Upper Elem/MS FIC – Emma Moves In; Matylda; Watchdog; One Good Thing…

Hutton, Clare. Emma Moves In (American Girl: Like Sisters #1). Scholastic, 2017. 978-1-338-11499-7. $6.99. 188 p. Gr. 3-5.

Emma, an only child, adores the time she spends with her twin cousins, Natalia and Zoe. When her parents decide to leave their Seattle home and move across the country into her mother’s family homestead, Emily’s secret dream comes true: she will be living in the same town as her cousins. However, the transition is more difficult than Emily could have imagined. When school starts, she realizes her cousins have different personalities, different groups of friends, and finds herself awkwardly pulled between the sisters. Additionally, Emily’s father is still in Seattle, and the extended separation is adding to the stress Emily and her mom are experiencing. Was this move a huge mistake? THOUGHTS:  An exploration of the anxieties involved with moving and starting a new school. The secondary plotline concerning the escalating anger between Emily’s parents is also well portrayed. Emily exhibits good problem-solving skills in dealing with her cousins and hostile classmates but makes age-appropriate mistakes in dealing with the fear her parents are divorcing.   

Realistic Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District


McGhee, Holly M. Matylda, Bright and Tender. Candlewick, 2017. 978-0-7636-895-1-3. $16.99. 210 p. Gr. 3-6.

Sussy and Guy have been friends since kindergarten. The pair bonded over Mr. Potato Head and never looked back. The two know they just belong together, bringing out the best in each other. Towards the end of fourth grade, the pair decide they need a pet, something of their own for which to be responsible. Guy adores leopard geckos, so they purchase Matylda and go to work figuring out how to make her happy. But in a moment of pure Guy, tragedy strikes as the pair are riding their bikes to the pet store. Now Sussy channels her grief on to Matylda, becoming increasingly desperate and reckless in her need to hold on to Guy through the gecko.   THOUGHTS:  Sussy and Guy are memorable characters, and Sussy’s grief is tangible. Readers will root for her to find her way back into the world.  

Realistic Fiction       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District


McIntosh, Will.  Watchdog. Delacort, 2017.  978-1-5247-1384-3. $16.99. 192 p. Gr. 4-7.

Orphans Vick and Tara eke out a living by scavenging electronics parts to sell. The 13-year-old twins have been on their own since their mom died after being replaced at her job by a hairstyling robot. Although Tara is autistic, she is also a mechanical genius and tinkers with making a watchdog bot named Daisy. Unfortunately, the clever mechanical dog attracts the attention of Ms. Alba, who quickly puts the Vick and Tara to work in her bot-building sweatshop. After they manage to pull off an escape, Vick and Tara are on the run, with a price on their heads. However, a shadowy groups of teens who run a chop shop, stealing domestic robots to take apart and make watchdogs, come to the twins’ aid in their fight against the evil Ms. Alba. THOUGHTS:  A slightly dystopian setting with lots of action, sure to please those not ready to plunge into The Maze Runner or Hunger Games.  

Science Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District


Freeman, Ruth. One Good Thing About America. Holiday House, 2017. 978-0-8234-3695-8. $16.95. 152 p. Gr. 3-7.

Nine-year-old Anais, her mother and brother Jean-Claud have recently arrived in the United States from Congo, escaping the violent, corrupt mining officials from whom her father and older brother are on the run. The book is a series of letters Anais writes her grandmother back in Congo. In each letter Anais attempts to find one good thing about America. Some days are easier than others to be positive, as the young girl battles a new language, new culture, new school and friends. Her missives reflect frustration when students at school laugh at her language mistakes, and a heart-wrenching moment when a friend’s parents exhibit blatant prejudice. The book is an insight into the struggles of the many immigrant students in our schools, highlighting the difficulties Anais’s mother experiences trying to find employment and housing, while maintaining stability for Anais and Jean-Claud. THOUGHTS:  A sweet book that thoughtfully illustrates a timely topic. Pair this book with Alan Gratz’s Refugee. While the afterward provides guidance to Anais’s broken English, a French-English pronunciation guide would have been extremely helpful. (She complains that her teacher can’t pronounce her name, but we are never given any guidance as to how her name would be pronounced.)

Realistic Fiction       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

New Upper Elem/MS – Knife’s Edge; Quicksand Pond; Hello Universe; The Ethan I Was Before

Larson, Hope. Knife’s Edge (Four Points series). Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017. 978-0-374-30044-9. 224 p. $19.99. Gr. 4-8.

My students and I have been eagerly awaiting the second installment in the Four Points series, and it’s finally here! The first book in the series, Compass South, finds twins Cleo and Alex Dodge searching for their lost father as they try to survive as street orphans in 1860. At the end of the first adventure, they’re reunited with their father and realize that their family heirlooms, a knife and compass, create a treasure map. In Knife’s Edge, Cleo and Alex learn that their birth parents were both pirates and the treasure they seek is a pirate’s bounty. They reluctantly agree to help old friend/nemesis Luther escape pirate Felix Worley who is hunting the twins and their treasure. Cleo and Alex both work to find their place aboard the Almira with wise captain Tarboro as they sail to find the treasure and meet many dangers along the way. Like the first book, Knife’s Edge takes readers on a trip to many distant shores, including Honolulu, HI, and the Marshall Islands. The twins and Tarboro’s crew eventually meet up with Worley and his gang in a tropical jungle where they battle it out for treasure rights. The second book in the series ends with a surprise appearance on the last page, foreshadowing the twins’ next adventure. Rebecca Mock’s illustrations and graphic style are easy to follow, brilliantly colored, and full of drama. THOUGHTS: Larson and Mock’s collaborations combine edge-of-your-seat action, family love and history, and lots of adventure. A winner.

Graphic novel, Action/Adventure               Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District


Lisle, Janet Taylor. Quicksand Pond.  Atheneum, 2017.  978-1-4814-7222-7.  240 p.  $16.99  Gr. 4-8.

Jessie Kettel is spending the summer with her family in Rhode Island, where their promised waterfront beach house turns out to be a ramshackle cottage on an overgrown pond. Jessie doesn’t mind, especially when she finds a raft, and even better, a friend, Terri, who helps her fix it up. Terri’s father is an alcoholic and abusive, and she often spends nights alone in the woods to avoid his temper, but she wants Jessie’s friendship not her pity. Terri entertains Jessie with local tales about children swallowed up by the quicksand and a long-ago double murder that led to the wrongful conviction of her own grandfather. The girls develop a close bond, but the relationship starts deteriorating when Jessie hears rumors that Terri may be involved in something illegal. At first, Jessie stands up for her friend, but eventually, frightened she is getting in over her head, she pulls away. Jessie struggles to hold on to what she feels to be right, even as those around her make judgments based on false assumptions that stem from class and social prejudices. Woven into the girls’ stories is the story of an old woman who is the only witness of the long-forgotten murders. THOUGHTS: This is a gripping novel, with a sensitive, nuanced portrayal of issues relating to classism, as well as the flaws in our criminal justice system. The characters, including many of the secondary characters, are well-developed and memorably distinct.  Not to be missed.

Realistic Fiction           Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Kelly, Erin Entrada. Hello, Universe.  Greenwillow, 2017. 978-0-06-241415-1. 313 p.  $16.99  Gr. 4-7.

Hello, Universe is written from the point-of-view of four middle school students whose stories converge after one of them is trapped at the bottom of the well.  Painfully shy Virgil Salinas feels like an outsider even in his own family.  However, he has a special relationship with his Filipino grandmother, who shares hilariously macabre folk stories that later give him strength while he hopes and waits for rescue. Kaori Tanaka is a third-generation Japanese-American with plenty of bravado who has started a business as a psychic for kids (so far, Virgil is her only customer).  Virgil has a secret crush on a deaf girl, Valencia Somerset, who is outgoing and well-adjusted, but lonely after being abandoned by her best friend.  Chet Bullens, the school bully, has a father who belittles him and teaches him that winning at any cost is what is important; it is Chet’s cruelty that indirectly sends Virgil plummeting down the well.  Kaori insists that Virgil’s rescue and meet-up with Valencia have been engineered by the universe, and ultimately, it is hard for either Virgil or Valencia to argue with her.  THOUGHTS:  This is a beautifully written book with unique, diverse characters. Whether or not readers agree with Kaori about the role of fate, they will enjoy seeing how separate threads eventually weave together to make a single story.

Realistic Fiction            Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Standish, Ali. The Ethan I Was Before.  HarperCollins, 2017. 978-0-06-243338-1. 352 p.  $16.99  Gr. 4-8.

Ethan is devastated after the loss of his best friend to a horrific accident he blames himself for.  To give Ethan a fresh start, his parents move the family from Boston to the tiny Florida town where Ethan’s grandfather lives. Ethan soon makes a new friend, the fiesty Coralee, who is battling demons of her own.  Still, the crushing guilt Ethan carries threatens his relationships with everyone and everything he loves.  On top of that, his grandfather and mother are barely speaking, and his brother, who loved their old life, is seething with anger.  Another crisis helps Ethan and his family and friends learn to trust and support each other rather than continue shutting each other out. THOUGHTS:  Despite the serious themes, there is humor and lightness here too, and the writing is first-rate.  Highly recommended for middle school libraries.

Realistic Fiction              Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


MS Realistic Fiction – Lost in the Sun


Graff, Lisa. Lost in the Sun. New York: Philomel Books, 2015. 978-0-399-16406-4. $16.99. 289p. Gr. 5-8.

Trent would like to forget his fifth grade year altogether, but the tragic accident with a hockey puck that took a classmate’s life continues to haunt him.  As a therapeutic act, he plies his journal with sketches of alternative causes leading to Jared’s death.  Hoping middle school will provide a fresh start, he can’t shake the feeling that everyone in town hates him, except Fallon Little.  Shrouded in mystery, Fallon won’t hesitate to tell anyone the story behind the scar on her face.  She makes up one ludicrous anecdote after another.  Her peers think she’s more than a little odd, and oftentimes she’s the target of bullying.  When Trent defends her against the town bully, and the rage builds in his chest until he pummels the kid, Fallon suddenly withdraws from the friendship claiming her parents won’t let her hang out with Trent.  Problems at school intensify for Trent when he discovers he may not pass sixth grade because he refuses to participate in gym.  Mrs. Emerson provides an alternative to failing in which he must assist in a weekend basketball clinic to help younger players improve their skills.  The director partners him with Annie Richards, the sister of the boy Trent killed in February.  Making amends isn’t easy until Trent takes the advice of his teacher and starts speaking truths.  THOUGHTS: A poignant story of friendship and healing that has readers cheering for Trent.

Realistic Fiction              Christine Massey, JWP Middle School