MG – Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel

Currie, Rob. Hunger Winter: A World War II Novel. Tyndale House, 2020. $14.99 253 p. 978-1-496-44034-1  Grades 4-8.

In late 1944, 13-year-old Dirk’s father has gone into hiding as a leader of the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. The chase begins immediately; in chapter one, Dirk learns via a neighbor that his older sister Els has been captured by the Gestapo, to question and torture for information, and to encourage their father’s cooperation. Dirk knows his next move must be to escape with his younger sister, six-year-old Anna, to their grandparents’ home, but questions and worries bombard his mind. Chapter two reveals Els’s perspective as she is starved; questioned; threatened; and worries for her father, brother, and sister.  Most of the story is Dirk’s, but returns to Els’s point-of-view in the final chapters. This tense novel reveals the strength of the Dutch people during what became known as the “Hongerwinter” when Nazi control of resources led to daily food rations of a mere 320 calories per person. Dirk must call upon memories of his father’s instructions and strength to guide him through difficult decisions on his journey, while shielding Anna from the brutal realities of war as best he can.

THOUGHTS: This is a middle-grade novel a step up in complexity and danger for readers who loved Number the Stars and The Devil’s Arithmetic. It will expand readers’ knowledge of Nazi tactics and brave Dutch resistance. An inspiring read.

Historical Fiction; World War II in Netherlands  Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Traitor

McCrina, Amanda. Traitor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020. 978-0-374-31352-4. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

War is not clean and neat, and McCrina’s Traitor masterfully portrays the emotional and ethical wreckage it causes. The two-pronged storyline begins with Tolya, in July 1944. A young soldier in the Soviet army during World War II, Tolya keeps his head down. With his Ukranian father executed as a traitor, and his mother shot for being Polish, his loyalties do not lie with the Soviets, but he enlisted because he was alone and hungry. When he shoots his unit’s political officer during an assault on a young woman, it’s only a matter of time until the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police, arrest and shoot him. However, when he is whisked away, it turns out to be an extraction by the Ukranian Insurgent Army, who are looking for a sniper to assassinate a high ranking Soviet officer. The alternate plot line begins in June 1941, following young Ukranian Aleksey who is attempting to break  his Ukranian nationalist hero father out of a Russian controlled Polish prison prior to the arrival of German troops. As life deteriorates in the Polish city, an injured Aleksey and his brother, Mykola, find themselves in the care of the Polish Resistance. Both plotlines highlight the confusing disintegration of loyalties as the Germans advance into Russian territory. While the Russians had allied themselves with the Polish resistance earlier in the war, now they are actively hunting and killing them. Astute readers may pick up on the connection between the two plotlines early in the book; most will unravel it deeper into the story, hindered by the profusion of characters with unfamiliar names. But the ultimate moral of the story is that there are no winners in war. Readers’ hearts will ache for the profound loneliness of both Tolya and Aleksey, as they cannot bring themselves to trust anyone. Ultimately, it seems, everyone’s goal is to just survive. A character list and an outline of military units at the end of the book are extremely useful to readers in keeping the complex stories organized.

THOUGHTS: This outstanding historical fiction story highlights a lesser known corridor of World War II. The era is presented in deeply humanistic terms, highlighting the psychological toll war causes on those caught up against their will. It can be a challenging read with dozens of characters and multiple factions to keep straight, but the reward is magnificent. Hand this stunning book to Alan Gratz fans who are ready for something more mature. 

Historical Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Village of Scoundrels

Preus, Margi. Village of Scoundrels. Amulet Books, 2020. 978-1-419-70897-8. 295 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

To the people of Nazi ocupied France, every step must be calculated and every risk weighed carefully. In this powerful novel, Preus explores how the young people of France band together in order to smuggle refugees across the border into neutral Switzerland. Henni, a Jewish girl in hiding, helps to protect children by hiding them in the woods during Nazi raids on their hiding spot. Celeste bravely travels across the country to procure items necessary to continue bringing people to safety. Although these girls are brilliant in their work, they also need someone who can provide legal documents and safe travel. Jean Paul is an expert at forgery, and Philippe is knowledgeable with the terrain and how to arrange passage. This group of children will assist the extrication of hundreds of people and stand up for what is right no matter the risk and danger associated with their tasks.

THOUGHTS: This novel is based on a true story and is thoughtfully written. The pages are filled with accurate details and French and German words. The author provides a Cast of Characters (almost like a Playbill) and a pronunciation guide at the start of the book. This proves useful because there are a variety of characters to keep up with, which at times is overwhelming as they jump from person to person within a chapter. A great read for those who enjoy reading historical fiction and the World War II time period.

Historical Fiction        Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Elem. – The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne

Cline-Ransome, Lesa. The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne. Simon and Schuster, 2020. 978-1-481-46289-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 1-4.

The life of Ethel L. Payne, the “First Lady of the Black Press”, is depicted in this picture biography. Born in Chicago in 1911, Ethel loved listening to her grandparents’ stories of the cotton fields in Kentucky and her parents’ own sharecropping tales. Ethel developed a love of writing and after high school fought against racism in her community. After World War II, she left for Japan and collected stories from black American soldiers on the base, noting the unfair treatment they received from the Army. Soon Ethel’s stories from Japan were sent to American newspapers. On her return, Payne took a job as a features editor with the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper.  Her stories progressed from local events to covering the Democratic National Convention. Eventually, Ethel moved to Washington DC and became one of three African American reporters with a White House pass. For the rest of her life, she wrote stories that focused on civil rights and the issues facing African Americans.  There is an author’s note that gives more details on Ethel L. Payne’s life. John Parra has used acrylic paint to create illustrations that feature other well-known African Americans. Readers will enjoy poring over the drawings to search for the small objects found throughout the text, including the clocks that move forward in time by the end of the story.

THOUGHTS: This text is a worthwhile addition to elementary collections. Readers will learn about the life of this famous African American woman and her important contribution to the civil rights movement.

921 Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
070.92 Journalism and Publishing

MG – Wildheart; Soaring Earth; A Circle of Elephants; Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse; Lizzy Legend; The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA; Searching for Lottie

Bertagna, Julie, and William Goldsmith, Illustrator. Wildheart: The Daring Adventures of John Muir. Yosemite Conservancy, 2019. 978-1-930-23893-0. 128 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

As a boy in Dunbar, Scotland, John Muir was sent to school in 1841 when he was just three years old, but he longed to be outside, playing and learning amongst the wild things that he loved. Years later, after a family move to Wisconsin, an eye injury nearly robbed John of his sight but inspired his true calling: exploring and preserving nature. As part of his campaign to protect America’s forests and natural features, he co-founded the Sierra Club and helped to create our National Parks. He also went camping with President Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite for four days in 1903, inspiring “Teddy” to preserve 148 million acres of land! William Goldsmith’s rough, energetic sketches are appropriately tinted in natural shades of rust, moss green, berry, and ice-blue. The characters’ body postures imply the mood and action more distinctly than any detailed facial expressions (which are generally lacking). A handful of Scottish expressions may confuse readers (e.g., “Ta” for thanks) but ample context clues and a helpful Glossary will assist in deciphering them. 

THOUGHTS: This middle-grade graphic biography of the first modern environmentalist, told in a first-person voice, will inspire readers to cherish our precious planet, and to take action to protect it! John Muir’s legacy is a treasured reminder that “We are part of nature, and its wild heart is part of us.” Additional information for interested readers is available at the webpage for the John Muir National Historic Site

Graphic Novel / Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD


Engle, Margarita. Soaring Earth. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-42953-6. $18.99. 192 p. Grades 7+.

Margarita’s idealism and longing to see the world are described beautifully in verse in this companion memoir to Enchanted Air. In this book Margarita is now a young adult in high school and beyond. It is set during the tumultuous Vietnam War Era, and the war and protests, Civil Rights movement, moon landing, and the Grape boycott and strike are described. Although younger readers might not have the knowledge to fully appreciate those historic events, Margarita’s struggle with fitting in and finding out who she is will resonate with everyone. Margarita finds herself at ground-zero of the hippie/free speech movement when she enrolls at UC Berkeley for college. She struggles with her fears of not being perfect, especially with her writing, and she finds out that the prestigious university turns out not to be a great fit for her which leads to her dropping out and drifting around CA and NY on a path of self-discovery. Her longing to travel the world, especially her beloved Cuba, which has been closed to her due to the Cold War, and the prejudices she experiences due to her Cuban heritage are also examined. Margarita Engle is the 2017-2019 Young People’s Poet Laureate.

THOUGHTS: It isn’t necessary to have read Enchanted Air to appreciate this beautifully written novel in verse. It would be perfect to use for a social studies book club during a 1960s unit.

Memoir; Verse          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Dinerstein, Eric. A Circle of Elephants. Disney Hyperion, 2019. 978-1-368-01658-2. $16.99. 260 p. Grades 4-8.

13-year old Nandu, a Tibetan, was found as a two-year old orphaned in the jungle being guarded by a pack of dhole (a type of wild dog). He was adopted by Subba-Sahib, the good man who runs the Royal Elephant Breeding Center at the edge of the Borderlands in Nepal. Nandu has a special relationship and empathy with the animals of the jungle but he considers the tusker, Hira Prishad, the bull elephant he oversees, his brother. The story of Nandu and the horrors of the Ivory Trade is described in such a beautiful and realistic way that it is easy to forget that this is a work of fiction. The earthquake at the beginning of the book is a bad omen: the harbinger of drought and the return of Maroons (poachers) who are looking for ivory in the tusks and horns of the elephants and rhinos. In addition to the mutilation of animals for their ivory, there is a side story about young girls being sold into slavery (it is not explicit sex slavery, but it is implied) which may be difficult for younger middle grade readers. The book examines the relationship between humans and other animals and as Nandu believes “that our purpose in life is to look out for each other.”

THOUGHTS: This book will enlighten the reader about the evils of poaching and how it is possible for people to have meaningful relationships with animals, especially elephants. A Circle of Elephants is the sequel to What Elephants Know but it wasn’t necessary to have read that story to enjoy this book. This beautifully written story would be a great addition to any library.

Realistic Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Vaught, Susan.  Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-42501-9. 309 p. $17.99. Grades 5 and up.

Jesse is not like the other kids in her middle school – she’s extremely temperamental, with a proclivity towards hitting people she dislikes; she doesn’t always bathe on a regular basis; she’s “on the spectrum”; and her mother is a Master Sergeant stationed overseas in Iraq. Needless to say, she’s not the most popular girl in school, which doesn’t bother her in the least. What does bother her, however, is the group of bullies – Rykyer (aka: Jerkface), Chris, and Trisha (aka: the cockroaches) – who harass her on a daily basis and never seem to get in trouble for it. When Jesse’s father, a teacher at the high school, is arrested and accused of stealing money for the library fund, Jesse, along with new kid, Springer, take it upon themselves to investigate. Springer is Jesse’s foil – a big, non-confrontational, soft-spoken boy who doesn’t believe in violence. They share a love of puzzles, outside the box thinking, and Sam-Sam, Jesse’s beloved Pomeranian. Jesse pushes Springer to fight for what he believes in, and Springer grounds Jesse when she goes into a panic spiral; in fact, he’s one of the only people in her life that truly seems to accept her exactly as she is. Vaught has created two very different, yet equally compelling, protagonists; it is easy to feel Jesse’s anger and frustration towards her bullies, as well as Springer’s kindness and compassion when he stands up for Jesse. Equally well-drawn are Jesse’s mother, who instills in Jesse a deep well of inner strength, and Jesse’s great-aunt Gus, who spends the majority of the book exasperating Jesse’s father. Though Jesse’s bullies come off more as caricatures than three-dimensional characters, and their antics become disturbingly malevolent in tone and action, they serve to further Jesse and Springer’s resolve, as well as their bond; their friendship is truly the grounding force in this middle-grade novel, and readers will find themselves rooting heartily for both of them.

THOUGHTS: A perfect novel for outside the box thinkers, lovers of mysteries, and literally kick-butt female protagonists. With absolutely no romance, and a beautifully crafted platonic friendship between members of the opposite sex, this is a book that you can comfortably hand to a 9 year old, as well as a 14 year old.

Realistic Fiction         Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Smith, Matthew Ross. Lizzy Legend. Aladdin, 2019. 978-1-534-42024-3. 236 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

13-year-old Lizzy Trudeaux loves basketball and spends hours each day practicing her ball-handling and shooting skills. One day, she receives a mysterious phone call from a robot asking her what her wish is, and she wishes to never miss another shot. When this dream surprisingly comes true, she finds herself signing a contract to play for the Philadelphia Bells, a nearby professional basketball team. It’s not long before she becomes a media sensation. Will she, however, be able to continue her dominant performance when her wish is reversed? A fast-paced sports fantasy, this title will resonate particularly with young female athletes.

THOUGHTS: While the premise of this story is a bit unbelievable, the relatable characters, encouraging message, and fast pace of the story make this a solid selection for middle school collections. Lizzy may have gotten to where she is with a little help from her wish, but she is an extremely hard worker regardless. She’s also tough and courageous, putting her heart and soul out on the court even after her wish is reversed. Lizzy is definitely a role model for young girls, showing that with a little hard work and determination, they can do anything they set their minds to. The short chapters are broken up by interviews and imaginative social media posts throughout the story, making the book very accessible to young readers.

Fantasy Fiction (Sports)           Julie Ritter, PSLA


Woods, Brenda. The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019. 978-1-524-73709-2. 194 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Twelve-year-old Gabriel Haberlin, white resident of the small, post-WWII town of Birdsong, South Carolina, is ecstatic when he receives a brand new Schwinn bicycle for his birthday. On his very first ride, however, he runs a red light and is nearly struck by a car and killed. Luckily, Meriwether Hunter, an African American veteran, pushes him out of the way just in time. Feeling indebted to Meriwether, Gabriel convinces his father to offer Meriwether a job at his auto shop. The two soon become friends, and Meriwether teaches Gabriel to view the world through the eyes of others.  In doing so, Gabriel witnesses the unfairness and powerlessness experienced by African Americans living under Jim Crow laws in the segregated South, and for the first time in his life, he begins to question the way of the world. A realistic and thought-provoking coming-of-age story, this book has a lot to teach young readers about the post-WWII South.

THOUGHTS: Use this book in a history class to reinforce topics like segregation,  Jim Crow laws, the 761st Tank Battalion, and the KKK. History buffs will also enjoy simply comparing post-WWII life to life today, as there are plenty of references to prized possessions of the past, including a Buick Roadmaster and a Kodak camera with film. Additionally, this story will appeal to fans of Rita Williams-Garcia. Definitely consider purchasing this authentic, eye-opening work of historical fiction.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, PSLA


Ross, Susan L. Searching for Lottie. Holiday House, 2019. 978-0-823-44166-2. 170 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

When twelve-year-old Charlie must research a family member for a school project, she decides to focus on her namesake, her great aunt Lottie (short for Charlotte). Lottie disappeared during the Holocaust, and because she was Jewish, her family presumes that she was killed. Through her research, Charlie discovers that she and Lottie have a lot in common. They are both sensational violin players, and they could both be described as brave and determined. The more she learns, the more adamant she is to figure out what exactly happened to Lottie. Did she perish during the Holocaust as her family always thought, or did she miraculously survive? Readers will be just as curious as Charlie to solve this puzzle and won’t be able to stop turning the pages until all of their questions are answered.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful selection for middle school readers.  Charlie is an extremely relatable character who experiences many young adolescent norms throughout the story, including sibling rivalry, close friendships, a crush on a boy, and nerves during a musical audition. This would be a great complement to any Holocaust unit, or it could be used to introduce a project on genealogical research. References to Jewish culture present even more opportunities for learning. The short chapters and fast-moving narrative make it easily accessible, and the level of suspense will most certainly make readers want to finish the book. Give this to mystery lovers, history buffs, or students who want to learn more about genealogical research or Jewish culture.

Historical Fiction          Julie Ritter, PSLA

YA – Thicker Than Water; The Sisterhood; White Rose; A Curse so Dark and Lonely; Parkland Speaks; With the Fire on High; Shout; Happy Messy Scary Love; Aurora Rising; Cicada; That Night

Deen, Natasha. Thicker Than Water. Orca, 2009. 978-1-459-82198-9. 128 p. $9.95. Grades 7-12.

Zack is an aspiring criminologist, so the recent disappearance of his friend Ella has him searching for answers. He’s keeping it secret that they had a disagreement that day, and worse, that after they parted, he saw Ella meet with his dad (their school guidance counselor) and get into his dad’s SUV. His dad hasn’t spoken a word, and Zack worries and imagines the worst, trying to piece together the truth while protecting himself and his dad. Zack’s friend Ayo Mohammad repeatedly offers logical perspective, and reminds Zack of his all-too-frequent over-reacting, likely due to crime show binging. Zack is on to something, but it isn’t what he thinks, and he needs a wake-up call in order to set things right. Ayo stands out as a solid friend and necessary voice of reason.

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the Orca Soundings series, this is a realistic story written at 3rd-4th grade level for young adult readers and worth considering for reluctant readers.

Mystery          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Grainger, A.J. The Sisterhood. Simon & Schuster, 2019. 978-1-481-42906-1. 298 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.  

Sixteen-year-old Welsh teenager Lil has withdrawn since the disappearance of her older sister, Mella, four months ago. She devotes most of her time to updating a blog about Mella, questioning her police officer aunt about the case, watching her single mom deteriorate, and having detailed conversations in her head with Mella. While biking one day as a terrible storm approaches, she stumbles upon a young woman who is unconscious and injured in the road. “Alice” is fearful and willing to run if Lil involves authorities, and Lil becomes determined to not let Alice down the way she feels she’s let her sister down. Lil takes Alice home, and she and friend Kiran debate the girl’s odd speech, intense fear, and slow reveal of the Sisterhood, led by the charismatic Moon. Soon it becomes clear that Mella is involved in the dangerous cult, and Lil must walk a fine line between exposing Alice and losing her sister. Lil’s devotion to her clearly difficult sister shows how a strong personality can mold and rule a family; Mella consistently turns the spotlight on herself, erupts in tantrums, and lately, vanishes at will. The secluded atmosphere lends itself to the story, though readers may wish for more details on the cult’s inner workings. Told largely from Lil’s perspective, the novel benefits from occasional slips into Mella’s mind, as well as frequent inside views of Moon and the Sisterhood.

THOUGHTS: This book will find an audience among those who find cults fascinating.

Suspense          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Wilson, Kip. White Rose. Versify, 2019. 978-1-328-59443-3. 358 p. $17.99 Grades 5-12.

Sophie Scholl was one of five siblings in a strong, close-knit family who watched as Hitler rose to power in Germany. This novel in verse gives Sophie a strong voice, showing her early teenage years as she and brother Hans were enthusiastic members of the Hitler Youth. Their enthusiasm waned, then vanished, as they witnessed increasing restrictions and discrimination. Years passed and as university students in Munich, Sophie and her brother Hans and some like-minded students began the White Rose society, dedicated to spreading anti-Nazi messages. Hans wrote content for the leaflets, and Sophie found duplicating machines and all members found ways to distribute the leaflets. Such treasonous activity as free speech was punishable by death, a fate that she and Hans and friend Christoph Probst met in February 1943 (three other White Rose members were arrested, tried, and killed later the same year). Told primarily from Sophie’s perspective, the novel is strengthened by letters from Hans, boyfriend Fritz’s thoughts, and the clinical coldness of Robert Mohr, Gestapo investigator who tracked down their illegal activity. This book effectively shows Sophie’s steadfast and tenacious desire to make a difference, and her realization that simply remaining silent was akin to endorsement of Nazi beliefs.  

THOUGHTS: This is a suspenseful, powerful novel made richer for the paucity of words per page. Wilson illuminates the steel in Sophie’s mind and soul; her story should be should be widely read and remembered. Recommended for all middle and high school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD


Kemmerer, Brigid. A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Bloomsbury, 2019. 978-1-681-19508-7. $18.99. 477 p. Gr. 8 and up.

