Elem. – What Was the Turning Point of the Civil War?

Crenshaw, Ellen T. What Was the Turning Point of the Civil War? Penguin, 2022. 978-0-593-22516-5. 64 p. $7.99. Grades 3-7.

This graphic novel, part of the “Who HQ” series, tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of Alfred Waud. A newspaper artist assigned to cover the Army of the Potomac, Waud traveled with the troops to Gettysburg and witnessed the three days of brutal battle that turned the tide of war in favor of the Union. The expressive illustrations are interspersed with pages of additional information that highlight lesser known facts and individuals, such as Thomas Morris Chester, a Black lawyer from Harrisburg, PA, who was a militia captain as well as a correspondent covering Black troops in the war. A text introduction sets the scene for young readers, and a conclusion rounds out the brief story. Also included are a timeline of the Civil War and, delightfully, a bibliography. The book is an excellent addition to the field of books such as the Who Was series (published by a subsidiary of Penguin). Young inquiring minds will gravitate to the graphic novel format, and the editorial choice to feature unique, little known individuals is appreciated. The publisher’s website provides additional activities and worksheets. 

THOUGHTS: A highly attractive, entertaining, non-fiction graphic novel with an unusual focus should attract interested readers. 

Graphic Novel            Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD
793.7 Civil War

MG – And We Rise

Martin, Erica. And We Rise. Viking, 2022. 978-0-593-35252-6. 153 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

And We Rise is a debut poetry collection that centers on the Civil Rights Movement. The first poem focuses on 1877 and Jim Crow Laws, and goes through both small and large moments that happened in the Civil Rights Movement. There is an author’s note, as well as a timeline of the whole Civil Rights Movement. There is also a source list with some further reading included. The author also chose to put Martin Luther King Jr’s, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in full at the end of the book. The poems use the physical layout to tell the story as well as the poems themselves. 

THOUGHTS: This was an extremely powerful poetry book that is a must read for every middle school student. This book is highly recommended for every middle school collection. 

808 Poetry          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
323.1 Politics

Elem. – Never Forget: Heroes of 9/11 (Series NF)

Buckley, Jr., James. Never Forget: Heroes of 9/11. Bearport Publishing, 2022. 24 p. $20.00 ea. $120.00 set of 6. Grades 3-5. 

Canine Hero. 978-1-636-91025-3.
The Doctor Saves the Day. 978-1-636-91026-0.
EMS to the Rescue. 978-1-636-91028-4.
Fighting back in Flight. 978-1-636-91027-7.
Guiding Light. 978-1-636-91023-9.
Tale of Two Marines. 978-1-636-91024-6.

Heroism, helping in any way possible, and acting bravely in the face of danger are the themes emphasized in this nonfiction title about the September 11 Terrorist Attacks. This graphic nonfiction comic is one of six in the “Never Forget: Heroes of 9/11” series. The narrative nonfiction style of writing, as well as the colorful comic-style panel illustrations, will engage reluctant readers. The fast-paced action also will keep readers hooked. The story focuses on two former United States Marines who each feel compelled to do what they can to help on the day of the attacks. Both arrive at the World Trade Center and immediately begin searching for people who are trapped in the collapsed rubble. As a team, they look out for each other’s safety while also combing the debris for survivors. A backmatter section titled “A Day Like No Other” includes five paragraphs about the September 11 Attacks as well as real photographs of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Flight 93 Crash Site. A section titled “Other Ground Zero Heroes” features two other ordinary people who jumped into action on September 11. Other backmatter includes a Glossary, Index, and sections with additional book and online resource recommendations.

THOUGHTS: This is an age-appropriate, easily accessible title to share with students as they learn about the September 11 Terrorist Attacks. The focus of the book is on the heroic efforts of ordinary people in the face of extreme danger and uncertainty, not on the attackers’ motives or politics.

Nonfiction Comics          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
973.931 United States History

Elem. – Wait! What? Teddy Roosevelt was a Moose?

Gutman, Dan. Wait! What? Teddy Roosevelt Was a Moose? Norton Young Readers.  978-1-324-01564-2. 106 p. $16.95. Gr 3-5. 

Brother and sister duo Paige and Turner narrate this anything-but-ordinary biography of Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was America’s 26th President, but he is also remembered for his love of animals, his interest in conservation, his hearty appetite, his love of fierce competition, and much, much more. This highly conversational biography includes spot illustrations on almost every page as well as headshots of Paige and Turner, so readers always can tell who is narrating. The siblings talk readers through each stage of Roosevelt’s life in different chapters, highlighting important events from his childhood, presidency, and post-presidency. In addition to traditional, expected facts, they also detail surprising tidbits, such as how he ran his own “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History” when he was a boy and how he enjoyed skinnydipping in the Potomac River. He also is credited for making football a safer sport, for reading a book a day, and for writing textbooks for the US Navy.

THOUGHTS: Hand this title, and others in the “Wait! What?” series, to fans of the “Who Was” biographies and to students who are interested in trivia and off-beat humor.

Biography          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MG/YA – Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield

Jarrow, Gail. Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield. Calkins Creek, 2021. 978-1-684-37814-2. Grades 5-12

Author Gail Jarrow (Blood and Germs, Poison Eaters) is back with another top notch medical-related non-fiction title for secondary students. This time, she has turned her focus to the assignation of President James Garfield. Garfield was a respected former college president, Civil War general, and Congressman who was elected President in 1880. On July 2, 1881, Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled office seeker, shot Garfield shortly after he entered a train station. Though medical professionals in Europe had been advancing theories regarding germs and the importance of treating wounds with antiseptics, these ideas found little acceptance in America. Therefore, when Garfield was examined, his doctors probed his wound with dirty fingers and instruments. Garfield lingered for months, slowly wasting away as infection ravaged his body. The country united together, in hopes that Garfield would survive, but he passed away on September 19, 1881. Jarrow makes extensive use of primary documents, including diary entries and other communications to relate Garfield’s story. Numerous photographs, paintings, and illustrations enhance the text. Backmatter includes a glossary, timeline, and list of additional resources. 

THOUGHTS: Since Garfield’s presidency was short, he is little remembered today, which is unfortunate. He had an amazing life story, which Jarrow outlines in the beginning of this engaging title. Even though he was in constant pain following being shot, he remained in good spirits and never complained, even while undergoing painful (and as the reader learns, unsanitary) treatments. Readers will gain an appreciation for Garfield and an appreciation for how far medical knowledge and treatment has advanced. Highly recommended.

973.84 American History        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem./MG – Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride

Lantos, Jeff. Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-58089-933-8. 134 p. $18.99. Grades 3-8. 

“Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the most famous poems written by an American poet. Memorized by thousands of children (and adults) since its publication in 1860, the poem popularized Paul Revere and the story of the events on April 18 & 19, 1775, when riders traveled the countryside around Boston to warn citizens that British troops were on the move. While the average reader may accept the poem as fact, in actuality Longfellow took some artistic license in his retelling. Author Jeff Lantos examines the poem stanza by stanza, comparing the text of the poem to primary source accounts of the events. Readers will learn reasons Longfellow strayed from the historical record is his retelling, including the need to maintain pacing in the poem, removing details that might detract from the main storyline, and the need to give the poem a sense of drama. Numerous sidebars highlight historical facts and figures, and the text is enhanced by the inclusion of maps, photographs, paintings, and drawings. 

THOUGHTS: This fantastic title is a combination history lesson and literary analysis. The author is a retired teacher and has an engaging conversational tone that is sure to keep readers turning the page. An excellent choice for casual readers or those researching the events surrounding the beginning of the American Revolution, this title deserves a spot on library shelves.

811 Poetry          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem./MG – Case Unsolved Crimes: Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money

Sullivan, Tom. Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money. (Case Unsolved Crimes). Balzer, 2021. 978-0-062-99151-5 (pbk.). $12.99. 96 p. Grades 3-8.

“I have a bomb here and I would like you to sit by me.” Hi-jacker D. B. Cooper committed one of the only unsolved skyjacking in United States history when he boarded the Northwest Orient Airlines flight traveling from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, on November 24, 1971. Weak or non-existent airline security gave rise to a rash of plane hi-jackings at the end of the Cold War.  Author Tom Sullivan arranges the story according to six different steps and relates the interesting heist peppered with stylistic drawings and facsimiles of boarding passes and other airline paraphernalia. From our 21st century perspective, Cooper’s seemingly modest demand of $200,000 was readily granted by the head of the airline. His well-planned crime, however, did not go smoothly. He requested parachutes and directed where and how he wanted to escape from the plane; however, when the money arrived, it was in smaller denominations making the parachute backpack heavier than he anticipated. After Cooper stepped out of the plane, no trace of him was uncovered despite a thorough FBI search. In 1980, a family camping along the Columbia River uncovered deteriorating packs of $20 bills. This quick, cleverly illustrated book will interest reluctant readers especially.

THOUGHTS: This fun book has broad appeal. Though the information may not be of high value in terms of curriculum, Escape at 10,000 Feet. . . is a perfect match for students who crave short, easy non-fiction with lots of interesting facts.

Graphic Novel           Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia
364.15 Criminal Offenses

YA – One of the Good Ones

Moulite, Maika, and Maritza Moulite. One of the Good Ones. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-14580-2. 384 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Teen YouTube activist and influencer Kezi Smith dies under police custody following her arrest at a social justice rally on her eighteenth birthday. Instantly immortalized as a martyr in the fight against police brutality, Kezi’s family is devastated by loss. While her pastor parents want to preserve and protect Kezi’s memory, sisters Happi and Genny look for a unique way to honor her. Embarking on the trip Kezi planned to take following an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book, the sisters and friends Ximena (Kezi’s girlfriend) and Derek go on a journey to reconnect with the Smith’s African American family history and remember Kezi. Tormented by her broken relationship with Kezi, the trip is an opportunity for Happi to understand her older sister, who she feels like she didn’t truly know. Together they will learn more about Kezi, each other, and their family’s history. A surprising twist won’t shock careful readers, but the alternate time periods may challenge struggling readers.

THOUGHTS: This title examines what it means to be remembered and who gets to be called “one of the good ones.” Recommended for high school collections where social justice and social issue titles are popular.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MG – Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness series)

Bah, Adama. Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness series). Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01663-2. 112 p. $16.95. Grades 5-8.

Adama Bah immigrated to the United States when she was two years old. Her father had come to work in the United States two years prior from Guinea. As a student she attended public school, until seventh grade when she went to an Islamic boarding school to learn more about her religion. Then, September 11, 2001, happened. Upon her return to New York City for Ramadan break, Adama experienced cruelty and hate from strangers because of her dress which identified her as Muslim; she was 13. On March 24, 2005, Adama’s nightmare of hatred and cruelty reached a horrific level. She was ripped from her home and taken into custody, but she did not know why. She was identified as a terrorist and suicide bomber, but no one could share any evidence to these acts except that she was a practicing Muslim. She was stripped of her rights, her family, her pride, and her religion. At the age of 17, she was released back to New York City under the watch of a federal ankle bracelet. Her father, through all of this, was deported. She, as the eldest child, was now responsible for the well-being of her family in New York City and Guinea. She quit school to work but still faced daily hatred, cruelty, and bigotry.  Adama was granted asylum in 2007, but she still fights hatred and bigotry to this day. 

THOUGHTS: This is a fantastic addition to middle school biography collections. The cover is not the most appealing (it appears juvenile), but the book itself is eye-opening. I’m glad I gave it a chance. The print is large with lots of white space (again somewhat juvenile in appearance), but the content is engaging and a very quick read. This is a great text to teach perspective and current U.S. history. It is one of several titles currently available in the I, Witness series.

Biography          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area 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

It’s September 11th, 2001, and Brandon Chavez is accompanying his dad to work after getting suspended from school. His dad, a kitchen manager at Windows on the World on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center, is not thrilled that his son has to go with him today. He has told Brandon several times that they have to be a team, especially since Brandon’s mother passed away from cancer. While his dad is busy at work, Brandon decides to take the elevator down to the North Tower’s underground mall – but his plans are interrupted by the crash, stopping the elevator car between floors. Fast forward to September of 2019 and we meet Reshmina, who lives in a small village in Afghanistan. Her family barely scrapes by financially, mostly because the American army is fighting alongside the Afghan National Army to defeat the Taliban in what is practically her backyard. Reshmina has plenty of reasons to hate their war – her sister Hila was accidentally killed by the American army and her brother Pasoon is eager to join the Taliban, a fact that leaves Reshmina worried for his safety. She keeps out of the way of both armies until she stumbles upon an American soldier in need of help after a Taliban attack. Risking her family’s safety, she offers him refuge at their home. Pasoon, angered that Reshmina wants to help an enemy, decides to join the Taliban sooner rather than later and divulge the wounded soldier’s location. Each chapter alternates between Brandon and Reshmina, and their stories mirror each other until a twist is revealed at the end.

THOUGHTS: Author Alan Gratz is well-known for his action-packed historical fiction stories that are beloved by middle grade students. Ground Zero is no exception and is a must-have for middle grade libraries.

Historical Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD