YA – Just Our Luck

Walton, Julia. Just Our Luck. Random House. 2020,  978-0-399-55092-8. $17.99. 272 p. Grades 9-12.

Leonidas –Leo- quirky knitter and sensitive photographer, has been successful staying under the radar for most of his high school years. Then Drake Gibbons a wise-cracking, hyperactive jock punches him, and their consequences are enduring each others’ company in the counselor’s office until they become amicable. Leo’s mother died years ago and now with his Greek grandmother Yia Yia’s death, the silence in their Greek household is deafening and the relationship between him and his father even more distant. When his father insists his gentle son take a martial arts course to improve his pugilistic skills, Leo gets scared off and signs up for a yoga master certification course. Turns out, the person taking his registration is Evey Paros, from another Greek family who just happened to have cursed Leo’s many generations ago. Though she seems aloof, Evey has her own agenda. She’s been wronged by the biggest, richest, most popular dude at school, Jordan Swansea. After their breakup, Jordan sent out nude pictures of Evey over social media. She enlists Leo as her assistant in wreaking revenge. What ensues is a light romance with a touch of humor. Leo unexpectedly finds love, friends, and self confidence. A bonus is that Evey, too, finds a powerful alternative to thwarting Jordan besides sophomoric pranks.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: Librarians should be aware this quick read has a lot of curses and little diversity (Drake’s girlfriend Jenn seems to be Latinx). However, the characters are humorous, and the plot discusses generalized anxiety, a condition today’s teens may recognize. Both Leo and Evey also have an interest in writing, and Leo delivers his first-person narrative in journal format. Pull for reluctant readers.

Elem. – Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies

Oliver, Carmen. Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies. Capstone Editions, 2020. 978-1-684-46081-6. 32 p. $17.95. Grades K-4. 

When Adelaide notices that her friend Theo is struggling during writing time, she decides to pass him a note of encouragement and enlists Bear to help Theo find his unique story. Bear is a comforting figure, full of tips about proper spacing and adding sensory details. Bear also helps Theo learn to “forage for new ideas” or take a break to regroup when writing isn’t easy. Leo learns about drafting and revision with Bear’s motto “rebuild, reimagine, rework.” By the end of the story, Theo is confidently writing with his classmates while Adelaide hints at a sequel. Brightly colored illustrations fill the pages with imaginary scenes of the trio fishing for new ideas, flying in hot air balloons, and hard at working writing. Diversity among characters is represented among the primary and secondary characters. Theo and teacher Mrs. Fitz-Pea are Black; Adelaide is white. Diversity is also depicted among their classmates with a two-page spread that shows children of various gender, ability and race holding up individualized heart artwork beneath the text “There’s nothing you can’t say when it comes from your heart. Because your voice is your voice – no two are the same.” This artwork is also beautifully replicated on the end pages.

THOUGHTS: This book is a thoughtful, positive introduction to the writing process for elementary students. Bear simultaneously empowers students to find, share and hone their individual writers’ voice while also modeling desirable writing buddy behavior. This book will make a fun engaging read aloud with plenty of opportunities to discuss writing with students.

808.02 Writing          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD
Picture Book

NF Picture Books – The Hole Story; Brave Like Me; How This Book was Made

doughnut

Miller, Pat. The Hole Story of the Doughnut. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 978-544-31961-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

Captain Hanson Crockett Gregory lived a full life as a ship’s captain, mining engineer, and family man, but that’s not the “hole” story of his life…he’s also credited as inventor of the doughnut! This might seem like an unlikely combination, but it was Gregory’s young years working as a cook’s assistant on the ship Ivanhoe that gave him the chance opportunity to invent a new breakfast pastry. Gregory fried up a batch of the ship’s normal breakfast. “They were sweet and crisp—at least around the edges. Their raw centers, heavy with grease, made them drop like cannonballs in the stomach. Sailors called them sinkers” (Miller). Struck by inspiration, Gregory grabbed the lid from a pepper can and put a hole in the center of each pastry. When they emerged from the hot lard, doughnuts were born! Although Gregory went on to become a respected ship’s captain, even earning a medal for bravery from Queen Isabella II for saving the lives of seven Spanish sailors, he’s most known for his delicious invention. While readers learn the true story, “…sailors like their stories bold” (Miller). The book details several of the legends around Gregory’s creation. It also includes an author’s note, timeline, and selected bibliography. Illustrator Vincent X. Kirsch takes the doughnut concept to a new level, including colorful doughnut patterned endpapers, cover art with Captain Gregory peeking through a doughnut life preserver, and back cover art showing an octopus holding a doughnut with each tentacle. The illustrations are beautifully colored, evoke an old-fashioned marine setting, and are full of funny details that readers will enjoy spotting. In addition, each two-page spread actually features one illustration which has been made into a mock doughnut. THOUGHTS: An interesting, visually-appealing addition for most collections.

641.8; Doughnut History     Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools

 

bravelikeme

Kerley, Barbara. Brave Like Me. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2016. 978-1-4263-2360-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

When a parent is serving in the military and away from home, the family left behind has to face the challenges and emotions that remains. In Brave Like Me, the reader can see a wide variety of families on both sides of that relationship. The text is short but honest and straightforward. There will be times that they struggle, and moments that they feel joy. The best part should be the reassurance that they are not alone. The full color photographs that live up to National Geographic standards help reinforce the variety and viewpoints. With support pages at the end for dealing with separation, caregiver notes, and descriptions of those who serve, all children can read and appreciate the sacrifice that takes place all over the world every day.  THOUGHTS: There have been plenty of fiction books about losing parents and military service, and there are plenty of military books in my collection about the vehicles and branches, but this book fills a super important niche of how it really feels to have a serviceman or woman away from their family. It does not, however, cover how to handle the death of a soldier as a family, or the impact of the returning soldier with PTSD. Those would also be brave new books to add to a collection.

Nonfiction Picture Book     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area

bookmade

Barnett, Mac, and Adam Rex. How This Book Was Made: Based on a True Story. Los Angeles: Disney Hyperion, 2016. 978-142315220-0. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-4.

I have tried many times to explain the process of how a book is made and which roles it takes to get published. This book makes those conversations irrelevant and unnecessary. Mac and Adam are a quirky, hilarious team (see their work in Guess Again or Chloe and the Lion) who bring truthiness and humor to the writing process. Hear Mac explain his editing process, then wait for that pesky illustrator, and finally get through the printing and publishing; all so he can show us How This Book Was Made! The journey is more than just point A to point B, as tigers, pirates, astronauts, fish and more help to affect the story, and ultimately the most important character to the book may be… YOU (the reader!)! Enjoy and discuss and try explaining what’s truth from fiction in this unusual adventure.  THOUGHTS: This would also make a great book to study book design and the relationship between text and pictures. The tiger skin on the inside cover and the red map marks are two interesting examples. There is much to look at for multiple readings, though some are more relevant to adults than kids. I like this genre of books about books, and Mac & Adam meet the meta at just the right moment.

Nonfiction Picture Book    Dustin Brackbill, State College Area

Upper Elem/MS NF – Way Things Work Now; Some Writer

thingswork

Macauly, David. The Way Things Work Now: From Levers to Lasers, Windmills to Wi-Fi, A Visual Guide to the World of Machines. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.  978-0-544-82438-6. 400 p. $35.00. Gr. 3-8.

Technology has changed considerably since the first edition of Macauley’s best- selling classic The Way Things Work was published in 1988. This newest update is rife with the classic and beautiful illustrations and cutaways that are his hallmark. The wooly mammoth is back again and many of the entries are the same or only slightly revised from the previous editions.  Macauley’s clear and concise prose provides explanations of the most notable inventions and technologies and the scientific principles that link many of mankind’s greatest achievements. The clever puns and jokes are still there and the illustrations are noticeably more vibrant.  THOUGHTS: This edition includes dozens of new entries on the many developments of our digital age including the World Wide Web, smartphones and hybrid cars, which make this update a welcome and necessary addition to every elementary and middle school library; heck high schoolers will appreciate it as well.  

600; Technology     Nancy Summers, Abington SHS

 

somewriter

Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 978-0544319592. $18.99. 161pp. Gr. 3-6.

Perennial favorite children’s author E. B. White’s life and career are reviewed in this charming bio by Caldecott Honor winning author, Melissa Sweet.  Beautifully designed pages with gorgeous illustrations, photographs and collages reveal his charmed life, his treasured childhood memories, his happy marriage, his lifelong love of nature and animals and his gift for writing. Sweet blends White’s own words from his classic tales and his personal correspondences into her well researched and inspiring tribute. Young and old fans alike will enjoy reading about his retreat in Maine, which served as an inspiration for his best loved work, Charlotte’s Web. The book includes an afterword by the author’s granddaughter, a timeline, an bibliography and an index. THOUGHTS: A delightful biography of a beloved American wordsmith and a recommended title for elementary libraries. Terrific!

Biography      Nancy Summers, Abington SHS

Text Styles…new writing series from Crabtree Publishing

howtowrite

Text Styles (series). New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2015.  978-07787-… 32 p. $20.00. Gr. 3-6.


Flatt, Lizann. How to Write Realistic Fiction. -16563
Hyde, Natalie. How to Write an Adventure Story. -16556
Hyde, Natalie. How to Write a Fantasy Story. -16549
Kopp, Megan. How to Write a Drama. -16532
Kopp, Megan. How to Write Science Fiction. -16570
(Also in series: How to Tell a Fable; How to Tell a Folktale; How to Tell a Legend; How to Tell a Myth)


This interesting series aims to walk a person through the process of writing drama, science fiction, fantasy, adventure, and realistic fiction.  The all-color “pieces” of the process are presented in orderly fashion, beginning with examples to review, moving to characters, dialogue, plot, theme, point of view, character flaws, etc.  Each book has two pages devoted to “creative response to (drama, etc)” wherein a well-known example of fiction is used and questions are posed to further the imagination process. For example, in How to Write a Fantasy, Peter Pan is used as an example, and encouraged responses are: “write a description of your own fantasy island.  Add different landscapes and homes for creatures.” Or “In Peter Pan’s world, the rule is that you need fairy dust to fly.  Think of different way that flying could be possible.  Write the scene using this new way.”  While not in each case specific to the reader’s story, these ideas encourage them to see a story in new light.    These books are well-suited for their intended audience of 3-6th graders.  Their content could easily be used 1-2 pages at a time to guide students in creative writing workshops, or to explain and practice writing dialogue, or mapping out a plot.  Of most help to Language Arts lessons would be the pages on dialogue or point of view; “How is the story presented to you?  That’s the point of view.” (Thankfully, this is further explained.)  Strong readers will sort out the differences and the process, but weak readers will be put off by the intrusion or over- examination of reading.  Brief but well-executed.  Each volume includes a short Glossary, Index and Further Resources List (print and online).
808.3 Writing process    Melissa Scott, Shenango High School