Harper’s mother is dying of cancer, and her brother is in trouble with some loan sharks, but these are conflicts only revealed in the opening chapter of this Beauty and the Beast retelling. Life then gets even more complicated for Harper when she is swept from Washington, DC into a parallel fantasy universe, the kingdom of Emberfall. As in the original fairytale, Prince Rhen, heir to the throne, is cursed by an enchantress, a curse that can only be broken by falling in mutual love. Prince Rhen’s beast form only manifests each autumn though, making it seemingly easier to fall in love with him. However, also in a similar fashion to the original, Harper’s worry for her ailing family prevents her from fully committing to life in Emberfall. Likewise, politics and threats from neighboring kingdoms prevent Prince Rhen from wholly throwing himself into wooing Harper to break the curse, not to mention appearances by the enchantress Lilith who cast the curse, Rhen’s handsome and loyal Guard Commander Grey, and Harper’s cerebral palsy. Despite all the hurdles Harper and Prince Rhen face, the struggling kingdom of Emberfall and its people unite them with a common cause that propels this story, which is told in alternating points of view from Harper to Rhen. Harper’s cerebral palsy is almost never mentioned after the opening chapters, which was intentional on the part of the author to prove a point, though sometimes it simply feels forgotten. Regardless, Harper’s character is definitely strong and likable, and the friendships she forges with the people of Emberfall are a bright spot in the slower mid-plot before the book becomes unputdownable in the final 100 pages.

THOUGHTS: Far more violent than the Disney version and with its own very original plot, this fairytale retelling will be enjoyable for fans of both YA speculative AND contemporary fiction as the characters hail from both worlds.

Fantasy (Fairytale)          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area High School


Lerner, Sarah, editor. Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-984-84999-1. 192 p. $17.99. Grades 9+.   

This collection of poems, photos, essays, and journal entries by students that survived the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida will leave you feeling ripped apart and connected to each student at the same time. The anthology features a scrapbook like feel with handwritten entries, scraps of paper seemingly taped onto the page, as well as both student artwork and photographs. Although some entries are short with little detail, others vividly account what was experienced that day. There are several themes prevalent throughout their poems, stories, and speeches that will resonate with every reader. They include facing grief from the tragic loss of 17 Eagles, anger with the government for change not occurring fast enough, and betrayal that another school shooting resulted in the loss of life. Readers will also find messages of hope, love, and strength threaded throughout their first hand accounts. This book may be difficult for certain individuals who may struggle with the fear and uncertainty that follows a school shooting.

THOUGHTS: The handwritten pieces and images in the text allow you to feel connected to each student who survived the horrific events at MSD High School. The book allows all readers to reflect on the importance of protecting those you love and inspires us to work toward instituting change in our schools to make them safe places for learning.

371.1, Teachers & Teaching          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD


Acevedo, Elizabeth. With the Fire on High. HarperTeen, 2019. 978-0-062-66283-5. 400 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emoni Santiago loves to cook.  She has a natural connection with spices and flavors that evokes emotion, not just a good taste. Raised by her ‘Buela after her mother’s death and father’s return to Puerto Rico, Emoni has learned to use her passion for food in good times and bad. With her senior year looming and her future not far away, Emoni enrolls in Culinary Arts; it seems like an easy-A, but she soon learns that although she is a natural in the kitchen, she has a lot to learn. Meanwhile, Emoni’s structure begins to unroll with the entrance of new student, Malachi Johnson. With a smile that melts, Emoni’s rule of no dating is challenged. But Emoni has more than just herself to consider; she has her daughter, Emma (Baby Girl), too. On top of it all, Culinary Arts includes an immersion trip to Sevilla, Spain, over spring break. There, Emoni is challenged to find her way while remaining true to her own desires.

THOUGHTS: With the Fire on High shares present day struggles for many students through a universal topic: food. Acevedo takes the familiar and weaves an individual story of wants, desires, and the here-and-now. She looks at the struggles faced by many but does not dwell on any of the struggles. Instead, she gives realistic hope to readers through Emoni and an understanding that each choice one makes connects to their overall story, and one choice does not define a person. This novel is a wonderful addition to high school collections.

As a side-note, I did not love With the Fire on High like I did The Poet X.  Although I greatly enjoyed Fire, Poet X evoked emotions from me that I hadn’t felt in a while. I deeply connected with Xiomara, but not so much with Emoni, although I liked her story. I would have liked Acevedo to delve deeper into the social issues she skims in Fire.  I guess I wanted more.

As a second side-note, I love Acevedo’s audio recordings. The fact that she reads her work adds a layer of intimacy with the text and the characters that reading the words doesn’t give. I hope she continues to read her novels in the future.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elizabeth Acevedo has a hard act to follow:  herself. The Poet X, her debut novel, won an almost impossible trifecta of awards (The Printz Award, the National Book Award For Young People, and the Carnegie Medal).  However, her new release, With The Fire on High, does not disappoint. African-Latina-American Emoni is a senior in a Philadelphia charter high school and the mother of a two-year-old girl, Emma (“Babygirl”), whom she is raising with the help of her Abuela. Babygirl’s father, Tyrone, is a better parent then ex-boyfriend, and Emoni is slow to trust when a boy in her culinary arts class, Malachi, seems too good to be true. Becoming a chef is fiery, fierce Emoni’s dream . . . but she’s not sure what dreams are in her reach. Emoni’s struggles with parenting, families, relationships, school, college applications, and trying to decide what’s best for both her and her daughter’s futures are realistically portrayed in this fast-paced novel with short, snappy chapters. Recipes with more of a literary than culinary purpose are included, but they might work for bold-spirited cooks willing to interpret ambiguous and playful directions.

THOUGHTS: Vivid prose, well developed characters (including Emoni’s best friend, Angelica, who is a lesbian), and a narrative that includes but does not center on romance will have teen readers eating up this book. Highly recommended. 

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

This book made me hungry for Emoni to find success in her life. Despite having multiple roadblocks (becoming a mom as a teen, working while going to school, living with her grandmother who is nursing an injury), she finds a way to constantly strive for what’s best for herself and her daughter. She knows what she wants out of life, and that is to be a chef. She is even in a culinary arts class at school with the possibility of a week long apprenticeship in Spain, not that she can afford it. There is a truth to the balance of Emoni’s struggles at school, at home, and at work all while raising a three-year-old and navigating the balance of an amicable relationship with her daughter’s father and his family. 

THOUGHTS: Another addition to the urban fiction cannon that should be on a high school shelves. Emoni’s positive outlook in a less than desirable environment will motivate the less than inspired students. The addition of recipes and creative descriptions of the food she makes will make the readers hungry for more.

Realistic Fiction                Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Anderson, Laurie Halse. Shout: A Poetry Memoir. Viking, 2019. 978-0-670-01210-7. 291 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up

Laurie Halse Anderson’s memoir of growing up in a shattered family and surviving a sexual assault at the age of thirteen is heart-wrenching and beautiful. Her father, a World War II veteran, suffered from memories of death and destruction during the war. Her mother, shattered from miscarriage after miscarriage of sons and abuse from her husband, tried to repair the torn family and be the “proper” pastor’s wife. Laurie and her sister were born out of heartache and desire. A desire for something more; a desire to move beyond the past into the present and future, but the past is hard to escape. As the daughter of a pastor, Laurie learned to accept what she had and developed a creativity that helped her through her days. Sharing her torn family life, she sheds light on situations often left undiscussed. As she moves from her shattered family, to her rape and then into her time in Denmark where she saw a family structure different from her own, Anderson highlights the hope within darkness. In Part II of Shout, she looks at the impact of her writing and her school visits. She addresses the censorship she has dealt with along with the numerous stories of assaults shared with her by students. Shout is a beautifully written memoir-in-verse that proves life and hope can grow from tragedy and hardship.  

THOUGHTS: Anderson once again delivers an emotional story of survival. Much like her novels, Shout forces readers to examine what they know (or think they know), and then face reality head on. She does not sugar coat the abuse and hardships of her family or glaze over her own rape at thirteen. Anderson’s overt style, without being in-your-face and vulgar, is breath-taking and much appreciated. This is a must have for all high school collections.

811 Poetry or 92 Memoir          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Written in free verse, Anderson delivers her own story in a powerful memoir. Shout has clear parallels with her first novel, Speak which make reading Anderson’s story that much more painful. She chose to tell her story beginning with an act of assault that she has had to live with, and the rest of the book is the journey Anderson takes to heal. She is fierce and effective at getting her point across in the current climate of our world.

THOUGHTS: This memoir should be required reading for all high school students and staff. It belongs on the shelf of every high school library to allow those who are victims an opportunity to heal and those who are lucky enough not to have been abused or assaulted a glance into the mind of someone who has and survived.  

Memoir          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD


Konen, Leah. Happy Messy Scary Love. Abrams, 2019. 978-1-419-73489-2. $18.99. 336 p. Gr. 7 and up.

Olivia Knight dreams of attending film school, but procrastinating on writing her horror screenplay is not helping her attain that dream. She’s failed to get into an NYU summer writing program and now must spend her summer in the Catskill Mountains with her parents while her friends have their dream summers. To pass time through her writer’s block, Olivia watches lots of horror films on Netflix and messages Elm, another horror film addict she meets on a discussion board where she goes by the name “Carrie” – after her favorite film, of course. When Elm suggests they exchange photos, self-conscious Olivia panics, especially when he sends his picture, and he’s cute! Assuming they’ll never meet in person anyway, since she’s from Brooklyn and he lives in North Carolina, Olivia sends back a selfie of her best friend Katie who is the traditional definition of attractive. Awkwardness averted… at least until Olivia shows up to her summer part time job in the Catskills to find Elm is working there as well. Though she wants to tell him the truth, the thought of trying to explain herself is more horrifying than her favorite films. As she admits, “Being close to people, being honest with them, not being afraid to fail – that’s the scariest thing of all.” So as Olivia and Elm’s real-life relationship develops, “Carrie” must also maintain their online relationship, all while trying to finish her screenplay and navigate a summer job for which she feels ill-equipped. Some surprises along the way create a Shakespearean comedy-like plot while exploring relevant and important themes for high schoolers such as body image, self-worth, breaking out of one’s comfort zone, and friendship.

THOUGHTS: A delightful summer read, this book will be fun for hardcore horror fans, but it’s not so full of jargon or allusions that non-fans can’t enjoy it.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD


Kaufman, Amie, and Jay Kristoff.  Aurora Rising. Alfred Knopf, 2019. 978-1-524-72096-4. 480 p. $18.99. Gr. 8 and up. 

Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have squarely secured their place as scions of young adult science fiction. Their sophomore series, The Aurora Cycle, like the Illuminae Files, propels readers once again into a wild conspiracy featuring a scrappy crew of space cadets, shadowy overlords, a girl who shouldn’t exist, and an intricate spider web of a plot. The crew’s leader is golden boy Tyler Jones, the highest ranked Alpha at Aurora Academy, who is primed to hand-pick his squad from the best of the best. His plan goes completely awry, however, when he discovers not only a generation ship thought to be lost two centuries earlier, but also a surviving passenger – Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley. Now Ty is saddled with a squad he had no say in – though fortunately for him, his twin sister, Scarlett, and his best friend, Cat, both choose loyalty to Ty over ambition – and a girl two centuries old who is much more than she seems. When Ty’s team is sent on their first humanitarian mission, it goes completely wrong, and sets off a chain of events that leave the squad questioning everything they thought they knew about their world, and running from the highest authorities in the galaxy, authorities who are determined to eliminate Ty’s crew, and capture Auri for their own nefarious purposes. Kaufman and Kristoff’s plot is twisty, complex, and fun as all get out. The story is told from multiple perspectives – not an easy feat, given there are seven unique characters – and crew members narrates their own chapter, in their own voice, with their own personalities shining through. This is a page-turning romp through space that will leave readers clamoring for book two.

THOUGHTS: While all of the characters are well-developed, Zila, the crew’s scientist, provides the most interesting perspective – she struggles mightily in social situations and has an underdeveloped sense of empathy, making it almost impossible for her to gauge and understand human emotions and motivations. Her chapters are often very short, very funny, and very poignant.

Science Fiction          Lauren Friedman-Way, The Baldwin School


Tan, Shaun. Cicada. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019. 978-1-338-29839-0. Unpaged. $19.99. Gr. 6 and up.

For seventeen years, Cicada has worked in an office where it is mistreated and ignored. Although Cicada works harder than the humans, it cannot use a bathroom in the building (it must go downtown for a bathroom). It cannot afford rent, so it lives at the office. It does not receive any benefits or resources like the humans and is verbally and physically abused by the humans regularly. When Cicada decides to retire, it leaves without fanfare and goes into the unknown; it has no home, no money, and now, no job. At the top of the tall office building, Cicada stands at the edge. Has Cicada’s journey come to an end, or is it just beginning?

Tan’s illustrations are breathtaking. Using oil on canvas and paper, he creates a world of gray for Cicada. The illustrations enhance the abuse and mistreatment faced by Cicada. They evoke emotion from the reader as they intensify the symbolism of Cicada and its dismal life.  

THOUGHTS: Cicada is a timely (2019 is the year of cicada) look into mistreatment and cruelty. By addressing mistreatment, it highlights the spiral of cruelty beyond work into one’s home and personal lives. This YA picture book forces readers to consider social injustices and, through symbolism, dive deeper into the impact of society and how people are treated by governments, economics, and one another. As a minimalist picture book, it is an impactful case study for English and social studies courses into symbolism, human interaction, social justice, law and policy, mental health, discrimination, and more.  Highly recommended for all middle school and high school collections.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD


Balog, Cyn. That Night. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-67904-2. 320 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up. 

One year ago Hailey’s boyfriend Declan ended his life, and she has lived in a fog ever since. A stay in rehab only blurred her memories of the weeks surrounding Declan’s death. One thing is certain in her mind, though, Hailey knows Declan never would have killed himself. All she wants is to remember. It is Declan’s step-brother Kane, who has been Hailey’s best friend forever, that helps her begin to remember the last year. Kane and Hailey have a complicated relationship, but with the help of a box of Declan’s things, Hailey begins to remember the past as she tries to move on. She can’t understand why Kane’s on again of again girlfriend (and Hailey’s former best friend) won’t even look at her. As she tries to puzzle through her memories, this fast-paced mystery flashes between Hailey’s present grief and the year leading up to Declan’s death. The answers might not be exactly what Hailey was looking for, though.

THOUGHTS: Thriller fans will devour this unpredictable read. Recommended for high schools where mysteries are popular.

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Upper Elem./MG – Lions & Liars, A Whale in Paris, Sheets

Beasley, Kate. Lions & Liars. Farrar Straus Giroux. 2018. 978-0-374-30263-4. $16.99. 288 p. Gr. 4-6.

The theory of life, according to Frederick’s friends is that some people are the lions, other gazelles, followed by meerkats. But the lowest of the lows are the fleas that live on the butts of the meerkats. Frederick is tired of being the flea of life; all he wants to be is a lion, or at least be a gazelle. This thought takes him away on an accidental journey to a camp – a disciplinary camp. Between the exercises, activities, and escape plots, Frederick begins to fit in with the other boys in Group Thirteen – Nosebleed, the Professor, Ant Bite, and Specs. As a Category 5 hurricane makes its way toward the camp, Frederick will have to learn to become a lion – or at least part of the oddball group of fleas – in order to survive.

THOUGHTS: A great adventure story that makes you think about who you are in life and how you fit in within the world. Boys and girls will feel connected to the struggles of Frederick and realize that sometimes in life, you are both the lion and the flea, but what matters is friendship and the adventure you take in life.

Realistic Fiction          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Presley, Daniel, and Claire Polders. A Whale in Paris. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 2018.  978-1-5344-1915-5. $17.99. 246 p. Gr. 4-6

It’s Paris, 1944, and the war is still ongoing. Despite the fact that there are whispers in the streets of the the Allies coming, the “guests” are still very much present. Chantal Duprey often wonders how the Allies will come, so it is no surprise that while fishing one night with her father, a fishmonger, a strange sound comes from the Seine. But… this sound is different than what a submarine should sound like. In fact, this sound is big and has a fin. A whale in in the Seine! As Chantal grows close to her whale friend, she realizes that they are both prisoners in Paris. It takes all of Chantal’s courage to realize that in order for her to survive and save her family, she must also save her friend from a frightful fate as well.

THOUGHTS: A delightful tale of a heroine saving her family and friend in the time of war, A Whale in Paris is a great choice for upper elementary students who wish to have a historical tale with an adventurous twist.

Historical Fiction (WWII, 1944)          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD


Thummler, Brenna. Sheets. Lion Forge. 2018. 978-1-941302-67-5. $12.99. 241 p. Gr. 4-8.

Marjorie Glatts feels isolated and alone, as if she were a ghost. With her mother gone and her father practically gone, she is left alone to take care of the family laundromat. As if life couldn’t become any more isolated, customers are leaving, and Mr. Saubertuck is continuously bothering her about taking over the laundromat for his five-star resort.

Wendell is a ghost who feels isolated and alone in his ghost town. He decides to leave his town and takes up residence in a laundromat, which quickly becomes his midnight playground. Little does he know that his world is about to collide with Marjorie’s. As he delights in his newfound life, he accidentally destroys everything that Marjorie knows.

Together, this isolated pair will have to come together to help repair what has been destroyed, one stain at a time.

THOUGHTS: This book contains some serious subjects – death, alcoholism, and depression – but is presented in a way that flows smoothly within the story. The illustrations are unique and light, which helps the reader tread some serious subjects, while investing themselves in the characters and the story.

Graphic Novel          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Marjorie’s family is overcome with grief when her mother passes away. While her father is overwhelmed with the loss, thirteen year old Marjorie steps into the supportive role, providing for her younger brother and father, and managing her Mom’s laundromat. But Marjorie is sad, too, and slogs through hectic days caring for her family, dealing with testy customers and avoiding the questioning stares of her middle school peers. To complicate things, accidents start happening at the laundromat, and Marjorie finds it’s haunted by a young ghost named Wendell. In an alternating storyline, readers learn about Wendell’s past and his time in the land of ghosts. When a shady local businessman attempts to buy the laundromat, Marjorie is even more heartbroken and finds that Wendell is her only hope at saving the space and the memories of her mother.

THOUGHTS: Sheets is a thoughtful look at how grief can affect teens and tweens. This has not been on the shelves since I book talked it a few weeks ago, so I recommend it for a library where graphic novels are popular and teens are constantly looking for new reads.

Graphic Novel          Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

YA FIC – Before I Let Go; Rules of Rain; Moxie; The Librarian of Auschwitz

Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-64228-2. 368 p. $17.15. Gr. 10 and up.

Returning to Lost Creek, Alaska, for her best friend’s funeral after moving away several months ago, Corey is devastated. She never found the words to tell Kyra that there was a great big world outside of Lost, and now she’ll never have the opportunity. Guilt-ridden over never responding to Kyra’s letters, Corey doesn’t know what to expect in Lost. Lost isn’t what she remembers, and neither are the people that live there. The town that she once loved and that loved her seems like it’s hiding something. Determined to uncover the truth about Kyra’s death, Corey sets out on her own. Desperate to find answers before her return to Winnipeg and terrified for her safety, Corey races against the clock before her flight departs. Told in present tense, letters sent and unsent, and flashback narratives written in play format, Corey’s and Kyra’s stories unfold as Lost fights to keep its secrets.  THOUGHTS: The remote Alaskan wilderness amps up the creepy factor in this mystery. Through the emphasis on Kyra’s storytelling, readers will be compelled to learn what actually happened to her, but they may not feel fully invested in the novel, as the characters lack depth. Though identity and mental health issues are addressed, they are not at the center of the story. Before I Let Go is a good read for mystery fans and those interested in exploring the ways mental illness affects one’s life and experiences.

Mystery; Realistic Fiction    Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Scheier, Leah. Rules of Rain. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1-492-65426-1. 384 p. $10.99. Gr. 10 and up.

The connection between twins can be unique. Add into the mix one twin has autism, and the dynamics are even more complicated. Rain’s entire life has revolved around her brother and helping him navigate the world. She has been Ethan’s voice and rock for so long that she knows no different.  Now teenagers, Rain and Ethan are beginning to grow into themselves and somewhat apart from each other. She is interested in cooking and blogging about obscure recipes, while he is fascinated by the inner workings of the human body. Rain and Ethan experience many firsts and learn a lot about each other and themselves. While Ethan seems to be thriving in his independence, it is Rain who begins to unravel. THOUGHTS: This is more than a coming of age story, and there are a lot of issues involved. At the heart of the novel twins are learning as much from each other as the world around them. Their twin/sibling relationship, autism, family dynamics/relationships, parent/child roles, divorce, bullying, underage drinking, as well as teen relationships (friendship and romantic). While other issues are present, to say more would spoil the surprise. Teens with complicated home lives and/or challenging sibling dynamics will like this character-driven novel. Some mature content makes this book more suited for high school readers.  

