Thursday, December 1, 2022

How it Ends, written by Catherine Lo, reviewed by Stephanie Wilson

Summary:  How it Ends contains many of the typical elements of young adult novels: mean girls, high school drama and friendships imploding over a betrayal or series of betrayals. What sets How it Ends apart from the crowd is its gentle handling of those topics. Annie and Jessie are unlikely best friends who struggle with real problems. Jessie's social anxiety cripples her ability to form true friendships. Two of her former friends are the most popular girls at school. They turned on her in middle school and make Jessie’s life at highs school pure hell. Annie's mom died and she struggles to make peace with her stepmom and stepsister. The choices the girls make for better or worse define the outlines of their ever-changing friendship. The story unfolds in alternating chapters told from the perspectives of Annie and Jessie. Jessie fears Annie is slipping away from her and into the thrall of Courtney and Larissa. Annie wishes Jessie could forgive and forget and the girls could all be best friends. When Annie reveals Jessie’s secret to Courtney, their once close friendship begins to unravel. When Annie’s life falls apart, will Jessie come to her rescue, or will Annie have to carry on alone?

Straight Talk for Librarians:  How it Ends deals with tough topics in an unflinching manner. The voices of both girls are distinctive, even without the chapter endings the delineation between characters is clear. Jessie’s anxiety is presented realistically. The way her mom and Annie try to “help” Jessie will feel familiar to any teen who struggles with anxiety and bullying. Annie’s relationship with her stepmom and stepsister is realistically portrayed. The novel contains mature content: references to mental illness, underage drinking, sex, pregnancy, and abortion. I highly recommend this novel for readers high school age or older. The mature content might make it a controversial addition to a middle school library.

No Fair! No Fair! and Other Jolly Poems of Childhood, written by Calvin Trillin, pictures by Roz Chast, reviewed by Debra Gantz

Summary:  I think this is the dark side of poetry in this book. I am not surprised to find out that this is a New Yorker journalist that is penning these odes to childhood as they are likely more appealing to adults than children. The illustrations by Roz Chast even feel more appealing for adults than children, though the topics of the poems could be very funny, neither the illustrations nor the poems strike a chord for me. The afterward from Calvin Trillin give some insight into the topics of the poems, but not enough to change my thinking. The poems felt heavy, not fun.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  I may be able to talk some of my male students with a darker sense of humor to check it out, but I doubt it will become a favorite for many students. (My brothers might have liked it.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

With My Hands: Poems about Making Things, written by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, reviewed by Debra Gantz

Summary:  Poems about making things throughout from painting to construction projects this book defines what it means to be a maker! The illustrations by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson exude the joy of creating things from origami to snowflakes and knitting to baking. This is a lovely addition to any elementary poetry collection!

Straight Talk for Librarians:  This is a great poetry book for young children who love to create things themselves!

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months and Years after the 9/11 Attacks, written by Don Brown, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Summary:  This trim volume of graphic nonfiction beautifully illustrates the events of 9/11 and the lengthy and far-reaching aftermath of those events. The author focuses much of the attention on the site of the towers, starting with the moments of impact, the towers falling, and the immediate rescue efforts that began. He does an outstanding job of highlighting specific individuals who contributed to those rescue efforts or to the collective understanding of the events of the tragedy. In the second half of the book, some of the attention of the narrative diverts to other responses and reactions to 9/11, including President George W. Bush’s reaction to the American people, the actions taken by uninvolved planes that were in the air during the time of attack, military response directed toward Afghanistan, the establishment of the Guantanamo Bay Military Prison, the clean up efforts that continued for eight months following the attacks, and the eventual decision to rebuild One World Trade Center. Don Brown includes an afterword and pages of statistics about 9/11 gathered in the years since 2001, and provides a lengthy list of source notes.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  This short, accessible volume will be an essential resource and an incredible eye-opener for today’s students who were not yet born on September 11, 2001. The book provides excellent background on the major events of the day and the situations that those not present at the time may not know, including the attacks themselves, details about the group that claimed responsibility, and the responses of the President and the American people. Impressively, for a graphic text under 125 pages, it includes an incredible amount of detail on a wide variety of more specific or minor details that may provide new insight to readers familiar with the major events of 9/11 and will surely paint a much more detailed and nuanced picture for those readers who are only learning about 9/11 for the first time. The intensity of the subject matter, along with the graphic novel style text and the somber nature of Brown’s artwork, make this a better choice for middle or high school students. This is a fantastic work of graphic nonfiction worthy of a spot in any secondary school library.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Eye of the Storm: Nasa, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code, written by Amy Cherrix, reviewed by Debra Gantz

Summary: I have been a fan of the Scientists in the Field series for a very long time. This book is interesting to browse, but so very filled with scientific information for the budding scientist who will read it cover to cover. The photos throughout are engaging and the captioned illustrations alongside these powerful photographs are spectacular.

I love the thinking about children and their school work when they explain the work of scientists: note taking, record keeping, using keyboards to fly the equipment, problem solving, and working together are strongly supported in this book. Eye of the Storm certainly gives us a taste of why Meteorologists work with other scientists closely to better learn about the hurricanes that hit our and other nation's shores.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  I have very few elementary aged students who check these out, but those that do are fascinated. I have to book talk the series every year.

Wish on All the Stars, written by Lisa Schroeder, reviewed by Stephanie Wilson

Summary:  Wish on All the Stars is the second book in Starry Beach Club series. The Starry Beach Club was formed by three close friends to grant wishes. When Emma, Juliet and Carmen learn their local bookmobile is in danger of closing forever, they are shocked. The girls quickly hatch a plan to save the bookmobile. They decide to host a craft show to raise awareness and donations. Emma will do the promotions. Carmen and her mom will sell their paper necklaces. Emma convinces Carmen it’s okay that her mom is doing something so public. Carmen’s mom is an undocumented immigrant, and she fears being deported.  Emma and Carmen team up to convince a reluctant Juliet to sell some of her paintings. Juliet has a lot of anxiety about sharing her art. She fears she will embarrass herself and wonders if her work is good enough. Her worst fear is that no one will want to buy her art. Juliet is also struggling to accept her parents' divorce and splitting time between their respective households in different California towns. She worries she is losing her former best friend in Bakersfield to the cool girls they formerly ignored.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  Wish on All the Stars is a sweet, sunny story about the power of friendship and facing your fears. It also does not shy away from more serious topics, including divorced parents and the plight of undocumented immigrants. The characters are well-rounded and authentic. Each girl has a distinct voice and none of them are perfect. Schroeder gets her message across without beating readers over the head with it. It is a refreshing change of pace from the usual preachy writing that is typically aimed at tweens. Even though this novel is part of a series, it works well as a standalone novel. I highly recommend this book upper elementary and younger middle school students.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

All These Monsters, written by Amy Tintera, reviewed by Terry Wahrman

Summary:  Sci-Fi adventure with scaly monsters with knife like fingers springing up from the ground and attacking humans, predominantly in the location of Asia and Europe.  To defend against these monsters, defense classes are taught in US high schools.  US civilians are taking up arms and signing up for active duty overseas with private companies.  17-year-old runaway Clara signs up to fight the “Scrab” monsters just to get away from her abusive father. She’s placed on a team with other teens from diverse backgrounds.  Together they practice and hone their skills and become a strong fighting team.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  This is a very realistic story (barring the monsters) about being invaded and civilians answering the call to fight the enemy.  This could happen in today’s society, substituting monsters for another country or race.  The most important message to take away is Clara is deserving of more than her abusive household and she takes the opportunity to change her circumstances.   Cheers for Clara for breaking away, identifying signs of abuse, and being strong enough to spot and reject it in another person.  The team learns to work together and acknowledge each other’s strengths & weaknesses. Friendships are made, confidence is built, and future aspirations are dreamed.   This book will do very well in a high school library.

Shuri: A Black Panther Novel #1, written by Nic Stone, reviewed by Amanda Davies

Summary As Challenge Day (the day when others can challenge the rule of her brother, King T'Challa) nears, Shuri becomes increasingly worried about indicators that there might be a greater challenge to both T'Challa and Wakanda as a whole. She is desparate to find the cause of the destruction of whole swaths of the heart-shaped herb while also designing a new habit for her brother to keep him safe during Challenge Day. When all of her tests of the dying herb fail to reveal anything, she and her friend/future body guard, K'Marah, seek out Ororo (Storm from X-Men) for advice. And their stealth trip to Ororo is only the beginning of their adventure. 

Straight Talk for Librarians:  This engaging, tech-filled, and funny peak into Shuri's role in Wakanda is just the beginning of a series where she'll be the center of the story. Shuri's frustration at the lack of recognition for the princesses of Wakanda and the fact that no women have ever been the Black Panther is an important theme throughout the book. Shuri's pride in her science and technology knowledge is inspiring. While there are many references to the Marvel and X-Men universes, even readers who aren't familiar with either the comics or the movies will enjoy the action, humor, and Nic Stone's story-telling here. Shuri and K'Marah's relationship develops throughout the book in a way that feels authentic.

Monday, November 21, 2022

I Survived the Hindenburg Disaster, 1937: I Survived #13, written by Lauren Tarshis, reviewed by Amanda Davies


Summary:  Hugo and his family are passengers on the famous Hindenburg Zeppelin, traveling from Germany to the United States to get medical help for his sister. While aboard, Hugo learns that the politics of the day weren't left on the ground; Nazis have joined them on the flight, looking for a spy who has stolen important information about secret Nazis living in the United States. Hugo will have to decide how brave he is as the action involves more than just the impending crash.

Straight Talk for LibrariansThis is a quick piece of historical fiction that acurately retells the story of the Hindenburg from the perspective of a young person. For students who love historical fiction and want something without any fluff, this is just the thing. Tarshis also provides historical notes and answers questions at the end.

Prairie Lotus, written by Linda Sue Park, reviewed by Amanda Davies


Summary:  Hanna and her father have been on the road for years, looking for a place to settle down in the 1880s. Since her mother died, they haven't been able to stay in one place. They continually face anger and discrimination because Hanna is half Chinese. When they settle in LaForge in the Dakota territory, the situation is no different but the two are determined to stick it out to see if they can overcome the threats and racism. Hanna's drive to go to school causes additional tensions in the community, which eventually come to a head amidst stories of survival on the prairie.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  This beautiful and stinging book belongs in every school library, K-12. Hanna's story evokes many school librarian's favorite childhood books, Little House on the Prairie. Except here, the realities of what it means to be different extend far beyond the differences between Laura and Nelly. And unlike the blind eye (or worse) that Ingalls Wilder turned to the experiences of Native Americans and immigrants of color, Park embraces these stories and fleshes them out in fully formed historical detail.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Good Night, Bunny, written by Lauren Thompson, reviewed by Terry Wahrman

Summary:  Little bunny says good night to all he knows as he walks through the fields and meadows.  Good night to the sky, swallows, flowers, insects, mammals, fish and stars.  He says good night to his mama, papa, sisters and brothers.  He says good night to his ears, whiskery nose, and tickly toes. Talking to his stuffed baby bunny, he says good night, to you, and good night, to me.  Good night kisses one, two, three. Bunny then puts his stuffed baby bunny to bed.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  Eventually, all bunnies must go to bed. This is a fun story to cuddle up together and read.  This really cute durable book will help put any cute bunny to bed.  The pages are made of thicker paper to outlast little fingers pulling and tugging.  The illustrations are colorful in shades of the evening and large enough to be seen when reading to a group. Use as a read along or by itself.

Journey of Little Charlie, written by Christopher Paul Curtis, reviewed by Amanda Davies

Summary: Charlie feels lost. In South Carolina in 1858. His father has passed away and Charlie doesn't know what to do. His father owed money to a powerful overseer, Cap'n Buck, who wants Charlie to pay the debt by hunting down men that he claims stole from him. But Charlie soon discovers that Cap'n Buck is lying; he's actually searching for people who were enslaved and escaped. Charlie, who is White, has to decide whether to entrap the runaways or risk angering Cap'n Buck. Charlie travels North, facing difficult obstacles, none more complex than figuring out what the right thing to do is. 

Straight Talk for Librarians:  The lyric writing, dialect, and constant action of the story make it a fast-paced and engaging read. On its own, it seems strange to tell the story of the impact of enslavement on White people. Paired with Curtis' novels Elijah of Buxton and The Madman of Piney Woods (all part of the Buxton Chronicles), however, this book provides insight into the ways that enslavement impacted all aspects of society. Curtis uses the offensive term "darkie," although it is accurate for the setting.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Maya and the Rising Dark: Maya and the Rising Dark #1, written by Rena Barron, reviewed by Amanda Davies

Summary: Maya and her two good friends, Eli and Frankie, live in a pretty typical neighborhood in Chicago. Or so they think. When Maya sneaks out to find out what her weird elderly neighbors are doing one night, she finds that both the neighbors and the neighborhood aren't quite what they seem. They actually live in a center of the Orisha gods and godlings (part god, part human) of West African tradition that Maya has read about in her comics since she was little. Maya also discovers that her dad is responsible for keeping the veil between Earth and the Dark sealed so that the evil spirits on the other side can't overrun humanity. When her dad suddenly disappears and none of the Orisha rush in to help, Maya, Eli, and Frankie decide it's up to them. But they're unprepared for all of the danger they'll face. The three friends learn that they have to trust each other and themselves if they're going to survive and save Maya's dad.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  This is a powerful story combining the mythology of West Africa with a thriving Black neighborhood in South Side Chicago. The book celebrates the value and wisdom of the Orisha stories in a way that feels authentic though wishful, even imagining a whole comic series based on the Orisha Oya (currently a side character in the X-Men). Seriously, why doesn't this series already exist? The main characters, all Black, are thoughtfully developed and real; the snarky conversations between Eli and Frankie are especially enjoyable. While the book definitely fits in the Percy Jackson mold of young people discovering their half-god powers, that doesn't detract from the excitement, action, and importance of the story. Students who love Percy Jackson, who are interested in reading positive Black stories about Black characters, and those who want battles, magic, and adventure should all enjoy this book.