie struggles to determine what the truth is and who he should trust.  THOUGHTS:  This science fiction time travelling story will engage readers with twists, turns, and surprising revelations.  The ethics of time travel and changing history are also worked into the storyline.  While the parallel time lines and loops may get slightly confusing at times, Eddie is such a likeable character that readers will relate to his confusion as he struggles to understand this concept as well.  

Science Fiction       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

No Regrets…continuation of The Gift series


Karre, Elizabeth. No Regrets. Minneapolis: Darby Creek, 2014.  ISBN 9781467744805. $14.99. Gr. 9-12.

Daughter of a teen mother and gambling addicted father, Layla strives to finish high school and go on to college. A typical teenager, Layla has a love interest, Marquis, a biracial young man she meets while on summer break in Chicago.  As Marquis is visiting his father and Layla is visiting her extended family, they forge a relationship.  Marquis asks Layla to leave everything behind and join him on the reservation where he lives with his mother. She says no, citing her reasons such as finishing high school.  However she does not want the relationship to end.  Marquis has not contacted or seen Layla since the day they said goodbye.  Layla, a junior in high school, is repeatedly visited by a mysterious but strangely familiar man who grants her the gift of time travel.  Skeptical but unwilling to give up on what could have been had she said “yes”, Layla tries time travel.  The time travel proves to be physically grueling, but Layla needs to know if she will see Marquis again. Giving up her aspirations of school and track, the time travel takes Layla on a journey to find out her future.  A high interest, low-level novel, No Regrets is initially a confusing storyline with inferred details.  Struggling readers may become frustrated with the lack of straightforward details. Part of the The Gifts series, this Darby Creek novel engages the reader by creating characters who readers can assimilate easily with and who enjoy paranormal stories. Layla is a shallow character, who regrets a decision she has made.  Many readers will be able to sympathize with this situation. More titles are available in The Gifts series.

Realism; Fantasy            Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School