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Mathieu, Jennifer.  Moxie.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017.  978-1-62672-635-2. 330 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Unlike her mother, who was a rebellious teenager, Vivian Carter has always kept to herself and followed the rules.  However, after witnessing incident after incident of sexism in her conservative Texas high school, none of which are corrected by the administration, she decides to take matters into her own hands.  Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines of the nineties, Vivian creates and distributes an anonymous zine around her school, calling for all girls to take action in protest.  The movement gradually grows, with more and more girls participating in each new protest and some girls even taking their own actions to improve the misogynistic environment.  Inspiring and empowering, readers will keep turning pages in order to find out what the Moxie girls are going to do next–and whether or not they will be successful in changing their school’s culture. THOUGHTS: Because of its strong emphasis on feminism, I would recommend this book to teenage girls and/or those who enjoy reading fiction with strong female protagonists.  The novel would also be an excellent supplement for a social studies unit on women’s history, women’s rights, and/or social activism.  It would be sure to spark discussion and may even inspire students to conduct further research on the Riot Grrrl movement of the nineties.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Iturbe, Antonio. The Librarian of Auschwitz. Translated by Lilit Thwaites. Henry Holt and Company, 2017. 978-1627796187. 432 p. $19.99. Gr. 9-12.

Spanish author Antonia Iturbe tells a fictionalized story of the little-known “Librarian of Auschwitz,” a young girl whose task it was to protect the few books in the possession of Jews in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Dita Kraus arrives at Auschwitz after living in the Terezin Ghetto, and is “lucky” enough to be sent to the family camp instead of directly to the gas chambers. In this part of the camp, there is a school run by Freddy Hirsch, who sees in Dita a strong young woman willing to protect their beloved texts. The story moves back and forth between Dita’s life in the ghetto, the lives of other prisoners and Jews, and the backstory of the enigmatic Hirsch. The novel starts out slow and on occasion the language seems a bit stunted (which might be a result of reading it as a translation). However, the story and characters do shine through, and the reader becomes engrossed in this story of both the cultural and physical survival of a people. THOUGHTS: Highly recommended for high schools, especially to complement memoirs and other readings about the Holocaust.

Historical Fiction    Lindsey Myers, Shadyside Academy

YA NF – Fred Korematsu; Factory Girls; Strong is the New Pretty; Escape from Alcatraz

Atkins, Laura and Stan Yogi.  Fred Korematsu Speaks Up. Ill. Yukota Houlette.  Heyday Books, 2017. 978-159714-3684. $18.00. 103 pp. Gr. 5-12.  

Born in 1919, Toyosaburo Korematsu was the third of four sons born to his parents, immigrants to America from Japan.  He took the name “Fred” from a first grade schoolteacher who could not pronounce his name.  The Japanese immigrants (Issei) and their children (Nisei) faced discrimination which exploded following the 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.  All Issei and Nisei were forced from their homes and their lives into “ ‘Assembly Centers.’ Really prisons.” (26). When Fred’s family was relocated, Fred had a strong sense of his own rights of citizenship and decided to leave California rather than report to the prison camp (26).  He was soon arrested and sent to the camp with his parents.  In this camp, he found no support, for the others worried how Fred’s rebellion would affect the rest of them.  ACLU lawyer Ernest Besig believed in Fred’s case and agreed to represent him for free.  Fred waited, through limited job and living opportunities, for the case to go to trial.  In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against Fred, basing their decision on the military’s assertion that Japanese relocation was a “military necessity” (58).  Years went by.  Fred married, had two children, and only explained his story to his children when his daughter learned about it in school.  In 1982, professor Peter Irons approached Fred with evidence that the government’s lawyers had lied to the Supreme Court, and in 1983, Fred’s case was reopened.  This time, Fred was cleared of charges and hailed as a hero.  Fred’s daughter leads the Fred T. Korematsu Institute and is fighting for January 30 (Fred’s birthday) to be named a national holiday known as “Fred Korematsu Day.”  The book ends with ideas for how to speak up for your rights, source notes, bibliography, index.  THOUGHTS:  A strong pairing of verse history and illustrations which highlight key moments in Fred’s life, interspersed with helpful 2-4 pages spreads on the camps, the court decisions, and more.  This would pair well with World War II history, civil rights cases, and modern day heroes.

341.6; Japanese-American Internment; US Supreme Court      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

 

Seifert, Christine. The Factory Girls: A Kaleidoscopic Account of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.  Zest Books, 2017. 978-1942186-458.  $14.99. 176 pp.  Gr. 7-12.

It’s 1911 in New York City, quitting time on this Saturday evening.  Imagine a fire starting on the 8th floor of a building.  Imagine 500 people in that building with one elevator, one rickety fire escape that stops at the 2nd floor, and one exit blocked by a locked door.  Some got out; 146 did not.  For many, it was a choice of jump or face the flames. The horrors of that day left many scarred for life and incited many to work for change in workers’ safety regulations.  Seifert begins her investigation by describing “Five Brave Girls” who worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and who were there the day of the fire: 16-year-old, American-born Annie Miller; 19-year-old, Russian immigrant Bessie Gabrilowich; 17-year-old, Austrian-born Rose Rosenfeld; 21-year-old Fannie Lansner, alone without her Russian family; and 14-year-old, Italian-American Kate Leone in her first month on the job. Seifert waits to tell us their individual fates from March 25, 1911, and in between, showcases the history of American industry and birth of advertising amid the pressure of immigration and millions struggling to work and survive in a place and with a language wholly new to them.  The Gilded Age brought opportunity and socio-economic pressure to every group, leading to exploitation, excess, and greed.  Seifert explores the era that saw such tremendous change in fashion, community, wealth distribution, and industry.  She discusses the corrupt politics of Tammany Hall and the workers’ courageous fights for unionization, and how the fire became a turning point in changing public perception and passing safety laws.  Seifert wisely adds a chapter devoted to the current state of factory workers worldwide, and what the reader can do to affect change in the world.  THOUGHTS: A thorough look at an event that changed a nation.  Highly recommended for grades 7-12.  

974.7 American History; Workers Rights; 1900s      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

 

Parker, Kate T. Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves. Workman Publishing, 2017. 978-15235-00680. $30.00. 250 pp. Gr. 3 and up.

This book came from Parker’s work as a photographer and mother, noticing her daughters’ strengths were their beauty, and so began a blog, then this book, of 200 girls being…themselves.  Parker divides the photos into nine categories, highlighting that Confidence, Wild, Resilient, Creative, Determined, Kind, Fearless, Joyful, and Independent….is Strong.  Many individual photographs are powerful, showing individual girls or teammates, before, during, after games and performances and simple days.  Zari, age 11, with tennis racket, says “I am blessed with gifts and talents and can’t wait to show the world” (21).  Alice, age 7, says “I have a little bit of a temper” (43).  Natalie, age 15, says, “Last year I chose to move to a different lunch table instead of being ignored by people who I thought were my friends” (87).  Parker, age 10, says, “I give it my all, always, even when nobody is watching.  My mom says that is what integrity is all about” (116).  Not every photograph or quote hits its mark, and some captions seem cliche (“I am fearless”), but the overall effect of seeing girls at their proudest is encouraging.  THOUGHTS: A wonderful book to share, browse, and contemplate, for girls ages 3-103.  

779; Photography     Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

 

Braun, Eric. Escape From Alcatraz: The Mystery of the Three Men Who Escaped From the Rock.  Capstone Press, 2017.  978-15157-45525 (paper) $7.95 112 pp.  Gr. 4-8.

Known as “The Rock” for its rock-like island appearance just outside of San Francisco, Alcatraz was once home to only the worst criminals.  From the 1930s to 1967, Alcatraz held prisoners, and it held secrets.  Some attempted escape, but the cold waters surrounding the island, and the minimum of 2.5 miles to swim to the California shore, always defeated the escapees.  Could it be done?  In 1962, three men did escape from Alcatraz: Frank Morris, the mastermind, and brothers John and Clarence Anglin.  In what Braun reveals was an elaborate plan taking months of effort, the men created dummy-heads to fool the guards at roll call, dug through semi-concrete walls with improvised tools (like spoons), created rafts from raincoats, studied Spanish, and much more.  They escaped, but whether they lived is a matter of debate.  Relatives of the Anglin brothers maintain the men survived and made it to Mexico then Brazil.  No bodies have ever been found, and the case is certainly unsolved.  This book gives many details about the men, their plan, life on Alcatraz, and what may have happened after that night.  THOUGHTS: At a short 112 pages, with plenty of photographs of the men, their equipment, and the prison, this is a winner for reluctant readers.

365; Crime      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Upper Elem/MS – Pottymouth & Stoopid; Beach Party Surf Monkey; Genevieve’s War; Ban this Book

Patterson, James and Chris Grabenstein. Pottymouth and Stoopid. Little, Brown and Company, 2017. 978-0-316-34963-5. $13.99. 305 p. Gr. 3-6.

Michael and David have been best friends since preschool. Both have corrosive nicknames bestowed on them by cruel peers and thoughtless teachers. David was tagged as Stoopid in preschool; Michael, due to his penchant for inventing outrageous words, was dubbed Pottymouth by a substitute teacher in third grade. Now the two boys, along with their friend Anna, suffer through school, tormented by their classmates and scorned by teachers for their over-the-top imagination and restlessness. But everything changes when a new TV show airs, based on the antics of the boys and their friends. Even though the show is wildly popular, it only aggravates tensions at school, until David learns his “ex-dad” is behind the show. Eventually, the boys achieve fame for all nerds and see the bullies cut down. Both boys come from challenging home lives; Michael is in foster care, and it is eventually revealed they both test as geniuses, causing trouble because they are bored in school. Teachers and administrators are uniformly portrayed as incompetent at best, cruel at worst. But students will love the potty humor and sweet revenge of the story. THOUGHTS: Patterson and Grabenstein know how to write to their audience.  While many parts of the book made me cringe, young readers will relate and thoroughly enjoy the book.  A great step up for Captain Underpants fans.

Realistic Fiction; Humor     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Grabenstein, Chris. Beach Party Surf Monkey. Random House, 2017. 978-0-553-53610-2. $13.99. 301 p. Gr. 3-6.

Entertainer extraordinaire and part-time detective P.T. Wilkie is back in this second entry to Chris Grabenstein’s Welcome to Wonderland series. P.T. and his friend Gloria are on a mission to have a new beach party revival movie filmed at his family’s St. Pete Beach, Florida, motel. The pair prove successful, but that’s when the real problems start. The teen pop idol star can’t act and has no chemistry with his Oscar-winning female costar. Plus, someone is out to sabotage the movie. Could it be the owner of the mega-hotel next store who is pressuring P.T.’s mom to sell the Wonderland Motel? P.T. and Gloria have their hands full trying to keep the movie on schedule, determine the culprit behind the dirty deeds, and control You-Tube star Kevin the Monkey. Can the creative pair of friends save the movie and the motel?  THOUGHTS: A delightfully fun read from funny guy Grabenstein. Hijinks and mayhem abound, and will keep students entertained to the last page.

Realistic Fiction, Mystery     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Giff, Patricia Reilly. Genevieve’s War. Holiday House, 2017. 978-0-8234-3800-6. $16.95. 222p. Gr. 4-8.

Genevieve and her brother, Andre, were spending the summer of 1939 with their Alsatian grandmother at her farm in France near the German border. Andre leaves early to return home to the States, but when it is time for Genevieve to leave, she surprises herself by impulsively deciding to stay. Genevieve was not particularly drawn to her dour grandmother, but she is concerned for the elderly woman on the eve of the German invasion. The two become dependent on each other as German troops establish themselves in the town and a German officer billets himself at the farmhouse. As time passes, Genevieve and her grandmother grow close as they attempt to eke out an existence in the ravaged village, and Genevieve learns about the father she never knew. The stakes become even higher when Genevieve hides an injured member of the resistance in their attic. THOUGHTS : A beautifully crafted, suspenseful story that immerses the reader in daily life in wartime France deftly conveying the suspicion that takes over the community as no one knows who to trust.

Historical Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Gratz, Alan. Ban This Book. Tom Doherty, 2017. 978-0-7653-8556-7. $15.99. 243 p. Gr. 3-6.

Quiet fourth grader Amy Anne is appalled to learn her favorite book, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, has been banned from her school library. A classmate’s mother felt the book promoted lying, stealing, and running away from home, and the school board vindicated her claim. Amy Anne goes to the board meeting but is too shy to speak up. Soon additional books disappear from the library. Starting a one-girl protest, she begins to read the banned books, then shares them with her classmates. Soon, the Banned Book Locker Library is born with the illicit books quietly passed around the school. Unfortunately, when the library is discovered, the school librarian is fired. The students come up with an ingenious plan to fight back and show the parent, as well as the school board, the innate folly of banning books. THOUGHTS: All librarians should treat themselves to this book (it’s dedicated to librarians) with Gratz’s knowledgeable treatment of the school book banning issue. For students, it’s a great introduction to the topic. The book contains a Reading and Activity Guide in the back, making it great for a classroom read-aloud or lit circle.

Realistic Fiction     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD