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

MG – The Black American Journey (Series NF)

The Black American Journey. The Child’s World, 2021. $22.00 ea. $528.00 set of 24 (2021-2022 titles). 32 p. Grades 4-7.

Somervill, Barbara A. The Amistad Mutiny. 978-1-503-85370-6.
Shaffer, Jody Jensen. Barack Obama: First African American President. 978-1-503-85377-5.
Maupin, Melissa. Benjamin Banneker: Astronomer and Mathematician. 978-1-503-85378-2.
Venable, Rose. The Civil Rights Movement. 978-1-503-85369-0.
Carey, Charles W. The Emancipation Proclamation. 978-1-503-85368-3.
Dolbear, Emily J. Juneteenth. 9781503853799.
Madam C. J. Walker: Entrepreneur. 9781503853768.
Jones, Amy Robin. Mary McLeod Bethune: Pioneering Educator. 9781503853751.
Neshama, Rivvy. Nat Turner and the Virginia Slave Revolt. 9781503853720.
Meadows, James. Slavery. 9781503853744.
Laughlin, Kara L. The Tulsa Race Massacre. 9781503853713.
Williams, Carla. The Tuskegee Airmen. 9781503853737.

This reviewer read The Tuskegee Airmen from the The Black American Journey series. This series offers approachable information in a visually-appealing format relating to Black culture and the history of slavery, discrimination, and the Civil Rights Movement throughout American history. Each book in the series includes clearly-labeled sections, attractive sidebars and captions, bolded vocabulary words that are also found in the included glossary, and a variety of interesting historical photographs to accompany the text. “Think about it” questions, a timeline, and an index round out the back matter for each book. 

THOUGHTS: These titles would make great additions to collections where students will benefit from engaging text introductions to the topics in this series. Fans of military history would also enjoy this quick read about a fascinating chapter in the evolution of fighter pilot training, racial integration, and the Air Force. (Title Reviewed: The Tuskegee Airmen.)

940.54 Military History of World War II            Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

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

MG – War and Millie McGonigle

Cushman, Karen. War and Millie McGonigle. Alfred A. Knopf, 2021. 210 p. 978-1-984-85010-2. $16.99.  Grades 4-6.

Mollie McGonigle is a twelve year old girl who lives with her family in San Diego. It is the autumn of 1941 and with war raging in Europe, Millie worries that the conflict will come to California. The young girl is grieving for her grandmother, who died on Millie’s birthday. Her grandmother’s gift was a diary, and she suggested that Millie “use [it] to remember the good things in this world…things that seem lost or dead-keep them alive and safe in your book.” Millie interprets this to mean that she should keep a list of dead things and explores the beach and neighborhood to find or hear about something to write down. When not looking after her younger asthmatic sister and energetic brother or doing chores, Millie finds time to be with her friend Rosie from Chicago, who is temporarily living with relatives. Then, Pearl Harbor is attacked, and Millie becomes even more alarmed about a possible invasion, as do others in the town. With Rosie’s help, Millie comes to terms with her anxiety about the world and the loss of her grandmother, realizing that “whatever is lost stays alive when we remember it.”

THOUGHTS: This novel explores the effects of grief and anxiety about a world turned upside down. The story is not all doom and gloom, as Cushman has included some comic relief in characters like Aunt Edna and MeToo. Millie is a likeable character and readers who enjoy books about sensitive issues and friendship will like this one.

Historical Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

YA – Conspiracy: Nixon, Watergate, and Democracy’s Defenders

Pearson, P. O’Connell. Conspiracy: Nixon, Watergate, and Democracy’s Defenders. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-48003-2. 277 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

The Watergate scandal and resignation of President Nixon was a seminal moment in 20th century American History. Conspiracy relates information about the Watergate events and personalities in an accessible and straightforward manner that is highly readable. The book is arranged chronologically, starting with the Watergate break-in on June 17, 1972. Subsequent chapters follow the unfolding events and investigative process that ultimately revealed numerous abuses of power carried out by the Nixon administration. A major focus of the title is examining the role of Watergate heroes, individuals like reporters, judges, lawyers, elected officials, and average Americans, who worked to reveal the truth about Watergate-related criminal activity and cover-up attempts and to defend the rule of law. Key legal terms and governmental concepts/procedures are defined within the text. Back matter includes a bibliography, timeline of events, and cast of characters.

THOUGHTS: The Watergate scandal unfolded over a period of years and ultimately encompassed not only the Watergate break-in, but numerous crimes. Therefore, it can be a complex topic to explore and explain. Pearson does an admirable job in presenting these concepts in an accessible manner that will enable secondary students to gain a full understanding of the events and key players. Student researchers will find this book to be an invaluable resource, and it will also be of interest to history fans.

973.924 American History          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA – Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease

Jarrow, Gail. Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease. Calkins Creek, 2020. 978-1-684-37176-1. $18.99 Grades 7-12. 

Author Gail Jarrow (Poison Eaters, Red Madness) is back with Blood and Germs, another top notch medical-related non-fiction title for secondary students. This time, she has turned her focus to the American Civil War and the injuries and diseases suffered by soldiers as well as the medical practices of the period. Jarrow makes extensive use of primary source documents and photos (word of warning for the squeamish, the title contains B&W photos of injured soldiers as well as vivid descriptions of wounds, diseases, and medical procedures), to explore medical treatments of the time period. Readers will follow soldiers into camp and learn about the high rates of disease found within the armies, to the battlefield where thousands were wounded, to the field hospital where the wounded underwent treatment (often amputation), on to the hospital. Medical care in both Union and Confederate armies are presented. The role of African-American nurses and doctors and the medical treatment of African-American soldiers within the Union Army are also discussed. Readers will discover how the war led to treatment innovations, such as the concept of triage, the importance of competent nursing care, as well as an improvement in surgical treatments and sharing of medical knowledge. The role of women in the war, including their critical role as nurses is also presented, with several biographical sketches of key women included within the text. Backmatter includes a timeline, glossary, places to visit (in person and online), and an extensive bibliography.

THOUGHTS: This engaging title is sure to be a hit with students with an interest in the Civil War or in medicine. Students with research projects relating to Civil War medical care will find the book an invaluable resource. Highly recommended.

973.775 Civil War Medicine        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Rossi, Veronica. Rebel Spy. Delacorte, 2020. 978-1-524-77122-5. 348 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

When Frannie Tasker’s abusive stepfather announces it is time for her to take her dead mother’s place in the household, she knows she has to escape her brutal life with him as a salvage diver on Grand Bahama Island. Fate intervenes by way of a fatal shipwreck, and a dead young woman who looks similar to Frannie. A quick change of clothes, (and a bout of “trauma-induced” mutism until she can polish her vocabulary and manners) and she becomes Emmeline Coates, wealthy British heiress on her way to America, during the height of the Revolution. She gradually adapts to her new life, family and friends, and even catches the eye of a handsome British officer. But a chance encounter with American rebel Asa Lane, who befriended Frannie on the voyage to New York and coached her in the ways of society women, shakes her out of her comfortable lifestyle. Utilizing her position in Loyalist society, Frannie begins spying for the Americans, passing along information she overhears during teas and dinner parties. But spying is a dangerous game,and Frannie is risking everything, including her new life and persona. Will Emmeline, or Frannie, survive? Based on the unknown identity of a member of the famous Revolutionary War Culper spy ring, Rossi creates a story for female agent 355. Meticulous research brings to life events of the war, many less familiar than those learned in history class, highlighting the little-emphasized contributions of women patriots.

THOUGHTS: A well-constructed combination of mystery, romance, and history featuring a strong, intelligent female main character, Rebel Spy is perfect for historical fiction fans, readers seeking an adventure story, or period romance readers.

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD