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This page is a collection of recent book reviews written by school librarians from around the Monroe One and Monroe 2 regions. Books for all age levels and from all genres are welcome.

Kimchi, Kimchi Every Day

Reviewed by: Beth Larter, Walt Disney Elementary School

Title: Kimchi, Kimchi Every Day

Author: Erica Kim

Publisher: Soaring Kite Books

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: K-1

Genre/Type of Book: Picture Book

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

Whether round and crunchy like a kimchi pancake or pinched and plump like a kimchi dumpling, there are so many ways to enjoy this Korean traditional dish.

Explore the different ways to eat kimchi in this fun, rhyming tale that also teaches the days of the week. Korean-American author-illustrator Erica Kim shares her pride in her delicious cultural food through her cut paper art technique. The Hanji paper that is used to illustrate the book comes from a paper mulberry tree native to Korea.

This beautiful reflection of culture will inspire children to take pride in their cultural foods, too.

Review:

The book depicts a young Asian girl talking about her love of kimchi and all of the different ways it can be prepared and served. It is similar to an Eric Carle book in art style and the bright, stylistic illustrations. The book also goes through the days of the week with each page showing a way she eats Kimchi on each day. The illustrations are rich and kid-friendly and include many details that students can connect to their own lives. This book was recommended by KiBooka as positive representation of Korean and Korean American culture. I like this book because it could be easily integrated into existing kindergarten and pre-k curriculum about learning the days of the week, while also spotlighting Korean foods in a very fun and positive way.

 

Favorite Line: 

"Sunday: I like kimchi, all the kinds! I like kimchi's little lines!"

We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story

Reviewed by: Beth Larter, Walt Disney Elementary School

Title: We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story

Author: Simu Liu

Publisher: William Morrow

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 8-12, Adult

Genre/Type of Book: Biography

Content Warnings: Some swearing throughout, some recounting of racial slurs and stereotypes

Published Summary:

In this honest, inspiring and relatable memoir, newly-minted superhero Simu Liu chronicles his family's journey from China to the bright lights of Hollywood with razor-sharp wit and humor.

Simu's parents left him in the care of his grandparents, then brought him to Canada when he was four. Life as a Canuck, however, is not all that it was cracked up to be; Simu's new guardians lack the gentle touch of his grandparents, resulting in harsh words and hurt feelings. His parents, on the other hand, find their new son emotionally distant and difficult to relate to - although they are related by blood, they are separated by culture, language, and values. 

As Simu grows up, he plays the part of the pious child flawlessly - he gets straight A's, crushes national math competitions and makes his parents proud. But as time passes, he grows increasingly disillusioned with the path that has been laid out for him. Less than a year out of college, at the tender age of 22, his life hits rock bottom when he is laid off from his first job as an accountant. Left to his own devices, and with nothing left to lose, Simu embarks on a journey that will take him far outside of his comfort zone into the world of show business. 

Review:

The book is the autobiography of the Chinese- Canadian actor, written shortly after he was cast to play Shang-Chi for Marvel. He shares the story of his life from living in rural China, to moving to Canada at a young age, his sometimes contentious relationship with his parents and his identity, and his journey from trying to be an accountant to trying to make a career out of acting. His story is very candid and relatable, while also giving a look into the sometimes confusing world of professional acting and the movie industry. I would recommend this book to high school students or adults as an interesting look at how overlapping identities and life experiences shape us and the hard work (as well as luck) that it takes to achieve a dream.

 

Favorite Line: 

"It seems like such a paradox to me that human beings are both great adaptors to change and terrified by it at the same time. So often we drift through life bound by the poor decisions we've made in the past, too afraid of the uncertainty that comes with challenging our status quo."

Sea Change

 

Reviewed by: Becky Hibbert, East Irondequoit Middle School

Title: Sea Change

Author: Gina Chung

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 11-Adult

Genre/Type of Book: Contemporary Fiction

Content Warnings: Heavy drinking/light swearing

Published Summary:

Ro is stuck. She’s just entered her thirties, she’s estranged from her mother, and her boyfriend has just left her to join a mission to Mars.

Her days are spent dragging herself to her menial job at an aquarium, and her nights are spent drinking sharktinis (mountain dew and copious amounts of gin, plus a hint of jalapeno). With her best friend pulling away to focus on her upcoming wedding, Ro’s only companion is Dolores, a giant Pacific octopus who also happens to be Ro’s last remaining link to her father, a marine biologist who disappeared while on an expedition when Ro was a teenager.

When Dolores is sold to a wealthy investor intent on moving her to a private aquarium, Ro finds herself on the precipice of self-destruction. Wading through memories of her youth, Ro has one last chance to come to terms with her childhood trauma, recommit to those around her, and find her place in an ever-changing world.

Review:

This book follows Ro, a Korean American woman who is feeling like she has nowhere else to go in life. Her boyfriend was unexpectedly picked to go on a mission to Mars, her father has been missing for years, her relationship with her best friend Yonhee (with whom she also works) is unraveling, she's almost-but-not-quite estranged from her mother, and the one thing to bring her joy is about to be sold to the highest bidder.

What's Ro's joy? A Giant Pacific Octopus named Dolores with whom she's forged a relationship; she might know Dolores better than anyone else. Ro works at the mall aquarium where Dolores currently resides, and besides Dolores, Ro's world is fairly small and she drinks too much at night to drown her sadness. When a private collector wins the sale of Dolores, it's a wake-up call to Ro, and this is when her character arc starts to truly flourish.

This is an emotional, poignant, and humorous story about grief, loss, immigration, soul-searching, familial relationships, self-awareness, and so much more. If you're a fan of octopuses, you'll enjoy this even more.

Favorite Line:

“I’ve often wished that human bodies were as clever as those of octopuses. If we could divvy up the work of one heart among three, if we could have a semiautonomous brain in each of our appendages, perhaps we’d be more efficient with our time, less likely to waste it on grudges and hurts and all the things we feel we can’t say to one another.”

 

Your Guide to Not Getting...

 

Reviewed by: Becky Hibbert, East Irondequoit Middle School

Title: Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village

Author: Maureen Johnson and Jay Cooper

Publisher: Ten Speed Press (Imprint of Penguin Random House)

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: Adult

Genre/Type of Book: Humor

Content Warnings: n/a

Published Summary:

A weekend roaming narrow old lanes, touring the faded glories of a country manor, and quaffing pints in the pub. How charming. That is, unless you have the misfortune of finding yourself in an English Murder Village, where danger lurks around each picturesque cobblestone corner and every sip of tea may be your last. If you insist on your travels, do yourself a favor and bring a copy of this little book. It may just keep you alive. 

Brought to life with dozens of Gorey-esque drawings by illustrator Jay Cooper and peppered with allusions to classic crime series and unmistakably British murder lore, Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village gives you the tools you need to avoid the same fate, should you find yourself in a suspiciously cozy English village (or simply dream of going). Good luck! And whatever you do, avoid the vicar.

Review:

If you're a fan of a good old-fashioned British mystery set in a country home, this is the book for you. This is written as a helpful guide for those wishing to stray from the bright lights of London and veer off the well-beaten path to trek to a charming little countryside visit for the locals, the manors, and...maybe murder? Travelers, beware. This is broken up into two main sections: the village and the manor. Each section has sub-sections designed to help the future visitor to the village, and each section ends with a murder quiz for the reader to self-assess how much important knowledge they've acquired. (I would have been murdered in the manor. Oops.) This is a short read, but one definitely worth having in your collection. The text is witty and sport-on, but the illustrations are what make it truly special. This is an absolute gem of a book.

Favorite Line:

“Villagers love to remember the glorious old days, when they used to skewer one another with sticks, fire muskets into one another’s faces, and cut off their neighbors’ heads in the name of king or country or whatever they were into back then.”

 

Immortality: A Love Story

Immortality: A Love Story

 

Reviewed by: Becky Hibbert, East Irondequoit Middle School

Title: Immortality: A Love Story

Author: Dava Schwartz

Publisher: Wednesday Books (Imprint of Macmillan)

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 9-Adult

Genre/Type of Book: Historical Fiction, Gothic, Mystery

Content Warnings: Some references to murder

Published Summary:

Hazel Sinnett is alone and half-convinced the events of the year before—the immortality, Beecham’s vial—were a figment of her imagination. She doesn’t even know if Jack is alive or dead. All she can really do now is treat patients and maintain Hawthornden Castle as it starts to decay around her.

When saving a life leads to her arrest, Hazel seems doomed to rot in prison until a message intervenes: Hazel has been specifically requested to be the personal physician of Princess Charlotte, the sickly granddaughter of King George III. Soon Hazel is dragged into the glamor and romance of a court where everyone has something to hide, especially the enigmatic, brilliant members of a social club known as the Companions to the Death.

As Hazel’s work entangles her more and more with the British court, she realizes that her own future as a surgeon isn't the only thing at stake for her. Malicious forces are at work in the monarchy, and Hazel may be the only one capable of setting things right.

Review:

This book is the sequel to Anatomy: A Love Story and is set in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 19th century. Immortality picks up with the main character Hazel Sinnett not knowing where her partner Jack has ended up after the events of the first book, so she is alone and feeling lost. She continues to disappoint her family by rejecting her role in society and continuing to practice medicine, which is unheard of for a female, all while trying to keep the family manor afloat. Soon, one of her medical decisions lands her in prison, where she is sure she'll perish...until rescue comes in the form of the Royal Court. Hazel is released from prison to care for Princess Charlotte, granddaughter of King George III, who has been suffering from an unknown ailment. As she tries to care for Charlotte, complications arise in the form of a potential new love interest, drama with the princess, a secret society with sinister intentions, and the possible return of Jack. This was a worthy ending to the Anatomy Duology!

Favorite Line:

“It was an impossible situation, a trick of society as a whole: force women to live at the mercy of whichever man wants them but shame them for anything they might do to get a man to want them.”

 

Murder Your Employer

 

Reviewed by: Becky Hibbert, East Irondequoit Middle School

Title: Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide

Author: Rupert Holmes

Publisher: Avid Reader Press (Imprint of Simon & Schuster)

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: Adult

Genre/Type of Book: Contemporary Fiction/Mystery

Content Warnings: Some swearing, mentions of violence, suicide, but nothing gratuitous; just serves the plot

Published Summary:

Who hasn’t wondered for a split second what the world would be like if a person who is the object of your affliction ceased to exist? But then you’ve probably never heard of The McMasters Conservatory, dedicated to the consummate execution of the homicidal arts. To gain admission, a student must have an ethical reason for erasing someone who deeply deserves a fate no worse (nor better) than death. The campus of this “Poison Ivy League” college—its location unknown to even those who study there—is where you might find yourself the practice target of a classmate…and where one’s mandatory graduation thesis is getting away with the perfect murder of someone whose death will make the world a much better place to live.

Prepare for an education you’ll never forget. A “fiendishly funny” (Booklist) mix of witty wordplay, breathtaking twists and genuine intrigue, Murder Your Employer will gain you admission into a wholly original world, cocooned within the most entertaining book about well-intentioned would-be murderers you’ll ever read.

Review:

This was highly enjoyable! The premise is that that there is a highly elite school - location unknown - where people are trained to "delete" others who are considered terrible human beings for any variety of reasons. The only requirement for submitting a person for deletion is that the world will be a better place without them in it. The length of time each student is at the college depends on their thesis; in other words, their plan to remove their respective nemesis. This is written as a handbook by the Dean of the college and follows three "case studies" as they come to the school, take special classes designed to strengthen their skills and ensure that their theses/deletions are successful. It's written as part academic text with excerpts from the Dean about the three cases, journal entries from one character, and two other storylines that all tie in together at the end. This was such a cleverly written book with unforgettable characters, fantastic wordplay, and a plot that is so unique and so much fun. I highly recommend!

Favorite Line:

“After all, it’s difficult to obtain a student loan for a school that not only denies its own existence but teaches its students how to deny other people theirs.”

 

The Thirteenth Cat

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: The Thirteenth Cat

Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Publisher: Clarion (Imprint of Harper Collins)

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 3-6

Genre/Type of Book: Mystery

Content Warnings: Kidnapping

Published Summary:

Zoey loves spending the summer with her Aunt Alice, and her aunt's new house is the perfect place to cozy up with a good book. But she's unnerved by the overgrown forest next door, which is creepy even in the daytime and full of eerie sounds at night.

Worse, there are rumors in town of a dark force in those woods. And Zoey can't deny that the wild black cats who live there seem to be watching her.

When she encounters a mean old woman who claims to be their owner, Zoey realizes there's more to the cats than meets the eye. But little does she know that the closer she comes to discovering their secret, the more danger she's in . . .

Review:

The Thirteenth Cat is a novel that follows Zoey through her summer staying at her aunt’s house. Upon arrival Zoey is warned about the old woman who lives nearby and to stay off her property. When Zoey encounters the smallest cat, who she learns is called Thirteen, she decides to take her in and keep her. The old lady, Miss Dupree, is very unhappy about this, trying to get her cat back. All of the cats have some very odd behaviors. Zoey and her friend, Lila, get caught snooping around Miss Dupree’s and are captured. There they learn the secrets of the cats and Miss Dupree. This is where the book got a little off the rails for me, personally, but I could see many of my students enjoying it. The story follows Zoey and Lila’s attempt to escape and return to their normal lives. For the elementary horror/thriller reader this might provide enough of the suspense and witchcraft that likely would keep them on the edge of their seats.

Favorite Line:

“Cats are usually wary of strangers, but this one has fallen in love at first sight! You should be honored!”

The League of Picky Eaters

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: The League of Picky Eaters

Author: Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

Publisher: Clarion (Imprint of Harper Collins)

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 4-7

Genre/Type of Book: Middle Grade Humor

Content Warnings: no

Published Summary:

In Muffuletta, being good at eating is the key to success. French fries and grilled cheese? Beginner food! Haggis and truffles? Delicacies!

After failing a school eating test, picky eater Minerva is placed in the lowest eating track of all: Remedial Eating to Change Habits. RETCH class is full of kids with weird personalities and even weirder food preferences. And to make matters worse, Minerva's best friends, in the Gifted and Gourmet class, no longer speak to her.

But soon Minerva finds she is not alone in her pickiness, and forms friendships with her new classmates. And together, they find a way to stand up for themselves—picky and proud!

Review:

I decided to read this book because the cover immediately caught my attention. The concept of the book definitely piqued my interest and I find it easy to pitch to students for that reason. In this world, eating is the key to success… and our main character is a picky eater. Minerva is placed into the lowest level of eating class and is devastated to be separated from her friends. However, over time she learns the “weird” kids in her new class might not be as weird as she thinks. It is a solid friendship story with all the elements that engage the reader along the way. I found myself laughing out loud at some points with the different aspects of this world, such as Minerva’s class, consisting of the “worst” eaters, being nicknamed “RETCH”.

Favorite Line:

“Lie down and hold those bowls on your chest, just like you are furry, adorable, hungry widdle sea otters swimming on your backs and holding a scallop shell you scooped up for your din-din!”

The Marvellers

The Marvellers

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: The Marvellers

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company (Imprint of Macmillan)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 4-8

Genre/Type of Book: Middle Grade Fantasy

Content Warnings: Racism, violence

Published Summary:

Eleven-year-old Ella Durand is the first Conjuror to attend the Arcanum Training Institute, a magic school in the clouds where Marvellers from around the world practice their cultural arts, like brewing Indian spice elixirs and bartering with pesky Irish pixies.

Despite her excitement, Ella discovers that being the first isn’t easy—some Marvellers mistrust her magic, which they deem “bad and unnatural.” But eventually, she finds friends in elixirs teacher, Masterji Thakur, and fellow misfits Brigit, a girl who hates magic, and Jason, a boy with a fondness for magical creatures.

When a dangerous criminal known as the Ace of Anarchy escapes prison, supposedly with a Conjuror’s aid, tensions grow in the Marvellian world and Ella becomes the target of suspicion. Worse, Masterji Thakur mysteriously disappears while away on a research trip. With the help of her friends and her own growing powers, Ella must find a way to clear her family’s name and track down her mentor before it’s too late.

Review:

Ella is a conjuror who is going to become one of the first conjurors to attend the Arcanum Training Institute. When Ella arrives at the school she is met with a large number of people who are unhappy with her joining the school program due to her background. She forms some allies that end up helping her defend herself as she is suspected of a major crime. I think students could find many parallels to Ruby Bridges’ life, especially in her early days integrating the school. I decided to share this story because the world was very rich and well developed. It could easily be handed to fans of Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. I am looking forward to the sequel!

Favorite Line:

“Many things that are misunderstood are labeled dangerous.”

Odder (2)

Odder

 

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary School

Title: Odder

Author: Katherine Applegate

Publisher: Fiewel and Friends (imprint of MacMillan Publishing Group, LLC)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 2-6

Genre/Type of Book: Animal Fiction/Novel in Verse

Content Warnings: Animal death

Published Summary:

Meet Odder, the Queen of Play:

Nobody has her moves.
She doesn’t just swim to the bottom,
she dive-bombs.
She doesn’t just somersault,
she triple-doughnuts.
She doesn’t just ride the waves,
she makes them.

Odder spends her days off the coast of central California, practicing her underwater acrobatics and spinning the quirky stories for which she’s known. She’s a fearless daredevil, curious to a fault. But when Odder comes face-to-face with a hungry great white shark, her life takes a dramatic turn, one that will challenge everything she believes about herself—and about the humans who hope to save her.

Inspired by the true story of a Monterey Bay Aquarium program that pairs orphaned otter pups with surrogate mothers, this poignant and humorous tale told in free verse examines bravery and healing through the eyes of one of nature’s most beloved and charming animals.

Review:

Odder is a novel in verse told from an otter’s perspective. I listened to the audiobook which gave the novel in verse a little bit of a different feel than I believe reading the physical book would. It is another delightful animal story written by Katherine Applegate. After a shark attack, Odder finds herself in a rehabilitation aquarium. While healing, Odder becomes a surrogate parent for an orphaned pup. Odder’s observations about the human world are lyrical and fun to read. I appreciated that the novel touched on the environmental impacts on otters and the ecosystem and included information at the end of the book to provide more context.

Favorite Line:

“Be proud. After long months, know you’ve done your best, that teaching and loving are different words for the same thing. Be hopeful. Imagine them as the cages open, as they leap into the wild water to use what you have shared, to take chances and make mistakes, to be lonely sometimes, and lost, but always, to know that the world is not meant to be feared, and that water, beautiful water, will always mean play.”

Amari and the Night Brothers

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: Amari and the Night Brothers

Author: B.B. Alston

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Imprint of HarperCollins)

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 4-8

Genre/Type of Book: Upper Elementary/Middle School, Fantasy

Content Warnings: Bullying, Racism, Minor violence

Published Summary:

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Review:

Amari has been underestimated and bullied at her school when she receives a mysterious message from her missing brother. This message leads her to an entire world filled with supernatural elements that she had never learned of before. Amari goes to the school and against many odds, succeeds. There is mystery, deception, suspense, and adventure weaved all throughout this story. I decided to share this book because I am excited to read the sequel! I have found readers of Rick Riordan's work and Harry Potter to enjoy this book as well.

Favorite Line:

"That's not true about me anymore. I'm not the girl who gives up. I'm the girl who tries. The girl who fights. The girl who believes."

A Rover's Story

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: A Rover's Story

Author: Jasmine Warga

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Imprint of HarperCollins)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 3-8

Genre/Type of Book: Upper Elementary/Middle School, Science Fiction

Content Warnings: Death, Loss, Cancer

Published Summary:

Meet Resilience, a Mars rover determined to live up to his name.

Res was built to explore Mars. He was not built to have human emotions. But as he learns new things from the NASA scientists who assemble him, he begins to develop humanlike feelings. Maybe there’s a problem with his programming….

Human emotions or not, launch day comes, and Res blasts off to Mars, accompanied by a friendly drone helicopter named Fly. But Res quickly discovers that Mars is a dangerous place filled with dust storms and giant cliffs. As he navigates Mars’s difficult landscape, Res is tested in ways that go beyond space exploration.

As millions of people back on Earth follow his progress, will Res have the determination, courage, and resilience to succeed… and survive? 

Review:

I absolutely love this book. It is told from a Mars rover's perspective as it observes and learns about humans, human emotions, and life on earth…and space! Our Mars rover wakes up in the lab and learns about the important task it will be faced with for its mission on Mars. Our rover is unique though… Res slowly picks up on human emotions and is able to apply them to their life and their mission. It is such a heartwarming story of human emotion, perseverance, and friendship. I cried multiple times throughout the story and cannot recommend it enough. It has been one of my favorite reads this year.

Favorite Line:

“Remember. That is the word my system repeats over and over when I hit the ground. That is the word that comes before the blank: Remember”

Marshmallow and Jordan

Marshmallow & Jordan

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: Marshmallow & Jordan

Author: Alina Chau

Publisher: First Second (Imprint of Macmillan)

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 4-8

Genre/Type of Book: Upper Elementary/Middle School, Fantasy Graphic Novel

Content Warnings: No

Published Summary:

Jordan's days as star player for her school's basketball team ended when an accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. Now, she's still the team captain, but her competition days seem to be behind her...until an encounter with a mysterious elephant, who she names Marshmallow, helps Jordan discover a brand new sport.

Will water polo be the way for Jordan to continue her athletic dreams--or will it just come between Jordan and her best friends on the basketball team? And with the big tournament right around the corner, what secret is Marshmallow hiding?

Review:

Jordan is in a wheelchair after an injury but is still a very active young girl. She was part of the basketball team prior to her injury and is looking for another way to be active and finds water polo. When she is dealing with the isolation of not being able to be part of her basketball team she finds a baby white elephant on the way home from practice, Marshmallow. Marshmallow makes Jordan a pool in the backyard (some magical realism) and that is when Jordan gets the idea to participate in water polo. Throughout the story, there is a drought that is impacting the local community and as Marshmallow accompanies Jordan on her water polo journey we learn a secret about Marshmallow and where this mysterious white elephant came from.

Favorite Line:

I don't have a favorite line but my favorite image of this graphic novel is on page 353 as they say goodbye to Marshmallow.

Just Harriet

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: Just Harriet

Author: Elana K. Arnold

Publisher: Walden Pond Press (Imprint of Harper Collins)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 2-5

Genre/Type of Book: Elementary School - Chapter Books, Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: No

Published Summary:

There are a few things you should know about Harriet Wermer:

  • She just finished third grade. 
  • She has a perfect cat named Matzo Ball. 
  • She doesn’t always tell the truth. 
  • She is very happy to be spending summer vacation away from home and her mom and dad and all the wonderful things she had been planning all year.

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t entirely the truth.

Of course, there’s nothing Harriet doesn't like about Marble Island, the small island off the coast of California where her nanu runs a cozy little bed and breakfast. And nobody doesn’t love Moneypenny, Nanu’s old basset hound. But Harriet doesn’t like the fact that Dad made this decision without even asking her.

When Harriet arrives on Marble Island, however, she discovers that it's full of surprises, and even a mystery. One that seems to involve her Dad, back when he was a young boy living on Marble Island. One that Harriet is absolutely going to solve. And that's the truth.

Review:

While Harriet loves spending time with her grandmother on Marble Island she is unhappy she is being sent there for the summer because her mother is pregnant. The island has a fun cast of characters coming in and out of Harriet's grandmother's bed and breakfast. While Harriet is at the bed and breakfast she discovers a mysterious old key that leads her on an adventure to discover a mystery on the island. I found Harriet to have great character growth throughout the story as she comes to realize just how much the adults in her life really care for her, through her stubbornness and occasional lying. Matzo Ball (the cat) and Moneypenny (the dog) are fun additions to the storyline and the illustrations throughout are adorable.

Favorite Line:

"Nanu said that the other kids hadn't always understood my dad. That made me think about how I sometimes thought that he didn't understand me. It occurred to me that maybe I didn't understand my dad as well as I thought I did. Maybe parts of my dad were a mystery too."

Imaginary

Imaginary

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: Imaginary

Author: Lee Bacon

Publisher: Amulet Books (Imprint of Abrams)

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 3-8

Genre/Type of Book: Upper Elementary/Middle School, Fantasy

Content Warnings: Death of a parent

Published Summary:

Zach should’ve outgrown his imaginary friend by now. He knows this. He’s 11, long past the days when kids are supposed to go on epic make-believe adventures with their invisible friends. But after the death of his father five years ago, all Zach wanted was an escape from the real world. So his imaginary friend, Shovel, hasn’t faded away like the other kids’ have. Their imaginary friendship grew stronger. But now Zach’s in middle school, and things are getting awkward. His best friend ditched him for a cooler crowd. His classmates tease him in the hallways. He still misses his dad. Reality is the worst. Which is why Zach makes regular visits to a fantasy world with Shovel. But is Zach’s overactive imagination helping him deal with loss or just pushing people away? Poignant, humorous, and breathtaking, Imaginary is an inventive story of friendship, loss, and growing up . . . as only an imaginary friend could tell it.

Review:

This book was unlike much I have read before. The story is told through the perspective of Shovel, Zach's imaginary friend. Shovel has been there for Zach through the death of his father but as Zach ages and "should" grow out of his imaginary friend, Shovel doesn't want to fade away. As they grapple with this throughout the novel, the chapters often grow shorter or longer depending on Shovel's experiences or emotions. The very short chapters made me want to keep reading and were quite effective in portraying the emotions throughout the story. The unique storytelling and character growth is what made me want to share it.

Favorite Line:

"It's true what you said earlier. We've had some incredible adventures together. And you still have so much to look forward to. The real world is a huge place, full of happiness and heartbreak, beautiful sights and scary monsters. But I know you can handle it. You're the bravest hero I've ever met."

The Aquanaut

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: The Aquanaut

Author: Dan Santat

Publisher: Scholastic

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 3-7

Genre/Type of Book: Upper Elementary/Middle School, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction

Content Warnings: Death of a parent, Grief

Published Summary:

Ever since her father was lost at sea, Sophia has been moping around Aqualand, the marine theme park her dad and uncle created. But Sophia's world is turned upside down when an "aquanaut" breaks into the park's research lab.

To her amazement, Sophia discovers that the aquanaut is not what it seems -- inside lives a band of four goofy sea creatures! And when they all realize that Aqualand has evolved into something much darker than Sophia's dad had envisioned, Sophia is determined to help the aquanaut crew free the park's captive marine life before it's too late.

Review:

I love Dan Santat's work so I was excited to read this graphic novel. Sophia's father dies in an accident working at sea and is being raised by her uncle. Four sea creatures work together to man the aquanaut's suit in order to try and save her dad's research and the aquarium. I loved this book because Santat's typical illustration style was very enjoyable to see in longer form. While tackling the tough topic of grief, there was also a lot of comedy throughout the story.

Favorite Line:

"The loss of my brother left a huge hole in my heart. Aqualand was our home, and I tried hard to preserve it. So much that it consumed me. But I learned that home isn't a place. It's the people around you."

Hoops

Hoops: A Graphic Novel by Matt Tavares

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: Hoops

Author: Matt Tavares

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 3-7

Genre/Type of Book: Upper Elementary/Middle School, Graphic Novel Historical Fiction

Content Warnings: Sexism

Published Summary:

It is 1975 in Indiana, and the Wilkins Regional High School girls’ basketball team is in their rookie season. Despite being undefeated, they practice at night in the elementary school and play to empty bleachers. Unlike the boys’ team, the Lady Bears have no buses to deliver them to away games and no uniforms, much less a laundry service. They make their own uniforms out of T-shirts and electrical tape. And with help from a committed female coach, they push through to improbable victory after improbable victory. Illustrated in full color, this story about the ongoing battle of women striving for equality in sports rings with honesty, bravery, and heart.

A work of fiction inspired by a true story, Matt Tavares’s debut graphic novel dramatizes the historic struggle for gender equality in high school sports.

Review:

This graphic novel follows the struggles of a group of high school girls who are part of their schools first women’s basketball team. They experience sexism through not having access to the same gym facilities, sports equipment, jerseys, etc as the boy’s team at their high school. The girls on the team persevere and are quite determined to overcome those obstacles together. The team elements and what they did to overcome those obstacles were illustrated wonderfully in the graphic novel. It was exciting to watch their fan numbers visually grow over the course of the story. All graphic novels are popular in my library and this book reminded me a bit of Swim Team which has also been very popular among my students.

Favorite Line:

“Man, these girls can really play!” “You’re darn right they can!”

Rez Dogs

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: Rez Dogs

Author: Joseph Bruchac

Publisher: Penguin

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 3-8

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction/Novel in Verse

Content Warnings: Covid, Racism

Published Summary:

Malian loves spending time with her grandparents at their home on a Wabanaki reservation—she’s there for a visit when, suddenly, all travel shuts down. There’s a new virus making people sick, and Malian will have to stay with her grandparents for the duration.

Everyone is worried about the pandemic, but Malian knows how to keep her family safe: She protects her grandparents, and they protect her. She doesn’t go out to play with friends, she helps her grandparents use video chat, and she listens to and learns from their stories. And when Malsum, one of the dogs living on the rez, shows up at their door, Malian’s family knows that he’ll protect them too.

Told in verse inspired by oral storytelling, this novel about the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the ways in which Indigenous nations and communities cared for one another through plagues of the past, and how they keep caring for one another today.

Review:

I love novels in verse, which is one of the reasons I picked this book in the first place. I was also curious to read a novel that tackled translating the COVID-19 experience. In this novel, our main character, Malian, is visiting her grandparents on their reservation when she has to isolate there due to Covid. During her time there a rez dog starts regularly visiting her and keeping her company. Her grandparents share their ancestral histories of survival throughout her time with them. I found the look into another perspective during the quarantine and time at home to be interesting and the comparisons throughout history to be interesting parallels to discuss.

Favorite Line:

“Some of the most loyal folks I’ve ever known have been dogs.”

War Stories


War Stories
 Zoomed Image

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: War Stories

Author: Gordon Korman

Publisher: Scholastic

Year: 2020

Good for Grades: 5-8

Genre/Type of Book: Upper Elementary/Middle School, Historical Fiction

Content Warnings: Violence, War

Published Summary:

There are two things Trevor loves more than anything else: playing war-based video games and his great-grandfather Jacob, who is a true-blue, bona fide war hero. At the height of the war, Jacob helped liberate a small French village and was given a hero’s welcome upon his return to America.

Now it’s decades later, and Jacob wants to retrace the steps he took during the war—from training to invasion to the village he is said to have saved. Trevor thinks this is the coolest idea ever. But as they get to the village, Trevor discovers that there’s more to the story than what he’s heard his whole life, causing him to wonder about his great-grandfather’s heroism, the truth about the battle he fought, and the importance of genuine valor.

Review:

This book is about a young boy, Trevor, who loves to hear his great-grandfather’s war stories from WW2. G.G., his great-grandfather, is going to be honored in France for his actions during the war. Trevor, his father, and his grandfather end up following GG’s journey through France on the way to the ceremony. The book alternates between their present day journey and GG’s experiences in the past. Throughout the novel the reader learns there is more to GG’s heroism than might meet the eye. I picked this book to share because I enjoyed the alternating perspectives and the suspense of what GG’s secret might be. Gordon Korman is a very popular author in my library and this book has been popular as well.

Favorite Line:

“War makes a better video game.” his father agreed. “But if you’re looking for a way to live, I’ll take peace every time.”

A Whale of the Wild

Reviewed by: Jessica Dubois, Northside Elementary

Title: A Whale of the Wild

Author: Rosanne Parry

Publisher: Greenwillow Books (Imprint of Harper Collins) 

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 3-7

Genre/Type of Book: Middle Grade, Animal Fiction, Adventure

Content Warnings: Animal death, loss

Published Summary:

For Vega and her family, salmon is life. And Vega is learning to be a salmon finder, preparing for the day when she will be her family’s matriarch. But then she and her brother Deneb are separated from their pod when a devastating earthquake and tsunami render the seascape unrecognizable. Vega must use every skill she has to lead her brother back to their family. The young orcas face a shark attack, hunger, the deep ocean, and polluted waters on their journey. Will Vega become the leader she’s destined to be?

A Whale of the Wild weaves a heart-stopping tale of survival with impeccable research on a delicate ecosystem and threats to marine life. New York Times-bestselling author Rosanne Parry’s fluid writing and Lindsay Moore’s stunning artwork bring the Salish Sea and its inhabitants to vivid life. An excellent read-aloud and read-alone, this companion to A Wolf Called Wander will captivate fans of The One and Only Ivan and Pax.

Includes black-and-white illustrations throughout, a map, and extensive backmatter about orcas and their habitats.

Review:

This book follows an orca whale, Vera, who is separated from her family with her younger brother. Vera has to care for her brother while not knowing all of the survival techniques or the way back to her pod. I picked this book to share because animal fiction is very popular in my library. My students really enjoy stories that are from an animal’s perspective, and so do I! I found it really interesting to learn more about the environment and journeys of orca whales. The environmental impacts on orca whales and other animals in this environment are very apparent through the storytelling which could make for great follow up activities or conversations.

Favorite Line:

“I know every living thing sinks in the end. There is something magnificent about the way a greatmother sinks, by the light of the round moon, in the hushed moment between Push and Pull, with her kinship gathered around her, chanting her name. No, I’m not afraid of sinking. But to forget things - how to hunt, how to speak. That’s a terrible end. I shiver and huff out a sharp breath to send the thought out of my head.”

 

Find this ebook in the Monroe 2 SORA Collection

In the Lives of Puppets

IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS

 

Reviewed by: Becky Hibbert, East Irondequoit Middle School

Title: In the Lives of Puppets

Author: T.J. Klune

Publisher: Tor Books (Imprint of Macmillan)

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 9-Adult

Genre/Type of Book: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Content Warnings:Humorous sexual innuendo courtesy of the robots

Published Summary:

In a strange little home built into the branches of a grove of trees, live three robots—fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson, a pleasantly sadistic nurse machine, and a small vacuum desperate for love and attention. Victor Lawson, a human, lives there too. They’re a family, hidden and safe.

The day Vic salvages and repairs an unfamiliar android labelled “HAP,” he learns of a shared dark past between Hap and Gio–a past spent hunting humans.

When Hap unwittingly alerts robots from Gio’s former life to their whereabouts, the family is no longer hidden and safe. Gio is captured and taken back to his old laboratory in the City of Electric Dreams. So together, the rest of Vic’s assembled family must journey across an unforgiving and otherworldly country to rescue Gio from decommission, or worse, reprogramming.

Along the way to save Gio, amid conflicted feelings of betrayal and affection for Hap, Vic must decide for himself: Can he accept love with strings attached?

Inspired by Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio, and like Swiss Family Robinson meets Wall-EIn the Lives of Puppets is a masterful stand-alone fantasy adventure from the beloved author who brought you The House in the Cerulean Sea and Under the Whispering Door.

Review:

The story tells the adventures of Gio (an elderly android), Victor (the human rescued by Gio), Rambo (an extremely anxious vacuum desperate for love who constantly worries about dying), and Nurse Ratched (a sadistic and highly medical nurse robot). They live their lives in a home among the trees and keep to themselves; it's clear from the beginning that Gio is hiding, but from who or what, the reader doesn't know. Everything in their lives changes when Victor, Rambo, and Nurse Ratched - unbeknownst to Gio - find a still-active android in a scrapyard and repair him. Upon his repair, the new android, named Hap, inadvertently flags their location. Doing so brings "the big bad" directly to the found-family's hiding spot and Gio is eventually taken hostage. In a bid to save him, Victor, Hap, Rambo, and Nurse Ratched go on a journey full of twists and turns that will lead them to the City of Electric Dreams, where the main goal is to rescue Gio. This story is on par with The House in the Cerulean Sea, Klune's debut novel, in the incredible emotional response that his stories and characters evoke. The characterization brings the main characters to life in such a way that it's hard not to love them and want the best for them. The story has strong echoes of Pinocchio and references to Swiss Family Robinson, The Wizard of Oz, and Frankenstein. In the Lives of Puppets is a gorgeous story about what love truly means and how important it is to be surrounded by the ones who love and support you.

Favorite Line:

[The Coachman] "Your flaws are what make you superior, in all ways. No matter what machines can do, no matter how powerful we become, it is the *absence* of flaws that will be our undoing....Our only flaw is that we've condemned ourselves to spend eternity mimicking that which we deemed unfit to exist."

 

Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches

 

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, High School Librarian

Title: Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches

Author: Kate Scelsa

Publisher: Balzer and Bray (Imprint of Harper Collins)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 10-12

Genre/Type of Book: "A witchy, atmospheric lesbian contemporary romance"

Content Warnings: Drug use/sales and underage drinking

Published Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Eleanor is the last person in Salem to believe in witchcraft—or to think that her life could be transformed by mysterious forces. After losing her best friend and first love, Chloe, Eleanor has spent the past year in a haze, vowing to stay away from anything resembling romance.

But when a handwritten guide to tarot arrives in the mail at the witchy souvenir store where Eleanor works, it seems to bring with it the message that magic is about to enter her life. Cynical Eleanor is quick to dismiss this promise, until real-life witch Pix shows up with an unusual invitation. Inspired by the magic and mystery of the tarot, Eleanor decides to open herself up to Pix and her coven of witches, and even to the possibility of a new romance.

But Eleanor’s complicated history continues to haunt her. She will have to reckon with the old ghosts that threaten to destroy everything, even her chance at new love.

Improbable Magic for Cynical Witches is an atmospheric and romantic coming-of-age about learning to make peace with the past in order to accept the beauty of the present.

Review:

The topic intrigued me, and I have been trying find more books that represent the gay community in common place stories. This books takes place in Salem, MA and centers around a group of YAs who are practicing witches. The author blends the culture and history of Salem into the story of a high school senior, Eleanor, a recent transfer to Salem. Eleanor struggles to fit in at her new high school as she explores her sexuality. She has an experience with a popular girl who befriends her. This relationship ultimately goes awry and forces Eleanor to leave school...the story of this happenstance unfolds as the story progresses and Eleanor tries to fit into her new situation and leave the past behind. There are also references to Tarot card readings which become symbolic of Eleanor's journey. And, a back story of Eleanor's mother who suffers from the extreme side effects of Lyme Disease, gives the story another dimension. I like that Eleanor realized that although she made mistakes and demonstrated poor judgement, it was not the end of the world, and that hopefully you learn from your mistakes and can move on. I just think it took her a long time to realize this! While I enjoyed this book, it was not one of my favorites, but it certainly fits a niche for those students interested in witchcraft.

Favorite Line:

"You can only fix what you decide is worth fixing." Advice from Gillian to Eleanor.

Some Girls Do

Some Girls Do by Jennifer Dugan

 

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, High School Librarian

Title: Some Girls Do

Author: Jennifer Dugan

Publisher: Putnam (Imprint of Penguin Random House)

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Queer Romance

Content Warnings: Some sexual promiscuity

Published Summary:

In this YA contemporary queer romance from the author of Hot Dog Girl, an openly gay track star falls for a closeted, bisexual teen beauty queen with a penchant for fixing up old cars.

Morgan, an elite track athlete, is forced to transfer high schools late in her senior year after it turns out being queer is against her private Catholic school’s code of conduct. There, she meets Ruby, who has two hobbies: tinkering with her baby blue 1970 Ford Torino and competing in local beauty pageants, the latter to live out the dreams of her overbearing mother. The two are drawn to each other and can’t deny their growing feelings. But while Morgan–out and proud, and determined to have a fresh start–doesn’t want to have to keep their budding relationship a secret, Ruby isn’t ready to come out yet. With each girl on a different path toward living her truth, can they go the distance together?

Review:

This book was selected by our GSA club for their annual book discussion book. I am glad they selected it and am glad I read it! The story is told from two perspectives, Morgan and Ruby, two very different girls who have an immediate attraction to each other. Morgan is an elite track athlete being recruited by D1 colleges. However, she needs to transfer from her Catholic High School during her senior year for coming out as queer...which according to the school, violates their code of conduct. This also jeopardized her college eligibility. She meets Ruby, a beauty queen and mechanic, who is not out. Both girls are struggling with their identities, and their future plans. Morgan's family is trying to sue her former school, which is an interesting story line, but it was frustrating to see how oblivious Morgan is about the financial implications this has on her very supportive family. But, it was wonderful to read about a family that supports their gay child. Ruby is not so lucky. I like the character of her stepfather, who steps up to the plate to help Ruby. A well-done YA novel that speaks to all the different struggles teens face in finding their place and being accepted for who they are, queer or not.

Favorite Line:

“I’m not spending my life pretending I’m something I’m not, or making myself smaller and quieter, just because someone else thinks I should."

 

Find this audiobook in the Monroe One SORA Account

Find this ebook in the Monroe 2 SORA Collection

Honestly Elliott

Honestly Elliott cover

Reviewed by: Asley Poulin, Brooks Hill Elementary

Title: Honestly Elliott

Author: Gillian McDunn

Publisher: Bloomsbury 

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 4-7

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction/Chapter Book

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

Highly-acclaimed author of Caterpillar Summer, Gillian McDunn explores boyhood in a funny, big-hearted story about a kid trying to find the best way to be his best self.

Elliott isn't sure where he fits in. Ever since his best friend moved away and his dad and stepmom announced the arrival of their new baby, he's been feeling invisible. Plus his dad just doesn't seem to understand what having ADHD really feels like, or why cooking is the one activity where Elliott's mind clicks into place.

When he's paired with the super smart and popular Maribel for a school project, Elliott worries she'll be just another person who underestimates him. But Maribel is also looking for a new way to show others her true self and this project could be the chance they've both been waiting for. Sometimes the least likely friends help you see a new side to things . . . and sometimes you have to make a few mistakes before you figure out what's right.

Review:

Elliott is a sixth grader who is struggling to manage his ADHD symptoms, which are impacting his self esteem, friendships, and relationships with his divorced parents. His best friend is now homeschooled and his "lunchtime friends" aren't really interested in extending that friendship beyond the cafeteria. When all students are required to do a long term group project, he ends up paired with an extremely popular girl named Maribel. The book follows Elliott through the duration of the project, during which he processes his step-mother's pregnancy, his changing friendships, and his emotions.

I enjoyed reading this! It was easy to relate to and felt contemporary and realistic. I liked that Elliott and Maribel's friendship never veered towards a budding romance. Cooking being a major interest of Elliott's is a bonus, as cookbooks and anything else cooking related are super popular in my library.

Favorite Line:

"I think about... how my family doesn't all live together or all have big parties together, but maybe my family is okay anyway. not for any real reason in particular, but just because it is mine."

Invisible: A Graphic Novel

Reviewed by: Asley Poulin, Brooks Hill Elementary

Title: Invisible: A Graphic Novel

Author: Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Publisher: Graphix (Imprint of Scholastic)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 5-10

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction/Graphic Novel

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

Can five overlooked kids make one big difference?

There's George: the brain

Sara: the loner

Dayara: the tough kid

Nico: the rich kid

And Miguel: the athlete

And they're stuck together when they're forced to complete their school's community service hours. Although they're sure they have nothing in common with one another, some people see them as all the same . . . just five Spanish-speaking kids.

Then they meet someone who truly needs their help, and they must decide whether they are each willing to expose their own secrets to help . . . or if remaining invisible is the only way to survive middle school.

With text in English and Spanish, Invisible features a groundbreaking format paired with an engaging, accessible, and relatable storyline. This Breakfast Club-inspired story by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, award-winning author of Concealed, and Gabriela Epstein, illustrator of two Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel adaptations, is a must-have graphic novel about unexpected friendships and being seen for who you really are.

Review:

Reminiscent of The Breakfast Club, this book centers around a group of five middle schoolers, forced to spend time together. Their school requires community service hours, which none of them have done, so they're forced to do them together in the school cafeteria. Pitted against a villain of a cafeteria monitor, the five of them band together to get their hours done and to help someone in need. The cast of characters is diverse in looks, heritage, language It's the kind of book that makes you think!

Favorite Line:

My copy is checked out, so I can't grab a specific quote, but I appreciated that a side plot involving a homeless family was handled with tact and dignity.

Zara's Rules for Record Breaking Fun

Zara's Rules for Record-Breaking Fun

Reviewed by: Asley Poulin, Brooks Hill Elementary

Title: Zara's Rules for Record Breaking Fun

Author: Hena Khan

Publisher: Salaam Reads (Imprint of Simon & Schuster)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 2-4

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction/Chapter Book

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

From the beloved author of Amina’s Voice comes the first book in a humor-filled middle grade series starring a young Muslim girl with an endless list of hobbies who searches for ways to maximize fun for her family and neighborhood friends.

Meet Zara Saleem, the queen of the neighborhood.

Zara’s in charge of it all: she organizes the games, picks the teams, and makes sure everyone has a good time…and they always do.

When a new family moves in across the street, suddenly Zara’​s reign is threatened by Naomi, who has big ideas of her own about how the neighborhood kids can have fun. To get everyone to notice her again, Zara decides she’s going to break a Guinness World Record—if her little brother Zayd doesn’t mess things up.

But when she finds herself increasingly alone in her record-breaking quest, Zara starts to wonder if sharing the crown and making a new friend might end up being the best rule of all.

Review:

Zara is a self proclaimed "queen of the neighborhood," but when a new family moves in, that all starts to change. New girl Naomi is full of big ideas that the other kids like too - including Zara. However, Zara has a hard time accepting that other people also have fun ideas and refuses to participate in them with the rest of the kids, instead trying to break a world record to bring the attention back to her. The characters are realistic and this book could serve as a nice bridge between illustrated chapter books and middle grade fiction.

Favorite Line:

"And just like that, I realize I'm sharing the crown. But surprisingly, it makes me feel a lot lighter than I expected."

Brothers in Arms

Reviewed by: Asley Poulin. Brooks Hill Elementary

Title: Brothers in Arms: A True World War II Story of Wojtek the Bear and the Soldiers Who Loved Him

Author: Susan Hood

Publisher: Harper Collins

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: K-5

Genre/Type of Book: Narrative NonFiction

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

Wojtek was just an orphaned bear cub (yes, an actual wild bear!) when a group of teenaged Polish soldiers, many of whom were orphans themselves, took him into their ranks during World War ll. Wojtek quickly became a beloved and important member of the Polish II Corps. Together with his brothers in arms, Wojtek helped his friends turn the tide of World War II. 

This incredible true story teaches young readers about the history of World War II while also underscoring the life-changing power of teamwork and the enduring bonds of friendship and love in the face of adversity.

The picture book includes extensively researched back matter based on interviews with the soldiers and their descendants, photographs, additional resources, further reading, and more!

Review:

This is the true story of a bear named Wojtek, who was adopted by a supply company of the Polish army in Iran during World War 2. It is illustrated, with an author's note with photographs after the story. It is narrative nonfiction and tells the story of Wojtek as he becomes part of the military. The author does a good job distinguishing which parts of the story are true, versus which parts may just be legend. I stumbled across this while adding new books, and was immediately engrossed in the story! It's super engaging and would appeal to a wide variety of ages, although the text is fairly complex for primary students to read independently. Because of the narrative structure, it would work well as a read aloud.

Favorite Line:

My favorite part of the book was the photographs and information at the end. This book really reads as a picture book, and I enjoyed seeing the actual photographs of Wojtek.

Frizzy (2)


Frizzy
 Zoomed Image

 

Reviewed by: Ashley Poulin, Brooks Hill Elementary School

Title: Frizzy

Author: Claribel A. Ortega

Publisher: First Second (an imprint of Macmillan)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 4-9

Genre/Type of Book: Graphic Novel/Realistic fiction

Content Warnings: Bullying and racism

Published Summary:

Marlene loves three things: books, her cool Tía Ruby, and hanging out with her best friend, Camila. But according to her mother, Paola, the only thing she needs to focus on is school and “growing up.” That means straightening her hair every weekend so she could have “presentable,” “good hair.”

But Marlene hates being in the salon and doesn’t understand why her curls are not considered pretty by those around her. With a few hiccups, a dash of embarrassment, and the much-needed help of Camila and Tía Ruby―she slowly starts a journey to learn to appreciate and proudly wear her curly hair.

Review:

Frizzy is a graphic novel loosely based on the author's real life. It all centers around her hair. Marlene is Black and Dominican, and spends every Saturday at the hair salon having her hair straightened. She hates the salon and longs to wear her hair more naturally, however, her mother refuses. Her "cool aunt" teaches how to care for her natural hair, much to her mother's chagrin. However, eventually come to a compromise where Marlene better understands her mother's reasons for having her straighten her hair, and her mom relinquishes some of the control she was exerting over it. It was interesting AND disheartening to read about social pressures Black women face over their hair. I think this book is a great conversation starter and really makes the reader think about the assumptions made about people based on appearances, and models some healthy, but tough, conversations between family members. The story felt contemporary and honest.

Favorite Line:

"I didn't want to tell you because I didn't think I could. I never realized I could talk about how I felt, because... we don't do that much." - Marlene is explaining to her mother why she didn't talk about this with her sooner.

 

Growing Pangs

Growing Pangs by Kathryn Ormsbee

Reviewed by: Asley Poulin. Brooks Hill Elementary

Title: Growing Pangs

Author: Kathryn Ormsbee

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 3-8

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction Graphic Novel

Content Warnings: No

Published Summary:

Katie’s always felt different. She’s homeschooled, she has freckles, and her teeth are really crooked. But none of these things matter to Kacey. They’re best friends forever—just like their necklaces say. But when they go to summer camp, Kacey starts acting weird. What happened to the “forever”? And when Katie gets home, she can’t stop worrying. About getting braces. About 6th grade. About friends. She knows tapping three times or opening and closing a drawer won’t make everything better . . . but sometimes it helps stop the worrying. Is something wrong with her? And will anyone want to be friends with her if they find out?

Review:

This book centers around Katie and her various friendships. She has a long term best friend named Kacey from her homeschool co-op. As Katie expands her friend group, Kacey quickly feels threatened and lashes out at Katie for no longer being a good friend to her. As a reader, I found Kacey frustrating, as she clearly was trying to control Katie and isolate her from any potential new friend. I enjoyed the book, and it was interesting to read a book from the perspective of a homeschooled student.

Favorite Line:

"I didn't want Kacey to feel alone. But I also thought she was being mean." - I liked seeing Katie finally realize that it was okay to have more than one good friend, and that she wasn't doing anything wrong.

 

Squished

Reviewed by: Asley Poulin. Brooks Hill Elementary

Title: Squished

Author: Megan Wagner Lloyd

Publisher: Graphix (Imprint of Scholastic)

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 3-7

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction Graphic Novel

Content Warnings: No

Published Summary:

Eleven-year-old Avery Lee loves living in Hickory Valley, Maryland. She loves her neighborhood, school, and the end-of-summer fair she always goes to with her two best friends. But she's tired of feeling squished by her six siblings! They're noisy and chaotic and the younger kids love her a little too much. All Avery wants is her own room -- her own space to be alone and make art. So she's furious when Theo, her grumpy older brother, gets his own room instead, and her wild baby brother, Max, moves into the room she already shares with her clinging sister Pearl! Avery hatches a plan to finally get her own room, all while trying to get Max to sleep at night, navigating changes in her friendships, and working on an art entry for the fair. And when Avery finds out that her family might move across the country, things get even more complicated.

Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter have once again teamed up to tell a funny, heartfelt, and charming story of family, friendship, and growing up.

Review:

Squished is about Avery Lee, who is one of 7 kids in the Lee family. She sometimes feels like she needs space away from her crowded house, hence the title of the book. I read this book because it's from the same team that wrote and illustrated Allergic, which is super popular at my library. However, compared to Allergic, I felt Squished fell a bit flat. There were too many plot lines, and none of them went into enough depth that I was actually invested in them as a reader. There's some friendship drama, a potential family move, issues between her and her siblings, and a failed pet sitting business. That being said, most kids will probably enjoy it as it's a light read and one of those coveted chapter book length graphic novels.

Favorite Line:

It wasn't a specific line, as this spread was largely wordless, but I did enjoy watching how Avery reacted when her brother was being bullied on a family trip to a skating rink. Sometimes it's satisfying to see bullies get what they have coming.

 

Home After Dark

Home After Dark

 

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, High School Librarian

Title: Home After Dark

Author: David Small

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart, Imprint of Penguin Random House

Year: 2018

Good for Grades: 11-Adult

Genre/Type of Book: Graphic Novel, Coming of Age

Content Warnings: Brief exposure to a sexual encounter

Published Summary:

After his mother abandons the family, thirteen-year-old Russell Pruitt moves with his Korean War veteran father to a small town in southern California. Eager to fit in and figure out the mystifying rules of being a man, he succumbs to the sway of boys more feral than himself--leading to an act of betrayal that will have devastating consequences. Told through cinematic artwork that will transfix readers with its visceral potency and grace, Home After Dark is a mesmerizing evocation of a boy's struggle to survive the everyday brutalities of adolescence, and forge his own path to manhood.

Review:

I decided to review this book after I discovered it was on a couple of challenged lists. It is an Alex Award winner and received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. As indicated by the Alex Award, this is considered an adult novel. One reviewer compares it to Lord of the Flies.

David Small crafts a dark and ominous Coming of Age graphic novel set in the 1950s. He tells the story of Thirteen-year-old Russell Pruitt who is abandoned by his mother and moves with his Korean War Veteran father to Marshfield, California. They arrive penniless with no job. They are turned out by Russell's aunt and are ultimately taken in by a Chinese immigrant couple who help them get on their feet. Russell does not adjust well to this town and struggles to fit in, a band of bullies harass him. The dilapidated town has a ring of animal abusers on the loose, and his father spirals into depression, fueled by alcohol use. He too abandons Russell. Russell struggles with his identity and his place in this world. He makes some bad decisions and goes to a dark place. Seeing him try to make things right is heart-wrenching. However, the novel ends on a note of hope and tenderness as the Chinese couple take Russell in, rescuing him.

Favorite Line:

"Supper is ready." Mrs. Mah...on the last panel, calls this out to Russell. Her face is kind and smiling. Those three words bring the story to close on a hopeful, human note.

 

*As this is considered an adult novel by the publisher, this is not available in SORA.

The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field

Reviewed by: Jennifer Costello, Laurelton-Pardee Intermediate School

Title: The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field

Author: Scott Riley

Publisher: Millbrook Press, an Imprint of Lerner

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: K-5

Genre/Type of Book: Non-Fiction

Content Warnings: N/A

Published Summary: 

On the island of Koh Panyee, in a village built on stilts, there is no open space. How will a group of Thai boys play soccer?

After watching the World Cup on television, a group of Thai boys is inspired to form their own team. But on the island of Koh Panyee, in a village built on stilts, there is no open space. The boys can play only twice a month on a sandbar when the tide is low enough. Everything changes when the teens join together to build their very own floating soccer field.

This inspiring true story by debut author Scott Riley is gorgeously illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien. Perfect for fans of stories about sports, beating seemingly impossible odds, and places and cultures not often shown in picture books.

Review:

This is a true story of a group of boys in Koh Panyee, Thailand that would play soccer each afternoon on the sandbar by their village. Once the tide returned, though, soccer was over as they had nowhere to play. While watching the 1986 World Cup, the boys decided they needed to form a soccer team. For weeks they collected materials and built a floating field. "With fishnet goals at each end, it teetered in the waves." They played and played until one day they entered a tournament, and the Panyee Football Club was formed.

Favorite Line: 

No longer needing the moon to tug at the tides, Prasit and his friends headed straight to their field each day after school.

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Ain't Burned All the Bright (2)

Ain't Burned All the Bright

Reviewed by: Becky Hibbert, East Irondequoit Middle School

Title: Ain't Burned All the Bright

Author: Jason Reynolds

Publisher: Atheneum (Imprint of Simon & Schuster)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 7-12

Genre/Type of Book: Novel in Verse/Poetry/Contemporary Fiction

Content Warnings: References to racism and the deaths of George Floyd and Eric Garner; nothing explicit.

Published Summary: 

A Caldecott Honor winner!

Prepare yourself for something unlike anything: A smash-up of art and text for teens that viscerally captures what it is to be Black. In America. Right Now. Written by #1 New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jason Reynolds.

Jason Reynolds and his best bud, Jason Griffin, had a mind-meld. And they decided to tackle it, in one fell swoop, in about ten sentences, and 300 pages of art, this piece, this contemplation-manifesto-fierce-vulnerable-gorgeous-terrifying-WhatIsWrongWithHumans-hope-filled-hopeful-searing-Eye-Poppingly-Illustrated-tender-heartbreaking-how-The-HECK-did-They-Come-UP-with-This project about oxygen. And all of the symbolism attached to that word, especially NOW.

And so for anyone who didn’t really know what it means to not be able to breathe, REALLY breathe, for generations, now you know. And those who already do, you’ll be nodding yep yep, that is exactly how it is.

Review:

I keep finding more and more reasons to love Jason Reynolds, and this book is no exception. It's three sentences long, and each sentence has its own section in the book. The book is told from the viewpoint of a young boy and each fragment of his sentences has a corresponding image created by the phenomenally talented Jason Griffin. The boy is musing about the pandemic and how it has affected his family, especially his father, and the outbreaks of racial violence. The thread that really binds the story and gives it a power all its own is the connection - or disconnect - between what is going on and the the ability to breathe freely, whether it be health-wise or societally.

This book had a huge impact on me. It's small on the text but mighty on the themes, and the images truly boost the effect of the story. I felt all the feels while reading this and I've passed it around to multiple colleagues. Highly, highly recommend.

Favorite Line: 

"...and she wipes weary from her eyes still glued to the no-good glued to the high-definition glare of low-definition life..."

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Finally Seen

Finally Seen

 

Reviewed by: Ashley Pouin, Brooks Hill Elementary School

Title: Finally Seen

Author: Kelly Yang

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 3-8

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic fiction/Middle grade novel

Content Warnings: Racism and racist acts

Published Summary:

My sister got to grow up with my parents. Me? I grew up with postcards from my parents.

When ten-year-old Lina Gao steps off the plane in Los Angeles, it’s her first time in America and the first time seeing her parents and her little sister in five years! She’s been waiting for this moment every day while she lived with her grandmother in Beijing, getting teased by kids at school who called her “left behind girl.” Finally, her parents are ready for her to join their fabulous life in America! Except, it’s not exactly like in the postcards:

1. School’s a lot harder than she thought. When she mispronounces some words in English on the first day, she decides she simply won’t talk. Ever again.

2. Her chatty little sister has no problem with English. And seems to do everything better than Lina, including knowing exactly the way to her parents’ hearts.

3. They live in an apartment, not a house like in Mom’s letters, and they owe a lot of back rent from the pandemic. And Mom’s plan to pay it back sounds more like a hobby than a moneymaker.

As she reckons with her hurt, Lina tries to keep a lid on her feelings, both at home and at school. When her teacher starts facing challenges for her latest book selection, a book that deeply resonates with Lina, it will take all of Lina’s courage and resilience to get over her fear in order to choose a future where she’s finally seen.

Review:

Finally Seen is a new book by Kelly Yang, best known for Front Desk. This is a contemporary novel, set shortly after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lina's family (sister, father, brother) all moved to the United States from China 5 years earlier, leaving Lina to stay in China with her grandmother. After waiting so long, Lina's dream of moving to the United States finally comes true, although once she gets there, the truth is not exactly like she imagined. There are financial issues, language barriers, and social issues to navigate. Lina experiences blatant racism, which is discussed openly and honestly in the book, along with smaller microaggressions, which are also addressed.

I chose to read this book because Front Desk has gained a lot of traction at my library now - more so than when it was originally published, so this looked like a good option for kids who were hoping there was another in that series. Because it is SO contemporary, it felt like I was reading about a regular day at school. Some of the conflict at the end of the book wrapped up a little TOO easily, but that's typical in a middle grade book.

Favorite Line:

This line hit close to home with me, as I'm sure it will with many of you. These are Lina's internal thoughts, as she overhears adults discussing a fictional book called Flea Shop, which the main character has had a life similar to Lina's - "Flea Shop is the most relatable thing I've ever read. As for appropriate, if she thinks Flea Shop's not appropriate, I hate to think of what she thinks about my life."

 

Love from Mecca to Medina

Love from Mecca to Medina

 

Reviewed by: Becky Hibbert, East Irondequoit Middle School

Title: Love from Mecca to Medina

Author: S.K. Ali

Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster for Young Readers

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 7-12

Genre/Type of Book: Contemporary young adult fiction

Content Warnings: n/a

Published Summary:

Adam and Zayneb. Perfectly matched. Painfully apart.

Adam is in Doha, Qatar, making a map of the Hijra, a historic migration from Mecca to Medina, and worried about where his next paycheck will come from. Zayneb is in Chicago, where school and extracurricular stresses are piling on top of a terrible frenemy situation, making her miserable.

Then a marvel occurs: Adam and Zayneb get the chance to spend Thanksgiving week on the Umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, in Saudi Arabia. Adam is thrilled; it’s the reboot he needs and an opportunity to pray for a hijra in real life: to migrate to Zayneb in Chicago. Zayneb balks at the trip at first, having envisioned another kind of vacation, but then decides a spiritual reset is calling her name too. And they can’t wait to see each other—surely, this is just what they both need.

But the trip is nothing like what they expect, from the appearance of Adam’s former love interest in their traveling group to the anxiety gripping Zayneb when she’s supposed to be “spiritual.” As one wedge after another drives them apart while they make their way through rites in the holy city, Adam and Zayneb start to wonder: was their meeting just an oddity after all? Or can their love transcend everything else like the greatest marvels of the world?

Review:

This book is the sequel to Love from A to Z and follows the continuing love story of Adam and Zayneb. Unlike the first book, however, there's tension and discord between the two. They're living separately and navigating their ways through their respective - and seemingly insurmountable - troubles, which drives a wedge between the two as they don't want to burden the other. In an effort to reconnect, the young couple decides to journey to Mecca and Medina as a way to both reconnect and to reap the spiritual benefits of their holy journey. Of course, trouble pops up along the way in the form of a former flame, and jealousy and miscommunication threaten to damage the trip *and* their relationship.

I love S.K. Ali's books because they're a window into another culture and she writes characters and stories that are so heartwarming that you can't help but love them. I've learned so much about contemporary Muslim culture through her books and she's an author who's a "no-brainer": when I see she has a new book out, I'm buying it regardless! I also met her at ALAN three years ago and she was such a gentle spirit and has this amazing warmth around her. It's easy to see where her characters get their life from.

Favorite Line:

"Okay, so you know what the most profound thing I've learned this year has been? That I still struggle with, but I'm making peace with? .... "That we're not tasked with the outcome of anything. A lot of my anxiety in life came from thinking that it was all in my hands." She paused. "But only the effort is in our hands, Adam. We can't force or focus on what the end looks like; that's in Allah's hands."

 

Big Tree by Brian Selznick

Big Tree

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: Big Tree

Author: Brian Selznick

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 4-8

Genre/Type of Book: Fantasy, Adventure, Environment/Nature

Content Warnings: Death, grief, loss

Authors note from the Publisher's site:

The five-year journey Big Tree has taken to reach your hands has involved many unexpected twists and turns, as well as a huge amount of change. I've written about the specifics of this journey in the Afterword; but since you are the first people in the world to read this book, I wanted to talk to you about the idea of change. Every moment of every day, the world around us is changing. This has been true forever, but lately this change has felt particularly terrifying and unrelenting. Even those of us lucky enough to be healthy, safe, and not currently living in a war zone feel the effects of the trauma around us. What does hope look like when there is so much darkness? Big Tree is about a kind of hope that can be found in nature. It's about surviving by working together to create a community. It's about moving forward, planning for the future, and growing—even in the face of destruction. The natural world also offers so many beautiful metaphors to help us live. Trees seem to be optimistic by design. Planting a seed is intrinsically an act of hope. Trees can't un-grow. And even when they die, they make way for more trees. One of the most moving things I learned while making this book involves the idea that forests are not a collection of individual trees, but rather a community where everything is connected. Trees need one another to survive in the same way people need one another to survive. And like nature, we need to be adaptable as we grow. We need to figure out, like forests, how to survive danger together, and how to change for the better as we move forward into the future. This is what I believe books have the power to help us understand, and this is why I love writing and illustrating for children.

Thank you for reading Big Tree.

Review:

Two little sibling sycamore seeds, Merwin and Louise, experience the loss of their mother due to a stampede of dinosaurs trying to escape a fire. They must find a way to way to survive on their own, with only each other and the advice of their mother for help. The brother and sister siblings go off together in search of light, water, and good soil in order to thrive. The siblings don't always agree on what the best place to thrive in is. There are definitely some sad parts in this book but uplifting and hopeful parts as well.

Science is woven into all parts of this book and would be great to use in a science class when studying the environment. There are themes of listening to the earth, sources of life on earth, and interdependence of all life forms. Although the book explore themes of life and death, the sycamore seeds show us that together we can change the world for the better, and offer a more hopeful future. In the Afterward, Selznick explains additional science topics and connections between fungi and trees and the "wood-wide web." The bibliography has additional science books for children to explore.

Selznick is known for his illustrations that don't add to the story, they are the story! This book too is short on text, and has lots of beautiful illustrations! The simple text may appeal to our students who think they don't like to read. We get to zoom in and out of the illustrations to see things up close and see all the details on the drawings. I loved this book for many reasons! There is humor, science, adventure, mystery, dinosaurs, and gorgeous illustrations! I love the idea of this book being used in collaboration with science and ELA teachers. I loved the sibling relationship in the book- so many times in middle school books, the siblings are at odds with each other and in this book, we get to see siblings working together, which can lead to some good discussions. And the ending of this book!

This book is a Common Sense Selection for families, and Meryl Streep narrates the audiobook (although you can't miss all those illustrations!!).

Favorite Line: 

From page 168: "But what good are facts if they are interpreted wrong?"

Also : "A good parent always gives their children roots and wings. Roots to settle down, and wings to bravely go where you need to go."

Nat for Nothing

Reviewed by: Ashley Poulin, Brooks Hill Elementary School

Title: Nat for Nothing

Author: Maria Scrivan

Publisher: Scholastic Graphix

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 3-8

Genre/Type of Book: Graphic Novel, Realistic fiction

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

It's a best friend battle!

Natalie is having a rough start to the school year. Each student has been asked to join an extracurricular activity, and Nat's two best friends have no trouble finding activities that interest them. Flo tries her hand at puppetry, and Zoe makes the volleyball team... with Nat's ex-BFF, Lily! So now Zoe and Lily are always together, and Nat's over it! Nat's feeling betrayed, and she still hasn't found a club to join. But when Nat meets a new student who's having the same difficulty choosing a club, they decide to create one together. Could this be the solution to her problems?

Review:

Nat for Nothing is the fourth book in a graphic novel series about a middle school aged girl named Natalie. Natalie is definitely not in the "cool crowd" and struggles to find herself and where she fits in. This title focuses on her attempts to join a club in middle school, and how to handle it when her friends find new interests and new friendships more easily than she does.

I read this book because I like to be aware of the content in middle grade books, particularly graphic novels, as they can sometimes be much more mature than one would assume. This series does a great job at presenting a realistic view of middle school, while still being completely appropriate for elementary school students. It's a popular series in my library and I know students will be excited to see there's a new title available!

Favorite Line: 

I enjoyed when Nat and her friend Luca were discussing their "doubt gremlins," which are those nasty little thoughts in your head that make you think you're not good enough and can stop you from trying new things. Luca tells Nat that everyone gets them and "drawing them makes them seem less scary," which is followed up by a two page spread of cartoon doubt gremlins and their mean thoughts. I thought it was a clever way to let readers know they're not alone with having those types of thoughts in their head.

You Are Here: Connecting Flights

 

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: You Are Here: Connecting Flights

Author: Edited by Ellen Oh, cofounder of We Need Diverse Books

Publisher: Allida (Imprint of Harper Collins)

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 3-7

Genre/Type of Book: J Short Story Collection

Content Warnings: Racist remarks and behaviors

Published Summary:

A powerful and engaging exploration of contemporary Asian American identity through interwoven stories set in a teeming Chicago airport, written by award-winning and bestselling East and Southeast Asian American authors including Linda Sue Park, Grace Lin, Erin Entrada Kelly, Traci Chee, and Ellen Oh. Flying Lessons meets Black Boy Joy

“The individual narratives are consistently engaging and rewarding, and together they form a unique collection of interconnected stories about young, contemporary Asian American characters.”—Booklist, Starred Review

An incident at a TSA security check point sows chaos and rumors, creating a chain of events that impacts twelve young Asian Americans in a crowded and restless airport. As their disrupted journeys crisscross and collide, they encounter fellow travelers—some helpful, some hostile—as they discover the challenges of friendship, the power of courage, the importance of the right word at the right time, and the unexpected significance of a blue Stratocaster electric guitar.  

Twelve powerhouse Asian American authors explore themes of identity and belonging in the entwined experiences of young people whose family roots may extend to East and Southeast Asia, but who are themselves distinctly American. 

Written by Linda Sue Park, Erin Entrada Kelly, Grace Lin, Traci Chee, Mike Chen, Meredith Ireland, Mike Jung, Minh Lê, Ellen Oh, Randy Ribay, Christina Soontornvat, and Susan Tan, and edited by Ellen Oh.

Review:

This book was written by award winning and best selling East and Southeast Asian American authors, including Traci Chee, Mike Chen, Meredith Ireland, Mike Jung, Erin Entrada Kelly, Minh Le, Grace Lin, Ellen Oh, Linda Sue Park, Randy Ribay, Christina Soontornvat, and Susan Tan. Each author wrote a chapter and you don't know who wrote which chapter until the end of the book.

It is a book of interconnected stories with young Asian American characters from different cultural backgrounds who are at the Chicago International Airport with severe weather on the horizon. There is an incident at the TSA security check point that causes problems and chaos and affects twelve Asian Americans in the busy airport where people are already stressed and impatient due to the poor weather forecast. As in all airports, there are some fellow travelers that are helpful and some, not as much. The stories highlight the discrimination and microaggressions that people face on a daily basis, however, we also see how people care for and support each other as well. Many characters in the book question whether it is best to "just blend in" or should you speak your truth? People want to fit in as Americans, but also feel the pressure to fit in. A busy airport seemed like the perfect setting for this book.

The book also shows real strategies to use when faced with racism and empowers the character (and the reader?). I think it is a great read aloud and perfect to have discussions about. I personally loved how the stories unfolded throughout the book, in different parts of the airport, and in different characters' stories. This book is a JLG selection, and an Amazon Editor's Pick. It represents LGBTQ+, Asian Americans, neurodivergence, and transracial adoption. I highly recommend it for middle school libraries, and I enjoyed it as an adult reader as well!

Favorite Line:

From page 102: "Did you know that tea originated in China, probably more than six thousand years ago? So, every time you drink tea, just remember: it was brought to you by 'cultural differences."

I also loved: "My face is not a costume."

 

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Loyalty

 

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: Loyalty

Author: Avi

Publisher: Clarion Books (Imprint of Harper Collins)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 5-8

Genre/Type of Book: U.S. Historical Fiction, Adventure, Friendship

Content Warnings: Death of a father, Death due to war, Violence

Published Summary:

Newbery Medalist Avi explores the American Revolution from a fresh perspective in the story of a young Loyalist turned British spy navigating patriotism and personal responsibility during the lead-up to the War of Independence.

When his father is killed by rebel vigilantes, Noah flees with his family to Boston. Intent on avenging his father, Noah becomes a spy for the British and firsthand witness to the power of partisan rumor to distort facts, the hypocrisy of men who demand freedom while enslaving others, and the human connections that bind people together regardless of stated allegiances.

Awash in contradictory information and participating in key events leading to the American Revolution, Noah must forge his own understanding of right and wrong and determine for himself where his loyalty truly lies.

Review:

The year is 1774 and Noah is just a young boy (ages 13-15 in the book) when he sees his father killed for being a loyalist to the king. Knowing the rest of the family is also in trouble, they leave for Boston for the hope of safety. In Boston, Noah acts as a spy for the British. As the story and the war progresses, Noah questions his beliefs, and ultimately, where his loyalties lie. His Black friend Jolla raises awareness of British and American commitment to slavery. The story is told through dated journal-like entries and is historically accurate. As always, Avi is great at introducing multiple viewpoints in his books. This book provides an interesting take on key events of the Revolutionary War from the perspective and point of view of a Tory living on American soil that we don't usually get to hear about. There is a theme of "think for yourself," and some great discussions between Noah and Jolla.

This is a great book to read along with a unit on the Revolutionary War, as it gives a lot of information about the war (sometimes maybe too much?). At times it can seem "timeline-ish." Noah experiences key events in the war, and it is cool to hear about them through his story, such as when he experiences "the shot heard around the world" while in Lexington.

This book, while about the Revolutionary War, draws a lot of parallels to today's world: a deadly pandemic, economic boycotts, civil unrest, the government restricting voting rights, hypocrisy on both sides of an issue- a lot of food for thought and a lot to discuss with a class that is learning about this war. Avi shows the complexities of war and how one side is not 100% correct. What makes a person a traitor? A patriot? Right? Wrong? Also interesting was the concept of "fake news" and how facts are distorted to get one side riled up against the other side. We can see the contradictory information and how each side interprets information for their own gain.

I really enjoyed this book, although I didn't think it was one of his best. It is an Amazon's Editor's Pick book. I thought the lesson of being loyal to yourself and to think for yourself were good messages for this book's target audience.

Favorite Line:

From p. 120: "[John Hancock is] always talking about liberty isn't he? Well, he enslaves Black people. And he's not freeing them."

 

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The Wicked Ones-Dark Ascension Series

Reviewed by: Becki Truelson, Eastridge High School

Title: The Wicked Ones - The Dark Ascension Series (Book 1)

Author: Robin Benway

Publisher: Disney Press

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 8-12

Genre/Type of Book: Fantasy/Classic Retelling

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

“Blood is blood…and one way or another, we all bleed.”

Drizella and Anastasia only know one thing for certain: they will never end up like their mother, Lady Tremaine. When their father left them as young girls, he took what was left of their family’s fortune and their mother’s dignity with him. A few years and one deceased stepfather later, the only version of Lady Tremaine that Drizella and Anastasia know is a bitter and cruel head of house. Anastasia and Drizella have promised themselves-and each other-that they’ll be different. They’ll find love, see the world, and never let their hearts go cold.

But both sisters are all too aware of what it can mean when cast into disfavor with their mother, and fueled by Lady Tremaine’s tendencies to pit the daughters against one another, Drizella and Anastasia are locked into a complicated waltz of tenuous sisterhood. On the cusp of the royal debut party-their one chance to impress the Prince and live up to their mother’s expectations-the sisters at last get a glimpse of what life could be like outside of Lady Tremaine’s intentions: Drizella discovering a love of science and Anastasia sparking a secret romance. But never underestimate the power a mother whose greatest talents lie in manipulation, and the sisters may learn that even the cruelest of hearts can spill blood.

This first book in the new Disney Villains Dark Ascension series by National Book Award-winning author Robin Benway explores the complex sibling rivalry between the two wicked stepsisters from Cinderella that turned them into the characters we know today.

Review:

Wicked Stepmother? Check. Two stepsisters? Check. Dashing young man from the palace? Check. Party at the Palace? Check. Happy Ending? Not a chance.

I just love a fairytale retelling and Robin Benway did not disappoint. In this take on Cinderella, "Ella" is a minor character. Drizella and Anastasia take center stage and their sad stories are revealed. Drizella is a budding scientist and Anastasia is falling in love. They both live under the fear and oppression of their mother, who is just as evil to them as she is to Ella. Their father has left them, and they struggle with feeling abandoned. It's a mess for everyone in the house, not just Ella. The creativity of the twists in this version will leave you with emotions you never thought you would have about Ella, Drizella, Anastasia and Lady Tremain.

Favorite Line:

Lady Tremain is rather enjoying hearing them fight, much better than the alternative where they become friends, share secrets, and work together. She smiles to herself, so pleased with how everything has worked out. She will not have these three girls allying against her. If there is going to be any mutiny in this house, it will be from Lady Tremain and not those stupid, simpering children.

 

Wild Maps for Curious Minds

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: Wild Maps for Curious Minds: 100 New Ways to See the Natural World

Author: Mike Higgins; illustrated by Manuel Bortoletti

Publisher: The Experiment, LLC

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 6-Adult

Genre/Type of Book: Browsable NonFiction, Reference, Atlases

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

The natural world has never been wilder—with 100 fiercely fun, curiously captivating, and amazingly adventurous maps

Which nations have launched animals into space? Where are the world’s cat people? How many humans live in high-risk zones for natural disasters? How far do you have to travel to hug all fifteen of the world’s oldest trees? Where in the world do snakes live—or better yet, where can you avoid them?! Find the thought-provoking answers to these questions and many more in Wild Maps for Curious Minds. This infographic atlas of nature’s most impressive wonders and eye-popping oddities is bursting with discovery (Where’s the most remote place on Earth?), whimsical insight (Which animals have launched into space?), and startling revelations (How much forest have we destroyed?) that will change the way you see the natural world—and that celebrate our planet and the plants and animals with whom we share it.

Review:

This book has 100 cool maps and infographics, most pretty easy to quickly glance at and come away with new information about the world we live in. Some maps are better than others. Some are interesting, some are amusing, some are for pure trivia, and some are seriously important, like the one on climate change, so there is something for everyone. Maps are described as "time machines," bringing alive the past and helping us see the future. Maps are divided into sections; Ancient History, Out & About, The Watery World, Using & Abusing Nature, Extreme Earth, Planet in Peril, and The Final Frontier. There are maps and infographics like "Imagine All the Oceans as a Single Body of Water," "The 70 Trees That Have Been to the Moon," and "The Tiny Creek That Connects the Atlantic and Pacific" and "Where Do All the Turkeys Live?" Also, "Who Are the World's Cat People?" (spoiler alert: Russia!) Some maps were not as helpful, for example on page 30-31 is "Where to Live if You Hate Snakes." Everything is colored in the same color except for the north and south poles.

Some maps take some time studying them and others seem to need more information to be helpful. For this reason, I think this would be a good book to use in a social studies classroom critiquing maps. The maps on climate change are great for discussion. There are some very scary and eye-opening maps and infographics on "A Rapidly Warming World" (p. 144) and "North America's Summers Are Getting Longer" (p. 146) and "Winter is Getting Shorter" (p. 147). Sometimes a picture is worth a 1,000 words. I would also use this book to teach inferencing and critical thinking skills. The Ancient History section is great for showing a map and having students make a prediction or inference to start a unit on early people, for example "The Retreat of the Hunter-Gatherer" map on page 12-13.

I love browsable nonfiction and looking at maps and enjoyed most maps in this cool book.

Favorite Line:

From the Introduction: "We often hear that we live in a globalized world. Perhaps that's why we increasingly turn to maps of the world to better understand the planet and its occupants."

 

This is Our Place

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, Brockport High School

Title: This is Our Place

Author: Vitor Martins

Publisher: Push (Imprint of Scholastic)

Year: 2022 (English Translation)

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: Gay relationships, but not graphic

Published Summary:

If the walls of Number 8 Sunflower Street could talk ...

As Ana celebrates the new millennium, she is shocked to learn that she must leave behind her childhood home, her hometown, and -- hardest of all -- her girlfriend for a new life in Rio de Janeiro.

Ten years later, Greg is sent to live with his aunt -- who runs a video rental store from her garage and owns a dog named Keanu Reeves -- as his parents work out their not-so-secret divorce.

And ten years after that, Beto must put his dreams of becoming a photographer on hold as the Covid-19 pandemic arrives in Brazil, forcing him to live with his overprotective mother and overachieving sister.

Set in and narrated by the same house, Number 8 Sunflower Street, and in three different decades -- 2000, 2010, and 2020 respectively -- This Is Our Place is a novel about queer teens dealing with sudden life changes, family conflict, and first loves, proving that while generations change, we will always be connected to each other.

Review:

I picked up this book because the cover was sweet (I know, don't judge a book by its cover, but....) and it had an unusual narrator, a house.

This is the story of three young adults who, over the course of 3 decades, all live at number 8 Sunflower Street, Lagoa Pequena - a small city in Brazil, beginning New Year's Eve 2000, through the years of the pandemic in 2020. All three narratives are woven together, and we go back and forth among them to learn that despite the year, people are always struggling to stay connected, and in the case of Ana, Greg, and Beto, questioning their sexuality and relationships. All three character are gay, so not only does the book explore their relationships under this umbrella, but it is also a look at how things change, and how they stay the same.

An interesting social commentary. It was interesting to read about our isolation during those first months of the pandemic! It seems so long ago, but it was just a short 3 years ago. It brought back many visceral memories. The house is an interesting narrator, with a very dry sense of humor, and it was a very clever and unusual way to tell the story. At the end the three generations do come together in a satisfying conclusion.

Favorite Line:

About Beto, in the 2020 narrative, the house states, "Beto does that to diminish his happiness a little, because he has this complicated habit of thinking that feeling good is a sign that soon everything will get worse" (174-175). I read this and completely related, as I always expect the worse! And I loved the last line of the book, "It's up to us to turn a house into a home" (303).

 

The Ghoul of Windydown Vale

The Ghoul of Windydown Vale

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: The Ghoul of Windydown Vale

Author: Jake Burt

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (Imprint of Macmillan)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 4-7

Genre/Type of Book: Historical fiction, Mystery, Adventure, Ghost Story

Content Warnings: Some spookiness, Some violence

Published Summary:

In this action-packed mystery from award-winning author Jake Burt, Copper Inskeep holds Windydown Vale's deepest and darkest secret: he is the ghoul that haunts the Vale, donning a gruesome costume to scare travelers and townsfolk away from the dangers of the surrounding swamps. When a terrified girl claims she and her father were attacked by a creature - one that could not have been Copper - it threatens not just Copper's secret, but the fate of all Windydown.

Review:

This is a mysterious and moody book where you want to be careful not to give away any spoilers! While the plot can be a bit ridiculous and unrealistic, it is a fun read if you go along for the ride! It is a ghost story after all, and the book has lots of action and surprises along the way! I like the mystery element combined with some spookiness. The chapters are short and have lots of cliffhangers, which I think make it a great book for middle school and a fun read aloud.

Windydown Vale is an isolated mining town that has a lot of secrets! The entire town is surrounded by muddy quicksand swamps that suck people under. And there's a ghoul who lives there and haunts the area. The story begins when Annabelle gets dragged into Windydown Vale by her runaway horse and claims that the local ghoul attacked her and her dad and now her dad is missing. However, someone knows that that story cannot possibly be true, that the ghoul of Windydown Vale was in fact not out at all that evening- so who then was doing the attacking? And so the mystery begins when Copper Inskeep sets out to get some answers.

I love the spooky world the author created, I love Liza, the blacksmith's daughter, who is strong and fierce, and I loved the plot twists and surprises that kept coming.

The cover of the book is worth a second glance, too, especially if you can remove it and look at the front and back together!

Favorite Line:

"The Rhyme of the Ghoul:

The Ghoul of Windydown Vale, some say
Is a nightmare invented to frighten away
The children from places they oughtn't to be
Like boglands and quicksands as deep as the sea.
But if it's not real, then how do they know
Of its terrible wail? The way its eyes glow?
Or the curve of is teeth, jutting out of the jaw,
All bloody and dripping as it eats your flesh raw?
And how to explain the bones that we find?
The corpses of animals, ones left behind
With wounds made by claws, sharp as new knives...
Are all of these false? The tales of old wives?
We suppose, in the end, there's just one place to learn;
We'll remember you kindly when you don't return."

 

Icebreaker

Icebreaker

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, Brockport High School

Title: Icebreaker

Author: A.L. Graziadei

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (Imprint of Macmillan)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: Underage drinking, depression/anxiety, references to sexual relations

Published Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Mickey James III is a college freshman, a brother to five sisters, and a hockey legacy. With a father and a grandfather who have gone down in NHL history, Mickey is almost guaranteed the league's top draft spot.

The only person standing in his way is Jaysen Caulfield, a contender for the #1 spot and Mickey's infuriating (and infuriatingly attractive) teammate. When rivalry turns to something more, Mickey will have to decide what he really wants, and what he's willing to risk for it.

This is a story about falling in love, finding your team (on and off the ice), and choosing your own path.

Review:

This book ticked so many boxes for me! I loved it. I picked it up because it was a hockey story and the author is from Buffalo, and a Sabre's fan! What's not to love! However, it was SO MUCH MORE.

This was a story of a young man, Mickey, starting college while being a hockey phenom, with a grandfather and father who were serious NHL stars. Third generation hockey player...no pressure there! Mickey has not only a famous hockey-star father, but an Olympic winning skater for a mother, and five uber talented sisters! I loved his sisters and Mickey's relationship with them. Mickey is not only under pressure to become a first-round draft pick for the NHL, but he also suffers from depression and anxiety, and is struggling with his attraction to his main competitor, now his teammate, Jaysen. The author takes us through the first semester of their freshmen year as Jaysen and Mickey come to terms with their feeling for each other, become part of a team, and navigate the world of college.

The author explores the reality of homophobia in sports, but I wonder if she paints too rosy of a picture of teammates' acceptance. I would love to give this book to some members of my high school hockey team to see what they think. Are things improving?! I hope so. I thought the author realistically portrayed the relationship between Mickey and his father and was glad for the growth Mickey has as he accepts/forgives his father and comes to terms with his bi-sexuality, and his depression. The ending of the book brings things together nicely, I am impressed with Mickey decisions, even if we don't know who the first-round pick will be! Darn!!! Overall, an unusual portrayal of the hockey world which deals frankly with mental health issues and sexuality.

Favorite Line:

I think for me, the best line was the dedication: "To everyone who's had to tuck away a bit of themselves every time they laced up their skates."

 

Lessons in Chemistry

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, Brockport High School

Title: Lessons in Chemistry

Author: Bonnie Garmus

Publisher: Double Day

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 11-Adult

Genre/Type of Book: Historic/Realistic Fiction (1950-60s)

Content Warnings: No

Published Summary:

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results. 

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.  

Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.

Review:

I loved this book. Typically, I would not share an adult title...but this book could easily be in a high school library. It is a story of a kickass woman, Elizabeth Zott, who is a brilliant scientist in a time when women were not acknowledged or appreciated in this field. She flounders in her career because of the misogynistic men who abuse her, steal her work and otherwise prevent her from reaching her potential. The other women/colleagues in her life are no better. She meets another brilliant scientist, Calvin Evins, and they have a real "chemistry" between them. They agree to live together, but Elizabeth refuses to get married. Three years later, after Calvin's untimely and tragic death, Elizabeth is a single mother (in the 60s!). She is fired from her work for having a child out of wedlock. Through a series of events, she ends up staring on her own cooking show, whereas she uses chemistry and a no-nonsense approach to cooking that endears her to her audiences and gives them a sense of empowerment. Along the way we get to know her neighbor, her daughter, her boss, and her dog...six thirty...who, in my opinion steals the show!

Wonderfully developed characters that make Elizabeth's story even more heartwarming. And a great ending that will satisfy! A humorous, but thought provoking look at what life was like for women during this time in our recent history.

Favorite Line:

At the end of every show Elizabeth says the audience, "Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself."

 

As the publisher has classified this as "Adult" this book is likely unable to be purchased for SORA. There are also no resources available in TeachingBooks for it. However, Knopf Doubleday does have a Book Club Kit.

The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, Brockport High School

Title: The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily

Author: Laura Creedle

Publisher: Clarion Books (Imprint of Harper Collins)

Year: 2017

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: No

Published Summary:

When Lily Michaels-Ryan ditches her ADHD meds and lands in detention with Abelard, she’s intrigued—he seems thirty seconds behind, while she feels thirty seconds ahead. It doesn't hurt that he’s brilliant and beautiful.

When Abelard posts a quote from The Letters of Abelard and Heloise online, their mutual affinity for ancient love letters connects them. The two fall for each other. Hard. But is it enough to bridge their differences in person? 

This hilarious, heartbreaking story of human connection between two neurodivergent teens creates characters that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

Review:

I know this book is a few years old. But it came to my attention when I was looking for a book to use for our April Book Discussion group. As April is Neurodiversity Month, I was looking for a title in which the main characters were neurodiverse. In this book, the main characters are Lily (who struggles with ADHD and dyslexia) and Abelard, who is on the spectrum (not sure if that is still correct to say, but it is how the author calls it.)

This is a tender and moving story about two neurodivergent teens who connect over detention and the medieval text, The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise. These are two smart, funny kids who find each other, struggle to navigate the world of relationships, and to find their own "normal." Lily struggles with school and the medication she is prescribed for her ADHD, and Abelard struggles with overcoming social isolation to connect with Lily.

The secondary characters are also strong- Lily's best friend, her mother, sister and Abelard's parents (who are a bit overbearing, I thought!). I struggled with Lily's decision to have an experimental brain surgery to "control" her ADHD. But the author handles it in a realistic way, that illustrates the real struggle of teen with ADHD would face under these circumstances. The ending frustrated me! Open ended! Aaargh. I like thing wrapped up with all the answers. But, nonetheless, a good book that represents teens that are not typically represented in literature, so it fills a void. But, 5 years later, are the terminology/labels still correct? I am sure the students in my book discussion will let me know! LOL!

Favorite Line:

This book is rich in literary references and lines from the medieval text, The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise. So there are some wonderful passages from this original work that Abelard and Lily text each other. However, towards the end of the book Lily states, in her own words, "When we are together, we become even more than what we please. We become ourselves." Hear, Hear Lily!

 

What Beauty There Is

What Beauty There Is

Reviewed by: Becki Truelson, Eastridge High School

Title: What Beauty There Is

Author: Cory Anderson

Publisher: Roaring Book Press (An Imprint of Macmillan)

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: Some swearing, violent physical attack, suicide

Published Summary:

To understand the truth, you have to start at the beginning.

Ava Bardem lives in isolation, a life of silence. For seventeen years, Ava’s father, a merciless man, has controlled her fate. He’s taught her to love no one. But then she meets Jack.

Living in poverty, Jack Dahl is holding his breath. He and his younger brother have nothing—except each other. With their parents gone, Jack faces a stark choice: lose his brother to foster care or find the drug money that sent his father to prison. He chooses the money.

Suddenly, Jack’s and Ava’s fates become intimately—and dangerously—linked as Ava’s father hunts for the same money as Jack. When he picks up on Jack’s trail, Ava must make her own wrenching choice: remain silent or speak and fight for Jack’s survival.

Choices. They come at a price.

Review:

What Beauty There Is is a beautifully written debut novel and, although I classified it as realistic fiction, it has elements of a thriller, a survival story, mystery, horror, and romance.

Jack's father is in prison and his mother just died, leaving him with his young brother Matty. They have nothing, but Jack is determined to keep Matty with him. Jack's father is in prison for old sins including taking an unauthorized cut of money from a drug ring. The money has never been found, but Jack is certain he knows where it is and sees that money as his way of surviving and providing for his brother. Unfortunately, the drug dealers are still looking for that money as well. When they find out that Jack is close to finding it, they stop at nothing to deter him.

A seriously injured Jack and Matty find themselves on the run when the mysterious and devoted Ava arrives on the scene. She nurses Jack back to health and cares for Matty even though she knows they are both in great danger. Jack cannot understand her loyalty. This is because Ava does not reveal who she is and the connection she has to Jack, his father, and the past. I loved this book. The characters are unforgettable and although it is dark, the narration is such high quality, it is compulsively readable. I hope more is coming from Cory Anderson!

Favorite Line:

"Sometimes you block a thing that hurts. You lie to yourself and say it isn't there, but the whole time you know it is. It's like a piece of metal you swallowed. It bothers you, but you've sort of gotten used to it. This thing inside you. You've been swallowing it for years."

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr

Dark Matter of Mona Starr

Reviewed by: Becki Truelson, Eastridge High School

Title: The Dark Matter of Mona Starr

Author: Laura Lee Gulledge

Publisher: Amulet Books (Imprint of Abrams)

Year: 2020

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction Graphic Novel

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

A bold and original YA graphic novel about one teen’s battle to understand her mental illness—and find her creative genius

Sometimes, the world is too much for Mona Starr. She’s sweet, geeky, and creative, but it’s hard for her to make friends and connect with other people, and her depression seems to take on a vivid, concrete form. She calls it her Matter.

The Matter seems to be everywhere, telling Mona she’s not good enough and that everyone around her wishes she’d go away. But with therapy, art, writing, and the persistence of a few good friends, Mona starts to understand her Matter and how she can turn her fears into strengths.

Heartfelt, emotionally vulnerable, and visually stunning, The Dark Matter of Mona Starris a story about battling your inner doubts and fears—and finding your creative genius.

Review:

This book is about Mona, a high school student working through her depression, which she calls "The Matter". I was drawn in from the very first page. The book starts with Mona's best friend moving away. As he is leaving, he asks her to promise to get help. The reader is allowed into the first therapy session to hear Mona and her therapist's conversation. I loved that the reader could get a taste of what therapy looks and sounds like. Mona's honesty about her emotions and her feelings of being an outsider are affirming.

Many young (and older) readers will identify with how her depression feels, what triggers her depression, and how it affects her relationships. Although the beginning of the book was promising, after the first few chapters the book became disjointed and veered off in many directions that took away from the great focus at the beginning. An underdeveloped story about Mona having an intestinal blockage and a school wide art installation that ended in an unrealistic "everybody feels good now" ending were weak story lines that took away from the momentum at the beginning of the book. I was so hopeful, but ultimately did not enjoy the later parts and ending of this story.

Favorite Line:

Dr. Vega: I'd love to help you study your Matter this summer as a personal research project. What do you think?

Mona: I dunno Dr. Vega...

Dr. Vega: What's the alternative...to go on feeling miserable?

Mona: I guess I have two options. I can implode or I can evolve. Imploding feels tempting but I think I really do want to evolve.

 

When You Trap a Tiger

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Reviewed by: Beth Larter, Walt Disney Elementary School

Title: When You Trap a Tiger

Author: Tae Keller

Publisher: Random House

Year: 2020

Good for Grades: 4-8

Genre/Type of Book: Middle Grade Magical Realism

Content Warnings: There are references to losing a father in an accident, and the grandmother dies of cancer in the end of the book

Publisher Summary:

Would you make a deal with a magical tiger? This uplifting story brings Korean folklore to life as a girl goes on a quest to unlock the power of stories and save her grandmother.

Some stories refuse to stay bottled up…

When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, a magical tiger straight out of her halmoni’s Korean folktales arrives, prompting Lily to unravel a secret family history. Long, long ago, Halmoni stole something from the tigers. Now they want it back. And when one of the tigers approaches Lily with a deal–return what her grandmother stole in exchange for Halmoni’s health–Lily is tempted to agree. But deals with tigers are never what they seem! With the help of her sister and her new friend Ricky, Lily must find her voice…and the courage to face a tiger.

Tae Keller, the award-winning author of The Science of Breakable Things, shares a sparkling tale about the power of stories and the magic of family. Think Walk Two Moons meets Where the Mountain Meets the Moon!

Review:

Lily, her sister Sam, and their mother move suddenly to live with their Halmoni (grandmother) as she battles late stage brain cancer. Lily begins seeing a tiger that no one else can see and she believes that if she is able to return stolen stories to the tiger, her grandmother will be healed. As she tries to trap the tiger and return the story, she learns more about her family's history, both in Korea and in the United States, and begins to understand herself and her place in the story of her family. She also makes friends with a boy named Ricky and they navigate how to build a friendship even as they both deal with their own family struggles.

Favorite Line:

“As you get older, you collect more information and you see things from different perspectives. So, naturally, sometimes the stories you tell yourself…can change.”

 

The Lost Year

The Lost Year

 

Reviewed by: Colleen Woods, Martha Brown Middle School

Title: The Lost Year

Author: Katherine Marsh

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (An Imprint of MacMillan)

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 4-7

Genre/Type of Book: Historical fiction/Realistic fiction

Content Warnings: None

Publisher Summary:

From the author of Nowhere Boy - called “a resistance novel for our times” by The New York Times - comes a brilliant middle-grade survival story that traces a harrowing family secret back to the Holodomor, a terrible famine that devastated Soviet Ukraine in the 1930s.

Thirteen-year-old Matthew is miserable. His journalist dad is stuck overseas indefinitely, and his mom has moved in his one-hundred-year-old great-grandmother to ride out the pandemic, adding to his stress and isolation.

But when Matthew finds a tattered black-and-white photo in his great-grandmother’s belongings, he discovers a clue to a hidden chapter of her past, one that will lead to a life-shattering family secret. Set in alternating timelines that connect the present-day to the 1930s and the US to the USSR, Katherine Marsh’s latest novel sheds fresh light on the Holodomor – the horrific famine that killed millions of Ukrainians, and which the Soviet government covered up for decades.

An incredibly timely, page-turning story of family, survival, and sacrifice, inspired by Marsh’s own family history, The Lost Year is perfect for fans of Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray and Alan Gratz's Refugee.

Review:

The Lost Year by Katherine Marsh is part contemporary/part historical fiction, and it's one of the best middle-grade books I've read this year.

We first meet 13 year-old Matthew in Leonia, NJ, 2020. He's stuck at home during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic with his divorced mom and 100 year-old Ukrainian GG (great-grandmother), who recently moved in with them in an effort to keep her safe from the germs and illness at her nursing home. Forced to help unpack GG’s boxes, Matthew finds a photo that sparks questions and ultimately uncovers a long-hidden history about GG’s childhood in Stalin-ruled Soviet Ukraine. What unfolds is alternating perspectives between Matthew and GG’s cousins when they were young girls, connecting 1930s Brooklyn to Communist Ukraine during its devastating, man-made famine, the Holodomor.

This book was incredible. The historical context was both fascinating and heartbreaking. It chronicles a little-known event in history, the Holodomor: a famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s and was covered up by the Soviets. It was only decades later that the stories of brave survivors and their families helped bring the truth to light. Inspired by the author's own family history, this is a must-read for all fans of Ruta Sepetys, Jennifer A. Nielsen and Alan Gratz.

Favorite Line:

"Isn't that what reporting is, telling people's stories?"

"People's stories matter."

"Stories were powerful, but what was even more powerful was sharing them."

"The caring part makes you a writer, not the being good part."

 

Find this title in the Monroe 2 SORA Collection

 

Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales

Author: Soman Chainani

Publisher: Harper Collins

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 5-10

Genre/Type of Book: Short stories, fantasy, fairy tales

Content Warnings: Violence, death, murder, racism

Published Summary:

You think you know these stories, don’t you?

You are wrong.

You don’t know them at all.

Twelve tales, twelve dangerous tales of mystery, magic, and rebellious hearts. Each twists like a spindle to reveal truths full of warning and triumph, truths that free hearts long kept tame, truths that explore life . . . and death.

A prince has a surprising awakening . . .                           

A beauty fights like a beast . . .

A boy refuses to become prey . . .

A path to happiness is lost. . . . then found again.

New York Times bestselling author Soman Chainani respins old stories into fresh fairy tales for a new era and creates a world like no other. These stories know you. They understand you. They reflect you. They are tales for our times. So read on, if you dare. 

Review:

This book is a compilation of thought provoking fairy tales reimagined and retold for an older audience. The book consists of twelve short stories that may seem familiar and vaguely remind you of your childhood, but these fairy tales go off in interesting directions! Mermaids, princes, and a sea witch tell stories about racism, abuse, consent, and romance- definitely a darker turn from childhood fairy tales, and more gory! Some titles are completely different and others have a few details changed. Common tropes are challenged, some ask interesting questions, and some reverse roles. There are diverse characters and interesting settings, and there are characters we know- Red Riding hood, Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the beast, to name a few. It's always fun to read to get a new twist on stories that we grew up with so that we get to enjoy them in new ways. There are also cool illustrations throughout the book by Julia Iredale, and I love the cover too! it is an Amazon Editor's Pick book.

Favorite Line:

"So the men of Bagha Purana did what men do when they're well beaten by a woman and can't find a way to fight fair. They pointed their fingers at her and screamed, 'Witch!"

 

Other Words for Home

 

Reviewed by: Beth Larter, Walt Disney Elementary

Title: Other Words for Home

Author: Jasmine Warga

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Imprint of Harper Collins)

Year: 2019

Good for Grades: 4-8

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: There are some references to periods.

Published Summary:

A gorgeously written, hopeful middle grade novel in verse about a young girl who must leave Syria to move to the United States, perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Aisha Saeed.

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before.

But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home and, most importantly, finding yourself.

Review:

This book follows Jude, a Syrian middle schooler, from Syria to her uncle's home in the United States while her father and brother, who is fighting against the government, stay in Syria. Jude expresses her feelings about being in a new place and feeling like an outsider for not speaking the language as fluently as she wants to and practicing her Muslim faith when those around her don't share her beliefs. The book is thoughtful and centers Jude's lived experience, but touches on ideas of prejudice, English language learners, what it looks like to accept a whole person, resistance to oppressive governments, and how to be authentically who you are, while still learning to fit in with your peers.

This book would be a good resource for late elementary and middle school students who want to better understand the experience of refugees and immigrants, while not diving too deeply into the worst situations. It would also be a good resource for ELLs, immigrants, and Muslim students who may find the main character relatable. The format of being written in verse also make the book more accessible for students who feel overwhelmed by large blocks of text.

Favorite Line:

"It is lovely
to be a part of something
that feels bigger than you"

 

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

 

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Author: Malinda Lo

Publisher: Dulton Books for Young Readers (Imprint of Penguin)

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 10-Adult

Genre/Type of Book: YA romance, LGBTQ+, historical fiction, Coming of Age novel

Content Warnings: racism, homophobia, microaggressions, uses words now considered offensive to Chinese Americans and African Americans

Published Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the feeling took root—that desire to look, to move closer, to touch. Whenever it started growing, it definitely bloomed the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. Suddenly everything seemed possible. 

But America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

Review:

The setting of this novel is 1950s San Francisco and the red scare paranoia is rampant. Lily Hu is the teenage daughter of Chinese immigrants and she is worried that her father will be deported. The U.S. government has started looking for Communists, Lily is very concerned for her family. Throughout the book, we also get to visit with Lily's mother in the 1930s and Lily's father in the 1940s, as well as see the societal racism that existed in the 1950s. This novel begs the question, "Where do we fit in the world?"

This book has a cast of diverse characters and I wish there were more character development. Some characters were well rounded and others felt a bit flat and I wanted to know what their motivation was. There are women in this book who love science and math and I thought that was refreshing!

There is an "Author's Note" section at the end of the book which includes pictures and additional information, something I always appreciate.

I loved this award winning novel! I loved the romance and the history. I wish things were tied up more in the end, but that's just me as a reader. I think that parts of this novel could use additional editing. I really hope there is a sequel!

This novel is an NPR Best Book, Publisher's Weekly Best Book, SLJ Best Book, NYPL Best Book, Goodreads Choice Finalist, YASLA Best Fiction for Young Adults, Kirkus Best Book, National Book Award in Young People's Literature, Stonewall Book Award, Teen Book of the Year, and more!

Favorite Line:

"Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like to have nothing keeping you attached to the ground?"

 

Eight Nights of Flirting

Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds

 

Reviewed by: Colleen Woods, Martha Brown Middle School

Title: Eight Nights of Flirting

Author: Hannah Reynolds

Publisher: Razorbill (Imprint of Penguin)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 8-12

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic fiction

Content Warnings: Underage drinking

Published Summary:

A sixteen-year-old girl is on a mission to find the perfect boyfriend this Hanukkah, but love might not go according to plan, in this charming winter romcom from the author of The Summer of Lost Letters.

Shira Barbanel has a plan: this Hanukkah, she’s going to get a boyfriend. And she has the perfect candidate in mind—her great-uncle’s assistant, Isaac. He’s reliable, brilliant, and of course, super hot. The only problem? Shira’s an absolute disaster when it comes to flirting.

Enter Tyler Nelson, Shira’s nemesis-slash-former-crush. As much as she hates to admit it, Tyler is the most charming and popular guy she knows. Which means he’s the perfect person to teach her how to win Isaac over.

When Shira and Tyler get snowed in together at Golden Doors, they strike a deal—flirting lessons for Shira in exchange for career connections for Tyler. But as Shira starts to see the sweet, funny boy beneath Tyler’s playboy exterior, she realizes she actually likes hanging out with him. And that wasn’t part of the plan.

Amidst a whirl of snowy adventures, hot chocolate, and candlelight, Shira must learn to trust her heart to discover if the romance she planned is really the one that will make her happiest.

Review:

Eight Nights of Flirting by Hannah Reynolds is a holiday YA romcom set during the Hanukkah season on Nantucket island. Our main character, 16 year-old Shira Barbanel, receives a crash course in flirting from her neighbor and arch nemesis, Tyler Nelson, in an effort to impress her crush, and great-uncle's assistant, Isaac.

Not only did I love the wintery setting and snowy adventures that filled the pages, but this book (a companion to the author's first YA novel, The Summer of Lost Letters) reunites readers with the loud, lovable Barbanel family and their beautiful estate on Nantucket island, Golden Doors. I loved getting to share in their Hanukkah traditions, and enjoyed the small seaside mystery that Shira and Tyler tackle as a side-story. While there aren't any major surprises in how things turn-out, the story is full of heart and cozy wintery-vibes.

Favorite Line:

"What if we all did that? Burst through the confines of other people's expectations and just grabbed what we wanted."

 

Frizzy


Frizzy
 Zoomed Image

 

Reviewed by: Jennifer Costello, Laurelton-Pardee Intermediate School

Title: Frizzy

Author: Claribel A. Ortega

Publisher: Scholastic

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 3-6

Genre/Type of Book: Graphic Novel/Realistic fiction

Content Warnings: No

Published Summary:

Marlene loves three things: books, her cool Tía Ruby, and hanging out with her best friend, Camila. But according to her mother, Paola, the only thing she needs to focus on is school and “growing up.” That means straightening her hair every weekend so she could have “presentable,” “good hair.”

But Marlene hates being in the salon and doesn’t understand why her curls are not considered pretty by those around her. With a few hiccups, a dash of embarrassment, and the much-needed help of Camila and Tía Ruby―she slowly starts a journey to learn to appreciate and proudly wear her curly hair.

Review:

Frizzy is about a middle school girl named Marlene who has beautiful, curly, but unruly hair. She is being raised by her Mami after her Papi passed away. Mami used to do Marlene's hair each weekend while Papi made her laugh, but since Papi passed, she takes her to a salon every Sunday. The salon straightens her hair to make her 'beautiful' and 'presentable.' This is a cute story about wanting to fit in, relationships and accepting/appreciating who you are.

Favorite Line:

"But if you want to get by in this world when you look the way we do, you have to try fit in."

 

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers

 

Reviewed by: Becki Truelson, Eastridge High School

Title: In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers

Author: Don Brown

Publisher: Harper Collins

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 6-12

Genre/Type of Book: Nonfiction Graphic Novel

Content Warnings: It is about horrors of 9/11, so sensitive content, but no adult language or situations

Published Summary:

A graphic novel chronicling the immediate aftermath and rippling effects of one of the most impactful days in modern history: September 11, 2001. From the Sibert Honor– and YALSA Award–winning creator behind The Unwanted and Drowned City.

The consequences of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, both political and personal, were vast, and continue to reverberate today. Don Brown brings his journalistic eye and attention to moving individual stories to help teens contextualize what they already know about the day, as well as broaden their understanding of the chain of events that occurred in the attack’s wake.

Profound, troubling, and deeply moving, In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers bears witness to our history—and the ways it shapes our future.

Review:

Many of my students are interested in researching 9/11. It is always a challenge to know where to start with them. They know from their parents and grandparent's stories that it was a turning point for the US and changed us forever, but they did not experience it first-hand. This 107-page graphic novel does an extremely impressive job of covering so many of the essential events of 9/11. It includes experiences of individuals who were in or near the towers, perspective of police from that day, the Pentagon, the President's response, Osama bin Laden, Newfoundland accepting and taking care of people on diverted flights, former military personnel who snuck into the search and rescue areas to help, the role of rescue dogs, the effects on Muslim Americans, the design of the memorials, and the war in Afghanistan.

These are all told through excerpts from interviews, recordings of 911 calls, and radio transmissions from emergency workers. The end of the book has statistics and an extensive bibliography. I learned a few things I did not know about 9/11 from reading this book. It is a very good overview and a great starting point for any students who are interested in researching further.

Favorite Line:

Despite the labor and hopes of the searchers at The Pile, only dead people are recovered. "There was a pervasive sadness and even tears when everyone knew....it changed from a rescue effort to a recovery effort...no one spoke."

 

Loveless by Alice Oseman

 

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, Brockport High School

Title: Loveless

Author: Alice Oseman

Publisher: Scholastic

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic fiction

Content Warnings: Sex and gender questioning

Published Summary:

From the marvelous author of Heartstopper comes an exceptional YA novel about discovering that it's okay if you don't have sexual or romantic feelings for anyone . . . since there are plenty of other ways to find love and connection.

This is the funny, honest, messy, completely relatable story of Georgia, who doesn't understand why she can't crush and kiss and make out like her friends do. She's surrounded by the narrative that dating + sex = love. It's not until she gets to college that she discovers the A range of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum -- coming to understand herself as asexual/aromantic. Disrupting the narrative that she's been told since birth isn't easy -- there are many mistakes along the way to inviting people into a newly found articulation of an always-known part of your identity. But Georgia's determined to get her life right, with the help of (and despite the major drama of) her friends.

Review:

I purchased this book for the collection based on a student recommendation and knowing that Oseman is popular in our library, her Heartstopper series is always checked out. A review from Kirkus stated, "A messy, imperfect, and necessary portrayal of a drastically underrepresented identity." The underrepresented identity being asexual. I purchased it knowing that it might contain some graphic sexual content, but I agree wholeheartedly with the review...there are few (none?) other fiction books on the topic of identifying as asexual, a topic I believe should be represented in our collections. I just finished the book and will keep it in our library collection.

Georgia is a first-year college student in the UK who is struggling to understand her sexuality. I think, given the internet and social media, it is unusual that she didn't know that asexuality was part of the sexuality spectrum. But her struggle to understand and find her place is real for all teenagers, and very relatable. The same Kirkus review states, "...making this an incredibly validating mirror, an eye-opening window, or, for some, a read where the pain may outweigh the gain." Ultimately she identifies as asexual/aromantic (aro-ace). The supporting characters vary in their sexual identities, making this book a mirror for many YAs. Georgia struggles to find her identity and to love herself as she is, while realizing the value and importance of her friendships. She realizes that you don't need sex and romance to have love!

There is a very brief description of sexual encounter in the beginning of the book, at an after-prom party. And there is a section that discussion masturbation, but it is not graphic. Neither of these would cause me to keep the book off the shelf. I would be curious to see what anyone else thinks who read the book.

Favorite Line:

There is a line that resonated with me, which occurs after the five friends come together after a struggle and some drama..."We didn't have to say it, but we all knew. We all knew what we'd found here. Or, I did, at least. I knew. I found it. And this time there was no big declaration. No grand gesture. It was just us, holding each other" (387).

 

I Must Betray You (2)

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

 

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, Brockport High School

Title: I Must Betray You

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Thorndike Press Large Print Young Adult

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 8-12

Genre/Type of Book: Historical Fiction

Content Warnings: There is some violence, the abuse of victims of the communist regime is graphic in several instances

 

Published Summary:

A gut-wrenching, startling historical thriller about communist Romania and the citizen spy network that devastated a nation, from the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray.

Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.

Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves—or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?

Master storyteller Ruta Sepetys is back with a historical thriller that examines the little-known history of a nation defined by silence, pain, and the unwavering conviction of the human spirit.

Review:

I picked up this book to read because I loved Sepetys's other historical fiction book, Between Shades of Gray. Both books explore and tell the stories of life in Eastern Europe under communist regimes. Between Shades of Gray explores life in Lithuania under Stalin during WWII. I Must Betray You tells the story of people living in Romania in 1989, also under a communist leader. I knew very little about either of these situations, even though my family is from Eastern Europe, both are lesser taught parts of our history curriculum.

I Must Betray You centers around a student, Cristian, who is struggling with the oppressive conditions his family and friends are enduring. Vivid images really give the reader a strong sense of the struggles and abuses they face under communist leader, Ceausescus and his wife, Elena. What struck me was the fact that this was going on in the late 1980s and we knew so little about it...and conversely, the Romanian people were kept in such a vacuum that they had no idea that life in other countries was so different than what they were experiencing. The political party and the military kept these people living in fear, in the dark and pitted them against each other, forcing them to betray each other in order to save family members (hence the title). Emotional blackmail was the specialty of the secret police. Sepetys does a great job drawing the reader in and creating/developing characters that are relatable and human- the lines they need to wait in for scraps of food, the listening devices that are everywhere, the lack of heat, electricity, etc...all make the reader feel the pain they are suffering on a daily basis. The regime is overthrown by a student-lead revolution in which Cristian gets swept up. Several twists happen at the end of the book that I did not see coming! I loved the epilogue. I always like to know what happens to characters later...this epilog threw another twist into the mix.

The author provides background information, historical context, actual photographs from the time period, and a list of references for further reading, all of which are fascinating. You can tell the book is well-research. Sepetys is known for her attention to historical detail. Overall, I was left with a hopeful feeling, the famous quote from Margaret Mead resonated with me after reading this book, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Favorite Line:

There were so many beautiful lines in the book as Cristian is writer and poet and he expresses himself in a hidden journal throughout the book. However, I would have to say my favorite line is the last line of the book (excluding the epilogue): "The twinkies weren't spectacular, but in that moment, sitting in the hallway next to Liliana on Christmas Day, they tasted like something we had never experienced: Spectacular hope."

 

See also Lisa Rice's review of this same title

 

Find this title in the Monroe One SORA Account

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The Tryout by Christina Soontornvat

Reviewed by: Ashley Poulin, Brooks Hill Elementary School

Title: The Tryout

Author: Christina Soontornvat

Publisher: Scholastic Graphix

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 4-8

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic fiction

Content Warnings: Racism, racist language

Published Summary:

Thai American Christine lives in a small, predominantly white Texas town, where her parents run a Chinese restaurant. Christine’s start-of-seventh-grade anxieties about finding her place and fitting in aren’t necessarily eased when her best friend, Iranian American Megan, suggests they try out for the cheerleading squad. Christine’s excited at the prospect of becoming a cheerleader, but tryouts will culminate in a performance in front of the entire school, with the final decision coming down to a vote by the student body. One of the many pleasures of this spirited, often funny graphic novel is that it smartly avoids tropes, instead offering complexity and nuance and balance. The cheerleaders aren’t mean girls; the candidates are generally supportive of one another; and when Megan partners with someone other than Christina for the tryouts, it isn’t the beginning of the end of their friendship. The talk Christina and Megan eventually have is deep and genuine, revealing Christina’s hurt but also Megan’s hope that partnering with white girls would give them each a better chance of making it. Christina is making new friends and trying new things outside of cheerleading, too, as well as asking questions about who she is (what does it mean to be both Buddhist and Presbyterian—is that even possible?). So many thoughts and feelings flow through this story, all of them genuine. As for the tryouts: The tension is real as the story builds to its climax. This fictionalized account is inspired by author Soontornvat’s seventh grade year.

Review:

The Tryout is a graphic novel loosely based on the author's experience beginning middle school, having moved from Dallas to rural Texas. Major themes throughout the book include her trying out for the cheerleading squad and navigating new and existing friendships. Christina is Thai and her best friend Megan is Iranian, and both of them experience racism (comments from adults and peers) and the book openly talks about challenges that children of immigrants can face.

I chose to read this book because it is recommended for grades 4 to 7, and I work in a K-5 school. I try to read a lot of books that bridge that upper elementary-middle school age range. Given how appealing the cover and graphic novel format were, I knew it would fly off the shelves! My school also serves as the ENL magnet school for the district, so we have many students who have newly arrived in the United States. I think there are many students who will see themselves mirrored in this book, and it will be an age appropriate window for their classmates. I think the content is a bit sophisticated for younger students, who will likely be drawn to the colorful cover and think it's a book about cheerleading. While cheerleading occurs throughout, the experience of trying out for the team is really used to foster conversations about friendship and belonging. Students who love books like Sunny Side Up, Allergic, Smile, Click, etc. will really enjoy this book.

Favorite Line: 

This book is already checked out to a student, so I don't have a specific line to share! My favorite parts were when Christina and Megan finally resolved their conflict in the book, as it wasn't as "pretty" as these things often are in children's books. The two characters were honest with each other and both recognized mistakes made.

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: Wish You Were Here

Author: Jodi Picoult

Publisher: Random House Publishing

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 11-12, Adult

Genre/Type of Book: Contemporary fiction, realistic fiction

Content Warnings: Covid-19/pandemic trauma, self-harm

Published Summary:

Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

In the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was formed, Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.

Review:

Did you miss out on any big plans due to Covid? Diana is about to miss out on her dream trip to the Galapagos, along with her boyfriend, maybe soon to be fiancée after the trip. Up until this point, her life has been going perfectly- her career has been going well, she is about to be engaged, and life is good. Her boyfriend is a surgical resident, and when Covid comes to NYC, he is not allowed to leave, and he tells Diana to go enjoy the trip to the Galapagos alone. Diana leaves for her dream trip by herself but when she gets there, she realizes that Covid is everywhere. The hotel is shut down due to the pandemic, her luggage is lost, there's no wi-fi, and she is stranded on the island until the quarantine is lifted. There's no turning around and going home. Perhaps as many people did over the pandemic, she reexamines her life and the choices she has made while exploring the island. She considers what really matters in life- forgiveness, love, bravery, and resiliency.

There are some big surprises in this novel that I didn't see coming (much like Covid-19) that made it a game changer! I loved the description of the Galapagos and what it must have been like to be on your dream vacation, only during a pandemic. Exploring the Galapagos on your own, and enjoying the stillness that the quarantine demanded but also worrying where your next meal was coming from made me think about where I would have liked to be during the pandemic.

The book shows the dark sides of Covid, especially for the medical profession in NYC, but it also shows the many different angles of Covid and how lives were affected.

This book is an Amazon's Editor's Pick: Best Literature & Fiction, #1 New York Times Bestseller, She Reads: One of the Best Books of the Year, a Goodreads Choice Award, and the rights have been sold to Netflix for adaptation as a feature film.

Favorite Line: 

"You can't plan your life, Finn," I say quietly, "Because then you have a plan. Not a life."

The Q by Amy Tintera

Reviewed by: Becki Truelson, Eastridge High School

Title: The Q

Author: Amy Tintera

Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Dystopian/Science Fiction

Content Warnings: There is a fair amount of adult language, teenagers who are armed and not afraid to use their weapons.

Published Summary: 

In this action-packed adventure from a New York Times bestselling author, two teenagers from opposite worlds must fight their way through a vast walled quarantine zone in a dystopian America toward their only chance for survival.

Seventeen-year-old Maisie Rojas has spent her entire life in the Q—a post-pandemic quarantine zone that was once Austin, Texas. Born and raised behind the high security walls that sealed their fate, she’s now a trusted lieutenant for one of the territory’s controlling families.

Lennon Pierce, the charismatic son of a US presidential candidate, has just been kidnapped by his father’s enemies and dropped out of a plane into the Q with nothing but a parachute strapped to his back. Lennon is given a temporary antidote to the disease and crucial intel for his father, but Maisie must get him out of the zone within forty-eight hours–or he will be permanently infected and forced to remain.

With unrest brewing both inside and outside the Q, reaching the exit is a daunting and dangerous task. But if Maisie and Lennon fail, it could mean disaster for the entire quarantine zone and its inhabitants—and could cost Lennon his life.

Strap in for breakneck action and compelling characters in this timely, nonstop thriller.

Review:

The Q is set in a post pandemic future. The US still exists, but so does "The Q", a quarantine zone that was annexed from the US. The virus in this story has no cure and no vaccine. Once infected, residents can be infected over and over. The infected are kept in The Q and receive shipments of goods from the US, but these shipments are not always reliable.

One day an outsider is dropped from a plane into The Q. It is discovered that he is the kidnapped son of the president elect of the US. Will he become infected with the virus? Will he ever be allowed back into the US? Will the residents of The Q be hostile toward him? You will have to read to find out!

I enjoyed this "teens save the world" story. Adults and their influence are present, but the adults themselves never appear in the story allowing the teens to navigate the social and political fallout from the unexpected visitor. Maisie is the main character, and she is a force to be reckoned with. She is a fierce leader both physically and mentally. The other characters are well developed and believable. This story is an exciting adventure with just enough humor and romance to make it interesting to a wide audience. The ending is satisfying and forces the reader to consider what they value in a society and community.

Favorite Line: 

Maisie: Can they just do that? Just kill us all?

Hadley: We do have US history books in here. They've bombed a lot of people throughout they years.

Maisie: Crap.

 

The In-Between

Reviewed by: Angelina Brodie, Gates Chili High School

Title: The In-Between

Author: Katie Van Heidrich

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 4-8

Genre/Type of Book: Memoir in Verse

Content Warnings: Homelessness, Depression, Divorce

Published Summary: 

For fans of Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle and Life in Motion by Misty Copeland, this middle grade memoir in verse chronicles a young girl and her family who must start over after losing their home.

In the early 2000s, thirteen-year-old Katie Van Heidrich has moved more times that she can count, for as long as she can remember. There were the slow moves where you see the whole thing coming. There were the fast ones where you grab what you can in seconds. When Katie and her family come back from an out-of-town funeral, they discover their landlord has unceremoniously evicted them, forcing them to pack lightly and move quickly.

They make their way to an Extended Stay America Motel, with Katie’s mother promising it’s temporary. Within the four walls of their new home, Katie and her siblings, Josh and Haley, try to live a normal life—all while wondering if things would be easier living with their father. Lyrical and forthcoming, Katie navigates the complexities that come with living in-between: in between homes, parents, and childhood and young adulthood, all while remaining hopeful for the future.

Review:

In this memoir in verse, thirteen-year-old Katie is stuck in-between. In-between her divorced parents, in-between childhood and adulthood, and in-between houses. After an unexpected eviction her mother moves her and her two younger siblings into an extended stay motel funded by the generosity of a friend while she tries to find a job. Katie grapples with the sudden change, another move on top of a dozens throughout her life, and while her Mother says it will only be for a few days weeks pass with siblings trying to find some consistency in their new circumstances. Throughout the book we see Katie struggle in ways that many of our students may struggle. Katie tries to be the mender in her family, smoothing over her siblings conflict, placating her Mother's often blue moods when jobs fall through, and bottling up her feelings of being a "guest" in the spacious home he shares with his new wife. Inevitably Katie's emotions "erupt" and we see her learn how advocating for herself can give her some control and peace during this in-between time.

I recommended this book because homelessness is underrepresented in literature for young people. Katie's story is likely relatable for many children living in-between. The format is accessible and Katie's voice speaks to the authors authentic experience. End pages include pictures of Katie and her family and friends featured in the book.

Favorite Line: 

"Words, after all have power, and there are so many I've still yet to discover, which excites me and gives me hope that there will always be new ways of knowing and understanding, and being'" (42)

Natural Genius of Ants

The Natural Genius of Ants by Betty Culley

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: The Natural Genius of Ants

Author: Betty Culley (award winning author)

Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers (Imprint of Penguin)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 3-7

Genre/Type of Book: J fiction, coming of age story, contemporary fiction

Content Warnings: Deals with death and dying

Published Summary: 

Harvard is used to his father coming home from the hospital and telling him about all the babies he helped. But since he made the mistake at work, Dad has been quieter than usual. And now he is taking Harvard and his little brother, Roger, to Kettle Hole, Maine, for the summer. Harvard hopes this trip isn’t another mistake.

In the small town where he grew up, Dad seems more himself. Especially once the family decides to start an ant farm–just like Dad had as a kid! But when the mail-order ants are D.O.A., Harvard doesn’t want Dad to experience any more sadness. Luckily, his new friend Neveah has the brilliant idea to use the ants crawling around the kitchen instead. But these insects don’t come with directions. So the kids have a lot to learn–about the ants, each other, and how to forgive ourselves when things go wrong.

Review:

Ever make a mistake at work? Haven't we all? What if you are a doctor and there are serious consequences for the decisions made on the job? To escape a decision he made and the consequences, Harvard's dad leaves his job and brings the family back to where he grew up. Harvard helps his dad deal with his grief (he tries to keep his dad away from anything sad, including mistakes made with the ants), makes a new friend, Nevaeh, and together they learn to take care of an ant farm. The main characters include Harvard and his little brother Roger, Harvard's new friend, Neveah, and dad.

There are so many great lessons in this book. There are lessons about ants (I learned a lot about ants!), friendships, mistakes and how we deal with them, dealing with grief, and the fact that grownups make mistakes too. This book would make a great read aloud with lots of things to discuss. It takes place in rural Maine, and I can see discussing nature and ants and how we make friends. I can see touching on the relationships we have with parents and siblings. The book deals with grief and gentle ways to deal with it. There is sadness but it also has humor and wit and many insights. There is a lot of fun banter between the characters. I liked that a book about grief, sadness, and dying weirdly, was not a sad book. I also really liked the cover of this book- who doesn't judge a book by its cover?!

Favorite Line: 

Didn't have a favorite line per se but there is a lot of fun with word play (trying to figure out why some words are one compound word and others are broken into two words), and I did learn a lot about ants, which generally I despise. After reading this book, I still despise them, but a little less!

From p.53: "Cool facts about carpenter ants:

1. They have no eyes or legs when they are born.
2. They are more active at night.
3. They use their antennae to figure out if someone is a friend or an enemy."

Ain't Burned All the Bright

Ain't Burned All the Bright

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, Brockport High School

Title: Ain't Burned All the Bright

Author: Jason Reynolds

Publisher: Atheneum (Imprint of Simon & Schuster)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 7-12

Genre/Type of Book: Novel in Verse, Contemporary Fiction

Content Warnings: Deals with issues related to systemic racism and emotional issues related to being quarantined during the pandemic. But nothing overt.

Published Summary: 

A Caldecott Honor winner!

Prepare yourself for something unlike anything: A smash-up of art and text for teens that viscerally captures what it is to be Black. In America. Right Now. Written by #1 New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jason Reynolds.

Jason Reynolds and his best bud, Jason Griffin, had a mind-meld. And they decided to tackle it, in one fell swoop, in about ten sentences, and 300 pages of art, this piece, this contemplation-manifesto-fierce-vulnerable-gorgeous-terrifying-WhatIsWrongWithHumans-hope-filled-hopeful-searing-Eye-Poppingly-Illustrated-tender-heartbreaking-how-The-HECK-did-They-Come-UP-with-This project about oxygen. And all of the symbolism attached to that word, especially NOW.

And so for anyone who didn’t really know what it means to not be able to breathe, REALLY breathe, for generations, now you know. And those who already do, you’ll be nodding yep yep, that is exactly how it is.

Review:

I selected this book to read because, first, I love Jason Reynolds, and second, it was a Caldecott Honor Award winner...which surprised me as Reynolds is typically a YA author. I knew this would draw some controversy. This book fits squarely in the YA realm, but it is beautifully illustrated, so I get the reason behind the award.

It is a novel in verse that is told in three parts or breaths (indeed, as stated on the flap, "Three looooooong sentences!"). These verses tell the experiences of a young black boy during the pandemic, when the racial issues were spiraling out of control in our country. There is a parallelism (duality) between his struggling to breathe because of anxiety, and George Floyd's inability to breathe when the officer had his knee on his neck. Very powerful stuff.

I love the obvious closeness of the family and how the simple things are used to illustrate the power of just breathing in and out! Smelling a flower and blowing our a birthday candle. In spite of the emotional nature of the topics (systemic racism and the pandemic/quarantine) the book seems hopeful. I think I got that from his relationships with his family and the mundane things in everyday life.

Favorite Line: 

The repetition of the phrase: "breath...in through the nose...out through the mouth"

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Dig

"Dig" (ebook) cover

 

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: Dig

Author: A.S. King

Publisher: Penguin Books

Year: 2020

Good for Grades: 8-Adult

Genre/Type of Book: YA Fiction, Fantasy, Magical Realism

Content Warnings: Drug use, sexual content, adult themes, use of profanity

Published Summary:

“I’ve never understood white people who can’t admit they’re white. I mean, white isn’t just a color. And maybe that’s the problem for them. White is a passport. It’s a ticket.”

Five estranged cousins are lost in a maze of their family’s tangled secrets. Their grandparents, former potato farmers Gottfried and Marla Hemmings, managed to trade digging spuds for developing subdivisions and now they sit atop a million-dollar bank account—wealth they’ve refused to pass on to their adult children or their five teenage grandchildren. “Because we want them to thrive,” Marla always says.

But for the Hemmings cousins, “thriving” feels a lot like slowly dying of a poison they started taking the moment they were born. As the rot beneath the surface of the Hemmings’ white suburban respectability destroys the family from within, the cousins find their ways back to one another, just in time to uncover the terrible cost of maintaining the family name.

With her inimitable surrealism, award winner A.S. King exposes how a toxic culture of polite white supremacy tears a family apart and how one determined generation can dig its way out.

Review:

Winner of the Michael L. Printz medal and a finalist for the 2020 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, School Library Journal Best Book, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults title.

This book is about a Pennsylvania family that has a lot of secrets and the story is told through multiple viewpoints. At times, the story line can be hard to follow and can seem like a puzzle. There were times I was confused, and yet, I really liked this book.

The title and the cover refer to potato farming, which is how the Hemming family made their money and then proceeded to cut off their children, who they wanted to be able to make it on their own. The children are bitter about this. The book goes on to tell the story the five teenagers- the Shoveler, the Freak, "Can I Help You," Loretta the Flea Circus Ring Mistress, and First Class Malcolm, and their dysfunctional family. It is interesting how their stories relate.

This book is about generational divides, racism, abuse, white privilege, the reality of American society, and teen struggles. It is definitely relevant in today's world. The storyline can be confusing and it can be uncomfortable at times but it is definitely worth the read. I'd like to go back and read it again. I was not expecting the ending.

Favorite Line:

"Wish I could have raised you in a place where history books don't lie, but pretty much all history books lie." There really are a lot of passages in this book that will make you stop and think.

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I Must Betray You

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

 

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: I Must Betray You

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Philomel Books, Imprint of Penguin Random House

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 6-11

Genre/Type of Book: Mystery, Thriller, Historical Fiction, Historical Thriller

Content Warnings: Death of a parent, emotional abuse, physical abuse, genocide, violence, war

Published Summary:

A gut-wrenching, startling historical thriller about communist Romania and the citizen spy network that devastated a nation, from the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray.

Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.

Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves—or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?

Master storyteller Ruta Sepetys is back with a historical thriller that examines the little-known history of a nation defined by silence, pain, and the unwavering conviction of the human spirit.

Review:

Cristian wants to be a writer but is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. It is hard to know who to trust in Romania in 1989, even your family and closest friends.

I had no idea what living in Romania in 1989 was like, and I learned a lot from this historical thriller. I found myself researching the Ceausescu family and wondered why I did not know about them before this book.

It is definitely a page turner and I didn't want to put it down! Crumbling Communist regimes, blackmail, informants, secret police- and also humor! Cristian's grandfather brings an element of much needed humor to the story. You will learn a lot about Romania and will want to enjoy a Coke, chocolate, and bananas while you read this book!

It is a #1 New York Times and national bestseller.

Favorite Line:

"Good luck comes at a price. Bad luck is free."

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The Island

The Island by Natasha Preston

 

Reviewed by: Becki Truelson, Eastridge High School

Title: The Island

Author: Natasha Preston

Publisher: Delacorte Press, Imprint of Penguin Random House

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Mystery/Thriller

Content Warnings: Just a couple of instances of swearing, murder but not super descriptive

Published Summary:

They said goodbye to their friends and family for the weekend. They weren’t counting on forever.

Jagged Island: a private amusement park for the very rich—or the very influential. Liam, James, Will, Ava, Harper, and Paisley—social media influencers with millions of followers—have been invited for an exclusive weekend before the park opens. They’ll make posts and videos for their channels and report every second of their VIP treatment. 

When the teens arrive, they’re stunned: the resort is even better than they’d imagined. Their hotel rooms are unreal, the park’s themed rides are incredible, and the island is hauntingly beautiful. They’re given a jam-packed itinerary for the weekend.  

But soon they’ll discover that something’s missing from their schedule: getting off the island alive.

Review:

I was instantly drawn to this book. The cover is eerily beautiful, and the description is irresistible. A brand-new amusement park is opening soon on its own island. The gothic park also provides a luxury hotel for guests. The owner decides to invite a group of teenage social media influencers to be the first to spend the weekend there. As they share their experiences with their followers, everyone will want to come to The Island. The teens do not meet until they arrive at the island.

The teens excitement turns to terror the first night when one of them goes missing and turns up dead. Sadly, that is where the allure ended for me. I never became invested in the details of the story. The characters were not developed enough in the beginning for me to care enough about their plight. The story was disjointed and there were many references to current social media trends that I do not see aging well. It was just OK for me.

Favorite Line:

People listen to someone online they've never met more than they do to their parents, teachers, doctors....it's tragic really.

The Extraordinaries by T.J. Klune

The Extraordinaries

 

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: The Extraordinaries

Author: T.J. Klune

Publisher: Tor Teen, Imprint of Macmillan

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 7-11

Genre/Type of Book: Superhero fiction, YA Contemporary fantasy, LGBTQ+

Content Warnings: Grief, parent death in the past, some self harm, some violence, mental illness, abandonment

Published Summary:

Some people are extraordinary. Some are just extra. New York Times bestselling author TJ Klune's YA debut, The Extraordinaries, is a queer coming-of-age story about a fanboy with ADHD and the heroes he loves.

Nick Bell? Not extraordinary. But being the most popular fanfiction writer in the Extraordinaries fandom is a superpower, right?

After a chance encounter with Shadow Star, Nova City’s mightiest hero (and Nick’s biggest crush), Nick sets out to make himself extraordinary. And he’ll do it with or without the reluctant help of Seth Gray, Nick's best friend (and maybe the love of his life).

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl meets Marissa Meyer's Renegades in TJ Klune's YA debut.

Review:

This is a sweet, funny, gay fantasy romance with lots of humor! It reminded me of The Incredibles. It has lots of diverse characters. I don't normally love superhero books, but the characters sold me with their every day and not-so-every day struggles and how they coped with them. I loved the growth they showed, the romance, and the honesty. They are imperfect characters trying to make a difference in their world. It could be edited some and the ending is somewhat predictable but that didn't stop me from quickly picking up the next book in the series to see what these characters were up to next.

Nick Bell is a main character and a fan fiction writer who would like to be a super hero. His mom died a few years ago and he struggles with his ADHD. His father is a cop who is busy with his job, until he gets hurt on the job, and then tries to get back into his son's life.

This book is an Indie Bestseller, Indie Next Pick, Gold Nautilus Book Award Winner, Goodread's 'Most Anticipated YA Novels of 2020' book, and Book Page's 'Most Anticipated YA Summer Reads.'

Favorite Line:

"No one who started a sentence with 'well, well, well,' ever wanted something nice."

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Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter

Better Than the Movies

 

Reviewed by: Colleen Woods, Martha Brown Middle School

Title: Better than the Movies

Author: Lynn Painter

Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: 8-12

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: Loss of a parent (past-tense), some under-age drinking

Published Summary:

Perfect for fans of Kasie West and Jenn Bennett, this “sweet and funny” (Kerry Winfrey, author of Waiting for Tom Hanks) teen rom-com follows a hopelessly romantic teen girl and her cute yet obnoxious neighbor as they scheme to get her noticed by her untouchable crush.

Perpetual daydreamer Liz Buxbaum gave her heart to Michael a long time ago. But her cool, aloof forever crush never really saw her before he moved away. Now that he’s back in town, Liz will do whatever it takes to get on his radar—and maybe snag him as a prom date—even befriend Wes Bennet.

The annoyingly attractive next-door neighbor might seem like a prime candidate for romantic comedy fantasies, but Wes has only been a pain in Liz’s butt since they were kids. Pranks involving frogs and decapitated lawn gnomes do not a potential boyfriend make. Yet, somehow, Wes and Michael are hitting it off, which means Wes is Liz’s in.

But as Liz and Wes scheme to get Liz noticed by Michael so she can have her magical prom moment, she’s shocked to discover that she likes being around Wes. And as they continue to grow closer, she must reexamine everything she thought she knew about love—and rethink her own ideas of what Happily Ever After should look like.

Review:

Liz Buxbaum has high hopes for her senior year. Her childhood crush Michael Young has moved back to town. She is convinced that fate has brought him back into her life to make all her romantic dreams come true. But she needs help inserting herself into his group of friends. Enter Wes Bennett. Annoying neighbor. Arch nemesis. Person least likely to help Liz. However, Wes might be the only hope Liz has of reconnecting with her long lost love.

This book was such a fun read. One might criticize its predictability, but knowing where it was headed did not detract from the good stuff: the witty banter, the slow burn, the hilarious inner dialogue, the character depth of all those involved in Liz's story, and the way each chapter begins with a classic romcom movie quote. This book will have you reminiscing about first loves, proms, pep rally's and all the nostalgia of being young and in love <3

Favorite Line:

"It seemed to me that because of things like car accidents and lost loves, life and death and broken hearts, we should grab every moment and absolutely devour the good parts"

"I miss your clothes and curly hair. You look best when you're you."

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This is Our Story by Ashley Elston

This is Our Story

 

Reviewed by: Colleen Woods, Martha Brown Middle School

Title: This is Our Story

Author: Ashley Elston

Publisher: Hyperion

Year: 2016

Good for Grades: 8-12

Genre/Type of Book: Mystery

Content Warnings: Main plot involves a murder; some references to drugs, alcohol, gambling. Some profanity.

Published Summary:

Five boys went hunting. Four came back. And the evidence shows it could have been any one of them, in this thrilling mystery with a big twist, for fans of Courtney Summers.

Kate Marino's senior year internship at the District Attorney's Office isn't exactly glamorous–more like an excuse to leave school early that looks good on college applications. Then the DA hands her boss, Mr. Stone, the biggest case her small town of Belle Terre has ever seen. The River Point Boys are all anyone can talk about. Despite their damning toxicology reports the morning of the accident, the DA wants the boys' case swept under the rug. He owes his political office to their powerful families.

Kate won't let that happen. Digging up secrets without revealing her own is a dangerous line to walk; Kate has personal reasons for seeking justice. As she gets dangerously close to the truth, it becomes clear that the early morning accident might not have been an accident at all-and if she doesn't uncover the true killer, more than one life could be on the line including her own.

Review:

Five best friends from an elite prep school go out for an early morning hunt and only four of them return. The four remaining friends become the prime suspects, but they all have the same story: it wasn't me.

Senior Kate Marino works at the district attorney's office where her mother is a secretary. The Assistant DA they work for gets assigned the case, and Kate finds herself drawn into the plot as it begins to thicken. She also has her own reasons for wanting to determine the killer.

The narrator goes back and forth between Kate and the killer. In doing this, bits and pieces of the story are revealed slowly, helping to build the suspense. You will find yourself racing through the last one hundred pages to find out who's telling the truth... and who is not.

Favorite Line:

"A ten-point buck and a dead body make the same sound when they hit the forest floor." (first line)

 

Unretouchable by Sofia Szamosi

 

Reviewed by: Becki Truelson, Eastridge High School

Title: Unretouchable

Author: Sofia Szamosi

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Graphic Novel

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

Olive is spending the summer before art school at a coveted internship, helping one of the fashion industry’s elite digital-imaging specialists. After a glamourous New York photoshoot, she learns that taking pictures is only the first step. She discovers the “violent verbs” (cut, crop, slice, lasso) of image retouching software and the secrets behind “virtual models.”

Soon Olive is fixating on her own appearance and pondering the ethics of her work behind the scenes. As college gets closer, she’ll try to get out of her own head, attempt to quit the Internet, and finally embrace image-making on her own terms. Unretouchable is a window into the little-known, hugely influential world of fashion photography and a tribute to self-acceptance.

Review:

It is the summer before Olive goes to college. She lives in NYC with her mom who works for a golf magazine. Olive's mom is able to get her a summer internship with Fash magazine in the editing department. As Olive discovers what goes on behind the scenes to create content for the magazine, she realizes that so much of the media we consume every day is not realistic. Olive begins to examine her own relationship with media and how it affects her self-image. She questions her own desire to become an artist. The themes explored in this book are not new, but the characters give fresh perspectives on how to navigate unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. Social media addiction and morality when it comes to editing images is explored. This book leaves room for a sequel as Olive goes off to college and starts her journey as an artist.

Favorite Line:

I have two.

#1: "Are we all just fake, superficial, validation-seekers? The influencer I had been idolizing wasn't even a REAL PERSON...."."

#2: " I could have left the internship telling myself that retouchers were all maniacal women-haters preying on women's insecurities to get rich...but I knew in my gut that wasn't quite right. They were real people, working to pay their rents and make their art...and grappling with the same conundrums we all face in an image-obsessed culture"

Swim Team

 

Reviewed by: Beth Larter, Walt Disney Elementary School

Title: Swim Team

Author: Johnnie Christmas

Publisher: Harper Collins

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 3-8

Genre/Type of Book: Graphic Novel

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

A splashy, contemporary middle grade graphic novel from bestselling comics creator Johnnie Christmas!

Bree can’t wait for her first day at her new middle school, Enith Brigitha, home to the Mighty Manatees—until she’s stuck with the only elective that fits her schedule, the dreaded Swim 101. The thought of swimming makes Bree more than a little queasy, yet she’s forced to dive headfirst into one of her greatest fears. Lucky for her, Etta, an elderly occupant of her apartment building and former swim team captain, is willing to help.

With Etta’s training and a lot of hard work, Bree suddenly finds her swim-crazed community counting on her to turn the school’s failing team around. But that’s easier said than done, especially when their rival, the prestigious Holyoke Prep, has everything they need to leave the Mighty Manatees in their wake.

Can Bree defy the odds and guide her team to a state championship, or have the Manatees swum their last lap—for good?

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor

National Book Award Longlist

Kirkus Best Book of the Year

Harvey Award Best Children’s or Young Adult Book Nominee

Review:

This book is a middle grade graphic novel about a Black middle school student named Bree who moves from Brooklyn to Florida. When she falls into the pool at her complex and is rescued by her neighbor, Etta, she confides in her that she doesn't know how to swim and Etta volunteers to begin teaching her. The story follows Bree as she makes new friends, joins the swim team, and as the swim team tries to qualify for the state championship. The story also reveals that Etta was a swim champion at the same school who faced discrimination as more of the public pools became private pools in order to prevent integration. The characters are dynamic and change throughout the course of the book, with growth towards greater understanding of each other being a main theme. The artwork is joyful and detailed and adds to the story. The book very thoughtfully handled telling the story of Etta and the discrimination she faced, and how she felt let down by her white teammate who didn't speak up when they were kept out of a neighborhood pool. As well as the stereotype voiced by Bree that Black people aren't good at swimming, which is answered by Ms. Etta with a story about segregated pools and the lack of access to public pools for Black Americans who live in urban areas of the country. The book also touches on issues of inequality when comparing their public school to the well-funded private school who they compete against, without turning Bree and her classmates into victims or making their story all about oppression. Bree is a likable character who grows in confidence, while remaining true to herself. The book also includes several positive adult characters. I would recommend this book to any students who are fans of Raina Telgemeier, the Babysitter's Club, or The New Kid series.

 

Favorite Line:

"I didn't make Bree a good swimmer. It was already in her. It's in all of your girls. I can see it. But you need to believe it so they can too."

 

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The Assignment

The Assignment by Liza Wiemer

 

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, Brockport High School

Title: The Assignment

Author: Liza Wiemer

Publisher: Random House

Year: 2020

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: No

Published Summary:

Inspired by a real-life incident, this riveting novel explores the dangerous impact discrimination and antisemitism have on one community when a school assignment goes terribly wrong.

Would you defend the indefensible?

That’s what seniors Logan March and Cade Crawford are asked to do when a favorite teacher instructs a group of students to argue for the Final Solution–the Nazi plan for the genocide of the Jewish people.

Logan and Cade decide they must take a stand, and soon their actions draw the attention of the student body, the administration, and the community at large. But not everyone feels as Logan and Cade do–after all, isn’t a school debate just a school debate? It’s not long before the situation explodes, and acrimony and anger result.

Based on true events, The Assignment asks: What does it take for tolerance, justice, and love to prevail?

Review:

I read this book because it was chosen as the Greater Rochester Teen Read for Oct. 2022. I read The Wave and as this book was compared to that, I was intrigued. The book is based on an actual assignment at a HS in upstate New York, similar to the assignment written about in this book, which also made me curious as I had not heard of this conflict in the news. The main characters, Cade and Logan, are HS seniors who decide to oppose an assignment given by their favorite history teacher, to defend Hitler's Final Solution. The teacher assigns this project feeling strongly that looking at history from different perspectives would teach critical thinking skills, however, Cade and Logan disagree and find the assignment crosses the line. The two students go to great lengths to oppose the assignment and get it removed from the curriculum. They go against their teacher, the principal, the Commissioner of Education...and the white supremacists and anti-Semitics they realize are in their town.

I found the main characters to be very like-able, but was surprised that more of their peers did not stand with them from the beginning, this was a bit frustrating to me. I thought their families were supportive, which is sometimes not the case in YA novels.

I liked the subtle changes in their relationship!

Favorite Line:

I think my favorite quote is not from the book itself, but from the preface from the author: "Any county. Any town. Any school. Even Yours."

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Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead

 

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice, A.D. Oliver Middle School

Title: Zombie Makers

Author: Rebecca L. Johnson

Publisher: Millbrook Press, A Lerner Imprint

Year: 2013

Good for Grades: 3-8

Genre/Type of Book: Narrative Non-Fiction for Children

Content Warnings: Not really - just grossness!

Published Summary:

Are zombies real? As far as we know, dead people do not come back to life and start walking around, looking for trouble. But there are things that can take over the bodies and brains of innocent creatures, turning them into senseless slaves. Meet nature’s zombie makers—including a fly-enslaving fungus, a suicide worm, and a cockroach-taming wasp—and their victims.

Review:

Zombies, vampires and other "monsters" in the insect world- what's not to love, or so I thought! This book will give you the creepy crawlies at best and at worst, nightmares! And yet I couldn't put it down! Immediate additional research ensued because...this stuff couldn't really be true, could it!? Unfortunately, yes.

Get hand sanitizer ready- you will want it as you read this book! The characters include fungi, worms, and wasps that take over the brains of their victims and get them to do some pretty bizarre things! For example, hairworms that cause crickets to commit suicide, a wasp that turns cockroaches into a walking restaurant for its babies, and plenty more to disgust even the bravest middle schooler! I can see this book being a great way to spark interest in research as it certainly did for me! I can also see it as a book that goes along with a "fake news" lesson.

This book has several distinctions: a Junior Library Guild selection, Junior Library Guild Top Pick, ALA Notable Book, Kirkus Reviews: Best Children's Book, and the National Science teachers Association recommended Book, and more.

Favorite Line:

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-quarter of adults and adolescents in the United States are infected with T.gondii. They just don't know it. That means you, or someone you know, could be infected with a tiny brain-dwelling zombie maker right now." (p.41)

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Internment

Internment

 

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, Brockport High School

Title: Internment

Author: Samira Ahmed

Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers

Year: 2019

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: No

Published Summary:

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the camp’s Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Review:

This novel takes place "in the near future America" after the 2016 election. It is the story of seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents, who are among the Muslims rounded up and transported to Manzanar, an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. The novel looks at the internment of Muslims, similarly to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Although many of the older Muslim Americans accept this fate, Layla struggles to find her voice and to protest against the complicit silence. Layla is a strong, female character who uses her voice and compassion to start a revolution. It is intriguing to look at this situation through the lens of the 21st century and how young people used the media and technology to overcome the prejudices they face as Muslim Americans. How different, but not, from WWII! Layla's father is a poet, I love how the book is almost grounded in his poem, "Revolution" (32). I found the story to be compelling, and a strong "cautionary tale." The author, in her notes states, "When fascism comes to America, it will come draped in a flag." Scary thoughts! Another novel with a strong own voice!

Favorite Line:

Layla's grandmother tells her, “Praying is important. But you can’t simply pray for what you want. You have to act.”

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Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

 

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, Brockport High School

Title: Girl in Translation

Author: Jean Kwok

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Year: 2010

Good for Grades: 9-Adult

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: None. This was officially published as an adult title, but won the Alex Award. I think a mature 9th grader could easily read it. 

Published Summary:

 

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life—like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition—Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.

Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

Review:

Kimberly Chang and her mother immigrate to the U.S. (Brooklyn) in the 1980s for a better life. They end up living in a condemned building filled with roaches and no windows, no heat, while Kim's mother does back breaking work as a piece worker (for her sister) in a sweatshop, in abusive conditions. In spite of all these hardships, Kim attends school, works hard, learns English and excels, knowing that education is her ticket to a better life for her and her mother. She gets into an elite private middle/high school and lives a double life...student by day and sweatshop worker by night and weekends. She struggles to fit into both worlds. The most poignant part of the book is the relationship between Kim and her mother. A first love complicates things for Kim as Matt does not share the same aspirations and commitment to education as she does. I loved the ending! I know this book is older, and we were encouraged to read more recent titles, but I was intrigued by the recent challenge of this title, and it is a diverse title told in "own voice." It was also a 2011 Alex Award Winner.

Favorite Line:

Kimberly to Matt, "You don't need to rescue us. I'm going to do it" (252).

 

The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander

The Door of No Return

 

Reviewed by: Kathy Jaccarino, Brockport High School

Title: The Door of No Return

Author: Kwame Alexander

Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 7-10

Genre/Type of Book: Historical Fiction, in verse

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

An instant #1 New York Times Bestseller! From the Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award winning author Kwame Alexander, comes the first book in a searing, breathtaking trilogy that tells the story of a boy, a village, and the epic odyssey of an African family.

In his village in Upper Kwanta, 11-year-old Kofi loves his family, playing oware with his grandfather and swimming in the river Offin. He’s warned though, to never go to the river at night.  His brother tells him ”There are things about the water you do not know. “ Like what? Kofi asks. “The beasts.” His brother answers.

One fateful night, the unthinkable happens and in a flash, Kofi’s world turns upside down. Kofi soon ends up in a fight for his life and what happens next will send him on a harrowing journey across land and sea, and away from everything he loves.

This spellbinding novel by the author of The Crossover and Booked will take you on an unforgettable adventure that will open your eyes and break your heart.

The Door of No Return is an excellent choice for independent reading, sharing in the classroom, homeschooling, and book groups.

Review:

This is the story of a young boy, Kofi, who lives in Upper Kwanta in 1860. According to the author this story is based on the Asante people. This is a story of a young boy's life in his village. What is remarkable about the tale is that Alexander is able to transcend cultures and time. We see that Kofi has similar struggles and joys as someone living today. He attends school, deals with a difficult teacher, struggles with a cousin who is a bully, has a good buddy, and a crush on a girl...universal themes that are very relatable. Kofi has a good life, is a strong swimmer, close family and friends. However, his life changes after a festival with Lower Kwanta in which his brother accidently kills a member of royalty. As his family struggles with this, Kofi is captured, taken captive and sold to white men and held prisoner before being loaded onto a slave ship. The story ends as a cliff hanger when the ship is destroyed. I believe this is the first book in a planned trilogy? Through out the narrative the role of story telling is prominent and impactful. Beautiful and lyrical.

Favorite Line:

Nana Mosi remarks that “a history unknown will replay itself” (p. 171) and “until the lions tell their side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always celebrate the hunter” (p. 342).

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Goodnight Racism by Ibram X. Kendi

Goodnight Racism by Ibram X. Kendi

 

Reviewed by: Jennifer Costello, Laurelton-Pardee Intermediate School

Title: Goodnight Racism

Author: Ibram X. Kendi

Publisher: Kokila (Imprint of Penguin Random House)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: K-3

Genre/Type of Book: Picture Book

Content Warnings: N/A

Published Summary:

National Book Award–winning and New York Times bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi (How to Be an AntiracistAntiracist Baby) returns with a new picture book that serves as a modern bedtime classic.

As children all over the world get ready for bed, the moon watches over them. The moon knows that when we sleep, we dream. And when we dream, we imagine what is possible and what the world can be.

With dynamic, imaginative art and poetic prose, Goodnight Racism delivers important messages about antiracism, justice, and equality in an easy-to-read format that empowers readers both big and small. Goodnight Racism gives children the language to dream of a better world and is the perfect book to add to their social justice toolkit.

Review:

I chose this book as I am a fan of the author, Ibram X. Kendi and have read a couple other of his titles. This is a goodnight book of wishes and dreams for the world and our children. It reminds us that children are born open minded and accepting and the importance of keeping it that way. I really liked the illustrations that depict people of all races, religions, sizes, etc. and would be a good book to add to a primary/intermediate collection.

Favorite Line:

"When we dream, we imagine what is possible, what the world can be, and the world grows a little bit lighter."

From the Tops of Trees by Kao Kalia Yang

 

Reviewed by: Jennifer Costello, Laurelton Pardee Intermediate School

Title: From the Tops of the Trees

Author: Kao Kalia Yang

Publisher: Carolrhoda Books, An Imprint of Lerner

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: K-4

Genre/Type of Book: Historical Fiction, Picture Book

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary:

**Winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the Picture Book Category**

“Father, is all of the world a refugee camp?” Young Kalia has never known life beyond the fences of the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. The Thai camp holds many thousands of Hmong families who fled in the aftermath of the little-known Secret War in Laos that was waged during America’s Vietnam War. For Kalia and her cousins, life isn’t always easy, but they still find ways to play, racing with chickens and riding a beloved pet dog.

Just four years old, Kalia is still figuring out her place in the world. When she asks what is beyond the fence, at first her father has no answers for her. But on the following day, he leads her to the tallest tree in the camp and, secure in her father’s arms, Kalia sees the spread of a world beyond.

Kao Kalia Yang’s sensitive prose and Rachel Wada’s evocative illustrations bring to life this tender true story of the love between a father and a daughter.

Review:

This is a first-person story of the author's memory of growing up in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. When she was four years old, she and her father climbed to a top of a tree in the camp and imagined a life in the world beyond. I chose this book as we have a lot of immigrants and refugees in my school, and I wanted them to experience a relatable story filled with hope and love.

Favorite Line:

"When someone falls you have to pick them up and lift them higher than they were before."

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Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Ruby in the Sky

 

Reviewed by: Colleen Woods, Martha Brown Middle School

Title: Ruby in the Sky

Author: Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Year: 2019

Good for Grades: 5-7

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: There's a scene involving an accident with a pet dog, but all ends well.

Published Summary:

Twelve-year-old Ruby Moon Hayes does not want her new classmates to ask about her father. She does not want them to know her mother has been arrested. And she definitely does not want to make any friends. Ruby just wants to stay as silent and invisible as a new moon in the frozen sky. She and her mother won’t be staying long in Vermont anyway, and then things can go back to the way they were before everything went wrong.

But keeping to herself isn’t easy when Ahmad Saleem, a Syrian refugee, decides he’s her new best friend. Or when she meets “the Bird Lady,” a recluse named Abigail who lives in a ramshackle shed near Ruby’s house. Before long Ahmad and Abigail have become Ruby’s friends—and she realizes there is more to their stories than everyone knows.

As ugly rumors begin to swirl around the people Ruby loves, she must make a choice: break her silence, or risk losing everything that’s come to mean so much to her. Ruby in the Sky is a story of the walls we hide behind, and the magic that can happen when we’re brave enough to break free.

Review:

"Ruby in the Sky" is the story of an 11-year old girl named Ruby. At the beginning of the novel, Ruby and her Mom have just moved to the small town of Fortin, Vermont, where her Mom grew up. Since the death of her father, Ruby and her mom have been moving, constantly in search of their new "forever home." Even though Ruby's mom is convinced Fortin will be it, Ruby has no plans of staying long, in hopes that they'll soon return to D.C. (their actual home), and things can finally return to normal. However, a new job working at a diner results in some legal trouble for Ruby's mom, putting their future in jeopardy.

In the meantime, Ruby makes an unlikely friend with the town recluse, an older woman named Abigail who keeps to herself, talks to animals, and lives in the tiny shed outside her abandoned, run-down home. Ruby also befriends a boy in her class named Ahmad, a Syrian refugee, whose own story helps Ruby realize that everyone has problems, it just takes bravery to face them. I cannot recommend this book enough. It will make you laugh, cry and everything in between. Ruby must find her own magic in order to help these new friends she never intended to make, in a town she never intended to call home.

Favorite Line:

"Even when you can't see it, courage can be found when you simply stand up. The problem comes when you don't speak at all. Then you're letting someone else tell your story."

Two Degrees by Alan Gratz

 

Reviewed by: Colleen Woods, Martha Brown Middle School

Title: Two Degrees

Author: Alan Gratz

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 6-8

Genre/Type of Book: Adventure

Content Warnings: Some violence/gore

Published Summary:

Fire. Ice. Flood. Three climate disasters.

Four kids fighting for their lives.

Akira is riding her horse in the California woods when a wildfire sparks--and grows scarily fast. How can she make it to safety when there are flames everywhere?

Owen and his best friend, George, are used to seeing polar bears on the snowy Canadian tundra. But when one bear gets way too close for comfort, do the boys have any chance of surviving?

Natalie hunkers down at home as a massive hurricane barrels toward Miami. When the floodwaters crash into her house, Natalie is dragged out into the storm--with nowhere to hide.

Akira, Owen, George, and Natalie are all swept up in the devastating effects of climate change. They are also connected in ways that will shock them--and could alter their destinies forever.

Bestselling author Alan Gratz is at the top of his game, shining a light on our increasingly urgent climate crisis while spinning an action-packed story that will keep readers hooked--and inspire them to take action.

Review:

Two Degrees by Alan Gratz is an adventure-fiction novel perfect for middle grade readers, on the topic of climate change. It's essentially three stories in one - each one introducing readers to a different character whose life has been impacted by climate change. First we meet Akira, who is horseback riding with the father in the Sierra Nevada's when their path home is blocked by a growing wildfire. Next we meet Owen and George, who live in Churchill, Manitoba-the "polar bear capital of the world." The two boys are attacked by a hungry mother polar bear after they get too close to her cubs. Lastly, we have Natalie, who lives in Miami, FL with her mother. A massive hurricane is headed their way, and with no where to go, they hunker down in hopes of riding out the storm. However, when the waters begin to rise, Natalie literally finds herself being swept away from her home and her mother.

Short chapters and action-filled scenes help make for a quick read. I also found it to be extremely informative on the topic of climate change. All of the characters show extreme bravery as they are forced to confront dangerous situations. Some of the scenes can be a little gory and graphic, mostly in regards to victims of the wildfire and the polar bear attacks. But the endings are mostly happy, with a strong message of urgency for change. As with other Gratz titles, the three stories come together at the end, helping drive home the message that climate change is not happening in isolation; it connects us all, and will therefore require effort and change from everyone in order to make a difference.

Favorite Line:

In the author's note at the end, Gratz writes to the implied young reader, "It's your world, your future. It's up to you to decide what you want that future to be like, and what you can do to make it happen."

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Laxmi's Mooch by Shelly Anand

Laxmi's Mooch by Shelly Anand

 

Reviewed by: Jennifer Costello, Laurelton Pardee Intermediate School

Title: Laxmi's Mooch

Author: Shelly Anand

Publisher: Kokila, Imprint of Penguin Random House

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: K-3

Genre/Type of Book: Picture Book/Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: N/A

Published Summary:

A joyful, body-positive picture book about a young Indian American girl’s journey to accept her body hair and celebrate her heritage after being teased about her mustache.

Laxmi never paid much attention to the tiny hairs above her lip. But one day while playing farm animals at recess, her friends point out that her whiskers would make her the perfect cat. She starts to notice body hair all over–on her arms, legs, and even between her eyebrows.

With her parents’ help, Laxmi learns that hair isn’t just for heads, but that it grows everywhere, regardless of gender. Featuring affirming text by Shelly Anand and exuberant, endearing illustrations by Nabi H. Ali, Laxmi’s Mooch is a celebration of our bodies and our body hair, in whichever way they grow.

Review:

Laxmi is a young girl who learns to love her 'mooch' - a little mustache. When her friends tease her about it at school, she shows them that they all have hairs on their upper lips, and they learn to embrace it instead.

Favorite Line:

"My cheeks grew hot as a steaming bowl of Mummy's aloo gobi."

 

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Odder by Katherine Applegate

Odder

 

Reviewed by: Becky Hibbert, East Irondequoit Middle School

Title: Odder

Author: Katherine Applegate

Publisher: Fiewel and Friends (imprint of MacMillan Publishing Group, LLC)

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 4-6

Genre/Type of Book: Children's Literature

Content Warnings: N/A

Published Summary:

Meet Odder, the Queen of Play:

Nobody has her moves.
She doesn’t just swim to the bottom,
she dive-bombs.
She doesn’t just somersault,
she triple-doughnuts.
She doesn’t just ride the waves,
she makes them.

Odder spends her days off the coast of central California, practicing her underwater acrobatics and spinning the quirky stories for which she’s known. She’s a fearless daredevil, curious to a fault. But when Odder comes face-to-face with a hungry great white shark, her life takes a dramatic turn, one that will challenge everything she believes about herself—and about the humans who hope to save her.

Inspired by the true story of a Monterey Bay Aquarium program that pairs orphaned otter pups with surrogate mothers, this poignant and humorous tale told in free verse examines bravery and healing through the eyes of one of nature’s most beloved and charming animals.

Review:

Odder is the story of a risk-loving sea otter who can sometimes be too brave for her own good. This time, it gets her into a spot of trouble with a Great White shark.

The story is told in verse and broken down into four parts: (1) current day Odder with shark problems; (2) abandoned Odder as a pup, rescued by Monterey Bay Aquarium aquarists, who teacher her how to "otter," (3) current day Odder, post-shark problems; and (4) a brief epilogue.

This story was beautifully written and the illustrations by Charles Santoso are absolutely gorgeous. Katherine Applegate is such a champion for animals and her stories do so much to raise awareness; also, you can't help but fall in love with the subjects of her stories, and the same holds true for Odder. Applegate has a gift for making her characters anthropomorphic, but with such ease that you get the impression she can actually communicate with these animals. It seems as if she has a true affinity and depth of understanding for the wild creatures of this world; it's definitely a hard thing to do, but she does it without making them seem trite. It's a true gift. Reading this book, I got such a sense of each character's distinct personality, but none more so than Odder. I was instantly enamored by Odder and her antics. I'm definitely adding this book to my personal collection.

Additionally, Odder is based on a true story of the Monterey Bay Aquarium program that pairs abandoned otter pups with surrogate mothers as a way to improve their chances for a successful life upon their release back into the wild. This book will definitely give you all the warm and fuzzy feels!

Favorite Line:

"Imagine that dive of hers, that hypnotizing cyclone of fur and bubbles, and smile through your joyful tears." (p. 178)

The Party Diaries - Awesome Orange Birthday by Mitali Banerjee Ruths

Amazon.com: Awesome Orange Birthday: A Branches Book (The Party Diaries  #1): 9781338799613: Ruths, Mitali Banerjee, Jaleel, Aaliya: Books

 

Reviewed by: Jennifer Costello, Laurelton-Pardee Intermediate School

Title: The Party Diaries - Awesome Orange Birthday

Author: Mitali Banerjee Ruths

Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. 

Year: 2023

Good for Grades: K-4

Genre/Type of Book: Realistic Fiction/Early Chapter Book (Branches)

Content Warnings: NA

Published Summary:

This series is part of Scholastic's early chapter book line, Branches, aimed at newly independent readers. With easy-to-read text, high-interest content, fast-paced plots, and illustrations on every page, these books will boost reading confidence and stamina. Branches books help readers grow!

Priya is excited to plan her aunty's birthday party. She will donate the money she makes to help the cutest endangered animal on the planet, the quokka! But the party is this Saturday! With so many items on her to-do list, can she get it all done in time? Priya sends out handmade invitations, makes DIY decorations, and sets an orange-only snacks menu -- including pumpkin samosas! Will Priya's very first party be a success?

Review:

Priya Chakraborty is a Indian-American young girl who loves party planning, quokkas, and DIY crafts. In this first book of the series, Priya starts her own party planning business and plans a surprise 'Awesome Orange Birthday' for her Layla Aunty. This is an illustrated early chapter book full of beautiful pictures, Indian terminology and culture. In the back, she includes a craft idea and comprehension questions.

Favorite Line:

"A to-do list can help me plan ahead, stay on track, and feel good. When I finish one of my jobs, I can cross it off the list."

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Girl, Serpent, Thorn eBook : Bashardoust, Melissa: Kindle Store - Amazon.com

 

Reviewed by: Lisa Rice- AD Oliver Middle School

Title: Girl, Serpent, Thorn

Author: Melissa Bashardoust

Publisher: Flatiron Books (A Macmillan Imprint)

Year: 2020

Good for Grades: 6-12

Genre/Type of Book: Fantasy, Romance, Adventure, "Coming of Age" Novel

Content Warnings: Some profanity, death of a father, kidnapping

Published Summary:

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming...human or demon. Princess or monster.

Review:

As per Kirkus, this is "an alluring feminist fairy tale." It has themes of good vs. evil but also hidden evil. It also explores themes of family issues, and sexuality exploration. It is very fairy tale-like and is Persian mythology inspired.

The main character, Soraya, is cursed- anyone who touches her is poisoned. Soraya wants a cure to this curse, and Parvaneh, a fairy div (or demon) can help her solve this problem, but Parvaneh is being held prisoner. I like that this coming of age novel is about a girl struggling to claim her power and figure out who is helping her and who is not. In this novel, no one is purely good and no one is purely evil and it askes the question of what would you do for love? It is well written and has a beautiful cover too (not that we are judging books by that!) :) Like real life, this novel shows that there are gray areas in life and not everything is clear cut. It was named a Best Book of the Year by Booklist, BuzzFeed, and Amazon. It was a Book of the Month Club selection and a Junior Library Guild selection. It was ALA's Best Fiction for Young Adults and also ALA's Rainbow Book List.

Favorite Line:

From page 253: "She had never realized how easily hope died when there was no sunlight, how hard it was to believe that another day was worth fighting for when there was only night." I really enjoyed all the writing in this book!

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Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

Reviewed by: Becki Truelson, Eastridge High School

Title: Solutions and Other Problems

Author: Allie Brosh

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Year: 2022

Good for Grades: 9-12

Genre/Type of Book: Memoir/Graphic Novel/Short Stories

Content Warnings: There is adult language sprinkled throughout the book

Published Summary:

Solutions and Other Problems includes humorous stories from Allie Brosh’s childhood; the adventures of her very bad animals; merciless dissection of her own character flaws; incisive essays on grief, loneliness, and powerlessness; as well as reflections on the absurdity of modern life. “No one sums up the hilarity, devastation, and bizarreness of life quite like comic artist and blogger Allie Brosh” (NPR)

Review:

This book was a recommendation from the NYPL and I was intrigued as it is such a unique book. It is at once a memoir, a graphic novel, a hilarious reflection on childhood and family, and a tragic look at the effects of pervasive mental illness among several family members.

The author, Allie Brosh, is described as "living as a recluse in her bedroom in Bend, Oregon". I did not believe that was true so I did some research on her and it is indeed true. She has lived with severe depression for many years and has disappeared from the public eye more than once. Her art and writing is so creative and relatable that it was hard for me to believe that it came from someone who struggles with mental illness.

The book is set up at a series of graphic short stories from Allie's life. Some are absolutely hilarious. My favorites were "Neighbor Kid" about the neighbor's 5-year-old who stalks Allie and asks her incessantly if she wants to see the little girl's room and "Sister" which explains the strange relationship Allie's younger sister had with her friend, Becky.

There are also stories that are painful to read. "Losing" is a story about how Allie's health deteriorated, and she started "spontaneously bleeding to death inside my body". This is not an exaggeration. During this health emergency, Allie lost her younger sister in a train accident. The ways in which she conveys her experiences in very few words and often just pages of art were mesmerizing to me.

Solutions and other problems was unlike any book I have read. The graphic format and depth of emotions, both heavy and light, kept me wanting to turn the pages. I will be ordering this book for our high school collection and book talking it often.

Favorite Line: 

"I wanted to go on to express how unfair the world is, and how many mistakes it's possible to make even when you are trying as hard as you can...."

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte

Reviewed by: Jennifer Costello, Laurelton-Pardee Intermediate School

Title: Measuring Up

Author: Lily LaMotte

Publisher: HarperCollins

Year: 2020

Good for Grades: 3-6

Genre/Type of Book: Graphic Novel/Realistic Fiction

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary: 

Twelve-year-old Cici has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle, and the only thing she wants more than to fit in at her new school is to celebrate her grandmother, A-má’s, seventieth birthday together.

Since she can’t go to A-má, Cici cooks up a plan to bring A-má to her by winning the grand prize in a kids’ cooking contest to pay for A-má’s plane ticket! There’s just one problem: Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese food.

And after her pickled cucumber debacle at lunch, she’s determined to channel her inner Julia Child. Can Cici find a winning recipe to reunite with A-má, a way to fit in with her new friends, and somehow find herself too?

Review: 

This book is about a girl who just moved to Seattle from Taiwan. She wants nothing more than to celebrate her A-ma's 70th birthday together, but plane tickets are just too expensive. When she sees a kid's cooking contest, she enters in the hopes of winning the grand prize and flying A-ma to Seattle. Cici is a great cook, but only knows how to create Taiwanese dishes. With the help of her friends and inspiration from Julia Child, she is able to find a way to fit in at a new school, with her new friends and celebrate her A-ma's birthday.

Favorite Line:

"Just never spaghetti straws. But they are still noodles. I can do this."

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What the Road Said by Cleo Wade

Reviewed by: Jennifer Costello, Laurelton-Pardee Intermediate School

Title: What the Road Said

Author: Cleo Wade

Publisher: MacMillan

Year: 2021

Good for Grades: K-5

Genre/Type of Book: Motivational Picture Book

Content Warnings: None

Published Summary: 

It's okay to be afraid or to sometimes wander down the wrong path. Bestselling poet and activist Cleo Wade's What the Road Said features illustrations by Lucie de Moyencourt and encourages us to lead with kindness and curiosity, remembering that the most important thing we can do in life is to keep going.

Review:

This is a really sweet story about which path to take. It reminds readers that it's okay for life to be hard, it's okay to sometimes be afraid, or to make the wrong choice - to just keep pushing on. It asks a lot of questions that our students probably have and reassures them that it's okay. We used it as a whole school read aloud on World Read Aloud Day and the students loved it.

Favorite Line: 

"But what if I go the wrong way? The Road curved a little, almost as if it was giving me a hug, and said, Do not worry. Sometimes we go the wrong way on our way to the right way.

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