Elem. – Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Gottesfeld, Jeff. Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-5362-0148-2 32 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5. 

Sentinel guards keep vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, protecting soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice. Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a picture book written by Jeff Gottesfeld and illustrated by Matt Tavares, perfectly captures and honors the soldiers that honor the fallen. This moving and inspiring book teaches the reader the history and significance of the memorial and how the “Unknowns” have come to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Gottesfeld and Tavares explain through enriched vocabulary and powerful illustrations that the privilege and most challenging post to earn in the army is to stand, with absolute precision in every type of weather, at every moment of the day, since July 2, 1937, when the tomb became protected by American Soldiers. This moving and informative picture book honors the past, present, and future members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

THOUGHTS: This inspirational and beautiful picture book targets grades 2-5, ages 7-10, and would make an excellent mentor text for upper elementary or even middle grades. Not only is Twenty-One Steps a moving tribute but an informative text that would fit well with a WWII or Memorial Day unit. Emotional. Beautiful. Very well done.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

MS – The Return; The Enemy Above; Rescued

Johnson, Varian. Spirit Animals: Fall of the Beasts: Book 3 The Return. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0545-84207-5. 186 p. Gr. 3-8.

The Greencloaks and their new friends are divided into two groups. The dark Wrym infection continues to get worse for Conor. Meilin struggles to trust Kovo, despite Takoda being helpful. When trying to find the Evertree on boat they struggle until they come across Pirates while sailing the Sulfur Sea. The Pirates are much different from the tales they have heard as they group contains all well groomed female Pirates. The other group has disguised themselves as servants. Abeke is assigned as servant to Kirat, new spirit animal partner with Cabaro, and she thinks that she can truly help Kirat. The bond with Spirit Animals continue to lessen and the book concludes leaving high levels of suspense.  THOUGHTS: This book has endearing moments of others remembering those that they have lost and those that  they look up to. Some characters from other books show up in surprising ways. The compelling series continue with another novel.

Fantasy; Adventure   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School


Spradlin, Michael P. The Enemy Above: a Novel of World War II. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-85782-6. 232 p. Gr. 4-6.

The year is 1942, and twelve year old Anton often hears artillery in his home of Ukraine. His father joined the Polish army three years ago, and now his 19 year old Uncle Pavel wishes to fight against the Nazi’s. Bubbe (grandmother) tells Anton to hide when they overhear a sound. They eventually escape to a cave. While there Anton befriends Daniel who saw the Nazi’s take his mother and sister, he wonders where God was during that nightmare. It is becoming more dangerous for the adults to explore from the cave at night to locate water. Anton and Daniel are tasked to explore the cave and find water and also a way out. Will they survive and get past Gestapo Colonel Karl Von Duesen who takes delight in rounding up Jews like a hunting sport?  THOUGHTS: The Enemy Above is perfect for fans of survival or historical fiction. Scholastic produced an engaging book trailer:  http://www.scholastic.com/bookfairs/books/book-trailers/enemy-above

Historical Fiction (WWII)    Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School


Schrefer, Eliot. Rescued. New York: Scholastic, 2016. 978-0-545-65503-3. 261 p. Gr. 7-12.

You might think if your pet orangutan accidentally eats your finger that your bond with the pet would shatter. This in not the case for John and his orangatang, Raja, that his father got for him while overseas at work. Growing up together an hour away from Atlanta, the divorce of his parents finds John moving to Oregon with his mother. Raja will stay with his father.  While the plan was for John to regularly visit his father, this did not occur.  Years later when John’s  father has to move, he can no longer keep the orangutan and finds a new home for Raja called “Friendly Land.”  Even after being separated from Raja for years, John has not lost his brotherly bond or ability to sign with Raja. John deeply desires a better life for Raja. John finds himself on a wild car ride and plane trip to return Raja home. John’s mother, a teacher, uses her savings to attend the flight back with John and Raja. Ultimately she allows John to decide if Raja should remain in a safer environment or reenter his natural homeland. Readers will find themselves   considering what they would do if they were in a similar situation and reflect upon what it means to be “rescued.” A question and answer session with the author concludes the book encouraging readers to learn more. Rescued is the third novel in acclaimed Schrefer’s Ape Quartet and the novels can be read in any chosen order.  THOUGHTS: Present information about habitat found in Indonesia and Sumatra can add to discussion leading readers to ponder if there a point that industrialization can go too far. Those who grew up reading Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (Harper Collins, 2012) will be extra delighted to journey John and Raja.

Realistic Fiction   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

New Chapter Books – Rescue on the Oregon Trail; The Marvels; Danger in the Darkest Hour


Messner, Kate. Ranger in Time: Rescue on the Oregon Trail. New York: Scholastic, 2015. 978-0-545-63914-9. 125p. $5.99. Grades 2–4.

Ranger, a golden retriever who is trained as a search and rescue dog, loves playing outside with his owner, Luke. One day while he’s digging for bones in the backyard, Ranger unearths a metal box containing a first aid kit. The discovery magically transports Ranger back to the year 1850 where he meets a boy named Sam Abbott who is travelling west on the Oregon Trail. Ranger accompanies Sam’s family, and his search and rescue training helps them avoid danger as they journey westward. Ranger locates Sam’s little sister when she wanders off, alerts the family to a nearby buffalo stampede, protects Sam from a rattlesnake bite, and helps rescue Sam’s dad from rushing river waters. This fast-paced story is packed with adventures, and readers will also learn historical details about day-to-day life on the Oregon Trail. When Sam and his family reach Oregon, Ranger’s job is finished, and the first aid kit transports him back to present-day where he’s ready for his next adventure with Luke.

Historical Fiction, Animal Fiction    Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary School, Southern York County

This title will be a perfect supplement to social studies units that cover westward travel on the Oregon Trail. The text is easily accessible for third and fourth grade readers, and it would make a wonderful read-aloud as well. Additionally, a detailed author’s note at the end of the book contains information about primary sources Kate Messner used to write this story, including diaries, journals, maps, trail guides, and artifacts. There is also information about real-life search and rescue dogs and the training they receive in order track down missing people.



Selznick, Brian. The Marvels. New York: Scholastic Press, 2015. 978-0-545-44868-0. 665 p. Gr.3-6.

Brian Selznick has once again created a lavishly detailed story told both through illustrations and text. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with the story of Billy Marvel whose ship is destroyed in a storm. He and his brother make it to land, only to have his brother, badly injured, pass away leaving Billy alone. The illustrations continue to tell the story of Billy’s life in London, getting involved in the theater and the generations of famous actors to follow him. At a crucial moment, the story turns to text in 1990, in which we meet Joseph Jervis. A runaway from school, Joseph arrives at his uncle’s house in London and thus begins a new story. Albert Nightingale appears quite the eccentric uncle, living in a museum-like house that he keeps frozen in time. Naturally curious, Joseph attempts to learn more about his uncle, the house, his family and eventually ties together the two stories – illustrative and narrative.  (It should also be noted that Joseph’s uncle Albert has a relationship with another man. Selznick does not come right out and discuss homosexuality or AIDS but both are alluded to in the story. Younger readers will likely not pick up on these but older readers may.)

Beautiful artwork instantly creates an emotional connection to the Marvel family, with intricate details including newspapers and letters. Readers of Selznick know the stories will eventually intertwine, yet it is deliciously drawn out as readers are given clues and random ideas to ponder. Profound quotes are sprinkled in the text, including the theme “You either see it or you don’t.” Finishing the book leaves the reader a bit bereft, almost with a desire to read it over simply to be immersed in the world of the Marvels once again.

Realistic Fantasy      Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School




Osborne, Mary Pope. Danger in the Darkest Hour. (Magic Treehouse, Super Edition #1). New York: Random House, 2015. 978-0553497724. 180p. $13.00. Gr. 3-5.

The first book of the new Super Edition series finds Jack and Annie appearing older (though their age is not stated) and parachuting into France to help their friends, Teddy and Kathleen, during the Nazi Occupation in 1944. The book is a natural progression for fans of the original series who have reached the preteens and are ready for a somewhat longer, more complex story allowing for the more mature subject matter of World War II.  THOUGHTS: An excellent segue for loyal fans into a new level of exposure.

Historical Fiction        Robin Bartley, Davis Elementary

The Port Chicago 50


Sheinkin, Steve.  The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights.  New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2014.  978-1-59643-796-8.  200 p.  $19.99.  Gr. 7 and up.

During World War II, Port Chicago was a segregated naval base where black sailors loaded bombs and ammunition onto ships.  Having received no training on the proper handling of explosives, the sailors knew they were doing dangerous, albeit necessary, work.  Then, one fateful day in July of 1944, a massive explosion killed 320 servicemen and injured many more.  Shortly thereafter, in August of 1944, the remaining black servicemen were ordered to return to work loading bombs and ammunition at a new location.  Fifty of these men refused to return to this dangerous work unless working conditions were improved.  These fifty were charged with mutiny, threatened with death by firing squad, and brought to trial in a court-martial.  Fighting not only for their innocence, but also against the racial inequality that was prevalent in the U.S. military during WWII, these brave men helped to change policies and attitudes pertaining to African American servicemen.  Incorporating photographs, primary source reproductions, direct quotes from the sailors themselves, and the involvement of well-known civil rights activists like Eleanor Roosevelt and Thurgood Marshall, this book tells the story of 50 unsung heroes of the civil rights movement.

940.54; World War II                                                              Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

The author seems to have really done his research for this book.  He interviewed several of the sailors who were at Port Chicago when the explosion occurred, and his incorporation of their quotes makes the story come alive.  It reads almost like a fiction novel.  The book is an excellent addition to both World War II and civil rights collections.  I could see it being used in a social studies classroom to spark discussion on either of these topics.  Perhaps students could even set up a mock court-martial as they explore the rights of black sailors during WWII from both the white and black man’s perspective.

All the Light We Cannot See


Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel. New York: Scribner, 2014. 978-1-47674-658-6. 531 p. $23.00. Gr. 10 and up.

Blind since age six, Marie-Laure is a girl living in Paris with her father, a talented woodworker and locksmith for a museum. Werner Pfennig is a young orphan raised in an orphanage outside Essen, Germany, who has a talent for fixing radio transmitters and receivers. The story is told in alternating voices of the two children as they grow into young adults during the start of World War II. Marie-Laure and her father flee to Saint Malo to escape Paris before the German’s invade. They go to live with her father’s Uncle Etienne in his house by the sea. Her father has made her quite capable by building her a small replica of Paris, and later Saint Malo, then challenging her to find her way home from different places. This game they play, he knows will one day help her. Werner was a very bright child and he was tested for a technical school to which he was accepted. He then went on to help seek out illegal radio transmissions and destroy the threats. Marie-Laure’s father is hiding a “cursed” sapphire that the Nazi’s know about, and they send the gemologist, Von Rumpel to go find it, which leads to an interesting twist. Marie-Laure’s Uncle Etienne came back from World War I and never left the house again. The building resistance against Nazi Germany forces him back to life. He knows he must do something, so he and Marie-Laure broadcast numbers on their huge radio transmitter that they get from the baker in loaves of bread. The lives of Marie-Laure and Werner were always meant to intersect; it is the poignant ending that leaves you both devastated and elated at the same time.

Historical Fiction (WW II)     Kathy Gilbride, North Pocono MS and HS

As with any World War II novel, this could easily be used with an AP European History class to highlight German tactical thinking or the European response to the onslaught of the Nazis. This is one of the best novels I have ever read about World War II; mature YA readers will really enjoy it.

The Nightingale


Hannah, Kristin. The Nightingale. New York; St. Martin’s Press, 2015. Print. 978-0312577223. 448 p. $27.99. Gr. 11+.

Kristin Hannah’s newest historical fiction novel is an excellent addition to the numerous titles that focus on WWII. Her story centers around the lives of two sisters living in France, Vianne and Isabelle. Their father fought in the Great War, and after the death of their mother, fully succumbs to his PTSD and sends both girls to Carriveau, a small village in southern France. Vianne marries young, but impetuous Isabelle is sent to one boarding school after another. The novel begins with Vianne’s husband Antoine leaving to fight with the French army, and Isabelle arriving in Paris after being asked to leave her latest boarding school. When Germans invade France, Isabelle’s father forces her to leave Paris, and on the march to Carriveau she meets and falls in love with Gaetan, a man who introduces her to the idea of the Resistance. When a German officer eventually takes up residence in Vianne’s home, Isabelle realizes that she cannot stay with her sister, and ends up leaving and joining the Resistance in Paris, leading downed Allied airmen across treacherous mountains to safety in Spain. Meanwhile, Vianne deals with the deportation of her Jewish best friend and living with a German soldier in her home. The characters of Vianne and Isabelle are expertly drawn, and the reader feels what each individual woman is going through and develops an appreciation for and better understanding of the roles of women during wartime. The novel is interspersed with short descriptions of one of the sisters as an elderly woman preparing to return to Paris for a reunion of survivors. The story is fast paced, well-written, and all-around an excellent historical fiction. Recommend this title to students interested in the Holocaust and female involvement in WWII.

Historical (WWII France)  Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School

I randomly picked up this title, and I cannot believe that I had not discovered Kristin Hannah before. I absolutely love her style of storytelling, and wished that I had started this book in the summer so that I could sit and read for hours just to finish it!  Historical fiction is my go-to summer genre, since they are usually more lengthy than general YA fiction. Though this title is not being marketed for Young Adults, Isabelle is only 18, and I believe that her story will definitely appeal to young adults. They will identify with Isabelle’s adolescent angst and need for love and attention, but also will learn from her as she adapts and rises to various challenges that occur in her life. While I was reading this, our 10th grade Honors English classes came in to select historical fiction novels to read for an independent reading project. I book talked this book, and one girl immediately picked it up with excitement. I am eager to hear her thoughts, especially since I enjoyed it so much myself! This novel makes me want to read more first-hand accounts of non-Jewish female resistance fighters during WWII.

China Dolls…Adult fiction for Young Adults


See, Lisa. China Dolls. New York: Random House, 2014. 978­0812992892. 400 p.$27.00. Gr.10+.

Lisa See has again struck gold with her latest novel, China Dolls. Similar to her past novels, the story tells of the relationships among Asian women and comments on the racial and gender inequalities that occurred in American history. This novel takes place entirely in the United States, mainly San Francisco, before, during, and after WWII. The plot centers around three girls who meet and become dancers in Chinese nightclubs in San Francisco. Grace arrives in San Francisco after fleeing her small town in Ohio
to escape her abusive father. She meets Helen, a member of a wealthy family but also a young widow with a sad past. They team up with Ruby, a Japanese dancer who is masquerading as Chinese in order to get a job in a club. Their lives are forever intertwined as they fight for higher positions in nightclubs and the entertainment world, the affections of men, and the affection they feel for each other as WWII begins and their lives change. The story is told in alternating chapters in first person by each girl.  Through this technique, the reader gains insight into the actions of each woman and the author creates characters that are multidimensional and engaging while evoking a feeling of sympathy for each girl that would have been noticeably absent had the story been told from one point of view. In keeping with See’s style, the book is extensively researched and brings to light a somewhat lost part of history while engaging the reader in a wonderful story of the relationships among Chinese and Japanese men and women in the 1940s. Give this title to students who enjoy historical fiction and want to read about the homefront during WWII.

Historical (WWII) Fiction   Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School
I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Lisa See at the National Book Festival in August, and I just happened to be reading China Dolls during that time. I was delighted to hear more about Lisa See’s experience and research while preparing to write and subsequently writing this engaging novel.  Her style is reminiscent of Amy Tan, who I absolutely love. I still remember buying all of Tan’s books on ebay when I was in high school, and proudly display them on my shelf to this day. I loved Tan’s descriptions of the interactions between mothers and daughters, and See’s similar method of illustrating and highlighting the relationships among female friends and family is equally enjoyable and enlightening. I was ecstatic when I discovered See, and look forward to each new title that she releases.

I did book talk this novel for our 11th grade Honors and Academic English classes. I will also be sharing this with our 10th grade Honors English students when they come in to select their historical fiction books in a few weeks. So many students have enjoyed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in the past that I know this title will be enjoyed as well.

Unbroken…a YA look at history


Hillenbrand, Laura.  Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive.  New York: Random House, 2014.  978-0-385-74251-1.  320p.  $19.99.  Gr. 7-12.

Unbroken was originally published in 2010 and tells the riveting story of Louis Zamperini.  This edition has a slightly different title and has been adapted for young adults.  Louis Zamperini was born in 1917 and grew up in California.  As a boy, he was a juvenile delinquent headed toward a life of crime.  His Italian immigrant family worried about the choices he was making and his older brother, Pete, finally got Louis into track.  Suddenly, the speed Louis exhibited while escaping angry neighbors and the police was channeled into running races.  Louis was very, very fast and quickly became famous.  He qualified for the 1936 Olympics and hoped to medal in the 1940 Olympics.  However, World War II ensued and Louis joined the Army Air Corps.  During a rescue mission, Zamperini’s B-24 was shot down.  He spent 47 days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean with two fellow airmen. On the 48th day, Louis and his buddy Phil were found, but the soldiers that rescued them were Japanese; the two men became POWs.

Louis was moved to different prison camps, each more brutal than the last.  At the Omori POW camp, he met Mutsuhiro Watanabe, a sadistic corporal who spent the rest of the war trying to break Louis’ body and spirit.  The cruelty described in this book is almost beyond belief and Louis’ determination to survive is amazing.  Eventually, the atomic bomb ended the war in Japan and he made his way back home to his family.  After he came home, Louis faced a new battle- this one against alcoholism.  Once again, Louis’ family, now including a wife and children, fought to keep him from going over the edge.  In the end, his life was saved by a Billy Graham service that encouraged him to turn his life over to God.

This edition of Unbroken makes Louis Zamperini’s story, one that deserves to be told, accessible to a younger group of students.  It seems more action-oriented than the original.  Some of the more graphic details about life in the POW camps have been edited out.  Finally, this book is substantially shorter than the adult edition.  High school librarians should consider acquiring both editions of the book.  Each has its own strengths and each deserves to be a part of your collection.

92 Biography  Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School